Online Conversation | Doing Justice with Gary Haugen
Justice is essential to God’s vision of human flourishing — but knowing and doing what is just can be fraught with confusion and division, and require discernment as well as courage. On Friday, February 4th we hosted an Online Conversation with Gary Haugen to discuss the importance of how ordinary people can bring extraordinary reform, and offers stories of courageous Christians who have stood up for justice in the face of human trafficking, forced prostitution, racial and religious persecution, and torture.
This program is made possible by a Grant from:
John Stiger Ferry Foundation
Transcript | Gary Haugen | February 4, 2022
Molly Wicker: My name is Molly Wicker, and I am the director of development here at the Trinity Forum, and it’s a privilege to welcome you here today to our conversation with IJM founder and CEO Gary Haugen to talk about what it means to do justice and why it’s an essential element in God’s vision of human flourishing. At the Trinity Forum, we see many of the challenges in our society as stemming in part from the lack of spiritual and character formation in leaders, which is why we offer resources such as today’s conversation to equip leaders to live wisely and well. We are thankful for the generosity of the John Stiger Ferry Foundation, who helps make this conversation possible today. You can find out more about them in our chat box below, as well as find additional resources related to today’s conversation.
A quick reminder about our format this afternoon: we will have a moderated conversation, followed by audience questions. You can ask your questions in the Q&A box at the bottom right of your screen. There’s also a “like” button and a comment button, both of which you can use to engage with your fellow participants’ questions. Finally, today’s conversation will be recorded and will be available later this week on our website, as well as in a follow-up email, which you will be able to share with others. Again, thank you so much for being here with us today.
And now I will turn it over to our moderator, Trinity Forum president Cherie Harder.
Cherie Harder: Thanks so much, Molly. I’d just like to add my own welcome to all of you joining us for today’s Online Conversation with special guest Gary Haugen on “Doing Justice.” I’d also just like to add my own thanks to the John Stiger Ferry Foundation, whose support has helped make this program possible, and mention that we’re delighted that over 1,700 of you are joining us today. And just really appreciate the honor of your time and attention. I’d also like to send a special welcome to our nearly 300 first-time guests joining us for the very first time, as well as our international guests joining us from all over the world, at least 28 separate countries that we’re aware of, ranging from Belgium to Bolivia, Nicaragua to Nigeria, and the UAE to the UK. So welcome from across the miles and the time zones. If you haven’t done so already, let us know where you’re joining us from in the chat box. It’s always fun for us to get to see the range of people who are joining us.
If you are one of those 300 people who are joining us for the very first time or are new to the work of the Trinity Forum, we seek to provide a space for leaders to engage the big questions of life in the context of faith and offer programs like this conversation to do so and to come to better know the Author of the answers. And we hope today’s Online Conversation will be a small taste of that for you today.
The question we’re engaging today is indeed a big one: What does it mean to do justice? At a time when so much of our public conversation is confined to the narrow and the distorting framework of partisan combat, how do we learn to love justice and to recognize and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable and voiceless outside of that conversation? And if what God asks of those who love him is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before him, how do we understand that call? And what might it look like to follow it creatively and courageously?
To help us wrestle with these questions, I’m honored and delighted to introduce our guest today whose life and vocation is an extraordinary and embodied example of doing justice with courage, compassion, and commitment: Gary Haugen. Gary is the CEO and founder of the International Justice Mission, an extraordinary global organization that works with local justice systems to protect the poor from violence throughout the developing world, which he founded in 1997. Before founding IJM, Gary served on the Executive Committee of the National Initiative for Reconciliation in South Africa, chaired at the time by Desmond Tutu, and then worked as a human rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as the director of the United Nations investigation into the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, where he led an international team of lawyers, law enforcement officials, and forensics experts to gather the evidence that would eventually be used to bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice. He’s been recognized by the State Department as a Trafficking in Persons Hero, the highest honor given by the U.S. government for anti-slavery leadership, and his work to protect the poor from violence has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, The Times of India, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, The Guardian, NPR, and many others. In addition to all of this, Gary is also the author of several books, including Just Courage, Terrify No More, The Locus Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, which we were honored to host him for in an evening conversation a few years ago, and The Good News about Injustice, now in a newly released anniversary edition, which we’ve invited him here today to discuss.
Gary, welcome. It’s great to have you here.
Gary Haugen: Thanks for having me, Cherie. I’m a big fan of the Trinity Forum and your team and you. And so thanks for including me today.
Cherie Harder: Well, it is very mutual. We are excited to have you here. And you have certainly had a very unusual vocation. You’ve had a lifetime of exposing and fighting some of the darkest and ugliest forms of injustice around the world, from sexual oppression to forced labor, land grabs, and the like. There’s not really a job description for that. That’s not, you know, an obvious career path. So as we start out, I’d love just to hear from you, how did you get into this? How did this become your life’s work?
