At a recent meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, President Obama discussed his recent executive order combatting the scourge of human trafficking. In addition to explaining the policy initiatives, he told the stories of three women in the audience who had been the victims of what the president regards as a modern-day slave trade.
As he put it, “We’re shining a spotlight on the dark corners where it persists.”
And as the president acknowledged, the fact is that the spotlight he speaks of was made possible by the efforts of Christians. The president praised the work of “evangelicals, the Catholic Church, International Justice Mission and World Relief, even individual congregations, like Passion City Church in Atlanta.”
The president’s executive order stated that the U.S. government “bears a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not contribute to trafficking in persons.” Among other things, the order forbids federal contractors from “using misleading or fraudulent recruitment practices during the recruitment of employees.” It also prohibits not paying “return transportation costs [to the employee’s home country] upon the end of employment.”
By the way, this is not an academic concern: Congress has documented instances of federal contractors overseas “participating in the sex trade, using indentured servants and [otherwise] exploiting workers.”
Since the federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world, this order has the potential to make a big difference.
And it’s a difference that would not have happened without the efforts of William Wilberforce’s modern-day heirs at the International Justice Mission and similar groups.
For the past 30 years or so, slavery has been making a comeback. According to the State Department, more than 27 million people are being compelled to provide services against their will. These services include, but aren’t limited to, involuntary domestic servitude, prostitution, child soldiering, and other crimes against human dignity.
What’s more, this is not an outrage that is only happening “somewhere else.” The women that President Obama cited were being held in bondage right here where I live in New York City!
Many of the earliest reports about slavery’s comeback came from dedicated Christians who traveled to those “dark corners” where western tourists never go, revealing stories of exploitation and horrors most of us can’t imagine.
These efforts are the reason that, in 2007, Prison Fellowship awarded its highest honor, the William Wilberforce Award, to IJM’s founder, Gary Haugen.
IJM and other Christian groups have been at the forefront of the effort to put dealing with human trafficking on the nation’s “to-do” list. A recent Religion News Service headline summed up the story nicely: “Religious Groups’ Efforts to Fight Sex Trafficking Draws Presidential Attention.”
In fact, whenever you read or hear about modern-day slaves escaping bondage, there’s a good chance that, as was in the case in the 19th century, those helping them escape were Christians.
All of this is a reminder that Christians can make a real difference, even in the face of unimaginable human depravity. We can help free people from oppression, and we can convince others to join us in setting the captives free.
For more information on International Justice Mission, come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to them.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: October 3, 2012