Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Good News About Injustice" by Gary Haugen

Here is a book review I recently wrote for Nurture magazine (a Christian Education National publication).

So often we can become complacent about the injustices in the world because it all seems too hard and too complex. How could we possibly make any difference?
Gary Haugen is well qualified to speak about injustice in the world. Even before founding International Justice Mission in 1997, Haugen witnessed some of the worst stories of modern inhumanity. While working with the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice he was seconded to lead a team of investigators into Rwanda weeks after the genocide ended in 1994. He travelled to the Philippines to investigate atrocities committed by soldiers and police as part of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. He worked with South African church leaders on the National Initiative for Reconciliation during the 1985-1986 state of emergency.
In “Good News About Injustice” Gary Haugen shows explicitly how ordinary Christians, like you and me, can rise up to God’s call for justice. Haugen has written a straightforward book about the realities of injustice in our world, the biblical mandate for compassion and justice, and practical ways that Christians can be involved in real change.
International Justice Mission, which Haugen founded and directs, is a human rights agency made up of Christian lawyers, investigators and social workers that secure justice for victims of various forms of oppression all around the world. The experiences of this organisation form the foundations of this book’s explorations into what it means to seek justice. In the book Haugen describes the two major stages he sees for practical involvement: exposing and intervening. We all have the capacity to research and make ourselves aware of injustice, then to speak out. There is also ways that both professionals and lay people can be involved in the actual work of freeing the oppressed – whether it is using professional skills or supporting a fulltime worker who is.
This book is confronting. This book confronts some difficult issues and raises questions that we might not have encountered before in our comfortable existence. In the foreword, John Stott even says “I defy anybody to emerge from exposure to this book unscathed. In fact, my advice to would-be readers is ‘Don’t! Leave this book alone’ - unless you are willing to be shocked, challenged, persuaded and transformed.”[1] But what is most remarkable, is that this book is filled with hope. Haugen constantly refers back to the Bible and clearly lays out, not only God’s call for justice and our place in it, but also God’s redemptive power and hope in Christ.
This book is necessary. As a Christian studying in the aid and development field I was desperate for a godly perspective on the immense need I see for Christians to stand up and take action. As Gary points out early in his book Christians have both a profound and dark history when it comes to injustice. Some of history’s most influential leaders on justice issues have been believers – William Wilberforce, David Livingstone, William and Catherine Booth, Martin Luther King Jr.. And yet, Haugen believes, Christians now often “sit in the same paralysis of despair as those who don’t even claim to know a saviour – and in some cases, we manifest even less hope”[2]. This need not be the case though, as the book demonstrates. We have a hope to offer the world. As John Stott says in the foreword, “The book doesn’t leave us in suspense or with doubts, the cynicism, even the despair which the world’s monumental evil provokes in many Christian people. Instead, we are given solid grounds for hope”[3].
If you are grappling with questions to do with faith and social justice; or if you simply want a practical book to help you with ideas for how to engage in the fight for justice in our world than this is an invaluable book.
But, be warned: This book will move you!

[1] Gary Haugen, Good News About Injustice (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), p. 11
[2] Ibid., p. 14.
[3] Ibid., p. 11.

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