Gary Haugen: Yeah, it’s kind of a paradoxical story, because it’s true, especially with the work with IJM, I’m sort of immersed in the problem of violence, especially the violent injustice and abuse of other human beings. And it’s paradoxical because I really grew up in a place that couldn’t really be farther from all of that ugliness. I’m the youngest of six kids that grew up in an affluent home in California. My father was a doctor and provided us with a nice, safe home, and my mom was a loving, caring person. Both parents were very loving and caring, and so I grew up in a wonderful setting that was enormously safe and secure and really couldn’t be farther from this really ugly world of violence. So it was just this very incremental journey.
A big part of it was going off to college. I went off to Harvard University as the most undereducated public school kid in the history of the university in the early 80s, but I went as also a convinced Christian. So my mother had been the one who dragged us all off to Baptist Church when I was growing up as a kid. And so that’s how I came to know Jesus. And it really was the journey of earnestly trying to follow him that just incrementally took me into the world of human suffering. And wonderfully at college, I was involved in my InterVarsity chapter, and it was a wonderful group of students who were really trying to grapple with those questions. And so when I went off to Boston in late 70s, early 80s, homelessness was starting to explode in an urban environment. There were lots of racial violence and division because of desegregation efforts in the school system, tremendous poverty, and apartheid in South Africa was the big issue on campus.
And so when I graduated, I ended up going, actually, as I think you mentioned, to go live in South Africa by some weird circumstance, was just an intern working with church leaders as they were taking on this struggle against apartheid. So I found myself thrust into the horrific martial law years in South Africa in 1985 and 1986 and just started to see there, up close and in an immersive kind of way, what does it look like for a follower of Jesus to confront the terrifying and horrific use of violence to oppress and abuse other people? And how does a follower of Jesus respond? How does the follower of Jesus even think about that? So I’m a 22-year-old spending a lot of time with Bishop Tutu at the time and Michael Cassidy and other church leaders. You know, here’s an old picture in a different, different era where I’m with Bishop Tutu and other church leaders [shows pictures on screen]. We’re touring some township where some of the security forces had just tried to eliminate some of the protesters. Anyways, that was a sort of massive experience as a young person to, “OK, what does it mean to follow Jesus in the face of violence?” And also interesting as a person of faith. Both white South Africans and black South Africans overwhelmingly ascribed to the Christian faith. And so white South Africans had figured out a system of just brutal racist oppression, which they were perpetrating against a population of also people who were going to church on Sunday. And so as a young Christian it’s like, “Oh my goodness, how does one make sense of this?”
And so that was a big part of sort of the introduction for me, honestly, to the problem and then to “what does one think about this as a follower of Jesus?” I eventually went off to law school, worked for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines for a while, worked at the U.S. Department of Justice as a civil rights lawyer, specifically focused on police abuse in the United States. I joined the Department of Justice just a few months after the Rodney King beatings in L.A. and joined the police misconduct task force eventually to deal with those issues. And then in 1994, was sent to Rwanda to be the director of the UN’s genocide investigation. So you can kind of see this strange kind of very just incremental journey, deeper and deeper into the problem of violent injustice and eventually that led to leaving the Department of Justice and starting International Justice Mission.
Cherie Harder: Wow. Thanks, Gary. You know, as we sort of start our conversation, “justice” and “injustice” are terms that are thrown around a lot and seem to have different meanings to the point that there’s even denominational disputes, as to whether justice is a distraction from the gospel. So as we kind of start out, I’d like to hear from you just what justice is—justice and injustice—what they are, and why you believe this is such a central part of the gospel rather than a distraction?
Gary Haugen: Yeah, it would be hard to look at the biblical text and think that justice was a distraction, since of course, it says that justice and righteousness are the foundation of God’s throne. So that would be weird, right? Likewise, all over in scripture, God’s people are directed to follow Jesus and the Kingdom of God in the work of justice. So, you know, Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Jesus, I think in Matthew 28, repeats the same three priorities when he talks about [how] the Pharisees have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. In all of these, the first item on the list of three is justice. So I don’t think anybody who’s like deeply familiar with the biblical text could possibly imagine that justice is a distraction.
So one has to then inquire what exactly is one speaking to when they’re feeling that way? Because I certainly grew up in a church environment where justice was not well understood, mostly because the biblical material was neglected. In the sort of evangelical tradition that I grew up in, [they] sort of neglected the biblical material for about a hundred years. So that’s a story to be unraveled. But I would have heard a thousand sermons by the time I had finished high school, and I would never have heard a sermon about justice. And so this helps explains why there can be this, I think, a little bit of confusion or sense that it’s a distraction. Or it’s true that words can be manipulated by efforts and movements that don’t really have much to do with justice, and I think in that era where my church tradition neglected a lot of the teachings on justice, their sense was, “Well, these terms like justice and oppression and liberation, they’re being co-opted by a political agenda,” especially the communists of that era. And so like, “Well, if the communists are talking about it, we certainly can’t.” And so that didn’t go very well.
