“Most of us enjoy an economy where we can purchase with ease the things we need and enjoy. However, there is no moral justification for the commercialization of some things; human beings are not products to be bought and sold,” writes Elise Hilton in the latest Acton Commentary (published October 3). The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
Acton Media’s second documentary makes its public television debut Sunday, May 2, with a 3-4 p.m. airing on Detroit Public Television (HD channel 56.1). The film trailer is here.
In this week’s Birth of Freedom short video Sam Gregg, author of On Ordered Liberty, discusses the views that two influential ancient philosophers held regarding human equality and the practice of slavery.
If you haven’t seen the other 7 video shorts, you can check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.
This week’s Birth of Freedom Video Short features Susan Wise Bauer, author of The History of the Ancient World. She addresses the question, “How did Christian slave owners justify slavery?”, describing how slave owners operated under a false (prescriptive instead of descriptive) understanding of the New Testament’s teaching concerning slavery.
Remember, if you haven’t seen the other 7 video shorts, you can check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.
“The struggle for justice always stands or falls on the battlefield of hope.” This is but one of a passel of pithy expressions found throughout Gary Haugen’s new book, Just Courage. Haugen is the president of International Justice Mission, a Washington D.C.-based organization doing outstanding work throughout the world, freeing people bonded in illegal labor arrangements, including forced prostitution.
Haugen’s is a practical rather than a theoretical treatise. He admits that a commonly agreed-to definition of justice remains elusive, but he can point to the way God and God’s people act justly in the scriptures, and that gives us enough direction. The book is a sometimes moving account of and reflection on Haugen’s experiences assisting some of the most powerless people on our planet.
He argues stridently against Christian apathy, insisting that it is possible for us to achieve progress even against some of the most severe of the world’s problems. This is why hope is pivotal. Those who are merely dismayed in the face of evil will not make the effort to fight it.
At the same time, Haugen is realistic, as anyone who encounters human slavery on a regular basis is bound to be. He understands the distinction between naivete and utopianism on one hand, and genuine Christian hope on the other.
This realism, at an even deeper level, links justice and hope. I suspect that Haugen would agree with another writer on these themes, Pope Benedict XVI:
I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing. (Spe Salvi, n. 43)
With this invocation of the pope, it might be appropriate to note that Just Courage seems intended primarily for non-Catholic Christians. Its modes of expression and descriptions of Christian life manifest an evangelical sensibility. Exhortations to think about the message of the gospel as social rather than merely individual will appear redundant to adherents of historical churches with long traditions of social instititution sponsorship.
Yet all Christians need to hear this message reiterated. Catholics and others, however much they recognize a vague obligation to social justice, will benefit from Haugen’s particular insistence that every one of us risk our personal comfort at the behest of “rescuing” someone in need. Haugen comes perhaps too near at times to underappreciating the ways in which most Christians will live the call to justice: handling the day-to-day tasks of family life; toiling away at a trade or business; volunteering at local soup kitchens or crisis pregnancy centers. Still, Haugen’s vision of more spectacular achievements in the cause of justice—such as liberating girls from the shackles of the sex trade—is invigorating and necessary.
IJM and its allies are the abolitionists of our age and they deserve our support and admiration. Some who read the book will be called to such work. Those who are not must find ways to be courageously just in our own lives.
Related to Sam Gregg’s Acton Commentary today, “Free Trade: Latin America’s Last Hope?” I pass along this ENI news item: “Growing rich-poor gap is new ‘slavery’, say Protestant leaders.”
Globalization and free trade are the causes of a new class of worldwide slavery, say the ecumenical officials. Citing the foundational 2004 Accra Confession, Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, says that “an even more pernicious form of human enslavement is being wrought on millions through the process of neoliberal globalisation that is driving a dramatic and growing wedge between the rich and the poor.”
These statements come at a critical time in the history of the Reformed ecumenical movement. The Reformed Ecumenical Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches have joined this week to become one organization:
Reformed church groupings agree to create new global body
Port of Spain (ENI). The World Alliance of Reformed Churches has agreed to unite with the Reformed Ecumenical Council to create a new “global entity” that will group 80 million Reformed Christians. “This is a truly, truly important moment,” said WARC president the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick after the alliance’s executive committee, meeting in Trinidad, voted unanimously on 22 October to unite with the REC, whose executive committee had agreed to the proposal in March. The Geneva-based WARC has 75 million members in 214 churches in 107 countries, while the Grand Rapids, Michigan-headquartered REC has 12 million members belonging to 39 churches in 25 countries. Of the REC’s member churches, 27 also belong to WARC. [ENI-07-0815]
It’s not clear at this time if the conditions laid out in 2005 are those under which the union has taken place. This merger is significant in many ways, not least of which is the requirement of the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church that its Synod “shall send delegates to Reformed ecumenical synods in which the Christian Reformed Church cooperates with other denominations which confess and maintain the Reformed faith” (Article 50). Citing Calvin once in awhile and promulgating platitudes about the sovereignty of God doesn’t mean you are Reformed.
In response to concerns from member churches from the global North that the Accra Confession is not sufficiently doctrinal, Rev. Setri Nyomi responds, “The Reformed family recognises the sovereignty of God … We do not separate whether God is sovereign in the mundane and in the spiritual realm. Therefore our stance on social issues is consistent with the doctrinal claim of sovereignty.”
Quite frankly the WARC leaderships rhetoric about income and wealth disparity as a “more pernicious form of human enslavement” is offensive on a number of levels besides its doctrinal spuriousness. It’s offensive to those who actually are slaves today (sex trafficking is a huge global issue). And it’s insulting to those whose historical legacy involves victimization by the practice of chattel slavery.
