Why I Stopped Caring About Human Trafficking

human_barcode_mark-of-the-beastHuman Trafficking.  It’s something you may have heard a lot about recently.  Maybe God has opened your eyes to this global injustice and your heart is stirred to do something about it.  Maybe even your church or ministry has taken up the cause.  That’s great.  I commend you if that’s the case.  But personally, I’ve decided I don’t care about human trafficking anymore.

Just hear me out.  You see, it’s not that I don’t care about the issue or the people affected by it.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  If you know me, you know that I care very much about this issue.  It’s just that I don’t care about the term anymore.  Don’t get me wrong; I understand the need for the term.  It’s nice to have a term to be able to talk about the issue.  And I’m beyond grateful to have the term because of what it means for changes in legislation, prevention, and aftercare.  So, I’m not ready to cast it aside.  Not at all.  You will most surely hear me use it again.  I just want to make sure that it doesn’t become the litmus of which I judge situations and people.  I want the heart of God to be my one and only litmus.  And I know you do, too, dear reader.  So I want to break this down for us.

Because lately, I’ve noticed how much this term can complicate things (especially in circles of ministry).

people-in-boxes-500-499Labels and boxes just tend to complicate things.  Always have; always will.  They become receptacles in which to place people or not place them.  Labels and boxes have a sneaky way of dehumanizing people because they leave no room for variation and unique circumstances.  And everyone is unique and has a unique story.  Labels and boxes keep us from seeing the trees for the forest.  Labels and boxes reduce individuals to statistics.  People become demographics.  And faces become numbers.  Stories are replaced with pie charts.  And hearts are represented by graphs.

And woe to those who don’t quite fit the label.  What happens to those who don’t fit the exact terms of the definition?  Well, I’m afraid they are most often deemed unworthy of our compassion.  But these are real people with real hearts whom God loves that we’re talking about.  Should their opportunities really be determined by whether or not their circumstances fit a term that has most certainly become a buzz word?

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You see, God began asking me these questions and really challenging my heart on this issue.  And as a result, I’m not sure I know what the term “human trafficking” even means anymore and I’m not sure I care.

I used to think that I knew.  My heart has been wrecked over the issue for the last eight years and I’ve spent a lot of time researching it and praying about it and seeking God’s heart concerning it.  And for the longest time, I thought I knew what it looked like.  It looked like a brothel in Southeast Asia where girls and woman have been sold into slavery by their own parents or husbands.  It looked like the little girl walking home from school, when a white, windowless van pulls up beside her and a pedophile jumps out and forces her into the van, drives her away, and locks her up.  It looked like a woman from Eastern Europe who came to America under the false pretense of a legitimate job, only to have her passport taken once she arrived and now she is forced by her captors to work the streets because of a debt she can never repay.

And all that’s true.  It does look like that.

domestic-violenceBut what I didn’t know is that it also looks like the woman whose boyfriend spent months grooming her with subtle manipulation until he was finally able to convince her to sleep with his friend for money.  It looks like the woman who was abused by every man in her life since childhood and sees her body as “up for grabs” so she began prostituting herself to survive on the streets and eventually came under the authority of a pimp for “protection.”  It looks like a woman who is so affected by our pornified culture and so oppressed by the spirit of this age, that she concedes to let her abusive husband post her picture on Craigslist or Backpage for the highest bidder, because she’s convinced herself that it’s a way of loving him.

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You see, the definition of trafficking is “any exploitation of a human by force, fraud, or COERCION.”  We understand force: that’s the little girl swept away in the creeper van.  We even get fraud: that’s the woman whose papers were stolen.  But coercion?  That’s hard to understand and even harder to detect.   But it’s real.  And it’s just as sinister as force or fraud.

I’ve seen it in the strip clubs where I serve and do outreaches.  I’ve heard it in stories from my friends who’ve been radically saved by Jesus and as a result have broken free from the sex industry.  But to be honest, the more I see and the more I hear, the less I care whether or not the woman sitting across from me telling me her story fits the definition of a trafficking victim.  I just care about her, as a person, as an individual, because God cares about her.  I really just care about her finding freedom from whatever kind of bondage she has in her life.

You see, if we worry too much about people fitting the definition, we’ll overlook so many precious lost sons and daughters whom God loves!

isa-61You know that chapter in Isaiah which foretells how Jesus will be “anointed to set the captives free and proclaim release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61)?  I’ve always thought of it as the Abolitionist’s Anthem.  I thought anyone interested in abolishing slavery should know it by heart and pray it daily!  I still think that; I just have a different understanding of what the scripture means.

I used to think captives and prisoners were the same.  They’re not.  A captive is someone who has been taken against their will.  They can’t help what is being done to them.  They are the definitive trafficking victim.  But a prisoner is different than a captive.  A prisoner is someone whose actions have landed them behind bars.  They’re suffering the consequences of their own poor choices.  Most people would say they deserve what they’ve gotten.  So many people fall under the category of prisoner.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that every one of us has played this role at some point in our lives and probably with again.

barcode-of-freedom-300x245The good news is the scripture says that Jesus came to set both the captive AND the prisoner free.  He doesn’t care how the person got into this mess; He just wants to get them out.  He doesn’t discriminate between someone who is held prisoner by another human and someone who is held prisoner by their own sin.  He’s the God of freedom!  He’s all about it, in every form, because where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  He wants to set people free from exploitation, ALL forms of exploitation, whether they are being exploited by humans or exploited by the demonic.

Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to abolish human trafficking; He died on the cross to destroy the spirit of lust and perversion.  God wants to set free anyone bound by that spirit and any other spirit for that matter.  That’s good news for you and for me; it’s good news for the girl in your school with the not-so-great reputation; it’s good news for women working in strip clubs; and it’s good news for trafficking victims.  And whether you want to believe it or not, it’s good news for traffickers, pimps, and johns too!

So, if you truly have a heart for abolition, I encourage you to press past the definition.  God’s heart is deeper.  His grace is more profound.  His mercy is even more endless.  Sink further into God’s love for the world.  Move beyond the definition of trafficking and begin by caring about anyone who is bound by anything.  Serve them.  Become broken bread for them.  Become poured out wine for them.  Lay down your life for them.  That’s what Jesus did for you.  And you want to be like Him right?

Ultimately, I don’t think God really cares about the term, human trafficking, either.  God really just cares about people.  That’s what He wants us to care about too.

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Benjamin Nolot, A Forerunner for Purity in a Pornified World

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Benjamin Nolot

“Women are intellectual, emotional, spiritual…creative, athletic, familial, political, caring, compassionate, relational, strong; they may desire autonomy and independence, or family and children; they long for commitment and fidelity; they are searching for deeper meaning and purpose; they long to have an impact in the world.  Simply put, women are not a sexual buffet for the gratuitous appetites of men; they are image bearers of God and the crown of His creation.” 

photoThese words were spoken by Benjamin Nolot (founder of Exodus Cry and award-winning director of Nefarious, a film exploring the nature and manifestation of human trafficking in the world today), at the One Thing conference in Kansas City, which wrapped up on the last day of 2013.  Blake and I drove the six hours to KC this past weekend mainly to hear him speak, but also enjoyed hanging with some friends, a teaching by Mike Bickle, worship with Matt Redman, Laura Hackett, and Jon Thurlow, lunch at Cosentino’s (a downtown market with a plethora of different fresh food), and an early birthday treat for Blake which started with our favorite KC BBQ at Jack Stack’s and wrapped up with some coffee, cookies, and chai at a local coffee house called Crossroads (Blake even wore his Crossroads hoody that day.  How did he know?).

Early Birthday Goodness

Early Birthday Goodness

The One Thing Conference is an annual gathering of around 30,000 people, hosted by the International House of Prayer (IHOP), which focuses on drawing people into a deep encounter with Jesus so that they might make Him and His call the One Thing in their life which takes all preeminence.  It takes place after Christmas each year and wraps up with an extended worship set to ring in the New Year.  Unfortunately, Blake and I couldn’t stay the whole time (we missed the beginning and the end and were only there for about a day and a half), but I was adamant that we hear Benjamin Nolot speak, as he is one of my living heroes.  

One Thing 2013

One Thing 2013

At this time, I feel I must explain what I mean by “living hero” because it is a term I use quite often and you will most likely read it again in future posts.  A living hero is NOT someone I idolize. They are simply someone I greatly respect and who inspires me. They are NOT someone I try to emulate, but rather, are someone I submit to learn from.  They are someone whose life I follow and am interested in observing.   I say all this because I feel it’s important that there be only one I exalt and emulate: Christ Jesus. But there are many people who are forerunners worthy of my notice and Benji Nolot is amongst those at the top of that list. 

His message at the conference was profound and was birthed out of the research and filming of the sequel to Nefarious.  While the first film revealed the problem of human trafficking, it did not explore many of the causes.  With over 30 million people enslaved today (more than ever in human history), the majority of whom are enslaved for the purpose of sexual exploitation, the enormity of the problem begs the question: why?  In other words, how has humanity reached such a deep level of global depravity that this many people are being commodified?  As Nolot puts it, “What type of society is producing so many men willing to buy a woman or child for sex?”  Nefarious-HTML1

The second film promises answer this central dramatic question by exposing the pornified nature of multiple aspects of our culture which work collectively to do two things: to groom women and girls to conform to the idealized hyper-sexualized image of femininity while simultaneously grooming men and boys to consume women’s sexuality.  This duality working in tandem is so inherently problematic for both sexes, especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy sexuality, resulting in what Nolot refers to as a “toxic sexuality.” The end result of such toxic sexuality is the dehumanization of both women and men.  Women’s sexuality become their only value and they are reduced to “nymphomaniacs with no sexual discretion or preference.”  Furthermore, they must always be available for sex in order to achieve visibility.  Men are also dehumanized as they are reduced to “unfeeling, amoral, life-support systems for [feminine arousal]” and find value through the domination and degradation of women.  