But in the scripture, it’s really very clear: justice is about the use of power, the use of power with moral excellence. So everyone has some power and it’s in relation to other people. So how are you using your power? Are you using it to love and to serve? Or are you using it to take from other people? Because that’s the definition in the scripture of injustice is the abuse of power to take from others the good things that God intended for them: their life, their liberty, their dignity, and the fruit of their love and their labor. And the scripture mostly doesn’t sort of give these kind of technical definitions, but uses stories to explain these concepts. And probably the most powerful one is the Prophet Nathan visiting King David. You’ll remember where he gets David very outraged because he tells him the story about this one very poor man who has one little really precious sheep, and then the rich man who’s got, you know, flocks of sheep wants to celebrate because some friends are coming. So instead of taking something from his own flock, he goes to the poor man’s house, steals his one precious sheep and slaughters it for the celebration of his friends. And of course, King David is all upset because this is an abuse of his power to take from someone who’s weaker. And of course, Prophet Nathan says, “Well, King David, that’s you, because that’s what you’ve done in committing your sin, in abusing Bathsheba and then murdering her husband.”
So anyway, it is so central to the character of God. He calls himself the God of justice, and it is possible for human beings—and this is, you know, a bit of a shame—to weave your way through the scripture and avoid that. But you got to work really hard to do that. And thankfully, one of the things that I’ve seen over the last 30 years is there’s been a real recovery of the biblical teaching on justice.
Cherie Harder: You know, we live in a country that certainly is not free of injustice. There’s lots of problems. But I think many first-time readers of your book may be taken aback by just the incredible scope of the kind of injustice you just described: the everyday common bullying, the seizing of the poor’s few resources. And, you know, not being in that situation, which we’re all blessed by, it’s not quite as viscerally real to us. And I would be interested in just your thoughts on how big a problem is this? How many people are we talking about who live in everyday fear of being outside the protection of law?
Gary Haugen: Yeah, I mean, every country does have its manifestations of injustice and the abuse of power, and so that’s never gone from anybody’s proximate context. Even in places of affluence, there is sexual abuse and domestic violence, and we can see it even in our churches, in very apparently affluent situations. And then obviously within countries there’s going to be those who are going to be vulnerable to violence and abuse. And I thought I was actually going to spend my life addressing that when I joined the Department of Justice and served on the police misconduct task force. There was plenty of police misconduct in the United States, one of the most difficult and heroic jobs to try to do. But we had a dozen or so police districts in the United States that were under federal supervision because the abuse of power had gotten so bad. So that’s just always going to be a challenge.
But when I was sent to Rwanda, my eyes were lifted—in some ways, my heart was—to sort of this larger world. And part of that was my, again, my trying to follow the heart of Jesus a bit because it always tends to be that my heart and vision tends to focus locally, right? First me and then my family and then my friends and then maybe my neighborhood and community. And so I think part of following Jesus is lifting your eyes to actually see the world. And when you do look at the world, you do see what the U.N. tells us, which is that most of the people in poverty–the U.N. did this study about a decade ago—found that most of the world’s poor live outside the protection of law. Now let’s just pause over that for just a moment. So let’s just say there’s about two billion people in the world who live off about $3 a day: really grinding, terrible, brutal poverty. Most of them live outside the protection of law, which means there is no protection from the most basic sort of threat, which is of violence. So the common poor in our world today have no one to protect them from anyone who would abuse them.
So what kind of abuse do they encounter? Well, one of the largest categories of abuse, for sure, is just gender violence. Women and girls face an epidemic of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, around the world. So how about this? There’s a statistic from the World Health Organization that tells us that gender violence accounts for more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 14 and 55 years old than malaria, the most devastating disease in the world, car accidents, and all armed conflict. If you combine all the death and disability from those massive things, what would even be larger is just the death and disability that comes from gender violence. So that’s number one.
Second is forced labor. We know that there are about 40 million people in the 21st century who not just are serving under difficult working situations, but are actually owned by other people through the force of terror. About 40 million. And another is just police abuse. Every country has the challenge of trying to make sure that the power of policing is exercised with moral excellence. And when it is not, then especially the vulnerable suffer the most. So the U.N. and other studies have also shown that for most of the world’s poor, they will experience policing as purely predatory rather than protective.
So no shortage of scale for the problem. In fact, the scale is usually the biggest problem because it just feels then so overwhelming. And easily, as an American, I can kind of go from obliviousness and knowing nothing about some of these massive sources of violence to then I know too much and I’m just paralyzed by, “Oh, well, that’s something entirely intimidating and I can’t possibly engage.” So what, of course, we’re hoping that people will be able to step into is sort of that responsible knowledge: “Ok, I know about this terrible thing, but now how can I think about it and how can I follow Jesus in trying to be a witness for what’s true about him in the world?”
