Amy L. Sherman

The Church on a Justice Mission

On the front lines of the battle against sex trafficking and forced prostitution.

4 of 6view all

Crossroads' youth have embraced the justice mission with particular enthusiasm. Youth pastor Justin Wolfenberg handpicked about twenty high school students to attend IJM's Global Prayer Gathering in spring 2008 in Washington. There, the youth joined over 800 adults to hear firsthand reports from field office directors and engage in intensive, intercessory prayer. "We came out of this saying, 'We need to get kids like us aware of these issues, because our friends at school don't have any idea about most of this stuff,'" junior Katie Landgrebe recalls.

She and several other students spent the next several months planning a weekend "justice issues exposure event" they called Unbound ( Attendees filed through various "vision rooms" upon arrival Friday night. They listened to monologues from black-clad student actors playing the parts of modern-day slaves, speaking from inside large bamboo cages. They tramped through a room designed to imitate a brothel cell, where grainy footage from an undercover video shot by IJM investigators in Asia played on a TV. Later, attendees watched Call and Response, a "rockumentary" directed by musician Justin Dillon that is part rock concert, part social commentary, and part documentary about contemporary slavery worldwide. The following day, IJM's Bill Clark spoke and then attendees fanned out for intercessory prayer in four different rooms. The weekend event culminated in a "freedom march" from Cincinnati's Fountain Square to Sawyer Point, a landmark from the days of the Underground Railroad where slaves from Kentucky and further south crossed into the free state of Ohio.

About 300 youth and adults from around the region participated in the Unbound "immersion." Wolfenberg knows of numerous youth groups that committed to doing new justice-oriented activities as a result. At Crossroads, the number of students actively involved in justice work doubled. Some began planning Unbound 2, while several others launched a new project to develop a short curriculum on contemporary slavery for use in high school classes.

Important as it is, the shift in American evangelicalism from ignorance to awareness of the centrality of God's call to justice in the Scriptures is just the first step in actually reducing injustice worldwide. Practical action and substantial investment in on-the-ground work to free victims must follow. As Gary Haugen writes about the justice mission in his 2008 book, Just Courage:

[T]here is no other category of Christian calling in which there is such an enormous disparity between the need in the world and the actual ministry addressing the need …. While the number of people suffering from injustice is similar to the number of people suffering because of hunger, homelessness, sickness or a lack of access to the gospel, there are literally a hundred times more people and resources devoted to the latter than the former.

We need to remind ourselves repeatedly that God's justice is comprehensive, whereas our human perceptions of justice and injustice are always limited, partial, flawed. In one church, "reducing injustice" may mean working on behalf of immigrants. In another church it might mean working on behalf of the unborn. What is high on the justice agenda of one congregation may not even merit a mention in another congregation just down the street. But to acknowledge our limitations and proceed with due humility is not an excuse for inaction. Rather, it should spur us to recognize that there is more than enough for us to do: there isn't likely to be a shortage of injustice anytime soon.

A well-functioning public justice system is taken for granted by most American evangelicals. Our justice system has its flaws, to be sure, but it works predictably well for most middle-class believers. It's the air we breathe, and it's hard to imagine life without it. As a result, we do not sufficiently appreciate its value or recognize how relatively rare a gift it is. By contrast, most poor people worldwide live outside the benefit of the rule of law, under justice systems that do not protect and sometimes actively harm them—systems where, whether because of corruption or lack of capacity, the policeman is definitely not your friend. The ancient words of the prophet Amos describe contemporary realities for millions, where the state "oppresses good people by taking bribes and deprives the poor of justice in the courts." Part of the reason American evangelicals are rightly concerned about hunger, poverty, and AIDS worldwide is that these problems are tangible. The equally horrific problem of broken public justice systems is much harder to grasp.

icon4 of 6view all

Most ReadMost Shared

Seminary/Grad SchoolsCollege Guide