February 3rd, 2012
05:25 PM ET

What's the role of faith in fighting slavery?

By David Batstone, Special to CNN

Editor's note: David Batstone is the co-founder and president of Not For Sale, which fights human trafficking and slavery. The opinions in this guest post are solely those of David Batstone.

On February 2, faith leaders gathered in the U.S. capital to pray. What difference will it make? What is the role of prayer, worship, and faith in ending social problems that I care about, like extreme poverty and modern-day slavery?

U.S. President Obama, in his speech to the gathered assembly at the National Prayer Breakfast, called on faith leaders to tackle tough issues like human trafficking. A high-profile panel of experts on modern slavery later addressed best strategies for faith communities to fight this blight as they meet it in their own backyards.

My own human rights agency, Not For Sale, is convinced as well that people of faith have a unique, vital role to play beyond the ending of forced labor. It’s not enough to extract an individual from bondage. Once people are set free from a rug loom, a rice mill, a brothel, then what? If we do not shift our cultural values and generate new economic and political options, modern-day slavery will continue to thrive. In other words, we have to move upstream to identify the root problems for slavery and create effective solutions.

The seminar to address these issues at the Prayer Breakfast covered historic and contemporary dimensions of slavery. Eric Metaxas, a Wilberforce scholar, shared how a political leader can shape policies and values in a country. Department of Justice Attorney John Richmond built on this historical foundation and described the case he prosecuted in Chicago in late January that set a precedent for convicting human traffickers. Bob Goff and Christine Dolan relayed their frontline experiences in the dynamic that links court systems, governments and religious communities in the work of freedom for the most vulnerable. Because Not For Sale is implementing new models of social enterprise in areas of high human exploitation, I shared the role that communities of faith can play in generating economic solutions to the complex human rights issues of our day.

People of faith have this pathway to freedom wired into their DNA. People from every branch of faith worship and pray, daily reframing their worldview around the principles and values of a transcendent dimension. Their prayers do not accept the world the way it is, but for what it could be. In our churches, synagogues and mosques we teach that every individual is created in the image of God. That belief yields special attention for the vulnerable, the powerless, and the exploited. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

Last month in the Atlanta Dome, more than 40,000 Christian college students gathered for a special kind of revival: To make the love and justice of Jesus known wherever injustice reigns. They raised well over three million dollars to fight slavery internationally. They represent a new generation of religious devotees who disdain lip service to the cause of justice, but act, give, and live in radical obedience to a better way.

This month, on Sunday, February 26th, thousands of churches all over the world will celebrate Freedom Sunday. They will fast, pray and commit themselves to practical actions that will "set the captives free." They do so because it is their heritage, their identity and their call.

One of the great Christian leaders of our time, John Stott, phrased it well: “It is exceedingly strange that any follower of Jesus Christ should ever have needed to ask whether social involvement was their concern. Spiritual disciplines, like prayer and worship, create space for God to come and create transformation. Once transformed, the follower of God works to transform the world.

-The opinions in this guest post are solely those of David Batstone.

Topics: Voices

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Ben Moushon

    Reblogged this on Thinking & Driving and commented:
    Beautiful message to live out the gospel mission in a new a physical way. The good news of Jesus Christ is about freedom from our burden's. Christian's must do more than stand on boxes on street corners and tell people how sinful they are. We must reach out to help those in need. When Christ returns and asks "What have you done for the least of these" I want to be able to answer with my head held high.

    February 4, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply
  2. Simon

    Both the Torah, Bible and Koran support slavery. Gee, the answer is clearly not a positive role.

    February 5, 2012 at 10:56 am | Reply
    • Eh

      The New Testament of the Bible doesn't actually support slavery, only the laws of the land. It does say if you are a slave, there are still ways to glorify God; and I believe that to be a way to psychologically support someone who is enslaved.

      February 10, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
      • Whiteman Sayeth

        Simon makes a very good point. I'm not so sure you can complete divorce the OT and NT. Frankly I think you can support just about any concevable position with the Torah or the Bible and perhaps the Koran as well.

