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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How "the gospel" almost stopped us from fighting human trafficking

Image source.
"See this person being sold into sex slavery? Well... uh... obviously treating people that way is a sin. And... you sin too."

Awkward? Yeah, and we all knew it. I was at a planning meeting with the other student leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, trying to plan "Human Trafficking Awareness Week." (First of all, huge shout-out to InterVarsity! I totally love InterVarsity.)

There were maybe 4 of us at that meeting, trying to figure out how we could relate human trafficking to "the gospel." Because of course we wanted to use that week of events to work against human trafficking, but we also wanted to take every possible opportunity to "share the gospel" and get people to become Christians. So we needed to figure out how to transition into a gospel presentation.

The only problem was that we believed "the gospel" was ONLY about how every individual person is a sinner, and THE REASON this is bad is it separates them from God, so we need Jesus in order to repair our own personal spiritual relationship with God (and have him transform our lives and not go to hell and all that).

Individual. Spiritual. And no, I no longer believe that's what the gospel is. But years ago, at that planning meeting, we were totally stumped.

We had searched for information about human trafficking and found that it was totally a terrible thing that really exists in the world. Traffickers preying on victims, treating them as objects to be bought and sold. Obviously this is REALLY REALLY BAD and SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN. Yeah, but how can we relate that to a random passerby's spiritual disconnect from God, caused by their own individual sin?

Human trafficking is sin. And... uh... you sin too. [Then commence bridge-diagram gospel presentation.] That's all we could come up with. But all of us agreed it felt wrong and horrible, it felt like using a horrible tragedy, which has a very real and devastating effect on so many lives, as nothing more than a segue into what we actually wanted to talk about. Using it as a gimmick to start conversations about what was "really" important.

No, we couldn't share the gospel that way. Absolutely not. (Ironically, it was InterVarsity that introduced me to other perspectives on sharing the gospel- and at first I was highly suspicious. That must have happened after Human Trafficking Awareness Week...) So we decided all of us on the planning team would go home and pray about it, and see if we could come up with something. Or maybe we just won't have "Human Trafficking Awareness Week" at all.

I prayed for a long time. Hours. Oh man, I remember when I used to pray like that. Wish I could pray like that again. And I felt like God was saying, we can't just cancel "Human Trafficking Awareness Week." Because the victims of human trafficking are real people that God loves SO MUCH. This issue is so important to God's heart. We can't just cancel it because we couldn't figure out how to get an altar call out of it.

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We went ahead and planned the events for the week. We planned information sessions about human trafficking. We sold fair-trade snacks to raise money. We fasted and prayed for God to bring freedom. We had a whole bunch of events, and at many of them, we deliberately planned that there wouldn't be anything explicitly Christian- we wanted everyone to feel welcome and to get educated about it, and not feel like they were tricked into listening to a sermon too.

At the end of the week, we had our big finale. A speaker was coming to give a talk, and we would be having a contest to see which small group could raise the most money to donate to fight human trafficking. (For those not familiar with Christian jargon, a "small group" is a group of people that meets regularly and studies/discusses the bible or some other Christian thing. You gotta divide your Christian groups into "small groups" because how can you have a good discussion with like 50 people?)

And the morning of the event, I received an email, sent out to everyone on the planning team. It said that our speaker for that night hadn't realized that we intended for her to give a gospel presentation and "altar call" at the end of her talk. (Yeah, we just assumed since it was a large event, we needed to have the gospel "shared"- and maybe this was our way of passing off the whole "how in the world does human trafficking relate to the gospel" issue onto someone else.)

When she heard that those were our expectations, she apologized and said maybe she could make a few last-minute edits to her talk. But our planning-team leader said no. Just give the talk you already planned, and we'll trust God with the results. (Also, we made a mental note to communicate these things more clearly in the future.)

I think it went well. I think the whole week went well, and we did a good thing. Personally, in the years since "Human Trafficking Awareness Week," I've learned so much more about problems in this world and how they are so complicated. Maybe that week of events helped point me in the right direction in terms of loving others and caring about people whose experiences are unlike anything I can relate to. Maybe it helped me see how much God cares for those who suffer, who are victims.

We did a good thing. But I look back and laugh at how silly we were, how our beliefs about "the gospel" got in the way and almost stopped the whole thing from happening.

