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Living in Light of the Good Samaritan: Giving Value to the Devalued

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

Recently, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City (NYC) has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As of March 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,700 homeless people living on the streets of NYC. If you walk more than a block in NYC, you will be confronted with this reality.

After preaching the parable of the Good Samaritan at the Gallery Church(click to listen to the message), I was headed to Harlem for dinner with my girlfriend, Liz. As we were walking up the stairs to exit the subway, I saw him; a nameless elderly man dressed in dirty clothes, begging for change. This isn't out of the norm to see at a subway stop. But for me, this time was different. I watched as people walked by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Yet, he persisted, "can I have a dollar for a sandwich?" I watched as each person actively chose to look down rather than to look up at the face of the man. Honestly, I have to confess that I also walked by. However, with each step, my feet felt heavier to the point that I could no longer continue. I now heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other voice was my own, reciting the remnants of that morning's sermon I had just preached: "don't be the levite, don't be the priest, who walked by and refused to love the man who was vulnerable."

Too many times, we dehumanize the very people that God loves and values. Tim Keller in his book, Generous Justice, explains that "Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart." His point is that a heart that is not bent towards grace and mercy is one that has not experienced true compassion. The mere fact that we choose to ignore the poor whom God values  points to a "heart" that doesn't value God.

Dehumanization, or the active refusal to give value to other humans, drives all forms of exploitation. This is especially seen in commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking. A person is "dehumanized" when the "personhood" of the individual is stripped away and they are left as nothing but an objective commodity to be bought and sold. From the moment that we dehumanize our "neighbor," it is not a far leap to objectification and commodification.

In the Newsweek article, The John Next Door, the reader is invited into the mind of someone who buys sex. Leslie Bennetts, the author, explains that "the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them as men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation." In a related study, several "johns" were asked to comment on the women from whom they bought sexual services. One "john" explained that "she is just a biological object that charges for services." While another sex buyer said that "being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out." Another man went as far to say that "the relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you're capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it's a problem, because you can't objectify them anymore."

Unlike these "johns," the majority of us devalue other human beings unconsciously.  Whether we do it out of self protection, fear, or apathy, our response to those who are weak and vulnerable indicates where they rank in our value system. In the parable, Jesus did not investigate whether or not the reasons that the "priest and levite" walked by the dying man were valid; that was not His point. The issue was that regardless of their reasoning, they actively chose to walk away and not show compassion. They chose not to love their neighbor.

By giving this lesson in the form of a parable, Jesus challenges the reader to identify with the characters. He wants us to see our reflection as we see the lack of love of the priest and levite. He wants us to see our own neediness as we see the "man lying in the ditch." Unlike the "half dead" man, the Bible says that we are completely dead in our sins. In our sin and spiritual deadness, We are enemies of Christ. However, Christ did not leave us to die.  He didn't call to us in our deadness and say, "Now if you do this, then you will live." He spoke life into my death, when I could not love God and I could not love others. He didn't merely risk his life to help us, He freely gave it. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the character of the Good Samaritan. He came to us in our brokenness and rescued us by his grace. By his vicarious life, death, and resurrection in my place, He graciously saved me. There was nothing that I could to earn his favor.

As a response to his free grace, I am moved to act in compassion and trust God with the results. My response is to care for the vulnerable and to give graciously. Only as we reflect on the Gospel can we go from someone that desires self protection to someone that desires to protect others. The Gospel motivates us to see every person as someone whom God values, rather than merely a statistic. The Gospel empowers us to value those whom society rejects as those whom have been created in the image of God.

With that fact fresh in mind, I turned around and began talking with the man. Liz later told me that his face brightened up as I acknowledged him. I asked him what he needed and he told me that he just wanted a sandwich. So we quickly went to the local bodega and I told him to order whatever he wanted. As we talked, I began to notice a change in my own heart. This man, who I had originally chosen to ignore, had a name. Timothy, or "Dreads" as he liked to be called, told us about his life. He was so excited that we would stop to spend time with him that he invited us to swing by his shelter and ask for him anytime. He even gave us the phone number for his "brand new" prepaid phone. "What are you doing for the Fourth of July," Timothy asked. "Because a few other friends in the shelter and I are getting together to have a little bar-be-que, we would love for you to come and spend some time with us," he explained. After this invitation, I was moved as I realized that I now spoke to this man as if he were a member of my own family. Honestly by the end of the conversation, I could tell that the feeling was mutual and that we both valued one another.

