Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Righteous Outrage

I was minding my own business last week, studying the passage in Luke for the sermon on Super Bowl Sunday. Frankly, I was thinking I needed to weave in a football analogy or two, not be too long, and perhaps offer a reminder that there are more important things in the world than football. Oh yeah, and explain and apply the passage. 

That’s where my journey to outrage unsuspectingly began.

First, you need to know that I’m not given to outrage—and this becomes more the case as I grow older. In fact, I’ve become rather jaded to the supposed outrage of others, like that of the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter varieties, as well as the war on the “War on Christmas” and other Christians-losing-their-majority-status causes. It all feels so manufactured. It seems to be either politically expedient, self-absorbed, or just petty. The offended sometimes attempt to identify their causes with that of antebellum slavery, Hitler’s treatment of Jews, or the Jim Crow south. To me, these are spurious comparisons. I’ve often wondered what the great evils of our generation really are (if there are any) and whether they are of the caliber of abolition, the anti-Nazi resistance, and the civil rights movement. Now I think I’m understanding what they are—at least one of them.

So there’s this prophecy Jesus read from Isaiah that we discussed last week that predicted what the Messiah would be about. In short, he would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, give liberty to captives and the oppressed, and give sight to the blind. Jesus subsequently told his hometown audience that he was fulfilling that Scripture right then. When they realized that was different than the Messiah they wanted, they, outraged, tried to kill him. Luke then shows Jesus going about literally fulfilling this prophecy by his priorities, namely: preaching, releasing people from demon-possession, and healing people of various physical ailments. 

As I was considering ways we should apply this passage today, I was struggling with the “proclaim liberty to the captives” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed” thing. Jesus obviously had applied it by setting free people enslaved/oppressed by demons. Of course there are demons (and those oppressed by them) around us today. Demons may not be active today in the same way as they were (although they certainly are in other parts of the world). The devil and his demons aren't fools. They masquerade and deceive in different ways to our scientific culture that isn’t as susceptible to superstition. But I think demon-oppressed/possessed people are just as common and just as much in bondage today as in Jesus’ day. They are controlled/enslaved by a sinful spirit who hates them and uses them for the enemy’s purposes. Truth is, sin itself enslaves. It does through ignorance. It is an evil tyranny. 

As I thought about slavery in our culture, I remembered what I have heard about the growing problem of human trafficking. "Human trafficking"—the name itself is a problem due to its vagueness and vastness—and I want to be clear. There are many ways people (humans) are exploited by others often by moving (trafficking) them to places where they depend on those taking advantage to make money for them against their will.
I know, SO confusing, right? Officially, the U.S. National Institute of Justice defines the term thusly: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.” 

Human trafficking is quickly becoming a “catch phrase” about a big category of stuff from sex-slavery to sweat shops where people—usually women and children—are abusively exploited against their will. It happens everywhere in the world and EVEN HERE in Knoxville

Of course, there is no end to the exploitation in other parts of the world by abusers. Particularly in the non-Christian world. Yes, we (Christians) should do something about it. We (most importantly) must pray, plant churches, and (at times) give and go to bring an end to abuses of people created in the image of God. But in our “Jerusalem,” aren’t we especially obligated as Christians to recognize evils against people and do something? Absolutely. 

How, you may ask, are “humans” being “trafficked” here? (I truly hate that term). Primarily by sex slavery. 

Many times pimps will "brand" their slaves as a reminder of
who "owns" them. This is a real example.
"Sex slavery" is my term (although I'm sure it's not original) for what’s going on. And it is a huge evil, both in scope and severity. Yes, it is here in East Tennessee. There are thousands of sex slaves among us, before our very eyes, “owned” by pimps and managers and family members who are exploiting people (usually kids and women) for personal gain. It is absolutely evil beyond description, in some cases WORSE than what was done to Jews by the Nazis and to blacks by southern slaveholders (not to diminish the evils of the latter in any way). 

This is what I mean: there are little kids and teen girls who are lured away from their families (usually broken families) by men who show them attention and shower them with gifts and compliments, and don’t just stop when they take advantage of them sexually. They then exploit the girls’ emotional attachment, often get them dependent on drugs and financially, and frequently beat them in order to instill fear so that these girls will “work” for them to make them money. How do they “work” for them? Frequently as sex slaves. They will farm them out to have sex with anyone for money. This happens online, through Craigslist and other websites, ads, and publications, as well as more traditional forms of prostitution (i.e., hanging out on street corners). Of course I’m generalizing greatly so you get the picture. The victims can be boys, the abuse can be different forms of domination/enslavement, it can be different deeds (other than physical sex), and for different forms of payment or services.

These exploiters are evil. I struggle to have any compassion for them. I know I need to remember that they were perhaps exploited themselves and had broken families and experienced other factors that pushed them this way…but honestly, I’m going to have to work on that. I know they need Jesus and that he forgives even them. Seventy times seven. John Newton and Amazing Grace. I know. I know. God help me.

Of course the victims are to be pitied. Greatly. Even though some of them have made poor choices. As Christ came to rescue us (Romans 5:6-8: weak, without hope, unrighteous, sinners, ungodly), we must go to their rescue.

But there’s another component to this equation that is often overlooked. The “user.” The customers in this evil industry are the (typically) thirty- and forty-something white men who pay these prostitutes to have sex. Oh…and the people of all ages who view porn


Yes. The fuel that fires the exploitation furnace of sex slavery is porn. The millions of people who watch people having sex online. The revenue of this industry is in the billions per year…maybe even trillions. Truth is, no one knows for sure how much money is being generated. Ads (a majority of the proceeds), memberships, products, and supporting services are what drive the sex slavery industry.

If you view porn, that’s you. 

It's not harmless. Besides being immoral, it hurts you.

In addition, the young people who are exposed to easily-accessible porn often become victims, users, and exploiters themselves. Sex-slavery exploiters aren’t stupid. They are like clever drug dealers who give samples so that people will want more.

Point is, all aspects of this industry are happening here. And it’s not uncommon. As I dug in and read more last week, I became more horrified and saddened. That gave way to anger. And then brokenness. I'm a dad of two girls. Even more, I'm a Christian man. I can't live and let this happen to people.

It became more to me than just an example of possible application for a sermon on Super Bowl Sunday.

Someone has to be bold to set the captives free. To fight for those who are sex slaves is not for the faint of heart. But if it sets people free, is it not worth the effort? Is it not the right thing to do?

It seems overwhelmingly difficult and perhaps impossible. How do I…how do WE as a church make a dent in this problem? I’m sure that’s what the early abolitionists (who were "inescapably Christian") asked when America was becoming rich by the slave-driven cotton industry. I’m sure that’s what “confessing” Christians in Nazi Germany asked. Some like Dietrich Bonhoeffer answered and pleaded with fellow Germans, worked to stop the Nazis—even taking part in trying to assassinate Hitler, and ultimately gave his life...seemingly in vain. Yes it's difficult. But Christ is stronger! He sets captives free! 

Along with abortion, I think I’ve found the issue that is our generation’s great evil, an issue that is worthy of the church’s united effort to be salt and light.

Lord, let me be a part of the fight. 

Go to the Street Hope website for more on the sex slavery issue (a.k.a. "human trafficking") in East Tennessee. For those interested in learning more and discussing how we at Providence Church might engage to stop this evil and help those who are victimized, come to Providence on February 25 at 7:00pm. We'll hear from experts in our community and pray. That's where it begins.

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