Conservatives and the Work of Justice, Part 1
After staring at it for a few months now, this week I finally completed my application to volunteer with perhaps my most beloved NPO ever, International Justice Mission. My hope? To become an official IJM Justice Advocate.
NAYSAYER #1: But you’re a Republican, aren’t you? Don’t you Republicans hate people?
Yeah, um, NO. Well, generally yes to the first question (leaning towards Rep/Libertarian), and a big fat NO on the second.
For those of you who think I am making this stuff up, I was honestly asked this question during law school back in 2000, when I was interning for the summer at a law firm in Nashville. One of the senior-level associates, an extremely intelligent liberally-minded woman, could not for the life of her understand why I was a Republican. After all, I was the president of our school’s Legal Aid Society. I had taken hours upon hours of training classes to become a crisis counselor for pregnant women. To her, my political affiliation seemed crazy. Hypocritical. To “pretend” I wanted to serve people yet vote for “evil, corporate-loving, greed-filled politicians who wanted to hurt the weakest among us” made absolutely no sense to her.
(Said the liberal lawyer working for the big bad law firm, making enormous amounts of money defending those corporations. Yes, the irony was not lost on me.)
My answer to her 12 years ago is my same answer today.
I do want to help people. I just don’t believe it’s the job of the government to do it for me.
The word “charity“, in its purest sense, is a reflection of the agāpe love shown by Christ to His people. ”[C]harity, as man’s love for man, [must] be based not upon the desirability of its object but upon the transformation of its subject through the power of divine agāpe.” It was never meant to come from the impersonal; on the contrary, it is an intimately personal kind of love given from one to an undeserving other. Government and charity don’t mix, by definition.
Not only is charity not the government’s rightful role, but it does a horrid job of providing charity. Yes, it can throw money at whatever problems it deems worthy (a.k.a. increases polling numbers) at the moment, but history has shown us that money alone cannot heal. In fact, in most cases it makes the problems worse in the long term because government handouts alone tend create a culture of dependency. Such has been the case in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the American welfare system.
In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ”
(And yes, I understand this is perhaps an oversimplification… but just go with it. I’m not writing a thesis here.)
Charity, in its truest sense, must instead be the role of the church and the compassionate individual… because people need REAL hands to pick them up, to free them from those who oppress and enslave them. Which leads me to:
NAYSAYER #2: But the church sucks. It is full of hypocrites like you. The church only cares about its niche causes, like fighting against g*y marriage and being pro-birth. It doesn’t really love people.
Sadly, in many cases that is true. Throughout history, the church has totally dropped the ball when it comes to genuinely loving people. Loving sinners. Getting into the ditch with the broken and being the hands and feet of Jesus to them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s one of the main reasons the politicians were able to swoop in.
They didn’t swoop in to help out of compassion, mind you… but to create dependent voters. Surely we’re not that naive.
But that’s another post. (perhaps another thesis)
I am, however, grateful to say that we can see in the American church at large a radical shift toward charity: feeding and housing the poor, providing medicine and much-needed care for the sick. These efforts have almost always been present on the small scale, but today we’re seeing them explode across the country and across denominations.
In general, though, the church still does suck at seeking justice: freeing the oppressed from their captors, persecuting perpetrators, providing healing and assistance for those who so desperately need it most. Only a few organizations — some within the church, some without — have made any inroads at all in this endeavor.
IJM is one of them.
And this week, I did not fill out that application with a light heart. A joyful one, yes. An extraordinary humbled one, absolutely.
But I have no naivete about the battle I am about to enter.
You see, I am a sinner unrighteous in the sight of God, relying completely on my Savior Jesus Christ for my justification and sanctification, I recognize that any human effort made on His behalf to rescue His people is merely a gift He gives, to allow us to participate even in some small way in His redemptive work in the world. But it is a war, my friends… a battle against pure, unadulterated evil. Even speaking out from the comfort of our American perch will not shield us from the heat of that battle, from the arrows that may come our way.
But over the past 13 years of praying for the work of IJM, I also have come to believe wholeheartedly that God has mightily blessed this work, and I am honored and humbled to be considered to play a part in it. Even if, and perhaps because, it’s hard. Why? Because I am confident in a God who hears the cries of the afflicted:
“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” -Psalm 10:17-18
(friendly) NAYSAYER #3: Um, girlfriend? Don’t you have kind of a full plate? You know, homeschooling multiple children, going to Ethiopia and bringing a new daughter home and all? Why now?
You’ve hit the nail on the head, friend. I have used this very excuse to stop myself from moving forward on this for (literally) YEARS. But no longer. If I really believe He is a God who hears the oppressed, who works tirelessly in battle against injustice, then — though my work in the home is essentially important — my effort on His behalf must take me, must take our family, beyond these walls. We must engage our friends, our neighbors, our church, our community to get past the superficial Christian life, to never again refuse to acknowledge the reality of injustice next door and halfway around the world.
If I can play even some small role in bringing about awareness, change, and action in opposition to injustice in these circles, then I consider it a great blessing.
I am excited to begin, working at least initially with my church to motivate those who heard and responded with passion to a message given by IJM to the congregation a few weeks ago, as well as helping with a Justice Club recently formed at a local high school. My prayer is that this will be just the first such club of many in the area. I cannot wait to see how God grows awareness among the children and young adults in our midst, weaving the work of justice into the pattern of their lives so they too can move beyond the superficial into the amazing work He has set before us all.
So yes, I’m a conservative. And yes, I am passionate about the work of justice.
And I’m not alone.
(more to come…)