There is much chatter across the web this week on the federal budget. Is assistance toward safety net programs helpful or harmful? That is a broader discussion but whether through government support or individual support, civil legal aid is critical to the foundation of democracy. The first article ever published on civil legal aid in 1906 was titled, “Defending the rights of the poor.” In it Rupert Holland stated, “Probably there is no money spent in the United States which does so much toward planting a faith in our democracy.” Civil legal aid is an investment in fairness, equality and justice for all – not just those who have money. The article rightly concluded: “(Civil legal aid) is not charity; it has no pauperizing effects. It is merely providing that all men shall have justice and ‘a square deal.'”
Justice for the poor is about providing hope and dignity to those who feel cast aside and invisible. Please watch this two minute clip from the movie, Freedom Writers. In it a young man who others ask – “who is he?”, recounts the pain and loneliness of suffering through eviction. A teacher provides the stability this young man needs to sustain hope. Lawyers and the church can do the same by intervening in the causes of homelessness – loss of job, break-up of the family, health and other issues. Civil legal aid often prevents homelessness by cutting through the red tape of big banks or government and providing a fair deal to those trying to obtain a loan modification. Some are victims of predatory lending who need advocates to intervene or they cannot receive ‘a square deal.’ Some are victims of circumstances – loss of job, loss of health, abandonment – and they need time and additional assistance so they are not homeless. Civil legal aid can provide this time which in turn alleviates the need for government assistance, relieves the blight of empty houses that reduce property values, and benefits all of us. Most of all civil legal aid provides hope. Hope that is desperately needed as portrayed in this video from our friends at Administer Justice.
Christian Civil Legal Aid provides hope not only in the midst of difficult circumstances but in the powerful reminder that you are not alone. You are not invisible. God sees. God loves. And God will never abandon or forsake you. The book Gospel Justice tells these stories. Consider one.
Jim couldn’t remember the last time someone prayed for him—and he was certain he’d never had a lawyer pray for him, but he consented. The words came but Jim didn’t hear them—he felt them. The compassion was like an overwhelming physical presence. He found himself in tears.
Bryan showed compassion as he listened to Jim’s story. He provided specific guidance concerning the foreclosure, but also encouraged Jim to come to the church and to think about the plan God had for his life. Jim felt a weight lift from his shoulders.
A couple of days later Jim came to the church for a friend’s funeral. Many people were present, but he was surprised when Bryan sat behind him. They had both known the young man who died. That connection led to a series of calls and e-mails—and an introduction to one of the pastors. The pastor led Jim to Christ.
Jim is now involved in the church and in a men’s group. His house continues to move along the foreclosure process, but Jim is no longer overwhelmed that he may lose it. He has gained something more important. Whatever happens to his home on earth, he has a home in heaven that can never be foreclosed.