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February 23, 2007

Practical Justice: What Can I Do?

Yesterday Joel submitted this comment to my post Humming the Same Tune:

I too have been seized by a passion about [the slavery issue] for the past several days, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find an outlet for this passion. Sure, I can donate to something, but I want to be hands-on involved. I see there's a petition to sign so I sign, but then see that they only have less that 50,000 so far and want to get 390,000 in the next few weeks -- a daunting task at best. Certainly not impossible, but much more than a web campaign is needed for those kind of numbers. I start thinking about printing out pages, setting up a table at church, making announcements, going door to door with whomever else I can recruit to help, sitting outside of the supermarket...but then I have to ask what the point is. I don't mean freeing slaves; that point is quite clear. But what's the specific point of the petition exercise? So we can all tell Congress that we don't like something that's largely (granted, not entirely) going on elsewhere in the world? What will that accomplish? Ditto the idea of creating our own Clapham Circles (another idea on the Amazing Change site) -- what's the point? So we can sit around and talk about how rotten the world is? Again, what will that accomplish?... Am I making any sense?

Joel, thanks for the comment. I share your frustration at times. I believe your question relates particularly to the issue of ongoing slavery around the world. You are right to be asking practically how you can help. I just went over to the Amazing Change website and spent a little time on their “what you can do” section and I agree, it is not particularly helpful. I’m not an expert on the issue of human trafficking, but here’s what I do know:

  • I think the church doesn’t talk nearly as much as the Bible does about issues of justice. I think one way that you could help is by doing a study with some fellow Christians and seriously investigating God’s heart for justice. Even if you just began with a word study, it would be a good place to start. (Perhaps one of our readers or bloggers has a Bible study resource they’d recommend.) Many of us rightly understand that God has called us to share the Good News. But fewer of us understand that God also calls us to do something to care for the poor, to seek justice; this is a part of God’s kingdom coming also. It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and. We need to recover a heart for justice as a part of the good news.
  • Next, you are right, the point isn’t simply to talk about these things, but to do something. You may not be able to free a literal slave in your community, but there is a world of injustice right in our own back yards. I just got done reading Practical Justice, by Kevin Blue. He doesn’t get us all the way there, but he gets us started by talking about direct relief, distributing skills, and dealing with the system. Or to put it in terms of the old adage, giving a man a fish, teaching a man to fish, and fixing the pond. While the book doesn’t deal with the question of ongoing slavery, it deals with the kinds of everyday injustices that are in our own neighborhoods. Since all of us should be involved hands-on in some way, this is a good place to start.
  • Gary Haugen’s Good News About Injustice has a good deal of specifics about how we can work to seek justice overseas in the issue of human trafficking. We need more Christians to go into professional fields that will help in the human rights field. Haugen has a helpful guide for students contemplating entering the international human rights field. For those of us who have already made our career choices, we can ask if there are skills that we have that could be offered to further the cause. As a writer, for example, I can disseminate information and awareness. Some international businessmen may be able to put pressure on the partners with whom they work. Haugen lists other ideas in his book. We can also perhaps go on short-term relief trips. I think we need to be creative here. At Christmas, I blogged about a group called Wonderfully Made Jewelry, that is creating hope for victims of sex trafficking by giving them a sustainable trade. IJM is another example, where Gary Haugen and other Christians began to get creative about meeting a need at hand. We would do well to likewise think outside the box and to get entrepreneurial in our response.

  • One of the reasons many of us around here admire William Wilberforce is that he understood that change had to be made on two levels: changing politics and changing culture. That’s why he and his Clapham Circle worked on both levels. When you consider that the vast majority of people in modern-day slavery around the world are sex slaves and then you look at how pornography in our own culture affects the demand for sex tourism and so forth, it becomes clear how changing the culture at home can lead to changing the culture abroad. Just take a look at a recent study about how many children have been exposed to pornography on the internet. But how do we change the culture, you ask? Well, it must include more than the individual, but it must start with individuals. This is where the kind of faith of Zach Hunter or the little boy who brought Jesus the fish and loaves comes into play. It may not seem like much, but we must start somewhere, even if it is as simple as writing a letter to our newspaper editor.
  • When I talk about reviving the spirit of Clapham in our day, I’m not thinking about a single-ssue focus. That’s one of the things I like so much about the Clapham community. They were really just living out a Christian worldview on the issues that seemed most important in their day and with the particular gifts they’d been given, for the particular context in which they lived.

I don’t know if any of this is helpful. I’d be glad for others to join the conversation. Here are two questions: How can we practically help to fight modern-day slavery? And how can we personally begin to seek justice in practical everyday ways?

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