Cherie Harder: Yeah. You know, I’m sure one of the questions that’s coming to mind to a lot of people is, you know, just the scale of the violence you’re describing—there are presumably laws against this already, you know, already laws on the books. These aren’t highly complicated types of situations. It’s just sort of a failure of resourcing or law enforcement or prosecution or the like. Why—? Well, first off, I guess I should say, are countries uninterested in doing better? Is it a lack of resources, a lack of knowledge? What’s preventing more robust and effective homegrown solutions?
Gary Haugen: It’s an amazing story, Cherie, and in the book The Locust Effect, we sort of lay that out for people who want to go deep dive into it. It’s a fascinating story, because it’s true that in the second half of the twentieth century there’s like 50 years of the transformation of almost every country’s laws as it relates to your human rights and especially your basic protections against gender violence, against forced labor, against police abuse. All these things are overwhelmingly around the world completely against the law. So, done. The law is on the books. The problem is the actual enforcement of that law. And so that’s what we are trying to make sure there’s attention to.
And I think one of the most fundamental parts of that story, I would point to two things, Cherie. The first is most of the developing world was operating under colonial systems of criminal justice up until just the last half century. And those criminal justice systems, they had things called police and they had things called courts, but they really had nothing to do with protecting the common citizen from abuse and oppression. They were about protecting the colonial regime from the common people. So then the colonial powers all go home in the 50s and 60s, and a political class steps into those shoes and turns out that, oh, this is very useful having a justice system that protects the political class from the common people. So there was never a re-engineering of the law enforcement system. The laws changed. Those were re-engineered, but not the enforcement system. And now there’s a generation in the developing world that is trying to change that.
Secondly is the phenomenon of private security. So if you go into the developing world—these are the places where all the violence is taking place—how come you and I don’t feel it when we go? Because our entire experience will be protected by a private security. And true for anybody in the developing world where there’s high levels of violence. How are they safe? How are their businesses safe? How are their employees safe? How is anything related to what they care about safe? It’s private security. So it now masks, for the people who have wealth and power, the reality of there is no justice system actually protecting the common citizen. They don’t have to worry about it because they have found a private solution. So now most developing-world countries have private security forces that are three, four, five, six, seven times larger than the public police force. In Africa, the largest employer is private security.
So these are two of the parts of the story about why the levels of violence and the brokenness of these justice systems is so large.
Cherie Harder: That’s fascinating. You know, in your book, another kind of fascinating point you bring up are the dynamics of injustice. And you talk about how there is always a few things present with injustice. There’s always essentially violence or coercion, which may be very well hidden, you know, and only kind of come out when threatened. There’s almost always isolation and there’s always deception. And it’s interesting, I recently talked with a sexual abuse trauma counselor, and she said the same thing, that deception is always a part of any abuse or trauma. And I’d love to hear you talk more about the dynamics between those factors and how that plays out in unjust situations wildly different than, say, trauma in the United States. How do those all link together to result in the kind of massive injustice that we’re seeing?
Gary Haugen: Yeah, it is fascinating to consider what the Bible actually teaches plenty about, and this is why it’s so great to recover the biblical text because biblical text is full of violence, and it teaches incredible clarity about the sin of violent oppression and how to address it and the forces that are behind it. And the biblical text itself makes super clear that evil men do their deeds in darkness. It says over again that lies and deception always accompanies injustice. So there almost always is some, as you said, some violence that’s brought to bear, some coercive force. Sometimes that’s super obvious. A sexual assault, if anybody were to see it, it’d be clear what the violence is. But a lot of the violence in slavery situations or the violence that, for instance, was under the Jim Crow laws in the American South, it looked like this is just the way things are. But as Martin Luther King manifests, as soon as you press against that, you’ll start to see there’s raw violence behind it. So there’s either a violence that’s just being hidden by certain customary guises or there’s just aggressive deception.
And that’s an interesting thing because it’s what makes fighting injustice so hard, is you have to expose the truth and you have to work hard at it. You have to be committed to it. And it’s not an accident that these things are being hidden. You have a willful human actor who’s smart, trying very hard to cover up the injustice. You know, unsanitary water doesn’t hide itself. It can’t, you know. Diseases really can’t hide themselves. Hunger doesn’t hide. Violence is different, though. It has a human actor that’s trying to hide it, so you have to actually be extraordinarily good at finding the truth. But it also exposes the fundamental weakness of violence, because whenever you have an abuser lying and deceiving, what it tells you is, oh, they’re afraid of the truth, aren’t they? Because they know if the truth is told about what they are doing or how they’re doing it, or the violence they’re bringing to bear, they themselves fear they could not withstand what people of good will and justice could bring to bear.
