Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.
The world is alive around her-charged air, pulsing ground, high hanging blue sky. The city with all its magic whirls around the couple walking hand in hand along the water’s edge. Strappy heals dangle from her hand as she walks barefoot, feeling the grass beneath her feet. A sweet smell fills the air as a summer breeze carries the hum of some unknown band. Cicada beetles and cardinals echo throughout the city streets as she brushes her fingers through the dense air of a hot July day. She tucks her head beneath his chin, imagining what could be. A life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security-most of all togetherness-she breaths out a wishful sigh. It is a place of magic, a dream that every once and a while we get to smell and taste and touch. Every now and then we lose ourselves, forgetting about the worries of this world, we let go and feel the grass beneath our feet and just dream. Joy, peace, contentment, safety, companionship-these are some of the things that we long for. True happiness, love, and freedom, this is the texture of a world just beyond our reach. It is the fabric of another place that we know exists in our hearts. There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers.
We are aware of another world peaking and poking into ours, tearing at the fabric of our souls and bringing both hope as well as dissatisfaction. We are aware of this other place not only during times of intense pleasure and joy but also during times of suffering and injustice. Exploitation, abuse and neglect, death and disease, destruction and displacement-there are many conditions we see and possibly experience ourselves in this world that cause us to dream of another one. For some, the suffering and injustice of this world causes them to lose faith, to doubt the existence of this other place, but for others it causes them to put their lives on the line, it inspires great acts of bravery and heroism, it drives some to give their all to reach for the dream. History is filled with the stories of millions upon millions who hoped against hope for another world and who risked their lives to establish justice in their pursuit of joy. There are lots of obstacles to this other world. Our world is broken in so many ways. Children die in countless numbers from diseases that are entirely treatable or preventable for lack of medicine that the wealthy can obtain at nearly every corner drugstore. Poverty and greed form a vicious cycle and often it is the children of the world’s poor that end up paying the ultimate price. More than 2,000 children under 5 die from malaria each day-that’s one child every 40 seconds. Malaria kills nearly one million people each year but 85% are children under 5. Each year an estimated 250 million people get infected with malaria. That’s equal to 83% of the U.S. population. But it’s the poorest of the poor that suffer most. Malaria is the fourth leading cause of child deaths worldwide and second leading cause of child deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. Slavery, death from disease, displacement, hunger-we know that this is not the way things are supposed to be so we long inwardly for another place, a place of hope.
Detroit-A Place of Hope
For several decades in the city of Detroit where I live hope was all but lost but now there are many who dream again. There are corporations and government officials, teachers and civil servants, business leaders and scholars who know the secret of Detroit and the rich heritage that this city of hope has. Something always drives us back to hope. For countless slaves in the south, the dream of freedom once had a name and that name was Detroit. It’s hard to think of Detroit as a city of hope but for many slaves who had escaped from the Deep South, this city and the Detroit River was a dream that inspired them to risk their very lives to see. For scores of abolitionists and slaves alike, Detroit was the destination of hope. The trek along the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses and safe people, led escaped slaves to Detroit-a year-long journey of over 1,000 miles. A trek fueled by the hope of freedom, opportunity, safety, but most of all, joy. The dream of joy is really at the center of the heart of every woman, of every man. Often it is the goal behind the goal, the greater dream of a thousand aspirations and for countless slaves, it fueled prayerful miles and expectant singing. Their dream may have started with the longing for freedom from the injustice and suffering of slavery, but there was something behind that dream. What do we do when justice and freedom have been obtained? We live the life we were meant to live-this is the dream that is beyond justice, the dream of joy. They would sing about the Jordan River, speaking figuratively of crossing the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada, finally being free of fear and the repercussions of their decision to pursue their dream. For many of my ancestors, slavery was all they knew. They were born into the slave system, often separated from their parents and shipped off to fields throughout the south. They never knew the dream of freedom.
The Source of Hope
What is it in the heart of a woman that dares to dream of a world she’s known nothing of, a world without rape or exploitation where she is free to choose her loved ones and run her hands through the hot July air? Where does the dream of a boy come from, a dream of a fantastical world of play, when all he’s known is the work slavery? I believe the quote of an unknown slave says it all: “All my life I been called a slave. They tell me I belongs to my master. That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.” Our soul remembers. I believe because we’ve been made in the image of God that our soul remembers. The world that pokes and peaks into our world of injustice and suffering connects powerfully with our soul because it was the world we were made for, a world of joy. A world where cicadas echo through streets of giggles and strappy heels dangle as bare feet walk through lush green grass. You see, there is something beyond justice that we all long for, a dream that we share with the rest of humanity. Millions have risked their lives and are risking their lives today so the dream can come to pass. A dream can change the world, literally. There are ways in which we use the concept of dream to refer to a wish, a desire, or a hope. Real change, however, comes through conviction, passion, power, and action. During the civil rights era that brought real and lasting change to millions of African-American’s, it was the dream of one man coupled with the real actions of Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos and others that brought that dream to pass. Dreaming is not incompatible with action; in fact a dream of substance, of real conviction and vision requires action. God’s dream is the same way. To say that God has a dream is an understatement. The culmination of all history is heading somewhere; it is heading to a place that is beyond justice, a place of joy.
The Dream of God
God’s vision and passion for another world are coupled with His power and will to accomplish His dream. God’s dreams come to pass and the exciting part is this; they include us, they include our action, our faith, our longings. Some wonder why God doesn’t just snap his fingers and bring about his dream right away. God invites us to join him in setting things right, of helping the world around us in both small and big ways begin to look the way it is supposed to be. In Revelation 21 (3b-5a NASB), God gives us a glimpse of the day he will bring his dream to pass. It says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The dream of God is a dream to make all things new! God could, in fact, make the dream come alive instantly but as we will see, this wouldn’t be good for everyone. The dream of God is not only of another world of beauty, order and joy. It is also a world of severe consequences, particularly for those who have put their faith and trust in a world that is incompatible with God’s dream. God will make all things new and this is not good news for all. The first thing we need to realize, however, is that there is a dream behind our dream, a longing behind all our aspirations that we seldom can put our fingers on.
