Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? – Isaiah 58:6 (NRSV)
A pervasive criticism of modern Christians, both from outsiders as well as concerned Christians, is that people of faith are not taking seriously Jesus’ call for us to serve “the least of these.”
Thankfully, we may be turning a corner.
Last week in Atlanta, more than 42,000 Christians packed the Georgia Dome for four days to participate in Passion 2012. Spearheaded by Passion Conferences founder Louie Giglio, Passion 2012 is another in an ongoing series of conferences intended to engage the “university moment” with Jeusus’ compelling message.
What made Passion 2012 so compelling for so many wasn’t the impressive list of popular Christian speakers, including Francis Chan, John Piper, and Beth Moore. It wasn’t the popular worship music of Chris Tomlin, the David Crowder Band, Charlie Hall, and Kristian Stanfill. Nor was it the presence of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.
It was the call to action — the invitation to make Jesus’ message of social justice a reality in this world.
"Church was never meant to be an island of self-indulgence, but a missional community of Jesus-followers so in love with Him that they can do nothing else but carry his name to the world," said Giglio, echoing an increasingly popular outlook on the Christian life in today’s emerging ministries.
Passion Conferences, begun in 1997, seeks to engage college-aged young adults through revival-style events intended to bring about a spiritual awakening and forge a coalition of socially engaged, action-oriented Christians. The conferences, which have increased in size and scope with each passing year, have become siphons for channeling Christian energy toward some of this world’s most intimidating moral challenges.
While Passion Conferences identifies its ministry as “conservative and evangelical,” its missional focus has proved to have an even broader appeal, drawing support from across ministry and denominational lines and, as of 2008, from across international borders.
Passion 2012 set its sights squarely on one of the world’s most abhorrent evils: human trafficking. Outside the Georgia Dome, a large hand reaching out from the earth was emblazoned with this year’s simple and powerful message: “Indifference Is Not an Option.”
“Together, we will lend our voice to the 27 million who have no voice and do everything we can to fight for freedom,” explains the Web site for Do Something Now, the fundraising arm of Passion Conferences.
As we reported in this month’s issue of Sojourners Magazine, the trafficking of human beings for the purpose of sex, labor and war remains pervasive, despite the common perception that slavery is an evil of the past. Millions of modern-day slaves die every year, most of them women, and millions more are abused, raped, and psychologically scarred. According to Do Something Now, even today more than 27 million people remain trapped in slavery.
Passion 2012’s goal was to raise $1 million for organizations that work passionately to bring prevention, freedom, and restoration to those trapped in slavery. They raised $3.1 million.
Passion Conferences work is so important because it helps fulfill an important function that government alone cannot accomplish. As Stewart Burns reported in this month’s issue of Sojourners Magazine:
These freedom struggles teach us that although government is a necessary ally, and ultimately indispensable, it is the mobilized powers of civil society—what I prefer to call grassroots democracy—that play the decisive role.
Government certainly can do much more than it is presently, but government cannot do it alone. Nor can we expect governments to do more as long as we respond to the great evil with passive indifference.
There is still a long journey ahead. While the $3.1 million raised by Do Something Now will no doubt have a positive impact on the organizations and communities it reaches, it remains a tiny fraction of the resources needed to adequately combat human trafficking on a global level. Passion 2012 was able to raise approximately 5 precent of what the United States federal government spends annually to combat trafficking ($60 million). To put that in perspective, the government spends a startling 333 times that much fighting its controversial and ineffectual “war on drugs” ($20 billion).
There is cause for hope. Attention to human trafficking from the U.S. Department of State has increased over the past decade. Additionally, as final preparations for Passion 2012 were being made in Atlanta, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation declaring January 2012 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and a renewed commitment to the fight against modern slavery.
People are crying out for social justice, and our leader have no choice but to respond.
“[We] will engage, we will step up and we will raise our voice and we will be a part of seeing history change,” Giglio told the huge audience at the Georgia Dome last week.
Young Christians are answering the call. What about you?
Matthew Santoro is a communications and new media professional in Washington, D.C. He was a Capstone Scholar of Religion at Oberlin College, graduating in 2007. Matthew completed his Master's degree in Political Science at American University in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @Rantoro.