It is estimated by the UN that 2 to 4 million people are trafficked each year. 500,000 of these are women from all over the world who find their destination in Western Europe. But it’s OK, because on a national level we’re focussed on the laudable task of ‘nation building’; a necessary corollary to declaring war on an international axis of evil. Or is it OK?
Recent research by Granada culminating in what is set to become one of the most powerful pieces of drama shown on TV, Sex Traffic, is numbing. But it’s better to be numbed and conscious of it, than anaesthetized and oblivious, at least if you’re a missionally minded Christian.
Rather than weigh us down here with statistics and stories, I want to suggest that the sex trafficking industry is ‘emerging’. It is generally decentralised, complex, flexible and unregulated. Where there is an attempt to do battle with it, it is frequently thwarted by corruption, because even those in the international community with positions of responsibility discover they too, like the pimps, brothel owners, border guards, passport fraudsters, can make a cut (incidentally, during conference season, business in the red-light areas of Brussels goes up by 50 per cent!). Should someone with an altruistic bone in their body get hold of it, the process of legislative discourse means that any thought-through response gets lost in the murky convoluted corridors of red tape and ineffectual ‘too-late’ policy-making. So a question; given that Al Qaeda are distracting resources from this web of destruction that is trapping more and more victims as each day goes by, what should the church’s response be?
We might want to sit around and theologise on the issue. The results of our pensiveness might show that traditional theology and church practices have solidified gender inequality and even, on occasion, misogyny. Trafficking may well be an extreme manifestation of these social practices, and if so, then we’re complicit and some collective repentance should result. The degree to which this is true was forcibly brought home to me as I walked into a club in Cambodia in 2003 where dozens of Western men, who were, by all accounts, ‘away on business’, sat draped with under aged trafficked girls. Trafficking exists because there is a demand, and a demand which is almost entirely among men from the ‘developed’ world.
If we were all to play to our skills, we might want to spring to action on the basis of pragmatics. Our love of labels and categories has seen recent discussion, for good or bad, polarise the emerging church from various other ‘flavours’. That said; it’s the differences that give rise to new definitions and so are almost unavoidable (at least until ‘fully realised’ postmodernity). Our use of new media, open source resources and collaboration across borders are some of the common descriptors. With a distinctive voice in web-based dialogue and ‘emergent’ foundations, it would seem natural that we become an effective and strategic actor in the church’s response.
And finally we might want to be missional. Incarnational mission is a good justification and incentive for particular or localized mission, but let’s not forget that the incarnation was global in its reach. A globalised world means that we have to respond to ‘do unto others as you would have done unto yourself’ on a wider horizon than maybe 50 years ago. If you were waiting on your pimp to count the condoms after a days work to ensure that you had worked hard enough, the consequences of which were being beaten to within an inch of your life, what would you want someone to do for you? Releasing the captives and liberating the oppressed might not be as metaphorical as we once understood.
Recently I was told that a network of brothels had been uncovered in Enfield, North London. With gangs operating under our noses and funneling people through routes into countries where the emerging church is most concentrated and well resourced, it seems like now might be a good time for mission.
Si Johnston (www.sijohnston.blogs.com/)
Protest4 is a network of people and groups in the emerging church collaborating in mission. Our first gathering is at Christ Church and Upton, the church.co.uk centre in London (Waterloo), from the 29th – 31st October. Phil Lane, an international expert on trafficking will be there to help us explore this topic, by presenting the issues and facilitating discussion for action. There will also be input from Kester Brewin (author of ‘The Complex Christ’); Andrew Jones (aka www.tallskinnykiwi.com and an Associate of DAWN ministries); Rev. Dr. Carrie Pemberton (Founder of CHASTE); and a film and presentation from Gareth Higgins (author of ‘How Movies Helped Save My Soul’). Worship installation will be from London Zoo. For further details, see http://www.protest4.com
For UK readers, ‘Sex Traffic’ will be broadcast across the UK on Channel 4 on October 7th and 14th.