When Justice Becomes Trendy

Can fleeting fads create lasting change?

I recently visited a coffee shop that shall remain nameless. Let's just say it's the multinational brand that seems to occupy every street corner in North America. In recent advertising, they had touted themselves as the world's largest purchaser of fair trade coffee, so I asked the barista to point out which items on the menu were certified.

"Oh, that's a really good question," he said, and proceeded to explain that there was nothing on the menu that was "technically" certified except for a single bag of home-brew. He looked thoughtful. "People used to ask that all the time ... it was really trendy a while ago."

If our willingness to do the right thing is connected to trendiness, it isn't worth much.

Like flare jeans and UGGs.

I began to ponder the implications of our trend-obsessed culture on social justice. This interests me greatly, because my husband and I are extensively involved in the hottest social justice issue of today: sex trafficking.

Hands down, it is the trendiest cause at the moment. Celebrities are adding their voices by the boatload. Stars like Ashley Judd, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Nicolas Cage, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake and Demi Moore have all spoken out. Even Ricky Martin has an abolitionist charity.

Ironically, the issue of sex trafficking has become sexy.

There are many benefits to this. Organizations are getting much-needed funding. Victims are being rescued. Law enforcement officers are being trained. Students are having discussions.  Parents are spotting warning signs in their children. The government is taking action.

But my husband, Jay, and I are preparing for the day when sex trafficking begins to drop a few spots on the trendiness chart. We're waiting for the next great cause to roll along. This will be a critical point for the abolitionist movement. We'll have to transition from the first phase—in which the topic is new and has significant shock value—to the next phase, which must involve long-term goals and sustainable practices.

Trends in themselves are not bad, but they can rob us of opportunities to build consistency in our character. When we allow ourselves to be consumed by trends, it undermines our ability to do right in the world. For example, when we line up for a new car, the latest iPhone or a pair of black yoga pants, we're left with less and less margin. Then, when a real need arises and we have the opportunity to give, we dig out a crumpled $20 bill and toss it in the basket with a guilty conscience. Moments later, someone compliments us on our outfit and we proudly proclaim that we got such a good deal on it.

When we allow ourselves to be consumed by trends, it undermines our ability to do right in the world.

In addition to stripping ourselves of margin, trend obsession makes us less likely to stand up for what is right. Last year at my day job, I was asked to do something that went against my personal convictions—to spy on competitor pricing by going to a multinational retail store I've intentionally avoided for several years due to their horrific human rights record. 

Spying is common practice in many companies, but it doesn't sit right with me. If someone who followed my blog or recognized me from a justice conference came up to me while I was spying, I would be faced with two options: to lie and say I was shopping at a store I claimed to avoid or admit I was spying. After spending time in prayer, I declined the task and explained to my boss why I wouldn't do it. I wasn't very popular at the office that week.

We need to sacrifice our popularity instead of our beliefs.

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If our willingness to do the right thing is connected to trendiness, it isn't worth much. In our trend-infatuated world, we must learn to do good whether it is popular or not. Whether we are joining a cause, buying clothes or making difficult decisions, we must constantly check our motives. 

Ask yourself: Does this trend advance God's Kingdom or does it primarily serve my pride, my materialism or my need to impress others? Am I driven by a sincere love for others?

"Do not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9). When we put these words into practice, our decisions transform from trend-driven to timeless. It becomes our way of life.

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Akash Singh

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