So deception is what’s hard about addressing injustice, but it also always points to the infirmity, the weakness, the true fear of the oppressors. So that is the place to burrow in because there’s just extreme power in telling the truth. We could tell story after story. I mean, IJM now has done tens of thousands of individual cases rescuing people from horrific abuse and violence against incredibly scary and abusive people. And in almost every circumstance, once you’re able to tell the undisputed truth about what’s taking place, the tables change tremendously.
Cherie Harder: So, you know, one of the things that’s perhaps most discouraging is the church is not immune from injustice. And, you know, even in reading your book, you point out that 80 percent of Rwandans would call themselves Christians. And yet you saw that massive genocide. You know, the American South, which is very Christian, the Bible Belt, you know, there has been great injustice that has taken place. And even within the church, the sexual abuse scandals in many denominations over the last decade or so have been deeply discouraging. I’m curious why you think the church has not been able to better embody justice. And also curious what you believe it means to do justice within the church itself?
Gary Haugen: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot in those questions, for sure. But I think one of the first things that ought to encourage us is that this is not an extraordinary circumstance where it turns out that the church or religion is disappointing in its performance. If you just walk it back the last two thousand years, most religious and church stuff is disappointing. It ought to give us a clue that Jesus’s primary opposition was the religious leaders. And there’s just something about the nature of religious life and human beings that actually can be a place of tremendous sin and abuse. Some of the most epic abuses of human beings over the last 2,000 years have taken place in the name of religion or in the name of Christianity or in the name of Jesus. So this is a grievous, heartbreaking circumstance. But I think Jesus signaled early on that this was just going to be part of the struggle of authentically following him and nothing else in the world, not following ideology, not following economics, not following class or tribe or politics, but following him.
It’s always so encouraging to me [that] when I look at every sort of Christian hero who fought for justice in their era over the last two millennia, you will never find them voicing the point of view of “Wow, this is a great time to be a Christian. Like, everybody just seems to be very authentically on board with the deep truth about what Jesus is teaching and is conducting themselves in the way that Jesus would be super proud of.” Every single one of them is feeling like, “Oh my goodness, what are the people of God doing? Who are these people who are saying they’re following Jesus and look at the way that they’re behaving?” So that perspective is just encouraging to me in terms like, “Oh, OK. Here we are in just another moment in history when the people of God really need to set forth a standard that’s very different, even within the religious culture.”
Cherie Harder: It’s been 25 years since you founded the International Justice Mission, and I know there have been incredible stories of rescue and restoration and justice done. There’s also inevitably been a lot of stories of heartbreak, of people lost through the cracks, of injustice that hasn’t been answered. And I’m sure there’s a lot of times when you work very hard only to be, not just deeply disappointed, but to know that there’s a great deal of suffering that has happened as a result. And you talked in your book a little bit about a term you called “compassion permanence.” And I’d be curious how you cultivate compassion permanence and avoid compassion fatigue and even a sense of despair.
Gary Haugen: Yeah, this is the tremendous challenge in the struggle for justice because there isn’t a struggle for justice that isn’t a marathon. In other words, there are no sprints for justice, so if we’re going to follow Jesus in the work of justice, the question is “How can I do this for a long time?” And a couple of things are super clear from the teachings of Jesus about how to follow him in a long obedience in the same direction. And the first is we’re meant to do this in prayerful conversation with the Heavenly Father who made us and who has given this work of justice. So that’s why at IJM we begin every day with 30 minutes of silence where we show up to work and don’t do anything, and our donors pay us wonderfully generously to do nothing but to spend 30 minutes spiritually preparing for the day. And then we’ll work hard for two straight hours and then we stop what we do and we gather together for prayer every day at 11 o’clock, for another half hour of prayer. So there’s not even the idea that you could possibly do this work without staying close to the God who’s given you the work in prayer.
The second is always doing it in community with one another. The Lone Ranger thing just doesn’t work at all. And then the third point is the oxygen of joy. And this is counterintuitive because we’re immersed in like the ugliest, most difficult things in the world, but the Bible says the joy of the Lord is our strength, and we sometimes like to say that joy is the oxygen for doing hard things. I always think of the, you know, when you get on the airplane and they say, “Please secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.” And so, similarly, we make joy a discipline of stepping away from the work, immersing ourselves actually in beauty and laughter and goodness and joy in the love of God and worship. And these are some of the disciplines that are really intentional and are just required to do justice for a long time.
Cherie Harder: Yeah, that’s great. Well, we’re going to go to audience questions in just a minute, but before we do, I’m sure there are many people who are listening to you and who would love to do justice themselves more creatively, compassionately. What advice would you give for folks who are eager to step into this kind of way of living in the world and living as a child of God, but might be a little bit unsure about how to start?
