The Common Good

Time For the New Abolitionists

Sojomail - February 8, 2007

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I don't want to impose my religious beliefs on you, but I believe God used you to correct us, and I appreciate that."

- Rob Brendle, Associate Pastor of New Life Church, speaking with Mike Jones, the former male prostitute who exposed former New Life pastor Ted Haggard's history of drug use and adultery. (Source: J-Walking)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Time For the New Abolitionists

In a new book being released this week - NOT for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It – my friend and colleague David Batstone turns a spotlight on one of the greatest moral scandals of our time. Many of us believe that slavery ended with the Civil War, but a look at reality in the 21st century quickly reveals otherwise.


He begins the book:

"Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today. Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug looms of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa. Go behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings."

In writing the book, Batstone traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, Peru, India, Uganda, South Africa, and Eastern Europe, investigating the situation and interviewing hundreds of people whose stories the book tells. In poorer countries of the world, poverty and inequality create the conditions that lead to slavery. From destitute parents selling their children, to young rural women looking for work in the cities, to people being trapped in debt with no way out – the pool of potential slaves continues to grow. The International Labor Organization estimates that the work performed by trafficked individuals generates $32 billion a year. Stories of these horrendous injustices have been trickling out over the past few years, but now somebody has put it all together, describing both the magnitude of the problem and the solutions that could really stop modern slavery.

Two hundred years ago, British parliamentarian William Wilberforce and his group of friends profoundly changed the political and social climate of their time by taking on the slave trade. Wilberforce was a convert of the religious revivals that transformed 18th-century England. His life and his vocation as a Member of Parliament were profoundly changed by his newfound faith; he became a force for moral politics. His mentor, John Newton, worked in the slave trade before he became a minister, and became well known for writing the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace." Later, Newton used his influence as a religious leader to lead the battle against slavery. In light of his efforts, we can read his immortal words, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me," not merely as a testimony of private guilt and piety, but also as a turning away from the sin of trafficking in human flesh. His conversion produced a social and political transformation as well as a personal one. And that’s what Batstone is calling for today.

That kind of conversion became true in the life of Wilberforce, who first heard Newton speak when he was young but regarded his real conversion to be confirmed following a series of conversations in 1785-86. At the conclusion of their conversations, Newton said: "The Lord has raised you up for the good of the church and the good of the nation." Two years later, Wilberforce introduced his first anti–slave trade motion into Parliament. It was defeated, and would be defeated nine more times until it passed in 1807. It was a historic and moral victory, but Wilberforce wasn't satisfied until slavery was abolished altogether. Finally, in 1833, the House of Commons passed a bill abolishing slavery in the British Empire, and Wilberforce died three days later, his work finally done.

A new film about to be released, Amazing Grace, tells the story of William Wilberforce. On February 18, "Amazing Grace Sunday," churches around the globe will sing "Amazing Grace" and pray for the end of modern slavery. On February 23, 2007, the movie opens at theaters across the country. Click here to watch a trailer of the film.


Dave Batstone has been converted on the issue of modern slavery, and is now calling for our conversion. Today, as then, there is a growing abolitionist movement: heroic individuals who are rescuing slaves and creating a modern-day underground railroad to carry them to freedom, and organizations that provide social services and legal advocacy for victims of human trafficking. Batstone’s remarkable book tells the story of this new abolitionist movement. He ends his book with a chapter on "ending the slave trade in our time." It begins, "I believe in the power of individuals to change the world. Social movements take root and blossom when enough individuals take personal action." The chapter then offers creative ideas for becoming an abolitionist, and a listing of the major abolition organizations. A new campaign is being created around the book – the Not for Sale Campaign. It’s time for all of us to join the campaign.

Recently, I was preaching at an evangelical Christian college in the American Midwest. I called for a new generation of Martin Luther Kings and William Wilberforces. Afterward, two young women were waiting to talk to me at the end of a long line of students. When they finally got their turn to speak, they looked me straight in the eye and said, "We are going to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. and William Wilberforce, and we just wanted to tell you that." I told them I was glad to meet them now, before they became famous! But they were serious, and so was I. The history of earlier centuries can inform a new generation of Christians in their struggle to reunite faith and social justice in our own time.

David Batstone has been getting ready to write this book for a long time. His broad experiences in global issues, business ethics, and Christian social justice movements have all been forms of preparation for this work. When he talks about the modern slave trade, I can hear and feel the passion in his voice. Wilberforce was almost obsessed with slavery, and Batstone can’t let go of it either. He has seen too much now: He has talked to too many victims, and thought often of his own kids, who are about the same ages as the children he’s met who are being trafficked. Dave is on a mission, and invites us to join him. Read his book, see the film, and join the campaign to abolish slavery.