        February 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Sarah

      42aIt is great to have faith that can move mountains, and if annoye has it, you seem to have that kind of faith. God Bless you in the weeks to come as you go through radiation.I see the radiation oncologist for the first time on the sixteenth or seventeenth. I have had to cancel twice because of the hospitalizations. I am now on a blood thinner every day for they found a clot in my right arm (old if I am to believe them). Have had tremendous pain in neck and left shoulder blade area, but it is getting better.Paula what kind of neuropathy did you have in your face? I have a lot of stinging in my lips. Oh well, another day another symptom. It is all in the Lord's hands and He knows what I need and how to deal with it. I will try my best to leave it there and not to worry about it. I am praying for you Paula and for all cancer patients wherever they may be.Thank you for your faithfulness and for sharing it with us each day. You are truly and inspirition. God Bless. Kathy

      March 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  3. Jonesyman

    They obviously will be a major component in ending modern-day slavery. It was religious organizations in England that begun the abolition movement of the early 1800's and likewise churches were a major factor in the civil rights movement here in the US.

    February 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
    • Byoungjun

      Whatever you have written is too deep for me to grasp nytnhiag I can say-Nice research You should send this hypothysis to some religious -knowledable ppl Let them evaluate-I m not qualified to say any thing.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  4. nothing new here

    Look, I do not condone the selling and physical abuse of little kids....
    But while Washington politicians are looking for every way to increase taxes ...Rome burns.
    Our own country is going down the tubes, literally.
    I can't stop a religion or private organization from collecting funds to combat slavery, but do it out of your own pocket. The average American taxpayers should not be "slaves" to all this intrusive, expensive BIG government.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:10 am | Reply
  5. Stefaan

    Human decency is not the monopoly of "people of faith". Mr Batstone quotes a verse that supports his position. The Bible contains verses that support slavery. Relgion has been used, and is used today, to justify slavery, the oppression of women, and the wholesale slaying of enemies (often people of a different religion). Support for freedom, equality and justice can be found in religious texts, but Mr Batstone's suggestion that people who do not subscribe to one of the Abrahamic religions are somehow responsible for slavery eloquently proves that it is easier to use them for divisive that unifying purposes.

    If people of faith have "this pathway to freedom wired into their DNA", every human has it.

    February 6, 2012 at 7:32 am | Reply
  6. Louise

    A great and encouraging article. What a shame that CNN felt the need to add their pre-cursor and "after word" emphasising that it is the author's opinions only and no-one else's! Surely, EVERY editorial is just that, the opinion of the writer and doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of the news agency – so why did CNN feel the need to emphasise this here with this particular guest write. I don't know if this is their standard practice, but to me, it seemed sad that CNN wanted to distance themselves from this challenge to recognise modern day slavery and actually DO something about it!

    February 6, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
  7. presentlyprospective

    All religions promote slavery. It is the sole purpose of any religion to subordinate the "Flock" (sheep). That is the reason for prayer. It gives the "Lambs" a false sense that their faith will cure all problems. Exactly what greedy, soulless(devoid of morals) religious leaders depend on to control the masses and mindless governments. Gods never answer prayers. Religions are completely involved in wealth, power and control in order to take advantage of the vulnerable, the powerless and the "religiously" exploited.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • Bogotabye

      You are mistaken and if you'd take a minute to actually read the Bible you'd find many verses vehemently against slavery starting with Exodus 21:16 which says, "Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death." Yes wicked people, including those claiming to be Christians, have enslaved others but the Bible doesn't condone it, quite the opposite.

      February 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  8. Angela

    As stated in the article John Stott, phrased it well: “It is exceedingly strange that any follower of Jesus Christ should ever have needed to ask whether social involvement was their concern. Spiritual disciplines, like prayer and worship, create space for God to come and create transformation. Once transformed, the follower of God works to transform the world.
    This is true, we must seek transformation within ourselves. We must reach out to our neighbor's and go to the most utter parts of the earth, to educate and show the grace of Jesus Christ

    February 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Reply
    • Piyan

      I often believe that I have been such a demippoantsint. But, know that when God sees me he sees Jesus. But, here is what I often think about. If God sees Jesus who died for all of our sins, what does Jesus see when he looks down on earth. I try so very hard to be a good person and when I try really hard, I fail. But, when I run to Jesus to say I am sorry, he holds out his arms takes me into a tight hug and tells me it is okay. Go try again but, let me help you. Each day is better than the day before.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:55 am | Reply
  9. stubbycat

    There are no followers of Jesus here, not as long as you think that GOD comes and goes, not as long as spiritual means are a mystery and matter remains your real god. When mortals change their natures from sense to Soul, put off the death-man for the living man made in Love's image and likenesss, then human experience will be healed because we ourselves are healed from within. That's what the Master said and did. Nothing less will do anything at all.And that, my friends, is fact.