Gary Haugen: I think the first thing is maybe to head towards simplicity rather than complexity. Rather than trying to take on the most complicated problem… Of what? The abuse of power. Where in your home, community, church, is there an abuse of power? And what would it mean to try to engage that? So first, it’s just simplest, if you’re going to try to take on like the most complicated… Like, why? That’s not— That’s why IJM in many ways started with the most simple and straightforward kinds of abuses. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
Secondly, is to immerse yourself in the biblical teaching about this. There are a thousand impulses within my human nature in responding to injustice that are actually counter to the biblical teaching about this. So if I’m not actually rooted in what Jesus and the Scriptures taught about doing the work of justice, boy, it’s not likely to land me in the right place. And that’s why we wrote Good News about Injustice. As far as I could tell when I wrote this in 1998 and I went to the Library of Congress—this was before there was really much of an internet, right—and tried to find where’s the books on the biblical teaching on justice? And there had not been a book-length treatment of biblical teaching on justice for about 100 years in the English language. And very, very extraordinary. And so we need to be equipped with some basic teaching, which I think once we’re empowered, it’s so helpful.
And then thirdly, just do it in community. Find others who can pray with you and work with you. Those are three things I think that are indispensable.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. Well, we’re going to turn to audience questions. And just as a reminder to our audience, you can not only ask a question, but you can also “like” a question. And that helps give us a sense of what some of the most popular questions are. And I see that we’ve had quite a few that have come in. One question from John Bernbaum, who asked, “What have you learned in the last 20 years that might have changed your original point of view?”
Gary Haugen: One of the things that we’ve learned just so much more about that I didn’t know very much at all was about trauma and the profound impact on human beings of trauma. And violence and violent injustice produces this enormous damage that is below the surface of our skin and bones, and so we’ve had to learn a lot about trauma and take that very, very seriously. I think what I’ve also, I’ve just learned that God has miraculous power that I think I believed in a sort of theoretical sense, but I have now just seen, especially in the lives of survivors of abuse, especially in many who’ve endured such extraordinary trauma, and the power of love to heal and the power of God to take those who suffered abuse and turn them into some of the most powerful leaders. We have many—because we’ve done tens of thousands of cases now over 25 years—so now we have story after story of survivors of slavery who are now lawyers prosecuting slave owners, of victims of sex trafficking who are now trauma counselors and social workers. This I just did not know. I would have maybe written that on a quiz as an abstraction, but I have seen the power of love and justice to transform lives and to extend his kingdom. That’s been surprising.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So a question from Catherine, and Catherine asks, “What does it look like for Christian human rights groups like IJM to see the imago dei in perpetrators?”
Gary Haugen: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think many times I think people would be surprised at the posture of most of us at IJM in regard to the people who commit these abuses, because a lot of times I encounter people who assume, “Wow, we’re just raging against these, you know, bad guys, perpetrators, that commit these horrible rapes and slavery.” And there are moments of anger, for sure. I would definitely say we tend to feel more anger and frustration towards the authorities who protect it than so much even the perpetrators, because one of the things I think we’ve seen so many times is what those perpetrators— the truth about those perpetrators is manifest when their power is taken away.
I’ll never forget when one of my colleagues and I went to Guatemala to participate in this arrest of this man who had raped a number of the young girls in his community, including his own daughters. And just a monster in a certain kind of characterization. And so we conducted the arrest, and I remember him sitting there at the police station, and he’s cuffed, you know, and he’s sitting in this chair. And I just remember my colleague, Pablo Vieira, sitting next to him and talking to him. And you could see that for this monster who had brought to bear so much brutal power, all that power is gone, and what you could almost visibly see sitting upon him was the weight of the darkness and guilt and the way he himself was clearly a victim of evil’s triumph, that some sort of progression of evil had taken place in his heart over time to bring him to this place that he never would have aspired to it at an earlier point in his life.
And so those experiences, I think, do allow us to see that, yes, the image of God remains present in every single one of those that commit these abuses, and we pray for them. We encourage Christian ministries that are serving in prisons to go to those who are actually put in prison because of our work. And that is the true scandal of the gospel is that Jesus loves these people who commit these abuses as well. And I think that’s the way it has resonated within our own souls as well over these 25 years.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So Nat Wharton asked, “What should governments, NGOs, and the private sector be doing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking?”
Gary Haugen: Well, this is the sort of encouraging thing to me, Cherie, is that there’s been massive transformation in the level of awareness of modern slavery. When IJM started before the year 1997, really the word “human trafficking” didn’t actually exist. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act occurred in the U.S. Congress in the year 2000; that really transformed the landscape. And so the awareness has just exploded. The next step in the evolution of this struggle is to come up with ways of actually measuring whether or not various approaches to fighting slavery actually reduces slavery. Because you can imagine, everybody first needs to know there’s a problem, and then everybody needs to be motivated to try to tackle it. But then we need to know whether the various interventions actually work. And the challenge has been is that the overwhelming amount of anti-trafficking work has not been subjected to the rigor of asking, “OK, is what you’re doing and what we’re investing in actually measurably reducing slavery?” The problem is those metrics didn’t exist, but now they do. And so there’s really no excuse for it anymore. Thankfully, the awareness has been built, the engagement has been built, but we’re going to fritter that away if we do not subject anti-trafficking, anti-slavery efforts to the discipline and rigor of being able to measure whether or not it’s actually effective. That’s the next step, and that’s what governments and investors and advocates should be engaging in.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So a question from Jada Hotmeyr, who asked, “What advice do you have for college students and the next generation of young people who are passionate about social justice?”