Our dream is a dream that is beyond justice-one that is rooted in another place. Our soul remembers this place because we’ve been made in the image of God. The dream of our heart is anchored in the eternal dream of God. This is what is beyond justice. When adjusted for population, there are more slaves living at this moment in history than at any other time, more than were trafficked cumulatively over the four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Millions of people live a life of horror, of degradation, of hopelessness and despair. Such things should not be. The reality of suffering and injustice causes most people to experience what the Bible calls “holy indignation,” or anger. Indignation is that “strong displeasure at something considered unjust, it is righteous anger.” There is something holy about righteous indignation-it brings out the best in humanity. Emerson wrote, “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” If you are like most people, as you see the suffering and injustices of the world around you, you long to do something, to be an agent of transformation. Kevin Jenkins, President of World Vision International expresses this holy indignation this way, “We don’t accept that any child should have to go to bed hungry. We don’t believe that mothers should watch their children get sick and have no way to help them. We don’t believe that fathers should work 16 hours a day and still not be able to provide for their children. We don’t believe teachers should give lessons to children who have no textbooks, paper or pens. We don’t believe governments and rebels should recruit youths to kill, or that girls should be bought and sold, or that parents must sell their children to pay their debts… There is a righteous anger at the heart of World Vision. But at the same time, we overflow with love for all those with whom we are called to serve.” Indignation causes us to reach for the dream, to band together across racial lines, across economic lines, across religious lines to do something greater, something that none of us could possibly do alone-to reach for the dream. The realities of injustice and suffering cause a deep sense of dissonance and rage within us and this rage at the injustices and suffering of others is a demonstration that we are made in the image of God. The commodification of people is as old a practice as civilization itself but in the dream of God, God Himself will reverse this in what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a reality where the deepest longings of our hearts for justice and abundance are fulfilled because God will be in control instead of corrupt governments, greedy corporations, or broken systems of law.
The Kingdom of God is the Dream of God and it is this Dream where we find our hearts wandering. It is in this dream where we can feel the density of the air flow between our fingers and the green grass beneath our feet. Throughout the Bible, God gives us glimpses, small snapshots of a world that that can barely be imagined given the world we live in today. In Revelation 18, God gives us a horrific glimpse of the judgment that will come to those who exploit the poor, the world’s resources, and those who traffic in human beings. In Rev. 18, we read about the future destruction of a city of sin, where people make millions from the exploitation of the poor. The city is referred to as Babylon, but it represents for us every city where evil is allowed to flourish. Listen to the words of Rev. 18:11 (Message), “”The kings of the earth will see the smoke of her burning, and they’ll cry and carry on, the kings who went night after night to her brothel. They’ll keep their distance for fear they’ll get burned, and they’ll cry their lament: Doom, doom, the great city doomed! City of Babylon, strong city! In one hour it’s over, your judgment come! “The traders will cry and carry on because the bottom dropped out of business, no more market for their goods: gold, silver, precious gems, pearls; fabrics of fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet; perfumed wood and vessels of ivory, precious woods, bronze, iron, and marble; cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh, and frankincense; wine and oil, flour and wheat; cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots. And slaves—their terrible traffic in human lives. Everything you’ve lived for, gone! All delicate and delectable luxury, lost! Not a scrap, not a thread to be found!” In the dream of God, we see the great anger and wrath of God, we see divine holy indignation in action. Many people have a hard time with a God portrayed as vengeful, who would bring destruction to people and places, who would judge the world, after all, isn’t God supposed to be loving? When we consider that men will fly across seas to commodify young boys and girls, that daily there are those who will pay to rape a child, when we see the expression of absolute evil in our world, the question shouldn’t be, “How can God punish the world,” but rather, “How can God not punish the world.” God is loving and His dream is rooted in joy and freedom but God is also holy, He is pure and it would be a nightmare, not a dream, for the world to continue as it is today without a course correction. According to the U.S. Department of State, an estimated 50 percent of all trafficking victims are children under the age of 18. Every year 1.2 million children are trafficked for child labor; another 1 million are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Every day, millions of children live the nightmare, not the dream. God hates injustices and He cares deeply for the hurting and the poor-this is what authentic religion is all about. Our world needs a course correction, we need God to bring an end to suffering and injustice, to bring the Kingdom of God, His great dream, to pass-this is why our dream is a dream beyond mere justice.
The Course of History
The things that cause us anger do so because we are made in the image of God and in the dream of God, God will make all things right. All of history is heading toward this cosmic collision, a day where God will judge evil and bring an end to injustices and suffering. In Rev. 11:15b-18 (NASB), we read of this day of judgment, “and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”” All history is heading toward a cosmic collision, a time of great punishment and wrath against the actors of evil-those who enjoy victimizing the poor, who enslave the weak, exploiting the world’s resources, while indulging in every luxury known to mankind.
Beyond Justice: Biblical Foundation for Mission and Justice Part 2 of 2
Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.
Our Dream is Realized Through Jesus Christ
Before we begin to think that the dream of God is some far off, ethereal idea, I want to say that God’s dream is coming to pass right now, all over the world-particularly in some of the most dire situations. The Kingdom of God is not merely a place and a time in the future. The Kingdom of God is showing up and transforming our world. The Kingdom of God begins with the good news of Jesus Christ. All history is heading toward the day when Jesus Christ will reign, where he will set all things right but the good news of Jesus is that it has already begun. Jesus declared the Kingdom of God a present reality in his first public address in Luke 4 (NASB) where he said, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” From this point forward in history, the Kingdom of God has been advancing toward God’s dream with the power of the present Christ. Notice Jesus’ emphasis on the poor, on those in bondage, the sick, and the oppressed. Justice is God’s heartbeat and the Kingdom of God revolves around making all things right, particularly for those who suffer. When Jesus told his followers to go and preach to the cities of his day, he told them to heal the sick and to announce, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9, NASB). God’s Kingdom dream has always revolved around good news to those who need it most-this is the mission of the followers of Jesus, to announce the good news of the Kingdom of God and to invite the nations to join in the dream! The Kingdom of God is a reality that is now, not just a future reality. Because of what Jesus Christ has done, the dream of God is breaking into our world, reversing injustices, freeing slaves, healing the sick and restoring hope. Isn’t that exciting!?!? What’s more is that Jesus invites us to be actors in bringing the Kingdom of God to bear upon the broken and unjust places of our world. This is the best way to think about what it means to be an activist. We live in an age where we long for change; we are more knowledgeable than ever about the plight of those who suffer. We want to change the world.