    February 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Reply
  10. person

    What Simon said.

    February 9, 2012 at 8:48 am | Reply
  11. yrrab

    in all aspect what we need now is a leader who had strong belief in god............to stop all kinds of war and establish word peace...........

    February 10, 2012 at 6:56 am | Reply
  12. David Doerr

    What the Gospel teaches is that God exists, and that every person has it in their nature to speak directly to God, who is a spirit. God the Spirit. The Spirit lives, and dwells among us, and we are taught to speak to God as our Heavenly Father. At the Last Supper, Christ took the cup of wine and taught that this cup represented his blood in the New Covenant. (Mistranslated by St. Jerome from the Greek in the Latin Vulgate, and copied thusly in the Authorized Version, as the cup of the New "Testament".) Christ was at that time referring to the inauguration of the New Covenant in the book of Jeremiah, at Jer 31:31-34. That section of Jerimiah's book concludes with the statement that a time would come when we would no longer have to tell our neighbor, nor our brother, to know God, because everyone would have knowledge of God's existence. It is our responsibility to preach to the poor and oppressed to seek to know God, and to speak to God and to seek signs from God so that we know that God exists, and in order for us to know whether a decision that we must make is correct or not. In fact, social policy should be decided through a process of seeking a sign from God, yet the church hierarchy has not adopted this teaching in our present era. I'm disappointed that evangelists act more like social Darwinists than men who preach that we must seek Communion with, and knowledge of, God. The idea that God is at a distance is contrary to what Scripture teaches. The tabernacle was known as the "Tent of Meeting" because man was to present himself before God at that place that was set apart for seeking Communion with God. It was to be a place that was particularly sanctified because of the dignity of its purpose.

    February 11, 2012 at 2:49 am | Reply
  13. SundriedAtheist

    The very concept of a creator god, who is omnipotent and omniscient (all knowing and all powerful) itself is a morally corrupt position. Well I guess if you are convinced somehow that god exist, then that would be a factual statement and there is no harm to acknowledging that. What I find repulsive is that people are willing to worship this god who also happens to be tyrant and a bully. What ever this god has ever done is all demonic. He/she/it is certainly not worthy of any praise or worship. We should instead go after the beast and try to slay the monster.

    Well, as an ex-muslim Atheist so I dont believe god exist. But I know there are those that do, and I find their worshipping of this god deeply offensive .

    February 11, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
  14. chibuzor chukwueke

    Very inspiring...it brings to light the very essence of faith."Once transformed,the follower of God works to transform the word". This is something I wouldn't forget in a hurry!

    February 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  15. Bigsyrb

    Forethought is the mother of religion. As we evolved and developed that uniquely human faculty of forethought, at some point it had to dawn on us the we will one day die. Let's invent a life after death, we can call it religion.

    February 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  16. huge

    For all those not prepared to take the existence of God on faith check out nde (near death experiences) on You Tube. Completely unconnected Christians and professed Aetheists have very similar experiences. Sadly they don't all experience heaven with some ending up on the other side of the fence. There is also a pretty simple message amongst it all. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Simple message.... if you care enough about your soul to follow it.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:17 am | Reply
  17. H.

    I'm ashamed that I forget how many are enslaved in this world – for that matter in my own city (NYC) – and often in plain site. This article and the proposed day of prayer, awareness and dedication to act are important – we should not get distracted by our petty (in some cases overly lofty) opinions about God and historical religion. We have today, let us make tomorrow as best we can – our fellow humans deserve that. (Now who's being lofty – but you get my drift...)

    February 14, 2012 at 9:36 am | Reply
  18. hope

    Once transformed... the follower of God wants to transform the world.

    Well said!

