Christian Leaders Resources:
Biblical Reflections on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Introduction As Christians, we require a biblical vision of human dignity in order for us to deal adequately with the horror of human trafficking. This resource uses important biblical passages to provide the most direct challenge from scripture. Please feel free to develop them further as you explore this issue with your congregation. These thoughts could also be used as a quick devotional prior to praying alone or in groups. You can find factual information and case studies to further your understanding of the issue in our other resources. www.care.org.uk/humantrafficking
Biblical Imperatives that challenge Human Trafficking 1. A tale of two cities - Revelation 18
The apocalyptic world of the book of Revelation provides us, if we may simplify for just a moment, with a picture of two cities: (i) the ‘whore’ Babylon and (ii) its counter city the New Jerusalem. The latter is characterised by its light, healing, life, water, aesthetic beauty, and the full and uninhibited presence of God that lights the entire kingdom. Babylon, on the other hand, is marked by the politics of exploitation, gluttony, drunkenness, and godlessness of every possible kind. The merchants of the earth who were devoted to Babylon’s way of life are described as follows, as they watch the drastic end of the kingdom in which they had invested so wholeheartedly. ‘And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves and human lives.’ (18:12,13) The very empire that boastfully paraded its wares and its way of life as the sole way to live came to a crushing demise. The reason for this divine judgment is the inherent and flagrant idolatry committed in the face of faithful Christian witness. Its idolatry led its people and tradesmen even to buy and sell human lives. Human trafficking - the buying and selling of human souls - has taken place from time immemorial. But this trade, or the tendency to even consider engaging in it, is stamped with the politics of Babylon, ‘the dwelling place of demons’. (18:2). The Church, the Bride of the Lamb who sits upon the throne, will inherit the fullness of the New Jerusalem one day. This means she must live in complete contradistinction to Babylon. So let us consider how we can reflect the life and healing of the coming city of God here and now by combating the trade of human trafficking. What can we do to speak up for those who are crushed, sold, terrified, abused, exploited, and degraded? How can we provide protection, comfort and help?
Almighty God, we give thanks for all of those You have placed in positions of responsibility. Please grant wisdom and conviction to those in government and public authorities so they can bring about real and lasting changes to help women, children and men in the UK, other EU countries and throughout the world who have been trafficked.
Consider contacting your MP/MSP/MLA/MEP to ask about about their strategic action plan within your area to deal compassionately with those who have been trafficked.
How could we begin to create a culture of New Jerusalem politics in our local situation. What might be the kind of idolatry in our society and even within our own lives that contributes towards human trafficking? For example, are there items we purchase at knock-down prices that are perpetuating sweat shops in i.e. Bangladesh?
The priority of jubilee – Luke 4:18,19 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Jesus’ sermon in the Nazareth synagogue is indicative of a large segment of His earthly ministry. In it He explains afresh the meaning of Jubilee and establishes that this is the work of the Messiah. Further, he reveals he is the one who is fulfilling this messianic work. Furthermore, work performed by Christians in binding up the broken hearted, releasing those who have been captives, is work done in Jesus’ name. They may have been captive to traffickers, imprisoned in a brothel or some other place of illegal and dehumanising labour, enslaved by fear of violence to themselves and/or their families, or entrapped by their captors because of a dependent drug addiction. We might also want to call ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ ‘Messianic time’ - God’s purposes coming to fruition through the words of the Prophets coming to pass. It means hope for the liberty of prisoners, the hope of peace for those trapped in conflict, hope for us all in Jesus’ second coming. Whenever these things are taking place, ‘Messianic time’ or ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ is at work. So playing a part in key processes to help those who are trafficked allows us to become engaged in the Messiah’s mission. Human trafficking denies people their God-given dignity, personal opportunity, and hope. Slavery is not a problem of history but an urgent issue for today. Such an abhorrent act demands a response. The Church has a biblically mandated responsibility to care and seek justice for the most vulnerable in our society. It has been said by scholars that there is no evidence for Israel having put God’s ordinance of Jubilee into practice. Why shouldn’t the Church rectify this as the faith descendants of Abraham through Christ?
Lord, we pray that your Church will unite in fighting the evil of human trafficking and that we will be equipped and emboldened to act against this injustice. Please encourage and teach us how to use our gifts and time wisely to stand for justice and protect the victims.