Change We Can Believe In
In our faith communities, the concept of a ‘justice activist’ is taking hold as Christians begin to realize the centrality of justice in the teachings of Jesus. Being inspired by the dream of God of a better world is fueling new expressions of Christian faith and a generation of ‘justice activists’ are rising up to take the gospel to the poor, the message of freedom to those enslaved, healing to the sick, and the message of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Being an activist whose vision is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ and whose hope is the coming Kingdom of God is sustainable activism that bares consistent, long-term good. We all want change we can believe in and in Jesus Christ we find it. The dream of God is ultimately realized only through the person of Jesus Christ. When we think of an 8 year old who has been sold by her mother in Myanmar to an international sex tourist for $200 or a father who would sell his son as a bonded laborer in India to bake bricks, we see what kind of evil we are up against. Ultimately, injustices always trace back to a spiritual brokenness, a soul sickness. In the state of Ohio alone in 2010, there was an estimated 1,000 U.S. born children, most under the age of 15, sold as forced prostitutes. We can legislate against such realities, prosecute those who traffic in the flesh of children, and build after-care facilities for victims but without addressing the hunger that would give rise to such a rape of humanity, we are failing to be holistic in our approach to evil. Real evil exists in our hearts and in the world around us and that is something that requires real spiritual power to address. This is why we need the power that only comes through the person of Jesus Christ. In the life and death of Jesus we hear the echoes of another world, a world where couples stroll, laughter flourishes, and the streets hum with music.
The Dream Making Work of Christ
When Jesus died on the cross, he dealt once and for all with the evil in the world out there and the world in here. As Jesus hung on the cross, his death paid the full price for all the things that we’ve done, all the things that we’ve left undone that are incompatible with the dream of God. We are not just victims in this world or neutral observers of the world’s suffering-we have all contributed to the wreckage of the world in many ways. Jesus’ death on the cross enables us to begin again and to experience God’s forgiveness. The Bible also tells us that Jesus, three days after his death, returned to life-he was raised from the dead. And it’s this power that raised Jesus from the dead that is available to us today. The spiritual life we find in the person of Jesus is given to us who would follow Jesus as Kingdom activists, proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God to the world around us. This is how the dream of God advances, as God’s activists, Jesus’ followers, take the power of God and apply it to those places that are broken, to people who are suffering, and to our own lives as well. Divine history is going somewhere. All that God is doing is pointing to another time and place, it is culminating in the grand dream of God. In contrast, human history can be summarized in its totality as the dialectic rise and fall between our pursuit of the dream we remember and its vicious counterpart, the nightmare of injustice and suffering.
The Dream Becomes Reality
What does God’s dream look like in its fullness? What picture does Jesus give us of this coming Kingdom? In the book of Revelation, we get a vivid snapshot of the dream of God fulfilled. We are introduced to a city unlike any city we’ve ever seen or read about. American cinema and literature have done us a disservice by giving us images of Heaven as a place where we’ll lounge partially nude on clouds, feeding from clusters of grapes while eternally honing our harp playing skills. But the dream of God revolves around a city, a unique city where infrastructure and agriculture are intertwined; a city where beauty and order coincide with population density and activity; a city of purpose and pleasure. This city that we read about stands in diametrical opposition to the city of Babylon we read of earlier. It is the city that is the antithesis of every broken and exploitative system in our cities today. Listen to the picture that has long fueled those who follow Jesus to reach for the dream. In Rev. 21 and 22 we read this description: (Rev. 21:21-27, The Message), “The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will get in.” (Rev. 22:1-3a, Message) “Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.” In this city of hope we see a river of life, a tree of healing-abundance and restoration. God’s dream is a dream beyond justice though it includes the judgment necessary to establish it. Notice in this description that nothing dirty or defiled will get into the city-it is a holy place. God’s dream goes beyond holiness, beyond justice, God’s dream is a dream of flourishing. Like many cities, the city of Detroit even at the height of its grandeur held only a shadowy resemblance of the city of God. Detroit was never the final destination of slaves-they dreamt of something better, it was the dream behind their dream that fueled their journey. At best, this city or any of the other cities of this world are mere symbols of a dream that lives in our hearts because our souls remember. Malan, New York, Vancouver, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dubai-all these and many other great cities hold aspects that are alluring to us. Beauty, transcendence, natural treasures, the arts, fashion, abundant resources, power-all these things in some way are attractive to us because our soul remembers. In the dream of God realized through the person of Jesus Christ, we see the culmination of divine history in this city of God.
Our Dream is an Invitation to the Dream of God
“All my life I been called a slave. They tell me I belongs to my master. That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.” What does it mean to respond to the dream, the world we remember? I believe this unknown slave has the right answer-we run! The dream God has put in our hearts is really an invitation, an invitation to pursue something greater than ourselves, greater than the façade around us-it is an invitation to run toward the dream. Feeling the dense air flow between our fingers, to see the sights and sounds of life the way it ought to be, and to hear the sounds of a world made right-this is what we can experience when we choose to run. How do we make the dream a reality? How do we respond to the dream God has for the world and each of our lives? How do we sustain our commitment to actualize God’s dream for justice. These are the questions we will explore together. When we choose to run, we reorient our lives. When someone chooses to run a marathon, they set goals, they practice and train, they endure strict regiments. When we choose to run after the dream of God, we choose to follow Jesus who sets the pace and the direction for the dream. We learn from him and submit to his way of thinking and doing. As a result, we begin by living a more active faith – by seeing our lives differently and joining a purpose bigger than ourselves. The reality is that whether or not you’ve noticed it, Jesus is already setting the pace and giving your life direction. The passion and drive we have, the joy we find in life are usually indicators of where the Kingdom of God is touching your soul. What dream has God placed on your heart? It might be tutoring children living in poverty in your own backyard, helping to right the wrong of modern-day slavery, helping end a preventable disease like malaria in your life-time, or something else that God has uniquely placed on your heart. Where do you see this other world tearing at the fiber of your soul?
The invitation that God is making to you now is an invitation to be more like Jesus and to pursue a world that is more like God’s Kingdom than the world of pain, suffering and injustice. Pursuing this world requires condition. Just like a runner will condition their body in pursuit of a goal, God invites us to condition our heart. God wants us to begin to see the way he sees and care about the things he cares about. The founder of World Vision, Bob Pierce, used to pray a prayer that is now famous the world over, “Let me heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Conditioning our heart to reflect the heart of God requires us to connect deeply with Jesus Christ. Through prayer, reading the Bible, and seeing what is going on in our world we can begin to develop a heart like God. Our souls remember so we will run. The great news is that the run Jesus invites us to is not a solitary one-he invites us to do it together. Moving beyond justice requires a movement. We can only do so much on our own to change our soul or to change our society and so God’s dream is to be pursued in community. God’s dream is about both individual transformation and global restoration – and it requires each of us to do our part and all of us to do our part together. It’s not enough to simply live a more active faith individually; we must share God’s heart for the world with others and invite them to run with us.
There is something beyond justice and its joy. There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers. Our response to God’s invitation begins when we imagine what could be-a life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security- and most of all togetherness. God longs to restore the world and that will come to pass in a final way one day but today, he invites us to run with him in bringing the Kingdom of God to our world today. Our response to God’s invitation is to run, to run toward this place of magic, to breathe in and dream with God and to join him in making all things new.