People continually ask, "What should my first step be in fighting exploitation?" My answer is simple: return value back to those from whom you have taken it. Give value to those whom you have devalued.

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Enslaved in Plain Sight: Opening Our Eyes to Modern Day Slavery

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."    -Abraham Lincoln

On the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation designating January 2013 to be "National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month." In the proclamation, President Obama explains that:

"This month, we rededicate ourselves to stopping one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. Around the world, millions of men, women, and children are bought, sold, beaten, and abused, locked in compelled service and hidden in darkness. They toil in factories and fields; in brothels and sweatshops; at sea, abroad, and at home. They are the victims of human trafficking -- a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery."

In essence, the same passion that led our 16th President to fight for justice should drive us to see world-wide slavery ended. Modern day slavery, or Human Trafficking as it known, is not a minor issue. It is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is estimated that currently there are 27 million slaves, who are being forced, coerced, manipulated, and/or threatened unless they perform certain acts. Despite the opinion of many, they DO NOT choose to be sex or labor slaves.

You may think, "Well, that's simply a political issue and it isn't an issue in the United States." Cases of Human Trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. For example in NYC, you will walk by many asian massage parlors. Many of these employ trafficked girls, who came to the US in search of a better life. But this isn't just an issue facing those who come from overseas, domestic trafficking is alive and well. Joe Mazilli, a private investigator specializing in trafficking cases, told me recently that in NYC a runaway is approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the street. This is a danger that affects all of us. As Christians, we must stand against this epidemic.

Last January, God opened my eyes to modern day slavery and I have never been the same. A year later, I am serving in NYC with college students to help open their eyes to different ways that they can stand against trafficking.

On January 1st, 2013,  I took students from the Gallery Church to the Passion Conference at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It was here that over 60,000 students heard the Gospel and heard about the horrors of Modern Day slavery. With speakers like John Piper, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, and Gary Haugen, the students heard Gospel-centered messages that called them to action. The first step that these students took was to collectively raise 3.5 million dollars to be used in the fight against slavery.

At passion, there were "End it" stations, where students could give financially. Here we are at a station.

Louie Giglio, the founder of the Passion Movement explains that "the voices of this generation, what are called 'poor college students,' [gave] 3.2 or 3.3 or 3.5 million dollars in four days. That's a big message, and their voice has reached the White House, it's reached a lot of streams of culture, and we pray the White House is listening, engaging, and doing what they can," Giglio added.

Here we are on the last day of Passion

"It's not any one person or organization that's going to solve this. It's every one of us, doing what we can, at the level of influence we have, to not only shine a light on slavery, but to end it."

So how do we stand against slavery? Here are a few basic things that you can do to stand against slavery in a practical way.

First, as we ponder how the Gospel frees us and saves us, we should be empowered to see slavery abolished. If you stand on the Gospel, you should naturally stand against injustice. If you have time, listen to a message that I preached on the this recently.

Second, educate yourself on the signs of Human trafficking. Become prepared to report tips on potential human trafficking activity to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.

Third, become aware of what is happening in your own state. Using Slaverymap.org, you are able to track cases of domestic trafficking in 'your own neck of the woods.'

Fourth, take the survey on slaveryfootprint.org in order to answer the question, "how many slaves work for you?" This is a sobering survey, which shows us that in many ways the goods that we consume have been touched by forced labor. Using the marketplace, we can stand against illegal trade practices. For other ways to fight trafficking, click here!

Fifth, take a stand and take the pledge to "End It!"

In closing, any 'Evangelical Christian" would agree that faith in the vicarious life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus is what sets us free from our slavery to sin and to Satan. As we think on the Gospel, we should be stirred to action. Our Gospel freedom is what sets us free to fight for the physical and spiritual freedom of others. May the Gospel propel us to see people liberated from their slavery.

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