One day modern Christianity, especially its conservative forms, will take the humanity of Jesus seriously. Until then we will miss the various ways we miss the mission of God into the world.
A mashup of articles set me to thinking along this trajectory. First, this KPBS article, Sex Trafficking Overtakes Drugs As San Diego County Gang’s Top Cash Source, pointed up the way dehumanization gets expressed in human trafficking. When people become products to sell they cease being viewed as human. From the article,
“You have a product that you don’t have to keep in inventory,” San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “You don’t have to purchase it. You don’t have to wait for the money to come back on this product and then buy it from the supplier. You are not as exposed as you are if you are caught with drugs to being caught with a woman or being a girl.”
Even the way the Attorney describes the scenario indicates how this works.
We are surprised that criminals have sunk to such a place to view human beings as products with higher profit margins. But, in this video we learn the very way advertisers prostitute women. And, when we consumers are titillated into buying a product via a visually stimulating model, we participate. We are nothing more than johns.
Jean Kilbourne notes that she has been talking about this for forty years. 40 YEARS. 40. YEARS. Last fall we discussed the issue of women in church for a Sunday morning Bible Study class. Research corroborates Kilbourne’s assertion that the rise of eating disorders coincides with the shift in the preferred body image of models dating to the 1970’s.
Not. Getting. Better.
Subtly we miss the very way we dehumanize Jesus in the language of faith and the practice of Evangelism as propositional transaction. The problem is we are not overplaying the Deity of Jesus; we simply reduce Jesus to a list of truths to which a person must assent. Even more, as this article notes, when American Christianity became an enterprise, a business, Jesus is prostituted.
A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a school of ministry. My students were hungry for God, and I was constantly searching for ways to challenge them to fall more in love with Jesus and to become voices for revival in the Church. I came across a quote attributed most often to Rev. Sam Pascoe. It is a short version of the history of Christianity, and it goes like this: Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.
Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old–barely out of diapers–and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, “An enterprise. That’s a business.” After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha’s raised hand, “Yes, Martha.” She asked such a simple question, “A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?” I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, “Yes.” She continued, “But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?”
Now dehumanized, and not deified, Jesus and His Way may be sold as product. Or, put another way, we are trafficking Jesus.
We have spent the years since the Moral Majority doing battle in the wrong places. Gary Haugen drives this point home in an interview with Christianity Today, Why We’re Losing the War On Poverty, spurred by his newest book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.
The decades long evangelical strategy toward societal change has been the attempt to reform political systems. Voter drives, running for office, boycotts and the like have all been used as pressure tactics. Many of these have been at the national level over court rulings, appointees, and congressional bills.
Duren describes the failed attempts at winning the power at a level that does not require the people in places where these atrocities actually take place to get involved. Rather than take up action on the local level where the violence that goes with poverty get expressed, we hear politicians, would-be and incumbent alike, tout what they will do once elected. Let’s see what you are doing first.
One aspect of the problem lies with our American form of conservative Christianity. So fearful of being labeled liberal we create Gospel hierarchies. These adversarial bifurcations separate word from deed. Here is how Haugen describes it,
If we say we love the God we can’t see, and we don’t love the brother who we can see, the Bible says the love of God is not in us. Jesus also said that to love someone is to do what you would want done for you in similar circumstances. Do unto others. This is simply saying that we love our neighbors who are suffering under violence when we come to their aid.
Our proclamation of the goodness and love of God simply has no credibility if we’re unwilling to love them [at] their point of greatest need. The work for justice is a way of simply obeying the very explicit biblical command. Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, the Bible says. It’s a simple act of obedience.
As to hierarchy of proclamation, the Bible says that we are to love in word and deed. Why would I try to create a hierarchy between breathing in and breathing out? You have to do both—to proclaim truth in the world and to love [your] neighbor.
Some Christians fear that church-based justice advocacy will eventually displace formation and discipleship as the church’s core mission.
Almost none of those Christians would ever live that way toward the people dearest to them, their own family. What if the only thing you did was [tell] your children about the Christian faith and [you] never showed them love? That’s just not the way Christian parents act. In fact, they know that if they preach to their kids but don’t actually love them, that none of that preaching is going to convey the truth.
These tired, false dichotomies are from another era when the gospel was divided between word and deed. Historically, the people of God, when they [are] obeying Christ, are used [by] God to bring justice to people.
I am with Gary. I tire of always being asked if a clear Gospel presentation was given. What is clear about words without actions? Jesus seems to call that sort of thinking to account. James certainly contends one cannot go without the other. Even if Luther thought James a “right strawy epistle.”
So, what of this mashup inspiring rant? Stop the prostitution.
Marty gives a suggestion,
Perhaps we have overlooked going to our local council member, mayor, deputy mayor, or county commissioner, having a face-to-face conversation then publicizing the results.
Haugen describes it this way,
The ideal partner is the body of Christ around the world. Westerners are not going to parachute in and save the day. This is a fundamental struggle for justice that’s going to have to be owned by the local community.
Another partner will be governmental authorities within that community, within that country. This recovers Christian interaction with government. Romans 13 says the authorities are actually ministers of God in order to do justice in the community. Christians in other eras shaped the way the government went about seeking justice and peace in the community.
In the city of Cebu, Philippines, IJM partnered with community leaders to rally the justice system to protect children from sex trafficking. That’s Project Lantern. One critical partner was the church, Protestant and Catholic. The victimization of children in the commercial sex trade was reduced by nearly 80 percent because law enforcement protected the children instead of the sex traffickers.
That’s the exciting news. It’s now being replicated in Manila and Pampanga. We’re also seeing the government itself beginning to foot the bill and take the initiative. ijm is a partner, but it’s no longer the prime moving force. The government itself is setting up specialized units. Fast-track courts are being established to address sex trafficking. Safe places for the survivors of sex trafficking are being established. It’s being taken nationwide in the Philippines. We’re at the front end of this effort.
It is time to stop the prostitution. Jesus has a body and is the Head of the Body. Anything short of personal involvement in bringing to bear the realities of the Good News to bear in our world is simply trafficking in Jesus.