A War-Waging Jesus? The Necessity of Judgment for Justice
Milan sinks down into her well-worn bed, her little legs aching and head throbbing to the beat of the ubiquitous dance music droning in the forefront of the red lit shop. 2:00 AM and a rest for the night to mourn her lost childhood, a childhood sliced away from her skin by the 20+ men a day for the past 17 months, 2 weeks, three days and now 14 hours. Each day the memory of their grotesque clenched faces and the groans of their anger and sexual release slither away like their cigarette smoke, rising and squeezing into the small hole above her bed and into the night sky. In the beginning she tried to will herself to rise like smoke, to fly away with their stench into the night air but now her legs ache and her head pounds and all she can do is try to slip into a world of mixed memories and dreams, an aftertaste of a life long lost. She rocks herself to sleep remembering the hours spent playing hide and seek with her older sister, the stories told by the old man at the fruit stand back home, the memory of something sweet on her 9th birthday, the last one spent in her disheveled little hut. Her home had not red lights, no damnable dance music, and no cigarette smoke, just tin walls, a small table where her mother sat singing and the sounds of children playing outside. What she wouldn’t give to rise like smoke and float away to that aftertaste world.
Apart from our sense of angst and anger for Milan’s plight, her story reminds us of something important, something necessary-suffering is real and evil churns in the human heart still. Remembering is a part of remaining human, of retaining our sense of grandeur and frailty and our incredible capacity for real evil. For many, real evil vanished long ago in the killing fields, the concentration camps, and the bursting hulls of slave ships. Only every now and then do we revisit evil in small doses-a campus shooting, an act of bigotry, a child’s molestation but then the actors of such evil are different aren’t they? They are alien, a throwback to a more ignorant and primal time. If we are honest however, what is really most disturbing is how familiar their actions are, how very near they are to the aftertaste life we know lives in our hearts as well. In our day evil has been romanticized, relegated to the status of myth and portrayed for us as hard-bodied, happy teenaged vampires. The myth, however, is all too real as modern-day vampires pay to slice away the flesh of young girls, to drink their youth and absorb their souls in the brothels where millions are lost. Their grotesqueries, hidden for now, are no less the face of hell on earth than the acts of all epic despots which seem to rise and fall throughout every time and amongst every people. Our cyclical suspension of belief in evil gives rise to the cancerous growth of such wickedness and this growth in our day has spread to every continent and is victimizing the daughters of every people.
If we would hear the defeated whimpers of girls like Milan, our all too academic musings on God’s commitment to cosmic justice may be altered. Her aching legs and pounding head turn the question of our day upside down. “How can a loving God send people to hell” is replaced with the question, “How can a loving God fail to provide justice against those who are primary or complicit in such a rape of humanity.” Amongst many neo and pseudo-evangelicals, the great dreadful eschatological realities of hell and judgment are being challenged or abandoned. A Christ without the severity of God’s wrath as seen on the cross, however, is nothing more than another modern-day domesticated god. Such gods provide nothing more for us than merely another happily ever after story that plays so well to our American myth making where young ladies become princesses instead of $5.00 whores. Milan’s red lights and stained sheets point us back to our universal plight-evil lives in our hearts and there is a cosmic reckoning on the human horizon.
The centrality of judgment and justice in the Christian story is unavoidable and both concepts are inextricably bound together, we cannot have justice without judgment. This relationship between justice and judgment is seen in the cross as God pours out his great wrath upon his Son but this one historical act of God is not an isolated expression of his commitment to cosmic justice. The dream of God, the sum of all His aspirations and actions throughout time, culminate with the great in-gathering of the nations and the wedding feast of the lamb where all things will be restored and death and mourning done away with (Is. 25:6-8, Rev. 21). Prior to this great event, evil will be judged and justice established. We get an awe-inspiring view of this act of justice and judgment in Revelation 19:11-16, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (NIV, emphasis added). This portrayal of the reigning Christ is no less Christ as the weeping Son of God in the Garden or over the grave of Lazarus. It is no less Jesus as the One who healed the woman with the flow or the begging leper. ‘With justice he judges’ gives us just as much a picture of Christ as his acts of mercy and forgiveness throughout the gospels-they are not incompatible.
We need a war-waging Christ. A war-waging Christ helps us understand the ultimate intentions of God throughout time. God is at war. His eyes are ablaze with fire over the red lights that accentuate her prepubescent silhouette. His sharp sword will strike down all empires where injustices were allowed to flourish and in this, the entire world lays under the certain wrath of God. He alone is King of Kings and he will reign in actuality only after judging the world and establishing justice for all. God’s war is not a symbolic war, it is not a metaphor for his hatred of sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” it is often said, but in the great judgment of the nations, sin and sinner are one object just as Christ on the cross was the actualized object of all of God’s great wrath and fury. Christ either stands as our substitute, taking on the full wrath and fury of a holy God who is at war or we stand before him, ready to be the objects of his justice and judgment. In Revelation 19 it says, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” This phrase, ‘the winepress’ points to the well-known act of wine making where grapes are sequestered in a small area, corralled and smashed to a pulp, to be then pressed out. It is a sign not of total obliteration or annihilation but rather of a destruction so severe and complete that it transforms the object being crushed into an indistinguishable mass, forever incapable of being restored to its prior form. The phrase, ‘the fury of the wrath of God Almighty,’ points to the manner with which the act of crushing will be done. Fury refers to ‘unrestrained rage.’ God is not one to be ‘out of control,’ but a full, un-restrained expression of the Almighty’s rage against all that is unjust and evil lays over the human horizon and such an historic moment should strike real fear in the hearts of every person.
Milan’s plight is not out of sight from the all-seeing God and her defeated whimpers fuel the great wrath of God against the nations. The promise of Scripture is not merely that our sins can be forgiven or that Milan’s tears will one day be wiped away but also that her captors will one day be crushed like grapes, they will be pressed out under the full, unrestrained wrath of God. God is at war not only against injustice but also for those who suffer. As the great eschatological realities of the Christian faith are either ignored or allegorized, we are losing the ability to provide a cohesive, comprehensive worldview and thus the Christian message itself is being compromised. We cannot have the great love of God without also the great wrath of God. The prophetic realities of the return of Christ and his judgment have been relegated to the worst expressions of the Church, those who sensationalize God’s return, those who commercialize the promises of God and exploit those who fall prey to their teaching. Prophecy and the great eschatological teachings of Scripture are seen as the fantastical expressions of late-night television cult-leaders, an embarrassing expression of a day gone-by in the Christian faith. We need to recapture the full centrality and motivating nature of the eschaton, to recommit ourselves to the study of prophecy and redeem the hope we have in the personal return of the war-waging Christ. The cross alone cannot itself give us God’s ultimate answer for suffering and injustice. The judgment poured out upon Christ on the cross is only a part of God’s plan. God is at war, a war that was won in the devastating blow against sin and death on the cross but one that will only be won in actuality when Heaven stands open and the rider on the white horse comes forth with his armies to once and for all banish evil from his world. Milan’s suffering and her inadequate aftertaste world of happiness gone by will one day be replaced by the great wedding feast of God. No longer a $5.00 whore, she will be free to experience this time of great joy and renewal and in this alone do we see her tears wiped away and the music and red lights of her hell vanquished forever.
