Is Justice Too Sexy?

Anyone who’s known my history as a writer knows that a decade ago I spent years trying to get a publisher to bite on a book on social justice. It went to publishing committee at five different publishers and got turned down by marketers at all five, because they couldn’t sell a book on social justice in the Christian market.

Now those books are everywhere. And I’m thrilled, even though mine isn’t among them. (You can read the part of I’m No Mother Teresa I actually wrote by accessing old blog posts beginning here.) I want Christians to care about the poor, to release the captives, to meet the needs of the orphans and widows. In other words, I want them to fulfill the mission Jesus said was his own:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18–19)

But . . .

Today friends of ours leave for Kenya to return to their posts as teachers in a school for missionary kids. They are thankful to be headed “home” after a year in the States. They are especially thankful that all the financial support came in so they could return to Kenya (as missionaries, they must “raise” support by finding others who will provide the funds to pay for all the needs they have—food, housing, insurance, medical care, schooling for their own children, etc.).

Our friends are headed back without coworkers who hoped to be there to teach this semester. These teachers have been unable to raise enough support.

In this day of being all about justice, many of us aren’t interested in supporting those in “boring” support roles. We don’t want to support the teacher of missionary kids; we want to support the person dragging kids out of brothels. We have no interest in having our cash being used to pay the accountant who makes sure all the bills get paid; we want our dollars to go to put food in the mouths of starving children.

Justice is sexy. As the dictionary defines “sexy,” it is “excitedly appealing.”

Those in the justice world know that there is always a cause du jour. Yesterday it was clean water. Today it’s human trafficking. Tomorrow it may be prisoners or women’s rights or education. Nonprofits know that they have to capture your attention in that moment because soon discouragement or boredom or the glazed-over eyes syndrome will set in and folks will move on to some other interest.

In our pursuit of the next exciting thing, are we neglecting vital ministries that act as the support for all the front-line workers?

The school where our friends teach houses students whose parents work for 80 mission organizations in 20 African countries. Many of those people are in the trenches—performing lifesaving surgeries, teaching illiterate children or adults, feeding the starving refugee, providing clean water. But if there is no school to meet the needs of their children, how can they stay in that refugee camp? If no accountant ensures that their insurance bill is paid, or their dollars are transferred to a currency they can use in-country, how will they survive?

Maybe it’s time to applaud and support the workers who shore up the foundations. Maybe it’s time to invest some of our money in the decidedly unsexy but necessary structure of nonprofits. Let’s look at how our own giving is distributed and ensure we aren’t simply seeking the sexy.

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