Reflecting on Gary Haugen’s Message at Justice Conference – What I Loved, What I Pushed Back On

(Photo: Passion 2013 Conferences)

I’ve been blogging about my reflections on the Justice Conference in Philadelphia all month. I loved it. I hope what I gained and sharing with my wife shapes us, our family, our church, and our community. I know it sounds a bit lofty but in my mind this is the difference between consuming events/books/stories/practices/etc. and internalizing them.

So as I’ve been blogging about this and trying to filter out what actually is helpful and what is not, I’ve been critiquing as well. It’s easy to for critiquing to fall into splitting hairs and other unhelpful distractions. My hope is my push backs will point me (and perhaps you) to something deeper.

I felt this way during Gary Haugen’s message on Saturday morning.
In case you don’t know, Gary is the founder of the International Justice Mission. IJM “is a powerful non-profit  human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure that public justice systems – police, courts and laws – effectively protect the poor.”

My life keeps running into them (and I imagine this will always be the case). I have some dear friends who are working at IJM stateside and abroad. Our church, Grace Chapel, gave over $100K to IJM as part of the Advent Conspiracy (I was so moved and grateful to be a part of this). Back in April, I got to sit in a briefing at the State Department and in all the awe of being there, I was overwhelmed by all that I could see IJM doing. Far more than organizing this briefing for ministry types at the Q Conference was the startling realization of just how closely the DOS works with IJM on fighting human trafficking. It’s uncanny. And I got to visit the IJM office in Cambodia with my Biblical Seminary cohort – what they do is unbelievable.  If I can convince you of anything in this post, it would be to connect with IJM in some way.  But keep reading, maybe I can ask you to consider a few other things too.

Then there’s Gary Haugen – He is an amazing man who is leading an amazing organization who are doing amazing things in the name of God. Clearly, I cannot use the word, “amazing” enough. Though I don’t have any type of a ranking system, I cannot think of any organizations I respect more than IJM.
If you would like to read more, check out their site, and consider reading Haugen’s books Just Courage and Good News About Injustice.

Obviously I’m an appreciator of Gary but if I’m being honest, parts of the presentation were difficult for me to receive, specifically the beginning.
He announced there was a new era in the church – as it was “reclaiming our understanding of justice.” That feels right.
He went on to say that pursuing justice is not an option – justice is part of God’s character. Amen to that.
“Church historians will write about this era. Will it be a flash in the pan with some cool shirts, sites, even some conferences?” My face winced as I heard the record scratch in my head.

As much as I love Haugen and IJM, the rhetoric of “historians will write something about this …” sometimes really bugs me. Certainly I understand by allowing the listeners to understand how our actions have a place in history there is the realization we will be held accountable by future generations – I get all that. That line of thought has a place but we should be leery of placing the how will history remember us question on too high a pedestal. If answering that question becomes the main fuel for our actions, than let us not use the nomenclature that we are doing this for God because it sounds more like we are really doing it for ourselves. Thus it reveals our wrong motives and feels vein – how will you be remembered? It risks taking the selfish parts of our desires of legacy and greatness and isolates them from the Christian themes of mission and sacrifice.

It should be among our hopes that we are forgotten so that future generations can see the true reason and fruit we labored. It should be our greater goal that they see the incredible things God has done in spite of our weaknesses, disunity, and lack of faith. I speculate it is more likely that future generations will wonder why we didn’t do more with so much. What they will lament for us will not be our lack of ambition but our lack of dependency on God.

Now Haugen didn’t say this but often the speaker will point to heroes of the past and say, “Will you be a Wilberforce?” (It happened at other moments throughout the conference however). Now my hope is that Haugen will be mentioned in the same breath as Wilberforce, know that I say that with all sincerity. But I do take issue when we offer the opportunity to be a “William Wilberforce” or to be someone “great” when we are talking about justice, sacrifice, serving others. It’s the wrong appeal and while he didn’t say that here, it’s part of the “how will you be remembered” mentality.

That feels like the bad type of advertising and I’m hardly original in saying this (which is why I was surprised by this). Anytime we use great examples of the faith we run the risk making idols out of them and further risk falling into the temptation of seeing ourselves as heroes instead of servants.

It’s true that the church historians will write something but they remember stories like the following Gary offered:
He told about a case in India that freed a number of children and adults from sex slavery and forced labor. Further, the IJM’s prosecuting team was able to convince the court that the guilty parties should receive lengthy prison sentences – justice was served. Gary told us this was the among the first of its kind in this type of case and in this particular part of India – it was quite incredible. And here was the reason. It took over 6000 hours to accomplish this.

6000 hours. He said the prosecutors often had to travel 6 hours to get to the courts and needed to deal with countless inefficiencies of the Indian legal system. If the judge didn’t show, there was no notice until they had arrived. Same with the defense council, and other unpredictable occurrences. Likely in your travels, you have dealt with similar instances. But the idea of constantly driving from Philly to Pittsburgh, after legal and personal mental preparation to fight clear injustices and constantly have the system work against you was frustrating to listen to, I could not imagine experiencing it. The time, financial resources, personal commitment and the team’s resolve tells the story of sacrifice and calling.

The last portion of Gary’s message was powerful:
“We need to reclaim prayer”
Need a love that doesn’t go away.
Work of justice is long, hard, laborious, and boring.
As is with many other great things like raising children, fighting addiction, caring for a mentally ill spouse, sitting in a South African prison or pairing the Sistine Chapel.
It can be long and boring. The book of love can be long and boring but we need it!”

I can get excited about that.  May we as followers of Jesus join the work of God. May we today be people of prayer, bringers of God’s redemptive message in Christ showing the showing the world His justice and love. Regardless of how today’s news outlets or tomorrow’s historians will view us, may God see His people faithful to their calling in His eyes.

There’s a pretty incredible IJM’s Global Prayer Gathering takes place April 5-7, 2013.  More info here.


  1. Yes, God does use people who gain a certain amount of fame, but I am reminded of the importance of the unnamed “7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal,” of the unnamed woman who donated two copper coins and earned a special place in salvation history, and of the Corinthians that Paul addressed in 1 Cor. 1.18-25, who were neither wise (by worldly standards) nor well-born nor especially noteworthy — and of the God who takes things that are not and makes them things that are. Which is to say, I resonate with the concern part of what you have expressed. Thank God for the work of IJM and Gary Haugen, but may he also deliver them from the temptations of fame.

  2. Regarding the IJM & Haugen, I’m not concerned with their/his temptation(s) for great fame, I’m more concerned for us as participants in the church and social justice pursuit.

    The 7000 unnamed is an excellent reminder – I should put some thought into that.

    Thanks for reading the blog Jim and for taking a moment to drop a line – See you soon.

  3. Bassim Ibrahim says:

    I appreciate hearing about the heroes of our faith. Coming from a protestant background, I feel that as a whole, we are not very knowledgable of the “saints” from the past and what they went through to advance God’s causes around the world. For instance, I’ve really enjoyed reading quotes from St Francis of Assisi that have been circulating around since the new Pope took his name. I agree that we shouldn’t make idols of these people – but I think most are on the other end of the spectrum – we hardly know enough about them. Even Paul said at one point to be like him as he is like Christ… or something like that :)

  4. Completely agree brother – so long as we’re not using these great examples for our own benefit. Again, I don’t believe this is Gary’s issue, but rather a temptation of pride for myself and 2500 other listeners at a conference on changing the world.

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