God’s Greater Eschatological Vision: Platform Message Delivered at Orlando 2011
It was a mystical moment with sloshy streets and ice ruts guiding our car that Sunday morning. The sun was fresh, hitting the slosh, making steam rise all around us like a fog machine in a movie! We left early from the abandoned building we were living in and were on our way to something called “church,” a thing I had never heard of in all my 10 years as my Atheist parents meticulously hid all signs of God and religion. We had hit bottom, however, and this thing called “church” had recently provided financial assistance, food, clothes and were working to get us off the streets so my Mom said, “We are going to ‘church.’” Our car careened off the ice slots and bumped onto the curb as we piled out of our rickety car-what a site we must have been to those White people! I ran right up to the front door with all my wild hair, buckled shoes with no socks, and obvious lack of Sunday morning etiquette but I had to see this thing called ‘church.’
I stood with my back to the cold foggy world behind me and my face toward the strange world of pews and pulpit. The scene inside this little building was as mystical as the foggy snow outside. People stood side by side singing except it was like no kind of singing I’d ever heard! These strange people sang with a twang but their song had a mystical pull on me. Though I would not return to church again for nearly 10 years, I would remember this first encounter- I would replay the song, recall the people’s faces for years to come. Only years later, after I met Jesus Christ for myself as a an Atheist philosophy student at the University of Michigan would I fully realize what a ‘church’ was, or why White Southern Baptists would help Black kids with no socks and wild hair from Detroit. Only years later would I rediscover the song these kind people sang with a twang: “Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow; There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.”
I stand here today because I was introduced to a mystical world called the church, a magical power called the gospel, and a Majestic person named Jesus Christ! The Church’s message is of a new world and the power to live into that world through the name of Jesus Christ! Too often, our evangelism focuses merely on the individual and her need for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from hell. As an evangelist, I want to make it clear that this core element of the gospel is indispensible but it is not all there is to our proclamation. As I stood small in the middle of two worlds that day I needed a Jesus who could both save me from the hell I was in as well as the hell to come. With an open door to my back that day, the cold damp world of fatherlessness, of poverty, and of drugs stood in diametrical opposition to the mystical world those people sang about and preached. May I say to you that the Jesus we serve through the same nexus moment of the cross and resurrection is able to save to the uttermost!?!? May I say to you that we serve a Jesus who doesn’t need to choose whether or not to save a boy from the despair of this world or the damnation of the world to come? There is power in the blood!
The American Church is in need of a larger eschatology because a larger, more holistic eschatology inspires us, it free us to practice a more Biblical, holistic, integrated evangelization. The word eschaton means ‘last things,’ but our evangelical heritage has placed the emphasis on the wrong set of last things. We believe in the future personal return of Jesus Christ, the judgment of the living and the dead, the Lake of Fire, but also the re-creation of the world and the eternal blessing of the nations. Our heritage has placed its fare too much emphasis on the former set of realities to the expense of the latter. Neo-evangelicals in their pursuit for Kingdom integration and cultural relevance have begun to deny the great eschatological realities of hell and judgment and to preach a gospel with no need of the cross. This will ultimately rob the gospel of its purpose and lead to nothing more than another iteration of cultural Christianity. While this is true, the long history of our evangelical heritage placed too much emphasis on the wrath of God and far too little on the wonder working power of God to re-create the nations-to transform not only soul, but society as well. Our story doesn’t end with crucifixion, but resurrection. Our hope is not in the destruction of the world but in its re-creation. The work of evangelization is the work of bringing echoes of a mystical world to come, because there is wonder working power!
Throughout John’s vision of the eschaton in Revelation, there are still nations, there are still cities-not separated by oceans but filled with life. Trees and rivers, lakes and mountains-the new world is not some sci-fi visage of an altogether different universe (Gr: heteros). An eschatology that emphasizes life and renewal leads us to practice a more holistic evangelization of restoration and shalom.
A larger eschatology also inspires innovative and effectual evangelization. It inspires us and frees us to integrate, not dichotomize, the proclamation of the Gospel and the practice of the Kingdom. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked as a justice evangelist, an evangelist and abolitionist to bring political, business, medical, and legal leaders together with the Church and academic institutions to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to help people meet Jesus through the lens of justice. My calling to this integrative work of justice evangelism came in the midst InterVarsity’s global missions conference, Urbana 2000, after hearing Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission speak. I’ve had the privilege of giving the evangelistic message and call to faith for the past two Urbana conferences where hundreds have come to faith as they heard the gospel through the lens of justice, particularly the fight to end modern day slavery.
I’ve also worked to develop justiceinvitationals which are week-long campus campaigns around justice issues where the gospel can be preached in a new light. Through these campaigns, not only has the Church been mobilized for justice but the nominally churched, the non-church, and the anti-churched have heavily participated in Kingdom work while encountering the person of Christ! In the last campaign at the Ohio State University, we had both a substantive engagement of the issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as a true and effectual proclamation of the gospel.
Throughout the campaign, we empowered front-line non-profits like World Vision, the Not for Sale Campaign, Hagar International and the International Justice Mission! We raised money, a house, mobilized thousands to advocate politically for the Child Compact Act, educated over 20,000 citizens about modern-day slavery, and helped state lawmakers pass State Senate Bill 235 which will bring Ohio from the child prostitution capital of the United States to one of the states with the toughest anti-trafficking legislation. Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was clearly proclaimed during this campaign, over 300 students repented of their sin and came to faith in Christ. This is what the gospel can do because there is power in the blood!
For the lost, when we give this generation a vision of God’s future Kingdom, of His wonder working re-creative power, it both inspires Kingdom engagement as well as repentance from sin. For the Church, a larger eschatology re-shapes our limited understanding of global evangelization, it inspires innovation as we partner with God to re-create the world around us! We don’t serve an either or Jesus-he wants it all-not just souls but society, not just the future, but the present, not just Heaven but Earth-He will not stop until “…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ…” In God’s great eschatological vision the work of evangelization is to live into both of these realities simultaneously-not to do evangelism at the expense of the Kingdom and not to pursue the Kingdom with no care for the eternal state of the soul! Biblical, effectual, innovative, and integrated evangelization is a both/and, it is to to ping echoes of a mystic world, a magic that can transform the soul and transform society, and introduce those who are damned in this world and the world to come to the Majestic One-Jesus Christ!
