by Emily Nielsen Jones
The more we peel back the layers of the onion and look at the ugly beast we call "human trafficking" with all of its grisly manifestations, the more the world begins to seem hopelessly in the grip of dark forces which capitalize and exploit any human vulnerability. One seasoned veteran I met in Cambodia who worked for years in the region combatting trafficking described how she has seen the same women and girls rescued multiple times from brothels. The problem is not "out there somewhere" but is a web of exploitative push/pull factors woven right into the fabric of our collective social and economic structures.
How can we as "Christian abolitionists" think and act more systemically to create a world that is more free and just?
Trafficking is a highly gendered problem. Of the 32 million trafficking victims, over 80 percent are women. "Slavery" in the narrow sense (i.e., someone being held against their will) falls into a larger continuum of gender-based violence and enslaving ideas and conditions which make the poor, migrant, ethnic minorities and women most vulnerable.
The core of abolitionist vision, both in the 19th century and today, is the daring spiritual ideal of human equality, that we are all made in the image of God, male and female alike, and thus are endowed with equal intrinsic value and a common human yearning for freedom.
The human quest is not just to be free from abuse; it is to be free from confinement in a restrictive role, free to soar with full human agency as image-bearers of God. Until we as people of faith begin to see trafficking as part of the larger continuum of gender injustice and a subordinate view of women, we will not be giving girls and women the full dignity they deserve nor will we be transforming the deeper religious roots of our enslaving world.
If we hold up a mirror to ourselves, we recognize how every little ripple we send out into the world contributes either to a more just or a more unjust world, a more free or a more enslaving world. How does religion (ours included) factor into creating such an enslaving world?
If we recognize that religious beliefs weave themselves into global cultural patterns and power dynamics... if we remember the sometimes sad history of our own tradition and how the Bible was used by many to endorse slavery and keep the right to vote and own property and other basic human rights from women... if we open wide our spiritual eyes and ears and try to connect the dots between the seen and the unseen dimensions of the trafficking problem... if we address root causes, we as people of faith might think twice about how ideas of authority and inequality of men and women impact the larger structures of the world. We do not in any way want to undermine the global movement of girls and women of low social status rising from abuse and living fully into the human equality and freedom that is all of our birthright as image-bearers of God.
On a very practical level, there is lots of great humanitarian work we can do, but we can also channel our abolitionist spirit towards creating a more gender-balanced spiritual climate in our churches, ministries, and families which fully values the human agency and spiritual equality of both genders. Start by being the change you want to see right at your own doorstep.
Nothing is too small — one little question, one little email, one simple protest of something that seems unjust or diminishing of the full human equality of women — it may not feel like you are being an "abolitionist" but it is the little things that each of us do that together unleash a virtuous cycle of freedom.
Lord, have mercy on us. May we each be an instrument of your peace and your freedom in our world. May we begin right where we are. May we have the courage to dare to say "no" to all the little enslaving forces that work against freedom and equality for all. Amen.
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