What could your church do to bring about more ‘Messianic time’ and justice – for example to those who may be trafficked in your locality?
Please consider partnering with CARE to combat this issue in the political realm. Could you support a Christian organisation that works with those rescued from trafficking and exploitation and put forward individuals who would be willing to become trained to serve in a restoration programme for them?
2. Slavery in Egypt The chief place in the Bible where we encounter slavery, is the story of God’s people who are enslaved in Egypt, and then delivered miraculously by Him, through his leader Moses, in an exodus out of that work and place (Exodus 1-12). Early on in the book of Exodus we read the new Pharaoh’s words; ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land’ (1:9,10). We see a nervousness here indicative of maltreatment in the background, a paranoia that only those with unhealthy power and control would concern themselves over. So this new Pharaoh, in order to ensure his control is not usurped, enforces “taskmasters over them [Israel] to afflict them with heavy burdens” (1:11). Pharaoh’s dread apparently spread to ordinary Egyptians, so “they made the people of Israel serve with rigour, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field; in all their work they made them serve with rigour” (1.13-14). Pharaoh didn’t stop there. He decided to kill off all Hebrew baby boys so as to limit the Israelites’ multiplication. The sheer exploitative servitude of the Israelites under Pharaoh caused many in those days to die. All of this was driven by his neurotic suspicion. And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God knew their condition. (2:23-35) What of those in slavery who cry out today? Especially those who suffer but who don’t know the true God through faith in Christ. We believe that the heart of our God hears the groans of exploitation of all those who desire freedom, healing and respect. May His people be a means of deliverance and justice! Labour exploitation is a huge part of the overall picture of human trafficking today.
Father, we pray for all human traffickers and those who abuse others through prostitution. Please speak powerfully to them about the inherent value of the lives of the individuals they are exploiting, and change and heal their hearts.
3. Psalms for the helpless - Psalm 82:1-4 Many of the Psalms help us to enter into the prayer worlds of the saints of old. They teach us much about a God who is just and who despises all wickedness, but especially that which preys upon the vulnerable. Psalm 82 is one such example. This Psalm of Asaph was sung by the whole nation at important junctures in national life. These were words that appealed to God to deliver those who were most afflicted, that He might bring down wickedness and deliver those oppressed and bound by it. Psalm 82:1 points to God ‘taking his place in the divine council’. Some think that this indicated a shift in thinking about God rather than being thought of as the God who belonged to Mount Sinai, now He was understood as the High God of heaven and not just the deity of Israel. In other words, His divinity and lordship extended universally beyond that of Israel to the ends of the earth. In verse 3 the Psalmist says to God: ‘Give justice to the weak and the orphan’. The weak in the Old Testament are continually connected with harsh overlords or oppressors (Proverbs 10:2; Ezekiel 18:12; Psalms 72:13; 113:7). This word ‘justice’ (haṣ-dî-qū.) is especially important because it is used 139 times in the Psalms and is continually related to God’s character. In the context of this Psalm it is used with reference to right behaviour so verse 3 could read: ‘May the weak and orphan be recipients of right behaviour’, the haṣ-dî-qū of God Himself. There are a number of important aspects to note here in Asaph’s prayer:
(i) an impatience that God ‘appears’ not to be dealing with evil people in their midst, as Asaph’s expects. So he petitions God to do what is in keeping with His just character known from time and eternity, (ii) there is an appeal for God to provide justice specifically to the fatherless and stand at the side of the destitute and afflicted, (iii) further, the psalmist asks that God rescue the weak and needy by providing a tangible deliverance from their captors and aggressors. What is clear is that Asaph assumes that the requests he makes are entirely fitting to the character of the God he is appealing to.
Heavenly Father, thank You for creating us in Your image. We grieve that some violate the freedom and dignity of others by treating them as slaves and we intercede for all victims of human trafficking around the world. We know that Christ came to loose the captives’ chains. We pray that His freedom would increasingly come to all those exploited and trafficked.
Why not use Psalm 82 as a prayer of petition in seeking justice from God for the victims of human trafficking? Wilberforce always understood prayer as one of the lynchpins to abolishing slavery.
