2019 International Prayer Breakfast Remarks, "Why Good People Do Nothing"

Mr. Gary Haugen, Esq. September 17, 2019

Thank you, Ambassador King, for the extensive and generous introduction!

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, Excellencys, 

Good morning to you all. When I was growing up as a young boy, I loved to read history because I was seized by the question of what I would have done during the great moral struggles of the past. If I had been born in Great Britain in the 18th century, would I have worked with William Wilberforce in fighting the slave trade in the British Empire or, would I have been among the leaders who were confused and cynical and did nothing? 

Or, if I was here in New York in the 1850’s when Harriet Tubman was here going down into the southern states and rescuing people from slavery, would I have been helping her with that? Would I have been engaged in that struggle, or would have I have been disengaged, with apathy and moral confusion or fear? 

Or, what if I had been a German immigrant here in New York City in the 1930s, as the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was. Would I have actually gone back home to Germany in the 1930s when the Nazi darkness was just beginning to overtake that country? Would I have returned, and would I have lived a life as a righteous Gentile during the Holocaust era? Would I have done the right thing? Would I have had courage? Would I have made my grandchildren proud? 

In many respects, this speculation feels idle, doesn't it? I mean, who knows really what we would have done. Besides, it feels like history has perhaps passed us by. The great struggles of good and evil, right and wrong, seem to be of a bygone era. All the great and heroic battles have already been fought, and we are left with what feel like, sometimes, just the petty battles in the gray areas. Certainly, nothing our grandchildren will want to ask us about. 

But this perspective was shattered for me twenty-five years ago. In the spring of 1994, I was living in Washington D.C. and I was serving as a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, working on problems of police abuse and violence here in the United States. My wife and I were now expecting twins, and so I was trying to figure out how to put the cribs together in our house. I was trying to trade in our little car for a bigger car. I was occasionally getting to go for a nice jog along the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. And, I remember taking my nieces and nephews to see a Disney movie called The Lion King. That's what I was doing in 1994. 

But then, in April of ‘94, small stories began to appear in the news about the outbreak of some kind of horrible conflict in a little country I'd really never heard of before, called Rwanda. Then I began to see pictures on the news of bloated corpses choking the rivers of Rwanda, and commentators started talking about a genocide. And apparently, thousands of Tutsis were being slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors in a genocidal hysteria that was sweeping the country. 

But, like much of the great ugliness pouring in on a non-stop basis through the daily news, it just didn't seem real. It seemed true, but it didn't seem real. Like descriptions of life in ancient Rome - they seem true, but not real. Or, if someone tries to tell me how many stars there are in the Milky Way – true, but not real. Not real like it is when my kids are sick at home, or real like it feels when I'm behind in my work, or real when I'm trying to figure out what that doctor is talking about with that scary diagnosis. 

But within a few months, for me, it felt all too real as I found my own feet slipping in the mud of a mass grave in Rwanda. At the end of that summer of ’94, immediately after the genocide had exhausted itself, as Ambassador King mentioned I was put on loan to the United Nations to be the director of the UN's genocide investigation. And, all murder investigations begin with where the bodies are. So I was given a list from the U.N. military of 100 different mass graves and massacre sites where, every day, we would sort through thousands of butchered corpses and try to piece together the testimony of the survivors and the gruesome physical evidence to hand over to the International Criminal Tribunal. 

As we would soon learn, about 800,000 people were murdered in eight weeks. That's like having the murders of 9/11 take place three times a day, every day, for eight weeks. And it was standing in the midst of a mass grave in Rwanda that I stopped wondering how I might have fared in the great moral struggles of the past. For it became abundantly clear that such struggles are not matters for idle speculation from distant history; such struggles are now. This conviction has been even more powerfully reinforced by my work with International Justice Mission. 

Three years after the Rwandan genocide in 1997, I left the Department of `Justice and started this organization, International Justice Mission. We're a collection of lawyers, criminal investigators, trauma social workers, community advocates, and professionals. And, we work alongside governments in the developing world who are seeking to protect their poorest citizens from violence. 

It turns out, according to a recent U.N. study, that “most of the world's poor live outside the protection of law.” As a result, 2 billion of the world's poorest are chronically assaulted by common everyday violence and they are, therefore, unable to escape the bonds of poverty. For more than 20 years at IJM, we've been working with governments around the world to strengthen their capacity to protect their most vulnerable populations from this violence. And our experience has recently been chronicled in a book with Oxford University Press called The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. 

And over time, we've learned that one of the greatest, most devastating, forms of violence afflicting the global poor in this era is slavery. And over these last 20 years International Justice Mission has actually become the world's largest international anti-slavery organization. We've worked with governments to bring hands-on rescue to tens of thousands of individual men, women, and children with names who are being held illegally in slavery. We've spent thousands of hours infiltrating human trafficking rings, and we've worked with government authorities to secure the arrest and conviction of hundreds and hundreds of sex traffickers and slave owners. 