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics Blog

+ Download the new Sojourners On the Issues discussion guide: "Amazing Grace: Christians and the Global Slave Trade"

THIS WEEK IN GOD'S POLITICS

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Ryan Beiler: Am I a Pro-Cancer PC Thug?
Okay, I may be a PC thug. I care less about good intentions – and more about the effects on the targets of those intentions. Not only am I offended when well-meaning white people patronizingly and redundantly call highly-educated black people holding public office "articulate," I'm also offended when women's bodies are decapitated and covered with violent slogans to fight breast cancer. (Not literally decaptated – just sliced and diced in the manner perfected by the advertising industrial complex to make sure you focus on the body parts that are really important to them – the parts that don't talk or think.) But, for the record, let me be absolutely clear: Just because I think this anti-breast cancer ad is bad, I am not pro-cancer.

Duane Shank: A 'Demonic Destructive Suction Tube'
Depending on who’s counting and what their definitions are, the total for "security" spending – including the Defense Department base budget, Homeland Security budget, Iraq/Afghanistan war budget, and an additional war supplemental appropriation for FY 2007 – appears to be in the neighborhood of $750 billion. This is, as The Washington Times reported, "an increase of 4 percent from the current year and the largest sum in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1946 after the end of World War II. Including national security programs of other agencies, such as the Departments of State and Energy, the United States would spend more on security next year than the rest of the world combined [emphasis mine].

Jim Wallis: An Evangelical 'Tipping Point' on Global Warming
The "greening" of evangelicals in particular is a major new development. The Religious Right tried to prevent this from happening, but they failed, and in so doing lost control of the evangelical political agenda. Key establishment groups like the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) are now firmly committed to "creation care" and to the issue of global warming in particular. The best line in the last few years on this subject came from Rich Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the NAE, who said, "I don’t think God is going to ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created."

Rose Marie Berger: Poetry and the Language of War
E. Ethelbert Miller, who has been called "Washington D.C.'s unofficial poet laureate," recently interviewed Melissa Tuckey, a poet and activist involved in DC Poets Against the War. (I was lucky to have a poem published in the first edition of their anthology.) I particularly like what Melissa says about the influence of war language on poets: "If anything the war has made me more passionate about the importance of poetry, for its power of engaging heart and mind, and for the way it speaks truth to power and encourages readers to acknowledge and appreciate the complexities of truth. The language of war has made me leery of simplistic thinking and dichotomies like 'good versus evil' or 'us versus them.' In my writing I try to remember that I am complicit in this world. Even though I oppose the war, I am a part of it, it is not separate from me. Likewise the language of war has made me leery of abstractions like 'freedom.' I want precise, personal, accountable language and experience."

Jim Wallis: A Proud Moment in Super Bowl History
"I tell you what, I'm proud to be representing African-American coaches, to be the first African-American coach to win this." So said Tony Dungy, coach of the now-NFL-champion Indianapolis Colts, after winning the Super Bowl in a Miami monsoon rain. Because Dungy and his good friend, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, were the first two African-American coaches to reach the Super Bowl, the big game took on much more social significance than usual. But Dungy made a point to remind the country that he and Smith were not the first black coaches who were qualified coaches at their level in the big game.

Jeff Halper: The 'New Anti-Semitism'
A "cult" can be defined as a closed system of belief in which all contradictory information is excluded. In terms of the obsessive vehemence with which the so-called leaders of the "organized" Jewish community attempt to stifle any and all critical views on Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians, I would argue that American Judaism is in danger of being turned into a cult. One exclusive idea – Israel as a Jewish state – has superseded all other Jewish values and views. Opinion on Israel must conform to an "official" position enforced by self-appointed gatekeepers, none of whom have been elected as official representatives of the politically diverse Jewish community, as far as I know.

Jim Wallis: Revolutionary Prayer
For me, prayer is more often becoming a time of listening than talking. There is so much noise in our world and our lives (much of our own making); prayer becomes a quiet space enabling us to stop talking long enough to see what God might be trying to say to us. The disciplines of prayer, silence, and contemplation practices by the monastics and mystics are precisely that – stopping the noise, slowing down, and becoming still, so that God can break through all our activity and noise in order to speak to us. Prayer serves to put all the parts of our lives in God’s presence, reminding us of how holy our humanity really is.

Elizabeth Palmberg: The Self-Fufilling Prophecy of Bad Government
This New York Times article is about how the government, trying to solve the problem that it is being swindled by iffy contractors, hired an iffy contractor – one that had been contracted to supply interrogators to Abu Ghraib. No, we’re not making this up.

Noel Castellanos: We Can't Ignore Our Immigrant Neighbors
If there was ever a time to pray and work for the shalom (or well being) of our nation, it is now. As the people of God – his church – we are being challenged to examine our hearts and the authenticity of our own faith by the presence of undocumented neighbors struggling for survival in our own backyards. Like the religious leaders and fear-filled individuals who walked past and around the man who was laying on the side of road in Jesus' good Samaritan story, too many of us in this country who claim to follow Jesus are doing the exact same thing – by ignoring the plight of our immigrant neighbors.

BUILDING A MOVEMENT

Space is Limited - Sign Up Today for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

We hope you'll be among the thousands of Christian lay people and clergy coming to Washington, D.C., on March 16 to voice your support for creating real security and peace in Iraq. Unfortunately, seating for the Friday evening worship service at the National Cathedral is limited. Admission is free, but if you want to join us for the service, followed by a march and vigil at the White House, you need to sign up and print your ticket.

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