I have several human trafficking engagements this month. To prepare for them, I recently completed a reading of Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking by Eddie Byun. Byun references Dr. Timothy Keller when defining the word justice. It means: 1.) treating people well, 2.) giving people what is due them, 3.) righteousness and right living in community or the right use of power, and 4.) care for the vulnerable and poor (27). I love these definitions because they echo the writings of the prophet Isaiah, and because they remind us that justice is something we learn and work at with the help of God.
I love this book because it begins where I like to begin by talking about God’s heart for justice. Good theology first begins with God. I like to challenge readers here to think deeper about what it means to live as a Christian, to follow Christ, and to engage rightly in the world. When I use words like “theology,” I am simply referring to what we know or how we think about God. These conclusions are best drawn from the Bible, and impacts the way we relate to each other and how we take responsibility for the earth we have been charged to steward.
In their book, How to Think Theologically, Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke write:
It is a simple fact of life for Christians: their faith makes them theologians. Deliberately or not, they think—and act—out of a theological understanding of existence, and their faith calls them to become the best theologians they can be (1).
Our theology matters. Thinking rightly about God and about others leads to our righteous or just response in the world. This is the reason we need a theological framework for biblical justice, and the lack of theological understanding is the reason many churches don’t engage in the injustices happening all around them.
As I read the Bible, I believe one of the lowest points in the biblical texts is when Jesus is suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows he is about to die for a crime he didn’t commit, and he is willing to lay down his life. His heart is heavy with sorrow and he is deeply troubled so he decides to take his closest friends along with him to pray. Instead of praying, keeping watch, and interceding for Jesus, however, they fall asleep. They do this not once or twice, but three times. He warned them, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak (Matthew 26:41).”
Far too often, there are injustices happening all around us as Christians and we don’t engage. We don’t use our voice to speak up. We don’t give the resources of our time, talents, and finances to support those on the front lines. We don’t respond rightly in the world either because we are not aware of the spiritual warfare happening all around us, we lack theological understanding or training about how to address the issues we do face, or like the disciples in the garden, we are simply too tired, discouraged, self-centered, or lazy to do what Jesus asks of us.
Either way, as followers of Christ, we all need to be awakened to justice. The pursuit of justice is not a “special” ministry or something a “select few” members in a congregation does. In the public proclamation of his ministry, Jesus made it clear that taking what’s wrong in the world and making it right is the very heart of the gospel.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-2 NIV)
The gospel is good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind, and favor for all who are oppressed. The people of God must stand with Jesus in proclaiming this good news through our words and with good deeds.
This is the biblical foundation for why I choose to take a stand against human trafficking. I agree with Byun that the sins of lust and greed drives the human trafficking industry. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim 6:10).” As a Christian and leader, I am convicted that I have a responsibility to take action.
Becoming awakened to justice does not stop with our awareness or acknowledgment of the injustices. That is only the beginning. The next critical step is asking the Lord, “What would you have me do? What is my righteous response to the issue(s) of injustices happening all around me?” The beauty of a healthy, faithful, and obedient body of Christ working together is that all of us will not do the same things or respond in the same ways. Each of us, however, can do something.
I don’t have the stomach on temperament for first responder work concerning the issue of human trafficking, especially when I consider the violence that is happening everyday against children. I can, however, pray, make a financial offering to creditable first responder organizations, use my voice either through speaking or writing, and mobilize my local community. I do this because I believe theologically that God always stands on the side of justice. He alone knows and does what is right in the world, and I want to stand with him.
“Do you feel the church should be involved for freedom and justice around the world? Why or why not (23)?”
Note: Over the next four Tuesdays (including this one), I will be sharing from this resource as our book of the month. If you are in the North Caroline area, I encourage you to join our upcoming “Justice Awakening” Education and Awareness Event.
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015