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This is just the tip of the iceberg concerning how our culture is affecting our view of gender roles, our sexuality, and ourselves as individuals.  His message was so dynamic and so multi-faceted that I couldn’t possibly address all of the points in this post. But it was so powerful that I wouldn’t want you to miss out! So check out the teachings below:

Contending for Purity in a Pornified World Part 1 (Benjamin Nolot: One Thing 2013)

Contending for Purity in a Pornified World Part 2 (Benjamin Nolot: One Thing 2013)

There is, however, one topic, the idea of the “female double bind,” which I would like to highlight here because I believe it is an aspect of the problem which has infiltrated the Church and is therefore keeping us from fully engaging with God’s heart toward this issue.  This is yet another case of the Church trying to NOT be “in the world” and in effect becoming “of the world” (with our own Christian brand of course).  Hint: it’s supposed to be the other way around.  We’re supposed to be in the world but not of it!

The Female Double Bind

The female double bind is an “impossible dilemma that women and girls face in [our] sexist culture.”  It’s based on the premise of culture-grooming mentioned earlier. The double standard is that men who are groomed to be consumers of sex are celebrated when they reach this ideal, while women who are groomed to objectify their own sexuality are shamed when they reach the ideal.  It’s the irony of a mentality which calls a promiscuous male a stud, pimp, or player (a celebratory term) and calls a promiscuous female a slut or whore (a term of derision).  

Human-Trafficking-1024x688Basically, the female double bind means that a woman can’t win.  Only men are the winners (if it can even be called winning) in this type of culture and they win by wielding the invincible double bind to completely degrade and oppress women.

This is perfectly exemplified by a quote Nolot shared from a woman he interviewed who had formerly been prostituted.  She said, “We are very close to death.  All women are.  And we are very close to rape and we are very close to beating.  And we are inside a system of humiliation from which there is no escape for us.”  

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Isaiah 61

Now, I don’t know about you, but when she says, “there is no escape for us,” it completely breaks my heart.  Why?  Because I know the man who was anointed to set the captives free and proclaim release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61/Luke 4).  And His word says that the same Spirit is upon me and upon every believer.  My heart breaks because I know that it’s the will of God that the Bride of Christ, His church, have the same broken heart for humanity that Jesus has, a heart moved to action with compassion by the sufferings of humanity who are under the burden of the exploitative nature of sin. 

So why then, if the Church has the authority to set captives free, would this woman feel she had no escape? 

strippersnIt’s the same reason that a woman I met who was working in a strip club took one look at our Bibles which say, “Jesus Loves Strippers” and boldly and sincerely asked our team, “Does He really?  Am I less than to Him because of what I do?”  Because, up until that point, she had only been met with condemnation from Christians who had chosen to degrade her character right along side the men in the clubs who exploited her.  She didn’t yet know about the Savior who sets us free.  The Savior who convicts but never condemns.  The Savior who loves her so immensely.  She didn’t yet know the Father who created her and saw her as lovely.  The Father who longs to be in relationship with her.  The Father who longs to bless her.  The Father who gave up and sacrificed His own son so that He could have her as His own daughter.  She didn’t know because no one had ever told her or shown her.  She didn’t know because all the Christians she had encountered had joined right along with the World in participating in what Nolot refers to as “slut shaming.”  She was expecting God to do the same. 

Church, we must guard against throwing the baby out with the bathwater!  In rejecting sexual immorality, we have a tendency to also rejected people who are enslaved by the spirit of lust and perversion, especially women!  Women who are simply trying to survive in a pornified culture.  Women who don’t know the freedom found in Christ because we’ve not offered it to them.  Women who look at the Church and see the same double bind found in the strip club.  They feel degraded and vilified for conforming to culture no matter where they turn.  It’s completely understandable that they would choose, therefore, to stay within the context of culture rather than seek refuge in the Church.  Popular culture is familiar and the Church doesn’t feel at all like a refuge.  

isaiah61We have to have a better answer than that!  And I believe we do!  To quote Sarah Bessey, author of the book, Jesus Feminist, “The world is failing women, and we, the people of God, know the solution: our beloved Jesus and His Kingdom ways are good news, in every sense of the words!”  And I must tell you that I am beginning to see a huge shift in the way the Body of Christ is responding to women and I’m so encouraged by it!  Ministries such as Exodus Cry, BeLoved, Strip Church, and several others are breaking the female double bind both in the sex industry and within the Church.  Christ is stirring His Bride to go after the lost daughters and shower them with His love and honor.  And from what I’ve seen, it works.  Lo and behold, His Word stands true:  His goodness really does lead us to repentance.  And His light really does shine in the darkness.  And His mercies really are endless.  He really does set captives free, heal the broken-hearted, and bring dead things to life.  He really is the one who so loved the World!  

To bring this to a close, I want to invite and urge each of us as individuals to take a sincere inventory of his or her own heart.  How do I really feel about the so-called “soiled” woman?  Do I have God’s attitude toward her?  Or have I bought into the culture’s double bind?  

These are questions you must answer, because she’s asking you another question.  She’s asking you, “Does He really love me?”  

Here’s a hint:  God loves her as much as He loves you.  Why not go show and tell her?  Don’t know where to start?  Why not take your cue from Benjamin Nolot?  Begin by telling her: She is the “crown of God’s creation.”

Because, she is.