    While we live during the most wicked of times, our hope to deliver His people is bound to grow stronger... so, too, the will of the wicked one who roars like a lion looking for someone to devour. Spiritually, the whole world is caught in the struggle.

    ~Psalms 91

    February 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  19. Winonah

    Slavery will only be abolished by looking at the cause end of the problem, not using band-aid solutions at the effect end of the problem. The church has used the idea of god to justify doing many horrible things. Simply raising money to try and fix things doesn't do what really needs to be done. The whole system needs to be changed from the foundation level and the church supports our government staying the way it is more than it supports change. To fix a problem, you have to look at the source.

    February 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  20. Raghunath

    One gets an idea of why the coommn man from the south fought so bravely for a cause that really did not benefit themselves. It's sort of like the blue collar workers voting to empower the banking & corporate interests in our most recent election. Thanks for your research finding these slices of everyday life from the time

    February 17, 2012 at 1:50 am | Reply

    google: bible slavery laws

    February 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Reply

    google: religion endorces jim crow

    February 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • Jaswinder

      , How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a hagrteie most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Calling God Abba wasn't some new thing that Jesus proclaimed it was God's intention from the beginning!! Incredible. It brings more clearly into focus the God of history, who is not entirely different in the Old and New Testaments. I also think about the end of Jeremiah, Ch. 31, when God alludes to the New Covenant, and the day that He will write the law on their hearts, etc. Is this a way of saying, there will be no more need for destruction and wrath as a result to sinful behavior? Maybe it is Interesting stuff to think about. There is a certain element to Jeremiah, and to the history of humanity, where both the mercy of God and the wrath of God are balanced perfectly beside each other. It's very mysterious to me.

      March 4, 2012 at 3:02 am | Reply
  23. Sunday

    Those that their hands is in dis should stop dis slavery of a tin

    February 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  24. kristanycook

    slavery is something that should not have happened in the first place because it affects on people on how they think they rule people when they dont rule any one but their selfs.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:51 am | Reply
  25. dontknow66

    I think it is becoming more necessary than every to determine the true definition of slavery.

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    March 7, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Reply
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  28. markjuliansmith

    "People of faith have this pathway to freedom wired into their DNA."

    Foundation text is the externalized genetic code which governs human behavior as internalized genetic code in Other fellow creatures cover exactly the same territory.

    It appears as organisms evolve they tend contract out facets of survival defense attack – preservation and advancement of the species. It appears there may be an inherent 'gain' in such a process as there has been recently determined there is a 15% gain for human communities cities doubling in size.

    Everyone has faith because nothing is certain – only for a God if you happen to be one.

    Like ordinary organisms, whether you like it or not, humans are indeed ordinary, as genetic code can determine some as venomous and non-venomous so it is for foundation text be it secular or religious.

    Secular texts of particular venom are well known and Societies set up, and rightly so, given the terrible outcomes against Humanity Societal blockers but tragically because of the notion of Freedom of Religion, Religions with exactly the same evil foundation text construction of Other with exactly the same terror against Other are Free to prosper unchallenged or at the most only at the fringe addressing the terrible outcomes of the foundation text rather than the cause the foundation text itself.

    This Pathological Altruist Cultural Relativists currently in charge of Societal policy have to be moved to count beans away from 'real' people and the problems they actually cause rather than pretend it is just a bad dream = hold hands and all will be well.

    Change the foundation text against Other particularly women which is reflected directly into secular outcomes such as slavery – particularly of women – OR CHANGE NOTHING.

    April 6, 2012 at 5:59 am | Reply
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  30. markjuliansmith

    "People of faith have this pathway to freedom wired into their DNA."

    Firstly there is no such thing as 'Freedom'. Anyone claiming to have a map of a 'pathway to Freedom' is leading you up a 'Garden Path' and over a cliff into increased subjugation.

    The reality is there is no such thing as Freedom of anything only the relative independence Nature and Fellow Humans enable at any point in time. With an emphasis on 'any point in time'.

    What determines 'relative independence' enabled by Fellow Humans – Humans externalized behavioral genetic code Foundation Text which enables bias 'good' and 'evil' regards Other, particularly women.

    'Freedom of Religion' is a perfect example of enabling 'Freedom' on one hand to diminish it very much more on the other, particularly for women.

    April 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
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