And so, after two decades of this work, I want to share that there's really only three things that we need to know most critically about modern-day slavery. Number one, it's more vast than ever. Secondly, it's just as brutal as ever. But, it's more stoppable than ever. 

First, it's more vast than ever. According to the ILO and the Global Slavery Index, there are more than 40 million people in our world today held in slavery. That's more people than were extracted from Africa during 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The ILO also tells us that the modern slavery business generates about 150 billion dollars in profit every year. That's greater than the combined profits of Intel, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, and Apple combined. Slavery is not a relic of history; it's a larger reality than ever before. 

Secondly, not only is modern slavery more vast than ever, it's also more brutal than ever. I want to be clear that we're not talking about a metaphorical slavery. We're not talking about working conditions that aren't as they should be. We're not talking about children who are helping their parents with family income. We're talking about human beings who are literally owned by other human beings and coerced to work by the sheer force of violence. A few weeks ago I was with young children rescued from slavery in West Africa and they could show me the scars on their bodies from the beatings of their masters. Two of our clients from South Asia had their hands cut off when they tried to run away from their trafficker. I've been with young girls rescued from brothels in Southeast Asia and they were showing me the small rooms where they were locked away with padlocks on the doors, and they showed me the scars where their traffickers would put out their cigarettes in their flesh. 

The brutality of modern slavery is real, and in the face of such massive slave suffering one has to ask, “Why does such great evil triumph in the world?” Having seen much of this suffering in the world firsthand, I believe one of the greatest insights was articulated by Edmund Burke about 200 years ago. He said this, he said all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. 

This is a curious statement. It suggests that evil is much weaker than we imagine. That it prevails only when the forces of good allow it to prevail by doing nothing. What I do know, is that this was certainly true about the Rwandan genocide. The histories have all been written about that now, and one thing is clear: it could have been stopped. The good people of the world certainly could have stopped the Rwandan genocide – this, we know. But we missed it. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing. 

Which raises the question I'd like us to consider just briefly this morning: Why do good people do nothing? As I examine myself on this question, I find three deep sources of poverty that conspire to keep me and my good neighbors on the sidelines in the great struggles against evil in the world. It's a poverty of compassion, poverty of purpose, and a poverty of hope. 

First, I think it's because of a poverty of compassion. I'm frequently amazed at my own shrunken circle of compassion, especially when I come from a faith tradition which teaches, again and again, about God's great passion for the whole world. In contrast to God's great passion for all of the people throughout all of the world, I find my world of passion and preoccupation easily shriveled into a shrunken world of me and mine. 

In 1972, Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn said there was only one standard by which we judge events in the world: is it near, or is it far? Even the most massive and grotesque tragedy - like the Rwandan genocide, for instance – becomes (according to Solzhenitsyn) a tolerable disaster of bearable proportions because it is far. 

For me, personally, it was the teachings of Jesus that challenged me on the narrowness of my circle of compassion. He tried to make it simple about what life was about, and He said it's about loving God and loving your neighbor. But a lawyer wanted to make it more complicated with Him and so he asked, “But, who’s my neighbor?” So Jesus proceeded to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. We all know this: A man is lying beaten along the road and two men – particularly, religious men - walk on the other side of the road, Jesus says. But the Good Samaritan has compassion upon the man: he crosses over to the other side of the road and takes care of him. He loves his neighbor. So again, the lawyer asks, “But who is my neighbor?” - hoping to draw the circle of compassion more narrowly, right? 

But Jesus says that's not the interesting question. The interesting question is: Who is in need? Because that is my neighbor! So I ask myself as I get older, which way are the borders of my heart heading: to an ever-narrower circle of compassion, which contains only me and mine, or to an evermore-generous compassion that flows from the heart of my Maker? In the process, I am discovering the mysterious joy of opening my heart actually to a broader world, where all are made in the image of God. 

There is, I believe though, a second reason why, in the great moral struggles of our era, I and other good people do nothing. And that, I think, is a poverty of purpose. I marvel at the way forces seem to conspire to bend the purposes of my life towards increasingly small and petty things, and away from the grander purposes outside myself for which I sense I was truly formed by my Maker. I'm amazed at my capacity to be distracted by small and unworthy things. It's sobering, for instance, to look now at the headlines that were competing with the Rwandan genocide in the summer of 1994. And in the hindsight of history, those headlines seem like very trivial matters by comparison to stopping a genocide. 

But somehow we are consumed by the petty anxieties of the day, or the shiny distractions of fleeting worth. Not only do the worthy things of great purpose fail to win my passionate commitment, but I'm equally amazed at my capacity to wage scorched-earth war over petty things of personal privilege or status - battles that diminish others, even as they diminish me. Jesus rebuked the leaders of His day, especially the religious leaders of the day, for He said they're neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and the love of God. 

C.S. Lewis once wrote the following: “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement; where everyone has a grievance; and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.” Who, in the midst of the preoccupations of that hell, would have the energy and generosity for larger things? 

