Complicit no matter what we do? So was Jesus.

Ever get the feeling you’ll be complicit in injustice no matter what you do?

I remember finding out that slave-labor was used to build natural-gas pipelines in Burma. Thousands of slaves were involved in clearing the land and in construction work along the 65km pipeline.

So, of course I decided to boycott the French and British gas companies involved. That meant driving past the most convenient gas station to my house, a gas station owned by Chevron, when I needed to fill up our community car with gas. I encouraged others to do the same.

No biggie.

Then, I found out about the injustice involved in the manufacture of a key part of cellphones — a mineral called coltan. Most of the world’s coltan is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The extraction of coltan has contributed to maintaining one of the bloodiest armed conflicts in Africa, which according to human rights organizations has led to:

  • more than five million deaths
  • massive displacements of the population, and
  • the rape of 300,000 women in the last 15 years

Finding a cellphone that was “conflict-mineral free” became a big challenge.

Then, I moved to Cambodia and got to know garment factory workers who toil under exploitative conditions to make the brand-name (and unbranded) clothes you and I wear.

Time to go naked? Time to sew my own clothes? Wear sacks?

No seriously, it’s a problem.

Whichever way I turn there is injustice. And I am complicit in the suffering of others. There’s no real escape unless I go off the grid.

Next time someone wants to point out some injustice in the world I better be sure to stick my fingers in my ears and scream, “Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala – I’M NOT LISTENING!” — or I’ll be stripped of some other simple joy in life.

But here’s the thing.

Jesus walked on Roman roads built by slaves. (Here’s proof.) Slaves and prisoners of war were often forced to perform the most difficult tasks of quarrying and transporting stone in building the massive network of roads for the Roman Empire.

There was blood on those stones. And yet, Jesus walked on those Roman highways. Does that mean He didn’t care about injustice? Was he indifferent to suffering?

Of course not! Didn’t He harangue the Pharisees about their lack of justice (Matthew 23:23)? Didn’t He respond with anger to exploitation (Matthew 21:12)?

But I think Jesus knew that there is a certain pride in our idealism that has nothing to do with seeking better outcomes for the poor and the suffering. We feel good because we’re not complicit. We feel better because we’re not responsible. We’re not guilty. We wash our hands.

Jesus points out the danger of this attitude in a provocative little story about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). One was righteous (self-righteous!), supposedly free from injustice. The other knew he was complicit. He knew he was guilty.

The point is not to embrace apathy nor to be paralyzed by the complexity of being human in a fallen world, but to embrace the humble stance of the tax collector who wept over how he had fallen short.

So where does that leave me? Now, I still fight the good fight. I still battle against injustice. But with a healthier dose of grace and flexibility. I’m trying to stand tall with the humble posture of a recovering sinner.

Because sometimes the purist is impotent.


Thanks to the hard work of human rights activists, most major cellphone producers announced in 2011 that they would no longer buy minerals from the DRC. So our work is not futile.


(post originally appeared here)


Craig Greenfield is the founder and director of Alongsiders International and the author of the recently published Subversive Jesus. During more than 15 years living and ministering in slums and inner cities in Cambodia and Canada, Craig has established a number of initiatives to care for vulnerable kids and orphans, as well as formed Christian communities for those marginalized by society. His postgraduate research in International Development led to the publication of his first book, The Urban Halo: a story of hope for orphans of the poor which is currently available for free on Craig’s website. He loves God, the poor, and fish and chips. He’s on Twitter and Facebook too.

Their Purpose is NOT to Give Us Money

There is a subtle mindset which can creep into our thinking as missionaries and social activists.

We can begin to think that there are those who are called to go, and those who are called to give.

Jesus himself said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

Historically this view has played out in multiple ways.

In his book, Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow, Skye Jethani recounts this path through history.

Eusebius taught a two class style. He said there is the perfect life (ministry) and the permitted life. All those not called to a “full-time” ministry emphasis could engage in vocations which were permitted.

The Protestant Reformation brought reform to this with the understanding that God is glorified in all areas of life – including work. This resulted in a dedication to work which was called the Protestant work ethic.

The strength in this is value brought to all vocations. The weakness is that work can become the focus. Our mission or calling can become our identity, even taking the place of God in our lives. Our mission becomes our God. (For a further development of this idea, I would recommend Jethani’s book, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. It is one of the most challenging books I have read in years.)

The Puritans had a bit of a different twist, saying each person had multiple callings which much be woven together:
– Highest calling – God himself and relationship with Him.
– Common calling – Biblical commands for life, family, evangelism,  and social concern.
– Specific Calling – Vocation, unique expression in the world.

So which is correct?

Probably a blending of the Protestant and Puritan view.

The application for us as missionaries is more profound.


How do we view those who support us and provide for our livelihood? How do we see those called to different vocations?

A subtle sense of superiority can creep into our minds.

If someone is not involved in social transformation or evangelistic training and discipleship of souls, we cannot see them as second class citizens.

Jethani asks, “Do we value businesses for their ability to create jobs, sustain families and produce products and services which bless people or do we see them as a means to fund the ministry?”

Often, we can slip into the mindset that businesses exist to make money to give it to those doing the work of the kingdom – I hear it from people all the time on both sides of the issue.

Jethani adds, “Those who pursue and address social change are exalted…but how does a dentist, roofer, or homemaker find purpose? Are they require to give their surplus time and energy to the “cause”, whatever that might be.”

I would add that their primary purpose is not to give money to the causes. Yes, a missionary just said that people’s primary cause is not to give money to me!

All of life is spiritual, not just the things which pertain to missions or social change.

We as “full-time” workers in traditional Christian vocations need to keep this in mind. I have seen far too many people feel a deep sense of inferiority for merely being a businessperson or medical worker. That is not the heart of God.

How do we walk in this truth? And how do we help our donors feel valued for what they contribute to life and society, not merely the money they give to us?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

Photo by Erik Cleves Kristensen via Flickr