How should Christians deal with human trafficking in ways that glorify God, advance His kingdom and help victims?
Human trafficking is growing in India and America. It is a form of human bondage and slavery.
In the Apostle Paul’s time, the Roman Empire was a slave society. In the city of Rome alone, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were trafficked as slaves.
In 61 AD, a Roman slave killed his master, Lucius Pedanius Secundus, Prefect of Rome, in protest of his condition. He was immediately arrested. The law of the day required that for this crime of one person, all the master’s slaves be put to death. In this case, it meant death for 400 innocent people.
The population of Rome rioted in the streets over this injustice. The Senate debated the issue and decided that the only way to control slaves was by fear. The law was enforced, but a large military guard lined Rome’s streets to stop the chaos as 400 innocents were led to their deaths.
The Apostle Paul, in a Roman jail about that time, surely knew all this when he wrote his letter to Philemon, a Christian brother. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, had stolen goods from him and run away. Philemon had every legal right to have Onesimus executed like those 400 slaves.
But the escaped slave, Onesimus, wound up with Paul and became a Christian. He was a new man in Christ. Now, he wanted to make restitution. Paul intervened on his behalf.
Paul knew that his words would set a precedent for future Christians. If he just condemned slavery, Roman masters without Christ would ignore him. Strong words may have incited powerless slaves to rebel and be killed for it as were the slaves of Lucius Pedanius Secundus.
Under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, he urged Philemon to regard Onesimus, no longer as a slave but as a fellow brother. He appealed to the transforming power of the gospel in both their lives. We can be sure that when Onesimus returned to Philemon, he did not return to bondage but as an equal in ministry with his former master. What an example of gospel transformation!
Paul knew that the most effective way to social change was through Christian example and changed hearts. Only increased preaching of the gospel would bring these to pass in the society
Paul knew and taught that in Christ, there is no slave or free. We are all one in Him. Christ is no respecter of class or caste. He does not regard one person as intrinsically better than anyone else. All castes and classes come within equal reach and power of the gospel.
Paul’s approach toward slavery in the Roman Empire models for us how we should handle human trafficking issues today. However well-meaning, legislation, admonitions and force will not change hearts of those who exploit others. Calls to rebel mean nothing to victims too powerless to succeed.
Rather, we must keep preaching the gospel to all. We must become better aware of the human trafficking in our midst. We must serve as examples, offering help to those who have suffered from trafficking or are in danger of suffering.
Already, thousands of Christians in India are helping the helpless in this way. This Christian witness touches more people than we know, gradually—and peacefully—laying the foundation for permanent social change.