Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
For more about the book and Andy Crouch, please visit

Posts tagged justice

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Over the last 15 years International Justice Mission has mobilized Christians to address the profound need for structural transformation in public justice systems around the world that, due to a combination of corruption (i.e., human sin turned systemic) and lack of resources, do not serve the poor. Generally the rich can find a way to get these systems (or parallel replacements for them) to work adequately on their behalf. The poor cannot.

IJM has brought professional expertise (investigative, legal, social work, diplomatic, etc.) to bear on these systems, founded its work on a casework model that helps actual clients who have suffered from injustice in a dramatic way, married that casework to a structural transformation vision that realizes that the problem is bigger than individual cases, and been motivated and sustained by profound faith in a realm where even people of good will are often paralyzed by fear and despair. Due to this unique combination of assets targeted at an area of particular need, IJM has had an extraordinary impact, most recently recognized by Google, which is devoting its 2011 corporate philanthropy to an anti-trafficking coalition led by IJM. There is nothing I’m more thrilled by in my lifetime than the growth in breadth, depth, and influence of IJM (with whom I’ve had the privilege to work and volunteer in various ways for many years).

Thanks to generations of hard work and ongoing vigilance, our public justice system in the USA is not systemically broken to the same extent as it is in the countries where IJM works. But today it occurred to me that there is another system in our country that in some ways is as broken as, if not more broken than, its equivalents in the rest of the world. This system does not serve the poor. Generally the rich can find a way to get this system (or a parallel replacement for it) to work adequately on their behalf. The poor cannot—even though they overwhelmingly want to.

What we need in this system is a movement that brings professional expertise in numerous areas, a casework model that actually meets the needs of specific individuals and families in a dramatic way, married to a structural transformation model, motivated and sustained by profound faith in a realm where all too many people have effectively given up.

This system is our educational system.

Who will lead the IJM of courageous, faithful, professional, Christian efforts toward the structural transformation of American education so that it works just as well for the poor as it does for the rich? Could it be that 15 years from now we could have seen as much transformation in the way American Christians see their responsibility for education as we have seen in the last 15 years in the way they see their responsibility for public justice?

That’s what I’d like for Christmas.

from "Three Precisions: Social Justice," by Michael Novak, First Things, 1 December 2009

The scholar Friedrich Hayek finds that the first writer to use the term [“social justice”] was an Italian priest, Taparelli D’Azeglio, in his book Natural Rights from a Historical Standpoint (1883). It is in this book that Leo XIII (1878–1903) first encountered the term. The context was one of the most enormous social transformations in human history: the end of the agrarian age that had begun before the time of Christ, and the fairly abrupt entry into an age of invention, investment, urban growth, manufacturing, and services. No longer did families have an inherited roof over their heads and daily food from their own land. Now they were uprooted and dwelling in cities, dependent for shelter and food on the availability of jobs and their own initiative. Traditional social networks were cut to shreds, and the associations of a lifetime were torn asunder. . . .

I know from the experience of my own family over four generations how stressful the great transformation of society has been. Most of the gospel texts are cast in agricultural metaphors—seeds, harvests, grains, sheep, land, fruit trees—and so resonate with the economic order of most of human history until the nineteenth or twentieth century. My family served as serfs on the large estate of the Hungarian Count Czaky, whose own ancestor was a hero in the turning back of the Turks near Budapest in 1456. My relatives were subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, as near as I can determine, were not able to own their own land until the 1920s. Men, women, and children on the estate were counted annually, along with cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock, for purposes of taxation.

My ancestors were taught to accept their lot. Their moral duties were fairly simple: Pray, pay, and obey. What they did and gained was pretty much determined from above. Beginning in about 1880, however, because farms no longer could sustain the growth in population, almost two million people from eastern Slovakia—one by one, along chains of connection with families and fellow villagers—began to migrate to America and elsewhere. Usually the sons left first and sent back later for wives. This was one of the greatest—and most unusual—mass migrations in history, with people migrating, not as whole tribes, but as individuals.

In America my grandparents were no longer subjects, but citizens. If their social arrangements were not right, they now had a duty (and a human necessity) to organize to change them. They were free, but they also were saddled with personal responsibility for their own future. They needed to learn new virtues, to form new institutions, and to take their own responsibility for the institutions they inherited from America’s founding geniuses.

In this context the term social justice can be defined with rather considerable precision. Social justice names a new virtue in the panoply of historical virtues: a set of new habits and abilities that need to be learned, perfected, and passed on—new virtues with very powerful social consequences.

Call + Response, directed by Justin Dillon, in select theaters nationwide :: thanks Jake!