Gary Haugen: Well, just so thankful for you because, first of all, there is, I believe, just a justice generation that God is raising up and has been raising up. And so much of the coldness that one would have encountered 30 years ago in the church, I think in the younger generation that there’s a warm beating heart and passion for the work of justice.
The critical things I think are two, apart from some of the things that I’ve mentioned. First is, get close, proximate, to those who are suffering from injustice, because as long as it’s an abstraction, we’re also going to be steered the the wrong way, perhaps, or we’re going to be overly overwhelmed. But what does it mean for each of us to draw close to an actual human being who we would actually get to know, at a shelter for those who’ve faced domestic violence, to other kinds, or children who are facing child abuse, or victims of police abuse, or whatever it may be that is within your community, to just be present, not to give, you know, particular lectures or wisdom or any[thing] particularly, but to be present to learn and to serve. Because if we’re not close to the human beings who are the actual victims and survivors of this abuse, it’s a somewhat unhelpful abstraction.
But then to couple that with a teaching from the scripture about how to think about this because there’s this horrible thing in the world called violence, which, yes, I could try to make up answers to, or the God who’s responsible for all reality could give me a little bit of teaching about it that I would need. And that’s available in the scripture. And then the third thing is to do it in community with others so that we are not lone rangers out on our own. So get close to the people, actually experience the abuse, embed yourself in the scriptural teaching, and do this in community with others who will want to do those things as well.
Cherie Harder: So Rick Wade asks, “We could speak simply of doing harm or doing good. What does it add to emphasize the use of power in doing harm or doing good?”
Gary Haugen: Well, I think it’s very important, I think, to do an inventory of the reality of power because human beings have it and they have it in different forms and in different social settings. So I’m really powerful in certain settings and I’m the weaker one in other settings. I have different kinds of power, so I might have a certain kind of physical power, but I might have less economic power. Or I might have some economic power, but less social power. So there’s different forms of power. But the question that Jesus is always asking is, “How are you using your power?” And if you’re using your power to love and serve others and to bring glory to him, that’s the way of life. If you’re using your power to serve yourself, and certainly to serve yourself at the expense of others, oh, you’ve put yourself in opposition to God Almighty. And so that’s why the stewardship of power to understand the different forms of it— Because otherwise we can either be oblivious to our power in a way that allows us to fail to recognize, “Oh my goodness, I’m not stewarding this in the way that I might” or I might not even be aware of how I might be abusing my power, but also the opportunity to use my power, for what? On behalf of those who are vulnerable, on behalf of those who are weaker. This is why the story of the talents is so amazing because it’s challenging because Jesus reserves in the story all the sort of anger for the one who hid their power and their talent away because they were afraid of messing it up. So it is all true, that all of us in different ways have power and to pretend like we don’t have power would be wrong. And to not steward it on behalf of serving and loving others, especially those who are vulnerable and doing it in a way that glorifies God, that’s a huge opportunity.
Cherie Harder: Yeah, that’s great. So a question from Sabrina LaRue, who asks “What has surprised you the most, both good and bad, about American Christians in your work championing justice?”
Gary Haugen: The first, honestly, on the good side, is the tremendous fundamental sea change I saw take place over the last 25, 30 years. Again, I grew up in what was, I think, the predominant evangelical subculture in America, which was almost completely illiterate as it relates to the biblical teaching on justice and was afraid to talk about it. And now a generation has emerged where those conversations are utterly mainstream. There was, for instance, an idea back in the day where an interest in poverty was also a distraction from the gospel. But then in the 1950s, after World War II, all kinds of ministries—World Vision and World Relief and Compassion International—grew up to say, “No, of course, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and this is all held together: sharing the gospel and caring for those who are in need.” And now similarly mainstreamed, I think, in much of the American church is the idea that we ought to be biblically literate and engaged in the work of justice. So that is a sea change.
What’s disappointing now, I think for sure, is substantially the sort of reengagement in tribal ways of thinking and interacting that are not just about “how can I follow Jesus”?, but are about identifications of party or ideology, and that’s disappointing. It’s just introducing a new kind of confusion. And so that part’s disappointing. But I would also say that I’m a little less disappointed by the things the Church struggles with because I don’t see them as tremendously new. Those who associate themselves with the name of Jesus have for millennia been confused about a whole lot of things along the way and have misused their power. And so there’s just a continual prophetic role for us to be returning to the core teachings of Jesus and strip it away from all things tribal and all things that are really meant to be secondary.
