President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by Congress in January 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865. It abolished slavery in the United States and in every territory under its jurisdiction. With the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment our country found a final constitutional solution to the issue of slavery. Or did we?
Today sadly, despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery is alive and well in the “land of the free.” According to an article in Fortune Magazine, sex slavery known more politely as human trafficking is big business. One study from the Department of Health and Human Services estimates 240,000 to 325,000 men, women and children are forced into sex slavery every year in this country. Worldwide profits run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
But sex slavery is just the tip of the iceberg. Forcing adults and children to work against their will in a whole host of industries other than the sex industry is a fact of life all over the world. Modern slavery is an umbrella term that includes the sale of human beings who are then forced to work in mining, agriculture, manufacturing as well as prostitution and pornography.
Totalitarian governments like China and North Korea have institutionalized slavery. Also, individuals fleeing harsh economic situations, gang violence, the ravages of war and revolution are often exploited by unscrupulous predators. They promise them a way out but then enslave them. This accounts for high levels of slavery in the war-torn areas of the middle east and the African continent. Walk Free, an Australian human rights organization, estimates there are over 40 million people living in modern slavery today.
Given the severity of the problem, it is a wonder more religious institutions are not actively involved in dealing with it. A recent report from the University of Sheffield in England estimates that only 30% of all the anti-modern slavery organizations in the world are faith based. Why aren’t more faith-based organizations (FBO) involved?
Regrettably, some secular anti-slavery organizations and governments hold FBOs at arm’s length or even thwart their efforts fearing “religious proselytizing” of the clients being helped. The resistance experienced by the Nazarene Fund and other FBOs trying to evacuate threatened Christians during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is well documented.
Nevertheless, despite the opposition of certain secular interests, it is a wonder that “organized” religion has not had more of an impact in addressing modern slavery. One would think that theological differences aside, it would be easy to agree that slavery is bad and that by working together FBOs could accomplish more than they could working alone. How receptive would your church be in partnering with other religious organizations with the goal of stamping out modern slavery?
Perhaps you think that modern slavery is too big an issue and that it affects too many people in too many parts of the world for your efforts to have any impact. I don’t think that is the case at all. But if you do, I’d like you to consider another kind of slavery that hits much closer to home. And you are in a position to have a significant impact working against it. It is spiritual in nature and even more widespread than the slavery described above.
In John’s Gospel Jesus speaks to believers and says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We might ask free from what? Jesus answers that question just two verses later, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Does that mean that you and I are slaves to sin? Yes.
The Bibles says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But you may ask, “What about the good deeds I do?” The Bible is very clear about this, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” They don’t amount to much. Certainly not enough to save us. So what are we to do? What can free us from slavery to sin?
Faith. Trust. Faith that Jesus is who he says he is. Faith that he died to take away our sins. And trust that since God raised Jesus from the dead that he will also raise those who confess their faith in the Son.
We may not feel that we can have any impact on the worldwide problem of modern slavery. But we can deal with our own slavery to sin. Your individual houses of worship will have more to say on this. Now that summer is “unofficially” over, most churches are ramping up for the new school year. It would be an excellent time to attend a FBO near you.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.