Because, seriously? We couldn't figure out how to get from human trafficking to the gospel? Seriously? Human trafficking is quite possibly the best example there is for WHY THIS WORLD DESPERATELY NEEDS THE GOSPEL. I mean, wow.

Because the gospel isn't about my individual sin and how that affects my own personal connection with God, and what I should do to fix that. That's one small aspect of the gospel, but wow, there is so much more.

The gospel is about justice and freedom and love and hope and how God will transform this whole world into what he intended it to be. The kingdom of heaven, a world free from violence and evil and abuse and oppression and HUMAN TRAFFICKING.

People are kidnapping and selling other people? OH MY GOSH, Lord Jesus come and set the captives free! Come bring justice to this world! Your kingdom come, your will be done. And whatever I can do to help, I will do.

And I know that, as I join in with Jesus' mission to bring healing to this earth, dealing with my own sin and my relationship with God is a very important component. But that's only a small piece of the gospel.

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Maybe I'm too hard on evangelical Christians. Ya know, I still want to be one, if they'll have me. And I think of me and my evangelical friends back then, trying our best to do the right thing. We believed so much in God's love. It had changed our lives. And we did our research on human trafficking and obviously it's something very very terrible that we should oppose.

Really. We were motivated by God's love. We knew this was the right thing to do. But... we were hindered by our beliefs about sin and hell and how the spiritual world is so much more important than whatever physical needs people currently have.

And can I just be blatantly honest here: Hell. It's the belief in hell that really screws things up. The belief that everyone who is not a (real) Christian will go to hell, a place of eternal infinite pain.

If that's true, why should we care about human trafficking? The victims deserve hell and the traffickers deserve hell. Any suffering going on right now is meaningless compared to eternity in hell. And anything Christians do is a huge waste of time, unless our purpose is to save people from hell.

Do you see how this might lead to a really skewed view of how to love people and how to respond to suffering and evil in this world? Shutting our ears to the cry of the poor because our emotions and empathy might distract us from our "real" mission...

But anyway, we didn't think it through that far. We believed in God's love. We loved to talk about God's love. And we believed in "the gospel" and saving people from hell. And now, years later, is when I'm realizing those things are incompatible.

(If you're about to write me a comment on how they're not incompatible, don't bother. I've been an evangelical Christian my whole life. I already know all those arguments. I used to be the one arguing for them.)

And after Human Trafficking Awareness Week had ended, maybe we felt bad for not "sharing the gospel" at any of our events. Yeah, all we did was talk about the realities of injustice in the world. All we did was raise some money to send to an organization. All we did was pray and try to feel God's love for those who are hurting.

And I look back on that and laugh, because it turns out we lived the gospel better than we knew.

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Linking up with Emily Wierenga's Imperfect Prose on Thursdays.

4 comments:

  1. wow, friend, i TOTALLY get this. that's how i used to view the gospel too. what a radical change we've gone through, and i hope i KEEP learning more and more about the gospel and how it transforms all aspects of life. thanks for linking with IP! e.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Headless Unicorn GuyJune 30, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    "See this person being sold into sex slavery? Well... uh... obviously treating people that way is a sin. And... you sin too."
    ...

    The only problem was that we believed "the gospel" was ONLY about how
    every individual person is a sinner, and THE REASON this is bad is it
    separates them from God, so we need Jesus in order to repair our own
    personal spiritual relationship with God (and have him transform our
    lives and not go to hell and all that).

    A Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

    Which is completely useless regarding human trafficking and sex slavery (no Altar Call opportunity, unless it's to make sure the sex slave is Saved(TM) so she'll go to Fluffy Cloud Heaven).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Headless Unicorn GuyJune 30, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    If that's true, why should we care about human trafficking? The victims deserve hell
    and the traffickers deserve hell. Any suffering going on right now is
    meaningless compared to eternity in hell. And anything Christians do is a
    huge waste of time, unless our purpose is to save people from hell.

    Do you see how this might lead to a really skewed view of how to love
    people and how to respond to suffering and evil in this world?

    Check the archives of a blog called "Christian Monist" (http://evangelicalinthewilderness.blogspot.com/). That attitude (which he traces back to Platonic philosophy cross-contaminating the early Church, crowding out the original Jewish monist idea) is the continuing theme of his blog.

    ReplyDelete

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