Cherie Harder: So we’ll take one more question here, and this comes from an anonymous viewer. But they ask, “What are some of the ways that you find joy in the midst of darkness, that is the fuel that keeps you going? Do you have certain practices, spiritual or otherwise, that evoke joy?”
Gary Haugen: I do. The first is to step away from the work. And one of the things is that this is a God who has commanded us to Sabbath rest. And so part of being like a passionate justice advocate is you could be tempted to think, “Well, this is what I should be doing every day, all day.” But the God who loves us definitely says, “Oh no, actually, I’m carrying the great cosmic struggle against evil and injustice. This is not yours to bear. So, yes, here’s a couple tasks I’ve given you to do. Please be faithful with them, but step away from the work and rest.” And so I do that. I just step away from the work in various [ways]. Jan and I, my wife and family, have set just boundaries on how much travel I will do and will not do, and when do I get home and so forth. There are seasons of sort of extreme effort, but for the most part it’s a lifetime of being well rested because being depleted actually doesn’t help me spiritually or for the struggle. And the greatest source of joy and refreshment has been just my family. My wife is—some of you got chances to do some of the art breaks or other things with my wife—she’s just enormously fun person to get to do life with. And then I have kids who I enjoy very much as well. But I love sports and I love reading and I love food. And all these things are actually delightful disciplines to refresh the spirit for a fight that can be tough.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. Gary, thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun. And in just a moment, I’m going to ask you to give us the last word. But before you do, a few announcements just for everyone who are watching us. Immediately after our Online Conversation, we will have a survey for you. We’d love to get your feedback on today’s Online Conversation. We read every one; we try to incorporate your thoughts into making this program ever more valuable. And as a special incentive for filling out that feedback form, we will send you a code for a free download of the Trinity Forum reading of your choice. So we hope that you will avail yourself of that opportunity.
In addition, for those of you who have signed up for breakout discussion groups immediately following, once this webinar is over, you can just exit as you normally would and click on the link that you’ve been sent. They’ll start in the next few minutes after we conclude. Also, we will be sending around to everyone who registered for today’s Online Conversation an email tomorrow with a link to the edited video from today’s Online Conversation, along with additional readings and resources to kind of further your thinking and reflection on this topic. So we hope that you will open that up. Share that with friends. Start conversations about what’s happened today.
In addition, I’d like to invite each of you who are watching to join the Trinity Forum Society, which is the community of people committed to advancing the mission of the Trinity Forum to provide a space just like this for leaders to engage the big questions of life in the context of faith. There are many benefits to joining the Trinity Forum Society, including a subscription to our quarterly readings where we take the best of literature and letters, provide an introduction giving context and background, as well as discussion questions in the back. So they are essentially a book club in a bag. There are several readings that we would recommend to complement some of the ideas discussed today, including “A Practical View of Real Christianity” by William Wilberforce, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr., “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” “Surprised by Goodness” and “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. So I hope you will avail yourself of that opportunity. And as a very special incentive for everyone joining for the first time or with your gift of $100 or more, we will send you a signed copy of the new anniversary edition of Good News about Injustice, Gary’s excellent book. Really recommend the book and would love for you to join the Society.
Later this month, on February 25th, we’ll be hosting Arthur Brooks for another one of these Online Conversations. You’ll be able to register for that shortly and also just want to let you know that we’ll be releasing a very special Lenten season of podcasts. Rather than doing our regular drop of podcasts, we’ll be doing one podcast a week throughout Lent, starting in just a few weeks. And with that, as promised, Gary would love to give you the last word.
Gary Haugen: Well, first, thanks to you, Cherie, and to the Trinity Forum team for this chance, and thank you for all who joined. I think the last thing on my heart is just an encouragement, especially to those who are followers of Jesus, to really fight for hope. Sometimes for those who have a passion for justice, they’re very acutely aware of all that’s going wrong in the world, and in this era, there is much that is just feeling overwhelming and hopeless. And yet it doesn’t present itself that way to Jesus. And so much of the time, it’s helpful for us to just think, how does Jesus see what’s happening? Has he given up on the world? Is this kingdom not going to prevail? No. There’s nothing about this that catches our God off guard. And so what is the hope that he intends for us to live in, to manifest? C.S. Lewis said that “despair is a greater sin than any sin that provokes it” because it has to do with what it is that we’re believing about God in his goodness, in his sovereignty, and his love for us. And as someone I think who has seen a good deal of what is ugliest and hardest about our world, I would nevertheless say that the truth of Jesus is that this is a God who loves us and who loves the world and is so eager for us to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the widow, plead for the orphan. And in that we get to experience and love him.
Cherie Harder: Gary, thanks so much, this has been a real joy.
Gary Haugen: Thanks, Cherie. God bless you all.
Cherie Harder: Thank you to all of you for joining us. Have a great weekend.