This leads me back to a self-audit of small and unworthy things. In fact, what might it mean to the world if just the people in this room - not the people who are not in this room, but the people who are in this room - what if we simply resolved to abandon, maybe just for this year, every petty small and unworthy battle that seeks to draw us into its suffocating embrace? And what if, instead, we resolve to give ourselves fully and exclusively to larger things: to things that matter, to things of generous goodness? 

Over the arch of history it seems that good men and women often do nothing - in their time of history’s testing - out of a poverty of compassion, a poverty of purpose, and thirdly, a poverty of hope, as President Bande spoke to this earlier. To be honest, in the face of overwhelming evil and injustice in the world - even the reality of 40 million people in slavery - we can feel so very hopeless and powerless. But, I've come to believe that this is the deepest and most vicious lie: the idea that good people can't do anything, that things never change, that we cannot make a difference. 

Indeed, at IJM we've seen a different truth with our own eyes. We've seen that the moral arch of the universe bends towards justice, that God has given into the hands of good men and women the power to make justice roll down like a river. But, it takes a long time. Over the last 20 years, we've worked with government authorities around the world to rescue tens of thousands of people from slavery, and we know their faces and their names. In fact, we've now discovered the vaccine that stops slavery. Studies now show that, when great law enforcement is combined with great services for survivors, human trafficking collapses! Our first project testing this proposition was sponsored by the Gates Foundation, where the goal was to measurably reduce sex-trafficking of children in a mega-city in the Philippines by 20% over just a four-year period of time. But when the results of the study came back, sex- trafficking of kids, when addressed by great law enforcement and great survivor services, had not collapsed by 20%; it had collapsed by 79%! 

And then we attacked the problem in two more cities with the Philippine authorities, and sex trafficking of children fell by 77% and 86%. It turns out that traffickers and slave owners are not brave people, and when they think they're going to get caught and sent to jail, they leave the children alone. 

So, what does all this have to do with us, this morning? For the first time ever in human history, there is a generation alive on planet earth that could bring an end to slavery as a force in human affairs. We're seeing the movement gain momentum like never before. Recently, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom have come together to invite other nations to join them in setting up a global fund to end modern slavery which will leverage public and private money from around the world to fight slavery in the most effective ways. These are great signs of hope! 

I think sometimes we are paralyzed in a poverty of hopelessness because we underestimate the value of what God has given us to transform lives. We lose sight of the longer arc of history that continues to bend towards justice. We underestimate God's determination to rescue us from a trivial existence if we will just free up our hands and our hearts from the small and unworthy things. Indeed, what difference might we make if we, here, committed to lead only with riches of compassion, with only grandness of purpose, and with only an abundance of hope? 

At the end of the day, I think the God of history takes attendance and He convenes a grand jury of our grandchildren and they just ask us, “Grandma, Grandpa, where were you? Where were you, Grandpa, when vulnerable voices were crying out in the face of genocidal mobs in Rwanda? Where were you, Grandma, when the world possessed the vaccine to stop the horror of modern slavery, but denied it to 40 million of its most vulnerable? Where were you when the weak and the voiceless and the vulnerable of our era needed leaders of compassion and hope and purpose?” 

I just hope we can look our grandchildren in the eye and, with gracious humility, just say, “Well, I would like to think I showed up, and I showed up on time.” Then maybe our Maker will one day look us in the eye and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Thank you all, very much. 

Mr. Gary Haugen is the Founder and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), a global organization that protects the poor from violence throughout the developing world. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems. He founded the IJM organization in 1999 based on a key Biblical principle found in Isaiah 1:17, "Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." Although IJM is a faith-based organization, they seek to partner with all people of goodwill, as they purpose to protect the poor from violence without regard to religion, race or any other factor. In 2010, U.S. News & World Report named IJM one of the top 10 service groups making a difference in the world, describing IJM as an example of "noteworthy public service programs that are having an impact." 

Prior to founding IJM, Mr. Haugen served on the executive committee of the National Initiative for Reconciliation in South Africa; the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, based in New York City; and the United States Department of Justice. In 1994, he was put on loan from the Department of Justice to the United Nation's Center for Human Rights to serve as Officer In Charge of its genocide investigation in Rwanda. 

He has been awarded the Wilberforce Forum Award (an annual award presented by Prison Fellowship that recognizes an individual who has made a difference in the face of formidable societal problems and injustices), and in 2012, he was honored by the U.S. State Department as a Trafficking in Persons "Hero" – the highest honor given by the U.S. government for anti-slavery leadership. 

Mr. Haugen is the author of several books, including The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. He has spoken at numerous venues around the world including Harvard University, Yale Law School, Berkeley School of Law, Pepperdine University, Stanford University, The University of Chicago Schwartz Lecture, The World Economic Forum, The World Bank, The Clinton Global Initiative, Willow Creek Leadership Summit, Passion Conference, and TED2015. 

Mr. Haugen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1985, and later earned a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, cum laude, where he was the Ford Foundation Scholar in International Law and a Tony Patino Fellow. 

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