The Building is On Fire: Our Responsibility to Soul & Society
The message of the gospel is the power that can change a world-the worlds within worlds multiplied billions of times over throughout the globe! The gospel can change the world of every person who would respond to its power. The gospel changes the world of individual people, transforming them from the inside out. The gospel is the good news of the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus and is good because we stand already condemned before a holy God with the death sentence already handed out to humanity! In the gospel we see God’s glorious grace, his strong desire not for mere reform but for renewal. In the gospel we see God’s power to literally make us right and to restore our lost state of grandeur.
In the gospel, however, we also see the power that can change the world, the entire system that has crashed and merely wobbles about simulating the world intended for us by God. There is little debate that the world we live in is not the world God intended for us. There are wars in this world, enduring poverty too. There is debasing addictions along with the oppression of women and children. In this world, people die of preventable diseases by the hundreds of thousands all the time. This world seems to offer so little purpose, so little hope that even when we have plenty we still throw away our families for cheap thrills, our abilities and gifts for mere consumption and our dignity to feel connected to another person, if even for a moment. Our world is damaged and no quick fix, no political party or reform, no amount of money or determination will fix it. What we need is a supernatural, superspiritual, supra-human, extra-dimensional solution of power and the great news is that we have such power in the person of Jesus Christ! Yes, Jesus is able to save our world, but He is also able to save the world!
If it is true, that we have the power to change the world, than what do we do with it? What would you do if you could carry around with you, in your jacket or purse, a device so powerful that if it were unleashed it would literally impact everything and anything around you? Would you release it? Probably not if it were a nuclear device, an incurable virus, or a poisonous gas but what if it were an unstoppable force of hope, a contagion of love, or an enveloping power for restoration? Where would you first introduce such a power? As Christians, we do have such a power, the power to change the world! Unfortunately, most of the time, we leave it in our purse, our desk drawer, glove box, or cached on our disk drives, making sure that it changes nothing and nobody around us. Often, this power has been cemented like a memorial to a time gone by, a faith tradition that used to impact communities, countries, and continents. We have the power to change the world and we need to use it, but where and how?
Recently, I was asked by two students in two separate conversations about how to discern God’s call and how to invest themselves in God’s broad world and Kingdom. I shared with them that there are some things God calls all of us to. “It is God’s will for everyone to be evangelized,” I said, “so you are always safe including personal witness as God’s will for your life.” I said, “God wants us all to always pursue knowing Him so I’m pretty sure you should do that too.” In both conversations, however, they specifically wanted to know about the vast universe of things Christians are doing, “What about AIDS orphans, and clean drinking water for the poor, and sex slaves, and Scripture translation, and Muslims and Hindus, and unreached people groups, and…and…and….” The students felt overwhelmed by both the responsibility of the power entrusted to them as well as the vast needs and ways to use that power in the world. I think we can all sympathize with being in this place at one point or another.
I continued, “One way to look at it is as if the world were a high-rise apartment complex and we live on one of the floors. Let’s say there was a fire on one of the floors. Now, if the fire were in apartment 14B and everyone got out, it might be the Christian thing perhaps to send money or a nice card to express care for the material loss of the tenants in that unit.” I continued, “However, let’s say there was a raging fire on the top floor and the lives of many were at stake. In this case, rescuing them might require special abilities and gifts, not the least of which would include bravery and physical strength-in reality only some people would be helpful in rescuing people on the top floor of the burning building.” I ended by saying, “Now, if there were a raging fire on the first floor, threatening to spread upward to consume each and every floor, every apartment, every life-certainly you would say that we would all be called to do something for ourselves and our neighbors in the building, right?” Both students agreed. I brought the illustration to a close by pointing out, “…some fires in our world are apartment 14B fires. 14B fires matter to God and they should matter to us but our response shouldn’t be to rush in and risk our lives to rescue the material possessions being consumed-it is good enough that the people got out and will live to rebuild their lives. We can and should share our love and concern with people during their time of loss.” Continuing, “Some fires threaten a great many people and require a concerted and passionate response requiring special gifts and bravery. God equips many to respond to these needs even though in doing so they themselves may perish. Such people are heroes to us, people of whom the world is not worthy but we are not all such people-God chooses those heroes.” Finally, “There are many issues we as Christians face, however, that are like the fire raging on the first floor of the building, fires that if left unchecked would simply consume all of humanity. These fires are complex and often reflect not one gigantic blaze but rather a series of smaller interrelated fires. These fires,” I said, “require all of us, no matter what our calling or gifting is, to respond with everything we’ve got.”
It is true that our world is in shambles and there is no end to the need before us, both temporally as well as eschatologically. Each and every person is lost and everywhere we look the impact of that reality is felt. The fact that those without Christ are dying and on their way to hell is a first floor fire. No matter what we do for people temporally, unless we also share the message that can change their world, they will perish and the eternal suffering they will endure will make all suffering in this world pale by comparison. I believe the interrelatedness of modern-day slavery, aggressive secularization, the simultaneous rise of global poverty and the super-rich, the dehumanization of women and children, and mass deaths as a result of preventable/curable diseases are examples of more first floor fires. We are not given a choice by God whether to address first floor fires of the soul or first floor fires of the material world, the Church is called to them all. We must care about all suffering, whether temporal or eschatological. It is not my place to determine what are 14B or top floor fires, and people that have particular calls to such ministries that focus on these fires would not find my opinions on the matter helpful or empowering. It is clear, however, that we all must contribute what bravery, what super powers, what faith we have to doing all we can to put out the blaze that threatens to consume the soul and consume society. Again, the great news is that we have such power, the power to change a world and the power to change the world. The question is will we use it?
Parade of Tears Message
Parade of Tears: Delivered at the Ohio State Price of Life Invitational for the Parade of Tears March along the historic Underground Railroad
- In my hands I hold the papers that document the slavery of my great great grandfather, Burrell Avery.
- He was ensured like cattle as the property of a Kentucky slave owner with the full knowledge and endorsement of the State of Kentucky and the United States government.
- As an African-American, I didn’t need to have these papers to know that my heritage was one of injustice, of servitude and suffering.
- My people were the victims of the last great global tyranny and now, today, there is another great rape of humanity growing like a darkness over the world.
- Over the last 10 years, I have sought to bring political leaders, business leaders, academicians, students and community leaders, religious communities and many other networks together to address the re-emergence of the global slave trade. This is why we are here today and what the Ohio State Price of Life Invitational is all about.