WARC is more than happy to talk about “slavery” in material terms, identifying anything other than complete egalitarianism with injustice and bondage. But the one kind of slavery you won’t hear WARC discuss is the sense in which it is put forward most prominently in the Scriptures: bondage to corruption and sin in a personally and individually relevant way.
When Christ said, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” he didn’t have globalization in mind.
- These consectaries are aimed at Baxter’s audience, wealthy Christian merchants. Baxter examines in some particular detail suggestions for the right use of their charitable funds and efforts: “Might not somewhat more be done than yet is, to further the gospel in your factories, and in our plantations?” (329)
- Concerning Christians abroad who are too poor to have materials printed in their own countries and languages: “Could nothing be done to get some Bibles, catechisms, and practical books printed in their own tongues, and given among them? I know there is difficulty in the way; but money, and willingness, and diligence, might do something” (330).
- Baxter addresses the institution of slavery and condemns it as Christians practice it, contravening the greater moral duty to aim towards the conversion of their slaves. The law mandate the release of slaves upon their conversion: “Is it not an odious crime of Christians to hinder the conversion of these infidels, lest they lose their service by it, and to prefer their gain before men’s souls? Is not this to sell souls for a little money, as Judas did his Lord?” (330).
- Baxter denounces such practice in no uncertain terms: “Why should these men be called Christians, or have any christian reputation, or privileges themselves, who think both Christianity and souls to be no more worth than to be thus basely sold for the gain of men’s servilest labours? And what, though the poor infidels desire not their own conversion, their need is the greater, and not the less” (331).
Next week: John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”
Rarely have I seen a movie that moved me the way Amazing Grace did last evening. The new film, which opened across America on Friday, is the story of the life-long struggle of William Wilberforce to end slavery and reform British society in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The movie should compel Christians to understand how culture can be truly altered by incrementalism, deep faith, sheer perseverance, and quite often with great personal sacrifice.
When the anti-slavery movement began in earnest in the late 18th century almost every leader in the British Empire embraced the retention of slavery on economic and, in some cases, so-called “Christian” grounds. One of the chief influences against the horrible institution was John Newton, the evangelical Anglican clergyman who wrote the world best-known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” thus the title of this new movie. Newton had been a “slaver” himself and thus knew well what happened to the Africans who were sold into slavery. After his conversion Newton lived with the nightmare of 20,000 African souls perishing through his own complicity and consistently opposed the grim sale of human people. He not only preached the gospel, as a faithful evangelical minister, but resolutely opposed slavery to his last breath. The young Wilberforce had sat under Newton’s gospel ministry and had adopted his stance against slavery as a very young MP. Wilberforce then forged a deep and lifelong friendship with William Pitt, who later became prime minister. It was Pitt who often helped Wilberforce in his efforts, though at times Pitt wavered in his own resolve when Britain faced possible revolution after the American and French Revolutions. The great wisdom of Wilberforce was to resist the short-cut of revolution, both in rhetoric and reality, and to do so with an abiding determination to end slavery without bloodshed. As a result of his determined efforts Britain was spared the terrible conflict that plagued America from 1861-1865. In this case one man did make a huge difference!
This movie provides moving portraits of John Newton, William Wilberforce, William Pitt and even Wilberforce’s wife, among many others of that era who played major roles in these dark times. This film grips the heart, moves the soul, and deeply and profoundly impressed upon me the need for true reformers in our time, men and women who have both the spiritual depth and the moral courage to wisely oppose evils that plague our modern societies. We too soon forget that slavery still exists, in the form of female prostitution. We also forget that Africa still faces major crises that bring about the death of millions every single year, including Muslim attacks upon whole people groups in the Sudan and the ravaging scourge of HIV/AIDS that wipes out multitudes every day.
Some have said Amazing Grace does not present the gospel and thus fails to tell our story. Don’t believe it. The Four Spiritual Laws are not presented, as if this is the only way to tell the gospel, but the message is there in a powerful way. Amazing Grace will inspire you. Hopefully it will also move you to act on your conscience to support every cause that advances justice and reform in society and throughout the world. As I left the theater I thought of many modern reformers but the contributions of Bono were particularly brought to my mind as I prayed and thought about those who persist in making major efforts for justice and Christian concern in our day, just as Wilberforce did in his time. I can’t help but think that far too many conservative Christians are sleeping through a time that calls for radical sacrifice on our part. Maybe this movie will stir minds and hearts. I pray so. See it as soon as possible.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."
This is one of the images I see on days I drive home from school:
Yes, that’s a shared storefront for a health spa featuring “rub downs” and “American” girls, along with an adult “super store.” Nothing untoward about that connection. Nope, nothing at all.
And even though it touts “American” girls, this parlor isn’t located in a country like Thailand, which was noted by the US State Department as “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.”
In a statement in 2004, Mohamed Y. Mattar, Co-Director of the Protection Project of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, talked about cases in which “massage parlors have been shut down after it was discovered that they were fronts for houses of prostitution. The women working in those establishments did not have massage therapist licenses and traveled from New Orleans to Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Biloxi (Mississippi) and Grand Rapids (Michigan) to engage in prostitution.”
And as the icing on the cake, these shops are located on this street:
The adventure in cognitive dissonance leading to a street named “Division” to become the site for honoring Martin Luther King Jr. is a whole other story. At least they got one thing right: MLK is “above” division.