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.