Bruce Strom loves God and his neighbor. He doesn’t just say it – he lives it. Bruce had a successful career as the senior partner of a multi-office law practice. But God called him to leave that practice, sell all he had, and give to the poor. The story of God’s call and Bruce’s response in encouraging others to get engaged in serving the legal needs of the poor and oppressed are contained in his book Gospel Justice: Joining Together to Provide Help and Hope for those Oppressed by Legal Injustice. Bruce loves being the husband of Helen and dad to twin sons, Joseph and Daniel. They live outside Chicago.
KW: How did you first learn about the injustices present in our legal system?
BS: Growing up in rural Ohio, I always believed TV – “you have the right to an attorney.” I don’t know when I first learned that was only true of people accused of a crime, not their victims. I didn’t appreciate the impact of that failure on millions of seniors, children, minorities, and other poor and vulnerable people until years later. I saw injustice in our courtrooms every day as people tried to represent themselves, but the truth is I did not see. Like the guys who hung out with Jesus I didn’t get it. “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Mark 8:17-18. My heart was hardened to care only about the events affecting me and I was blind to the needs of more than 4,300 people who every day are unable to access justice in our country.
KW: Can you tell us some stories to make this issue real for people beyond statistics?
BS: The book Gospel Justice is filled with real and painful stories, but let me share Rita’s. Rita came to the U.S. from the Philippines and was grateful to have a low paying job with benefits because her husband needed medical care. After his surgery she received large bills she could not pay. Rita had limited education and English. She was losing sleep from the harassing phone calls. What could she do? We discovered insurance had not paid and assumed this was a simple communication problem. Upon further investigation we learned there was no insurance because the employer was pocketing Rita’s premiums and those of the entire immigrant workforce. Such fraud is criminal. If the employer were poor they would receive a free lawyer, but there was no right to a free lawyer for Rita and the other workers. They would have received no justice without a ministry providing free legal services.
KW: How did you come to the point where you left your job to work on behalf of the poor?
BS: Call me Jonah. I admire people who take action. I wasn’t one of them. I loved the success and comfort of my life. I didn’t know, or really like the poor. But God gave me the skills to be a lawyer and He got tired of me wasting those skills on my own wants and desires. He captured my heart through a long struggle with infertility which you can read in the book. He captured the rest of me by sending serious challenges to my law firm. I recognized I was running from God and asked my partners and associates to throw me overboard. I landed in a tiny 8×10 office without any money, all alone. I’d given up a lucrative career and was now poorer than my clients. What was I thinking? In anger and frustration I cried out to God, “What am I doing here.” Though not audible God’s response was clear – “My will. For whatever you do for one of the least of these you do unto me.” That radically transformed my heart and my life. That was twelve years ago and I have never looked back. I serve each day with new joy and look forward to the opportunity to make a kingdom difference whenever and wherever the Lord allows.
KW: What are some key Biblical passages you use when you talk to people about Gospel Justice?
BS: I’m a preacher’s kid and grew up quoting the Bible at length, yet somehow I missed the prominence of justice in the Bible. It is part of God’s very character, yet I missed it. I don’t think you can fully understand the gospel, without understanding justice. And I don’t think you can understand justice apart from the good news of Christ. Some of my favorite passages speak to church people like me who did a great job at the motions but missed God’s heart for justice – Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Amos 5, Zechariah 7 – and the frequently quoted summary of the law in Micah 6:8 – “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
KW: What is your inspiration for the work you do?
BS: Twelve slow-witted ordinary guys. We call them disciples. I call them friends. I can really identify with ordinary people who eventually get it. And when they got it, they dared to believe. And when they believed, they dared to act. And it changed everything. By faith they literally changed the world. I’m just slow-witted enough to believe we can do the same.
KW: How can those of us who aren’t lawyers get involved in this issue?
BS: You don’t have to be a lawyer to stand against legal injustice. Our local ministries use volunteers to pray with, encourage, and follow-up with neighbors in need. People help connect social services and church services for long-term support. Some issues like immigration, trafficking, government benefits and others don’t require a lawyer, just some training. Community organizing doesn’t require a law degree. Helping others in the church understand this opportunity by studying the book and five session companion guide with great practical next steps is a good place to start. You can obtain copies and learn more at Gospel Justice Initiative’s web site, www.gji.org.