4. Highlighting the forgotten ones – Matthew 23:23,24 At the heart of Jesus’ diatribe against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes in Matthew 23, comes His condemnation about how a group of needy people had been neglected in their lives. On the one hand He is criticising the religious leaders’ half-hearted spirituality because it merely nibbles around the edges of following Yahweh. On the other, Jesus is denouncing them for not enacting what Psalm 82 petitions God about. ‘Why?’ Jesus asks, ‘would you not concentrate on “weightier matters of the law”’? These are the characteristics of ‘justice and mercy and faith’. What is justice? The term Jesus uses here is krisin, which denotes judgment, emphasising its qualitative aspect that can apply either to something positive (for righteousness) – or more commonly, a ‘negative’ verdict that condemns the nature of sin in question. Whether Jesus was referring to the positive or negative aspects of this term is immaterial, for both work together for God’s best for people. Combining a call for such judgment with the working out of mercy and faith will almost always work out the ways in which we should care for the oppressed, which God’s heart desires. Here, as elsewhere in the gospel narratives, we see Jesus fulfilling a prophetic role. He speaks out the uncomfortable, overlooked matters, cutting right through to issues that are often ignored, getting to the heart of guilt and neglect. Jesus was not bashful in fulfilling this role. So many in our world today lead lives that are in bondage and are desperate for love and relational trust, desiring meaningful and dignified work. They are in need of justice and mercy at the hands of faith just as Jesus said.
Loving Lord, please protect young, vulnerable and impressionable people living in the UK who are in danger of being trafficked. Help them to be aware of the risks through the warnings of others and with effective education about the reality of grooming.
Can you identify those who require justice and mercy at the hands of faith? What could you as a church/ individual do? Could you become trained to help inform parents/young people about the sinister nature of online grooming and how to effectively guard against it?
5. The sheep and the goats - Matthew 25:31-46
This passage contains one of the best-known images of the Bible. It is a story dealing with the great reckoning at the end of times, when the Son of Man judges those who should enter eternal bliss and those who should not.
The designated outcome of the sheep and the goats is determined by what each group did and didn’t do. Apart from the assurance of salvation we have through trusting in Christ’s total propitiation and forgiveness of our sin and His imputed righteousness, this is a terrifying message. Even so, it is a strong spur for Christians to ensure we do our part in ‘inheriting the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ (25:34. How was it that the sheep received eternal bliss from the Son of Man? When ‘I was hungry … you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me,’ (25:35,36). Later the Apostle James clearly states the same message, that ‘faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ (James 2:17) Faith must be shown in action. Those who required attention in this passage are called ‘the least of these’ (verses 40,45). It would not be stretching the scope and relevance of this passage to say that those who are trafficked could easily be understood as those that desperately require assistance and deliverance from their plight. This is powerful challenge for us to liberate ‘the least of these’, perhaps it is concerned more about how much God’s heart beats for those who are denigrated and require our help than the identity of the sheep and goats. These words of Jesus certainly challenge us to the call to be part of His restoring and redeeming work as we seek to follow Him.
Lord, please help us to heed Your call to care for the most needy in our world – to truly love our neighbour. Send Your Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us into the works You have prepared for each one of us. Amen
Broader Biblical Themes to Explore in this Area A Theology of Sex
It would be well worth exploring the origins of sexual relationships as God intended them, engaging with biblical stories of where sex is misused, and where it is rightly respected according to God’s values. Below are some suggested passages of scripture that might help provide a wider theological framework to understanding God’s heart for justice with regards sexual exploitation. God’s image - Genesis 1:26-30 Covenant relationships – Ephesians 5, Hebrews 13:20,21 Abraham and Sarah – Genesis 20 Judah Having a Bad Moment – Genesis 38
Esther Proverbs 5, 6, 7 The Song of Solomon Matthew 5:27-32 1 Corinthians 6 & 7
A Theology of Work
Human trafficking impinges upon the world of work in almost as many places as it does the exploitation of sexuality. It may be worthwhile exploring what a biblically healthy view of work looks like. Here is a selection of passages in this subject area. The creation narratives Cain and Abel Noah Jacob and Laban Joseph Moses Ruth Esther Nehemiah & Ezra Psalm 8, 90, 128 Proverbs Ecclesiastes Jeremiah 29
Matthew 19:16-30 Mark 12:1-17 Luke 3:7-17 Luke 12:13-40 Luke 16 Luke 19:1-27 Ephesians 2:10 Colossians 3:18-25 2 Thessalonians 3 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Titus 2-3 Philemon
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