Have you seen Gary Haugen’s new book, The Locust Effect? It gets down to a thorny issue at the heart of the constant battle against poverty.
A recent interview in Christianity Today hit me between the eyes. Why We’re Losing the War on Poverty featuring Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission is a blunt evaluation of our efforts to fight injustice, specifically sex trafficking. Haugen, a former DOJ and UN investigator, says:
You can look to the struggle against slavery in the 19th century, to the struggle against child labor, to the civil rights movement. In each, the church had a critical role in not only being an advocate, but also deploying specialized expertise and skills in the work of justice. At the turn of the 20th century, the amazing police reform in New York City was influenced by a Presbyterian minister, Charles Henry Parkhurst.
Throughout history are hidden other stories of Christians taking up their biblical, prophetic role—not of seizing governmental power, but of using their power as citizens and their moral voice to ensure that the state’s power was used to protect the weakest. In Scripture, God’s people exhort the rulers, the authorities, to exercise their power with justice. The fight for law enforcement is now being engaged in the developing world. The violence manifest in the developing world is actually against the law.
The problem is not that the poor don’t get laws. The problem is that they don’t get law enforcement. There is a functional collapse of law enforcement systems in the developing world; the poor are left utterly vulnerable to violence. This is another historic opportunity for the people of God to be on the side of justice in very practical ways.
When people think of poverty, they tell you what they see: the shacks, the dirty water, the hungry families. Those are all the visuals that immediately come to mind.
What they don’t see are the assaults, the slap across the face, the rape, the torture by police, and the extortion. It’s intentionally hidden by the perpetrator. The victims are scared and ashamed, and it’s difficult for them to speak. People don’t talk about the things they don’t have solutions for. People working in the development field and in poverty-fighting or public health don’t often come from law enforcement.
The primary fields of IJM’s work are international, thus Haugen’s comments are drawn from Third World experiences. This leads CT’s Timothy Morgan to ask “What can the average American Christian do about violence against the poor thousands of miles away?” The missing element is this: these abuses of power, up to and including law enforcement, are not limited to the third world. They are prevalent in the United States.
A January 27, 2014 article out of San Diego reports Sex Trafficking Overtakes Drug Trafficking As Gang’s Top Cash Source.
San Diego’s rival street gangs like the BMS, the Neighborhood Crips and Brim have put aside their differences over turf and drugs, and have struck up alliances to sell women and girls, some as young as 12.
“They’re absolutely a syndicate,” [FBI Special Agent Robert] Howe said. “We have noticed an increase in the sex trafficking piece over the drugs. These criminal enterprise street gangs have realized the profit margins are so much bigger.”
It’s a cash-rich business for pimps because the girls and women can be sold and resold daily.
“You have a product that you don’t have to keep in inventory,” San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “You don’t have to purchase it. You don’t have to wait for the money to come back on this product and then buy it from the supplier. You are not as exposed as you are if you are caught with drugs to being caught with a woman or being a girl.”
Of course this is maddening and heart-breaking at the same time. These stories could be told millions of times a day. But, as a friend asked, “What can we do to change things?”
I’m feel sure Wilberforce asked himself the same question.
What hit me between the eyes is how IJM engages those in authority. They challenge the justice system by rousing community leaders to action.
The decades long evangelical strategy toward societal change has been the attempt to reform political systems. Voter drives, running for office, boycotts and the like have all been used as pressure tactics. Many of these have been at the national level over court rulings, appointees, and congressional bills. Perhaps we have overlooked going to our local council member, mayor, deputy mayor, or county commissioner, having a face-to-face conversation then publicizing the results.
I have a blog. If I were to meet with a public official over an issue of homelessness or child abuse then write a report of that meeting, it brings a different kind of pressure than, “I’m not voting for you.” Incumbents rarely have anything to fear. But if the conversation changes all around them, they have to listen.
Maybe all you have is Facebook. Use it to change the way the conversation is presented.
If we continue with the same strategy we will likely see torturously slow results. Voting out one band of self-serving politicians in favor of another profits nothing. The milk is still spoiled. Instead, let’s ignore party affiliations and keep the pressure on regardless of who holds office.