Becoming overly social justice minded at the exclusion of a gospel focus was most likely never an issue with Gunpei Yamamuro (1872–1940), who was the first Japanese Salvation Army commissioner.
Yamamuro’s spiritual growth including the beginning of his ministry that eventually led to as many as 10,000 young women and girls freed from a life of forced prostitution in Japan was definitively God-centered, according to records and as shown in the Japanese biopic, THE SALT OF THE EARTH, GUNPEI YAMAMURO.
Today’s debate, mostly within the Christian community, about the theological relevance of “social justice” is getting tired and old.
During a screening of the movie alongside an anti-human trafficking forum in Southern California, I was reminded that efforts to tackle injustice, done in earnest while in relationship with Jesus, must be pleasing to God. The event held Friday (6/7/19) evening was hosted by leadership from the Salvation Army’s Western Territory Headquarters and the California South Division in collaboration with SA’s Japan Territory.
While battling human trafficking, inclusive of forced labor and sex for sale, the Salvation Army has been at the forefront long before corporate initiatives with campaigns and slogans hopped onboard the social justice issue of the day.
As was for Yamamuro, much of Salvation Army’s message includes the belief that the gospel is inseparable from action steps taken that help others in need.
“More and more we are having social justice awareness events” even though SA has to keep much of their efforts in regards to human trafficking, such as safe houses for the victims escaping their captors, on the “down-low,” said Lisa Smith, who is the Assistant Director of Social Services for the Salvation Army on Friday. “Just like you saw in the movie, people who are making money out of exploiting women don’t like it when we are doing rescues. We are ‘killing their business’ so to say.”
SALT OF THE EARTH does a good job depicting part of the history of the Salvation Army (in Japan) and the ground-breaking work the organization did in the area of anti-human trafficking, Smith said. “Today, it’s such a terrible thing about our society that we still have slavery, even though you would think it that would be long gone. [Today, Salvation Army] is living up to our DNA and who we are when we do this kind of work. It’s part of our heritage.”
There’s a scene in the movie where Yamamuro, (portrayed by popular Japanese actor Ryu Morioka), and a small group of ministry friends go to a house of prostitution in an effort to rescue the women. In their effort, the men are beat up and bloodied by the men running the house. Yamamuro and his friends called on God and were willing to sacrifice themselves in their efforts to not only deliver the women to safety, but to be a conduit for their salvation.
I witnessed the message of Jesus in words and action in SALT OF THE EARTH, GUNPEI YAMAMURO and in SA’s Fight for Freedom Forum that Friday. The effort then and today by the Salvation Army to war against human trafficking is not exclusive of the gospel. There’s no room for cynicism. That would be a wasted effort.
Serving those who are enslaved is part of our DNA.
Alex Murashko is founder of Media on Mission, an initiative to highlight and encourage journalist professionals as they live out their faith in Jesus on the platform they are given. Instagram: @mediaonmission