- I believe that here on this campus and in this community, perhaps unknown even to themselves, are the next great abolitionists. Women and men who like those who forged this Underground Railroad we walk on today will lead many to freedom in the coming years.
- The modern-day slave doesn’t work in sugar cane fields in the Jamaica. We don’t see blood stained ocean-port auctions. There are no public lynching’s or colored only drinking fountains but all around us, slavery is blossoming and re-establishing itself.
- In truck stops and massage parlors, children are being raped for pay. Through Craigslist and on-line dating services young girls and boys who should be having bedtime stories read to them are being auctioned off. In hotels and motels and condominium complexes young flesh is ripped from innocence and thrust into a modern-day nightmare of dehumanization.
- The commoditization of children as objects of sexual gratification demonstrates for us the real and enduring evil in the human heart. In the state of Ohio alone, there are over 1,000 US born child prostitutes, many of which are sold by their own mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles.
- It is with this kind of wickedness as our backdrop that we march today. We march to demonstrate that this kind of evil, this kind of darkness cannot stand. We march today to say that children are not commodities, that they are worthy of a life of dignity and joy.
- The reality of the re-emergence of the commercial slave trade is beyond my imagination. To think that in my lifetime as an African-American I would see simultaneously a Black man sit in the highest seat of power AND over 300,000 slaves living in my country-both of these extremes never entered into my mind until just a few short years ago.
- Today, we can do something as concerned citizens. We can send a message to those who traffic in children. We can educate ourselves and our community. We can raise dollars and awareness, we can confront 21st Century Slavery.
- We can take a stand against the socio-sexual pathology that gives rise to the appetite for the rape for pay industry.
- We can take a stand against ignorance and the kind of lazy tolerance that would allow the slave trade to re-emerge in our lifetime.
- We can take a stand against the inadequacies in our antiquated laws that literally punish the victim and set free the criminal.
- The state of Ohio is now the fastest growing state in the union for modern-day slavery. Adjusted per capita, Toledo, OH is now the child prostitute capital of the United States.
- When we think about the fact that there are now more slaves in the world than were trafficked in the entire four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade we have to ask ourselves some hard questions.
- Were those who allowed the last great global tyranny less educated than us?
- Were those who bought gardeners and house workers to tend to their everyday needs less moral than us?
- Were those who built out the infrastructure of slavery, who passed laws protecting slaves as property, who offered insurance to slave owners to protect their investments, were these US lawmakers less committed to justice and the ideals of the inalienable rights to life, liberty and happiness than we?
- I don’t think so. There is every reason to believe that in our lifetime we could not only see the re-emergence of modern-day slavery but the acceptance of such and it is with this hanging in the balance this day and this week that we pledge ourselves to those eternal ideals of transcendent dignity.
- Today, we march to say that this evil cannot stand, that the act of selling a child into a life of sexual slavery is an absolutely evil.
- Today, we join our ancestors in the abolitionist movement, walking where they walked literally and figuratively.
- Today, we join a long Parade of Tears, stretching back into history. We join a Parade of suffering, a Parade of injustice, a Parade of brokenness. But we also join a Parade that celebrates the sacrifices of the average woman and man committed to the ideals of the inherent dignity and right to life and freedom for all.
- Throughout this week, we will confront 21st Century Slavery.
- We will address the commercial sexual exploitation of children from a variety of perspectives.
- We will address trafficking from a political perspective tomorrow as state and federal lawmakers gather at our political Town Hall Meeting.
- We will address trafficking from the legal perspective and business perspective in the business school and school of law.
- We will address trafficking from an academic perspective, a medical and social perspective, and from a spiritual perspective.
- The complexity of the modern-day slave trade demands that to come together across religious and political lines, across ethnic and racial lines, across socio-economic lines, and across disciplinary lines.
- The monstrous nature of the trafficking industry requires us to set aside our differences and give all we can give with what super powers we have at our disposal if we are ever going to end slavery before it takes root.
- Many of you in the audience this afternoon sit in places of great power and influence. Some of you went into the world of politics, media, religion and journalism because you wanted not only to report, reflect and connect with what is happening in the world but through your efforts to change what is wrong in the world.
- Some of you have literary genius, technological genius, medical genius, legal genius, and the question of your life is this, “What shall I do with the super powers that have been given to me to make a difference in this world?”
- We all can choose to be super heroes in this epic journey, this story we call life.
- We all have been given super powers to fight that creeping darkness that threatens to corrupt the very fabric of humanity.
- The abduction, commoditization, and the rape for pay of children are not just actions of injustice, they are an assault on all that it means to be preeminently human.
- Such actions threaten us all because the allowance of such opens the door for our society, our culture to be thrust into another dark chapter of hopelessness and despair.
- This next decade, I believe, will be marked by an all out war with those who would stand and fight against this great injustice and those who would seek to establish the slave trade.
- I believe this there is a storm coming upon us that will test the very soul of humanity once again.
- This storm will test us like our ancestors were tested in the south during slavery, like they were tested outside the death camps in Germany, and like they were tested in the open fields of Rwanda.
- Every so often, a great evil rises up to test the resolve and character of women and men and I believe we are on the precipice of such a time of testing.
- I believe there is a coming storm that transcends the passing of legislation and the prosecution of those who would traffic in children.
- The storm that looms on the human horizon is one that rages around the hearts and minds of everyday citizens like you.
- Recently, while returning my computer for service I stood behind a man who was also returning equipment for service. He joked with the attendant behind the counter saying, “Yeah, I think the Asian kid who put this thing together put some extra parts in it. I hope his bowl of rice gets taken away!”
- While this joking attitude seems harmless at first glance, it reflects a growing comfort and acceptance that somewhere, someplace slavery not only exists but is a normal part of life.
- I believe that in the coming decade we will need not only fight with all of our super powers the actual perpetrators who traffic in flesh, but more importantly for the hearts and minds of everyday people who will inevitably ask the question again, “Is it inherently wrong for some to live as slaves?”
- When we think that there are over 1,000 US born child sex slaves in the state of Ohio alone, the real issue we need to grapple with is why is there such a demand for the flesh of children? What is it in the heart of a man who would pay to rape a child, what is it in the heart of a mother who would prostitute her young daughter out of the back of her mini-van? This is the real question.
- We can legislate, protest, educate, and prosecute all we want but unless we address the appetite of a growing socio-sexual pathology, we will never truly address the issue of modern-day slavery.
- This week, I invite you Columbus, I invite you students, faculty, staff at the Ohio State University to dig deep, to get involved not only here today but to join us in doing righteousness.
