6 Things the Church Must Do to Engage with Modern Slavery

In this 3 part blog series, Matthew Hansen and John Nehme of Allies Against Slavery highlight individual and community-based responses to modern slavery and make a case for how the church can respond.

I was confronted by the issue of human trafficking in Russia over 7 years ago. Since then I’ve spoken at many churches on the issues, lead the River Conference of the Free Methodist Church in our abolition work, worked on overseas projects, met many great people, developed priceless relationships, and have ended up as Chair of the Board for Allies Against Slavery in Austin, Texas.

I want to simply go over 6 principles I believe are necessary for the church’s engagement in this issue.

1. Theological clarity

It is imperative that we form theological clarity around the issue of modern-day slavery and our engagement of it. If not, the issue will be reduced to just another option on the buffet of watered down, overprocessed causes. This is not just another cause. Our response to modern-day slavery must be built on the truth that slavery is an all-out assault on and complete contempt for the Imago Dei (the image of God). This reality demands engagement. Modern-day slavery has serious theological implications – as does avoiding the issue.

2. Intellectual development

Our response to human slavery cannot be a short-lived fad or a commitment based on immediate results. Rather, as Nietzsche would say, it is “a long obedience in the same direction,” and that direction is a hard commitment to learning and engaging this issue with intellectual integrity without conflating it with other emotional issues in order to draw a larger following. We must do the hard work of studying, learning, and exploring to uncover the nuances of the causes, solutions, and perpetuation of slavery. When we are committed to growing in our understanding of the issues, learning, and sharing best practices, we will, in the end, create solutions with both thoughtful depth and lasting impact.

3. Listening ear

There are people and leaders who have been involved in this far longer than we have even known about it. If we are going to engage, we have to begin our engagement and partnerships humbly and with a listening ear. Often times we assume we have the solutions and the know-how, along with a better plan of execution. We become a breath of fresh air to those seeking partnership when we being with a listening ear.

4. Mourning and Repentance

As we discussed in the first post in this series on modern slavery, we must start by acknowledging our role in perpetuating modern-day slavery, and we must mourn and repent. Check out our first post if you missed it.

5. Humble partnerships

Rather than be focused on creating our own vision, we should let the need create the vision and partnering with those already in the trenches. If we want to effectively engage, we have to let the experts lead the way. By supporting their agenda. By trusting them to know the situation. When we are committed to humble partnerships, we begin to earn a voice at the table. But when we start thinking we deserve a voice at the table, we discredit ourselves and further alienate the church from any hope of credibility with this issue.

6. Bringing the problem down to size, without losing it’s cost

We need to learn to help people engage modern-day slavery right where they are. My friend Alex Shootman is always telling me that if you use your platform to preach the problem, you have to shrink the problem down if you want others to engage it. If we can’t do this, people will be overwhelmed and thus paralyzed by the idea of involvement. So let me close with a few ideas that you and your congregations can begin with now.

Lament as Prayer

Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice define the biblical idea of lament as “a cry directed to God by those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace … to learn lament is to become people who stay near to the wounds of the world.” To have weekly, monthly, quarterly lament-prayer meetings with your family or community group is a great way to begin to settle and center one’s heart on the reality that our first step is to cry out to God, for God’s action on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and enslaved.

Study Groups/Book Clubs

There are many great resources about slavery (I’ve listed those at the bottom). One of the best ways to engage this issue is to form community groups around this issue. Pick a book, assign it, read it, and come back in four weeks ready to discuss it.

Awareness Nights

Plan awareness nights at your church or through a couple community/home groups. It could be as simple as asking a few of the Allies team members to come in to talk about slavery. You could bring a group of people together and show a film, and then do a panel discussion with some of the Allies team or with members of your circle that have studied and engaged with the issue.

Conscious Consumerism

I believe this is the most practical way to get people involved. Not only does it confront our own heart issues of privilege and demand, but it allows us to effectively engage by doing what we already do – consume. It’s great to do these around the holidays when consuming is at an all time high. We did a couple blogs on this issue over the Christmas season, which may give you some ideas on how to change your consumption patterns.

Get Connected

If you are in Austin, join the Allies Against Slavery mailing list, don’t be a lone voice, join what is already going on. Look for a local coalition and find a group that is already doing stuff engaging and join them.

Check out the other parts of the series:

Part 1: Changing Ourselves Before We Change the World
Part 2: 5 Ways to Keep the Anti-Slavery Movement from Becoming Obsolete
Part 3: 6 Things the Church Must Do While Engaging with Modern Slavery

Matthew Hansen
Chair of the Board of Directors for Allies Against Slavery
Pastor at Austin New Church

Further Resources:

Photo Credit: razersmyth [CC BY-ND 3.0]