This week I was planning on writing about justice. I had it all planned out in my head. A handful of lines that would eloquently sum up the extent of injustice in the world, but also provide hope and encouragement. It was exactly what a sheltered, privileged, middle class white woman would write in the comfort of her own home, eating her way through a fridge full of snacks and distracting herself by flicking through Huffington Post articles on her latest model iPhone. But then a man who has multiple sexual assault charges pending was elected as the most powerful man in the world. Then a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit a city that is still rebuilding after another earthquake devastated the city and killed 185 people only 5 years ago. Then a report came out about the abuse and neglect experienced by society’s most vulnerable kids, those living in residential care. My neat, eloquent theses of justice fell in tatters at my feet. I have been weepy, sleepless, frustrated and listless. My prayer life has turned chaotic and painful. My doubts are outweighing my hopes. I haven’t received any answers to my questions. How can I, as a Christian, write about justice when the world is as it is? I am a poor theologian and a worse philosopher. I considered writing about something else, something less complex and depressing. But the resounding message I got from God this week was ‘It’s not your job to defend me. Your only job is to tell the truth’. Tell the truth. So here is the truth as I see it:
Two centuries after William Wilberforce ended the British slave trade, we now have more slaves than at any other point in history. Every 30 seconds another person becomes a victim of human trafficking, yet only 1% are ever rescued.
After the horrors of WW2 and the displacement of millions of Jews, we are once again facing a refugee crisis of equal, if not greater scale, and yet the world is responding with fear and hate, not compassion and provision.
50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was shot dead for having the audacity to speak out against racial oppression and marginalisation, we continue to be confronted with headlines of racially motivated violence and murder.
40 years since women’s rights movements first began raising awareness about violence against women, a woman still dies at the hands of a current or former partner every week in Australia.
30 years since homosexuality was removed from DSM as a mental disorder there are still clinics and organisations that claim to ‘cure’ individuals of their sexual orientation.
10 years since Bono sang about Mondays in an attempt to end world poverty, children are still dying in the tens of thousands every year due to extreme poverty.
The extent of injustice in the world is more than I can wrap my head around. It compels us to action, to DO SOMETHING, and history is full of moments when people have rallied together and cried that enough is enough. They have donated, volunteered, protested, written letters and books and articles, worn arm bands and t-shirts and changed their profile photo on Facebook; sometimes even managing to bring the world to a stop… but only for time. After the initial hysteria, group membership dwindles, something else becomes front page news, the personal cost of institutional changes start to become real, and progress stalls. This is the moment when I lose hope, and I don’t think I’m alone. My generation is marked by its disillusionment and cynicism. We have seen solutions fail and even make problems worse. We’ve seen corruption and abuses of power at every level, in every institution and organisation. We have been blindsided by individuals who capture our trust and admiration through their passion, charisma and determination, only to pull back the curtain and see a coward in a green coat, who got in too deep too fast and fell victim to pride, greed and contempt. Hope seems foolish, naïve and pitiful.
When disillusionment gives way to cynicism, it paves the way for outright hostility towards those who continue to work for justice. I have a friend who volunteers for an organisation that provides washable sanitary items to teenage girls living in developing countries. She was recently challenged as to why she isn’t helping our local homeless girls. A local organisation I belong to put on an event for boys where they could run, yell, and get dirty to their hearts content. They were repeatedly messaged by people asking why the event excluded girls. A national organisation I support posts on social media every day trying to raise awareness about the extent of violence against women in our nation, and again and again they are challenged as to why they aren’t doing anything to address the male suicide rate.
In a way, I agree with all of these concerns. The sanitary needs of local homeless girls is an important issue. The male suicide rate in this country is a tragedy, and I would love to see more opportunities for all kids, boys and girls, to get dirty and be noisy. But the importance of these issues does not negate the importance of the former. I celebrate the fact that there are girls in developing countries who are able to get the full benefit of education now because they are not confined at home due to their monthly period. I celebrate the opportunity for boys to mud wrestle and tell fart jokes without being told to sit still and be quiet. I celebrate organisations that fight for women’s rights and campaign for gender equality. I know the heart behind each of these movements, the passion and pain and the sacrifices they have made to try and do something in this world that is groaning with injustice, inequality, corruption and cynicism. I know that these people, if they could, would dedicate time and resources to every issue in the world, but they just can’t.
The more I am disillusioned with the state of the world, the more I admire the people who don’t give up on the hope that they can make a difference, who hold onto the audacious hope of a better world. I believe it takes incredible courage and resilience to remain hopeful in today’s world. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and despair and retreat into cynicism or self-imposed ignorance. But when I think about the person I want to be in my thirties, I don’t want to be the cynic behind a computer screen attacking and condemning everyone and everything. I don’t want to be the one who gives up on a cause before it has even started. I don’t want to be the one who ignores injustice because it makes me uncomfortable, and focus all my energies into excusing and justifying it, instead of fighting against it. I don’t want to be the one who decides that because I can’t save the world that gives me an excuse not to try and help the ‘one’. Because honestly, I think cynicism is a cop out, and I’d rather be someone who tries and fails, than the person who does nothing but scoff and snigger at the dreamers and believers. I want to be someone who holds onto hope and faith with an audacious, fierce tenacity.
The fight against injustice is not a sprint; it’s a long, hard, marathon relay that continues across generations. Just because I can’t see the finish line, doesn’t mean there isn’t one, and doesn’t give me an excuse to drop out of the race. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that because we have a “huge crowd of witnesses” who have gone before us we should “run with endurance the race God has set before us”. We have been left a legacy of audacious hope from people who refused to give up. There have always been cynical and hard-heated people who work against justice, but I choose not to be counted as part of their number. Instead I choose to belong to those who pursue hope, audaciously. Will you join me?