- I invite us all to a new Parade of Tears, a Parade of those who would choose courage over cowardice, those who would choose righteousness over convenience, and those who would choose to face the storm instead of ignoring the inevitable.
The Coming Acceptance of Modern-Day Slavery
I believe that within one or two generations, we could see an acceptance of the modern day slave trade. While I believe it may take longer to conceptually legitimize and commercialize formally, the process for acceptance is already underway. When I began speaking against the evolving human trafficking industry 10 years ago, audiences were horrified as I shared the degrading experiences and overwhelming statistics of victims of bonded labor, sexual exploitation, and human defilement. Over the years, however, I have seen such horror fade though the conviction that these realities are wrong has not yet dissipated. In the early years, I had people stand up during presentations, write me angry e-mails, or call me denying what I was sharing. After speaking in Los Angeles concerning sexual slavery, a woman in the porn industry and an active prostitute called me and yelled, “You are a liar. If what you are saying were true EVERYONE would know about it. This just can’t be true!” Such anger and disbelief has yielded these days to a general acceptance of the pervasiveness of modern day slavery. While this may seem like a good trend, the reality is that we have never been on the right track with regards to dealing with slavery because we have not gone beyond the inherent assumption that it is wrong. The fact that the commoditization of people is an inherent evil is a “felt fact,” not a demonstrated one. With regards to the normal slippery slope of socialized ethics, true, inherent evils are often conditionally accepted, legitimized and then institutionalized over time because we have not done the philosophic or theological work to establish them beyond their “felt fact” status.
A felt fact is one that people could not initially conceive of being any other way. Over time, felt facts are often challenged and regardless of whether they are objectively true or false, come to be softened or even rejected: Blacks are less evolved and therefore less capable and/or intelligent than other races; unborn embryos have the same rights as human beings; the earth is flat; the sun revolves around the earth; homosexuals are degenerates and thus disqualified from equal rights…all of these illustrations and many others at one time were felt facts for a variety of people. A felt fact may be objectively true or objectively false but often they begin and remain for a time as mere assumptions. With regards to the inherent evil and ethical wrong of the commoditization of people through the trafficking industry, who really is to say that this is anything more than a felt fact, one that for a time we react viscerally to but cannot fully articulate why because we have no philosophic or theological foundation to do so. While it may be difficult for most to conceive of a day when slavery would be accepted conditionally, conceptually legitimized, and then institutionalized commercially and politically, such a process has already occurred.
While the great global trans-Atlantic slave trade is the shining horrific illustration of such a process, this same evolution of legitimization is playing itself out all around the world today. The fact that modern day slavery is the fastest growing illegal enterprise, third only to the trafficking in arms and narcotics, demonstrates there is a hunger and demand for the product. The consumption of human beings as household slaves, as sexual play things or as workers for various industries is a growing assumption amongst many people groups. Before the disaster in the small country of Haiti, there were over 300,000 bonded or forced slaves, many of which were children who did not go to school but rather served as the family cook, household maid, and by night sexual play thing. In various parts of Thailand, forced prostitutes and the brothels in which they serve exist in plain site with the full knowledge of the government and police force. Throughout popular tourist destinations off the boarding docks of cruise ships and all inclusive resorts is a seedy underbelly not advertised on Orbitz or Priceline but nevertheless a strong selling point for Westerners seeking the ultimate in sexual gratification, all made possible by rape-for-pay message parlors, dance bars, and mobile brothels. If it is true that there are more slaves today than were trafficked during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, if it is true that this is a $32 billion dollar industry, if it is true that the average age of women forced into sexual slavery is 15 in many countries than it must also be true that there are an awful lot of people who, with our without guilt and shame, are engaged in and endorse through their spending the concept of the commoditization of peoples.
Because of the lack of the perceived value of human life in many places, this process doesn’t always take long. Nevertheless, as Americans emerge from an assumed era of Judeo-Christian ethics and education, we can expect this process to play itself out over and over again with many moral issues. Felt facts will give way to an initial phase of conditional acceptance, then eventually conceptual legitimization, and finally commercial and political institutionalization. What is needed know is for the philosopher and theologian to rise up and begin to lay again the rationale, not necessarily against slavery, but for the a priori value and right for human life. A simple definition of “a priori” knowledge is “knowledge that exists in the mind independent of experience.” A less technical way of saying what we need is a strong, compelling rationale as to why people matter, why they shouldn’t be aborted, bought, sold, raped, butchered, allowed to suffer the evils of dehumanization and all the other ways in which we see and experience the commoditization of people. To be sure, continuing to hear and see the stories of people who suffer at the hands of their powerful oppressors will be needed but this can only go so far. An inherent value must be established, a bulwark conceived in the mind of the philosopher and theologian, birthed in the expression of the arts which can mature in popular culture. This is what we need.
For the philosopher and theologian, it is imperative that their work not be done in a vacuum, some dark room or amidst the dust of irrelevant books whose time has come and gone. The work of theology and philosophy must always be done with the painter, the dancer, with the musician, with the poet-these must be the friends of the philosopher and the theologian. So seamless should this friendship be that to the outside audience there is little to distinguish where the work of theology and philosophy end and the work of the artist begin. Philosopher and prophet, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, understood this relationship-it drove him to envision the transformative community of L’Abri and much of his works on culture. Dr. Scheaffer made the case for the line of influence on culture beginning with the philosopher and theologian to the artist and musician before being enfolded into our cultural understandings and expressions. This process of influence, even in our postmodern milieu, is so undeniable, so tried and true that when it comes to the horrific evils of modern day slavery, any serious treatment of the issue must always extend through all of these levels, beginning with the establishment of a prior truths from the philosopher and theologian in partnership with the artists and exported to society.
I believe that the heroes of our time represent a strange hybrid, a striving for political and academic engagement and way-making for the arts, on the ground involvement with victims and engagement with policy makers and police forces around the world. A lawyer like Gary Haugen, a scholar like David Batstone, and a visionary leader like Richard Sterns are the kind of philosopher/theologians we need in our time. Such men have taken up the philosophic and theological work of establishing the inherent value of life in the fight against the commoditization of people but have done so through working alongside the activist, the artist, the politician, business leader, medical and social work community-every sector of society has been engaged through these and other heroes in the fight against modern day slavery. This is what is needed. The greatest accomplishment of organizations like the International Justice Mission, the Not for Sale Campaign, and World Vision I believe is not merely the actual successes they have in law, academia, and philanthropic execution but in the philosophic and theological work their leaders have provided for the rest of us. This, in the end, can endure and produce the long-term needed energy to raise up a new generation of heroes who seek to the stem the tide of the wickedness of human commoditization so that humans can flourish to the glory of their Creator.