Doubtful to the cause
Gary Haugen, president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), told the 60,000+ Passion 2013 participants that 27 million people in slavery today is a massive problem of injustice in our world and that they must make this cause a priority, in what was both a plea for awareness and a challenge to take action Wednesday afternoon.
“As your brother in Christ I simply want to tell you that slavery is real, it’s massive, it’s brutal, and it’s also in our own backyard,” he said. “But you can be the generation that ends slavery in the world.“
Another movement has infiltrated Atlanta’s Passion conferences and Passion City church in the form of modern-day abolitionism. Ever dubious of Christian church movements as fads going in and out of fashion like t-shirts, I’m particularly skeptical of this latest. One reason is that the injustice of slavery has never been thoroughly eradicated nor will it ever be, save the return of Christ Himself. Abolitionist zealots like John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison have come and gone, but slavery remains, albeit as an illegitimate enterprise. The Passion organization focuses on youth and college aged students which is a demographic ripe for causes.
Movements within the Christian church at large aren’t a novelty. At one time there was the holy laughter movement, or the Toronto Blessing as it was otherwise named, among Pentecostals which the same age group of Christians likely wouldn’t know from experience. It came and as quickly went. There’s nothing to convince me that the End It movement will end slavery before it ends itself.
God is not handicapped by Epicurus’ argument. It would be true that if evil were a problem for God He wouldn’t be so, but such isn’t the case. If He permits slavery, or any other evil for that matter, it’s because of the sinfulness of mankind, not because He is inept, weak or malevolent. Evil, and particularly the evil of slavery, has never required any legitimacy of man to subsist. God is God and has everything very well in control. Mankind is the problem. To borrow a quote from Thoreau, there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. Social causes are just that sort of distraction from the essential mission and focus of the Christian faith. I suspect it stems from the very common and well meaning desire among believers to “help God out”; to do for God what doesn’t seem to be happening on His own.
The End It movement website states, “As a country, we’ve officially known it [slavery being wrong] since 1863”. It’s an obvious reference to the Emancipation Proclamation enacted in that year, which incidentally was more a gimmick to manipulate a war into a noble cause than it was to end slavery. It was in no way a moral or even a legal declaration of slavery itself, but simply used to distinguish previously seceded states which continued to hold slaves as being in rebellion to the Federal government. It’s odd that the End It movement website would call slavery “wrong” based upon an allusion to that document.
Slavery did not end with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution either. Laws won’t determine behaviour. Laws won’t keep people from getting and taking illegal drugs. They don’t stop people from murdering or stealing. Laws did not and will not stop slavery because laws can’t constrain evil and sin.
My observation is that in modern Christianity as the enthusiasm of one movement ebbs another begins to pick up energy, coinciding with the rise of a new generation of Christian believers. I question how IJM arrived at the 27 million number, but assuming it’s a somewhat accurate count, compare that to the over 55 million abortions in the U.S. alone. There was a time when Randall Terry, a modern day John Brown of the anti-abortion movement, and Operation Rescue gained national prominence in 1988 at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta when 1200 protestors were arrested in the name of stopping abortions. Christians may remember when Christian Coalition and Pat Robertson were decrying the heinousness of abortions. There was a time when evangelical churches en masse were behind abolishing abortion, urging Christians to see abortion as murder and to act accordingly.
The End It movement characterizes modern day slavery as “real, it’s massive, it’s brutal, and it’s also in our own backyard”, while the same could be said of abortion. One takes the forefront while pro-life movement attention seems to be relegated to the once a year marking of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. There are a generation of believers who participated in the pro-life movement as young adults. What they know of that experience might be instructional to this End It movement generation.
“There is an awesome God of justice who is ready to move in power if you move in obedience,” Haugen said, placing the responsibility to end human slavery on the Christian community.
This is problematic for the believer. First of all, it’s an indication of that misguided desire to give God a helping hand. God will do what He will do irrespective of anyone. To suggest that a universal opposition to slavery is moving in obedience to God’s sense of justice is presumptuous. It could be that God would allow some to become slaves without Epicurus’ possibility of a malevolent God.
Secondly, it implies the relationship between the believer and God is codependent. Christians may think so, but they don’t have a quid pro quo relationship with the Creator. The responsibility to end slavery, if it’s to be anyone’s burden, is that of all mankind, not just Christianity. It’s the responsibility of Christian believers to live like Christian believers among themselves and to demonstrate that to the rest of the world. Period. Christians mistakenly move into becoming the world’s moral police.
Make no misunderstanding, I am against the practices of abortion and slavery. To own another human being as chattel is wrong. What I am is dubious of this movement and its timing because I’ve experienced heady influence of the anti-abortion/pro-life/right-to-life movement of the late 80’s and 90’s. In my view, the energy and naivety of college aged students is being leveraged for this current manumission movement in much the same way the anti-abortion did about 30 years ago. To make a grandiose declaration as a generation that can end slavery in the world is farcical. I can be as sure of that as ending any other corruption or moral variance. Haugen would know this is true but for the use of that statement to arouse an ethos to attract people to a cause.
Perhaps the effort will do some good releasing some from the bonds of slavery, but Christians could do far better living out the freedom they have in Christ before the world audience.