Stopping Human Trafficking Begins in Our Churches
It's a women's issue. It happens "over there."
I can't do anything about it. It doesn't happen here.
Have you had one of these thoughts about human trafficking? Perhaps as you were trying to justify your lack of action or perhaps even your participation in this crime?
It's pretty hard to wrap your mind around the fact that millions of people around the world are victims of modern-day slavery.
So, instead of talking about statistics, let's talk about one person. We'll call her Nicole.
Nicole and her mom can't see eye to eye on much these days. Her mom is always getting on her case - when she's around. Nicole decides she's tired of listening to that, and this guy she's been texting says he'll help her find a place to stay.
So Nicole meets Steve at the corner store. They go back to his apartment and another girl is there. It turns out he's helping her too. Steve says Nicole can stay with him until she gets her own place, and he'll help her make money to pay rent.
The other girl, Jasmine, takes Nicole to a bedroom to help her get ready. Jasmine explains that Steve will post an ad online, and then Nicole will go on a date with the guy who answers it.
Jasmine loans Nicole clothes and helps with her hair and makeup, so they can take pictures to put in the online ad.
When she's ready, Jasmine calls Steve to come take the pictures. When he enters the room, Nicole says she's changed her mind; she wants to go home.
"Not an option, you already have a date with a friend of mine for tonight, and you're not going to make me look bad by cancelling on him," Steve replies.
That's how sex trafficking happens in the United States. One girl at a time lied to and manipulated.
Why does it happen? It happens because we, the church, allow it.
We say we're working to stop it, and a few of us are. There are awesome faith-based nonprofits that work to stop human trafficking, and I encourage you to donate to them and volunteer with them.
But most of us buy the occasional bag of Fair Trade coffee or share the occasional anti-human trafficking post on Facebook, and say we've done our part.
If we, the church, want to stop human trafficking it's really very simple. We must end the demand for victims. And we must start with us.
You may be surprised to learn that 7 percent of practicing Christians view porn weekly or more - that is Christians of all ages (13 and older) and genders.
There are 224 million people who identify as Christians in the U.S., and more than 71 million attend church weekly, according to the Pew Research Center. This means that almost 5 million practicing Christians view porn weekly.
Even more disturbing is the fact that 12 percent of practicing Christian teenagers seek out porn weekly. That means if your church youth group has 25 kids, three of them view porn weekly or more.
I know you don't want to believe that, but the Barna Group published a report called "The Porn Phenomenon" earlier this year.
Among other troubling findings, the report notes that 14 percent of senior pastors are currently struggling with pornography use, and 43 percent have struggled in the past.
For youth pastors, 21 percent are currently struggling with pornography use, and 43 percent have struggled in the past.
These are our worship leaders.
It's no wonder that pornography and its relationship to sex trafficking are rarely discussed in church. It hits too close to home for many of the ministers who should be teaching us about the sinfulness of pornography.
Why am I preaching about pornography during Human Trafficking Awareness Month?
Pornography is closely related to sex trafficking.
Many "performers" in pornographic images are victims. Many victims of sex trafficking are shown pornographic images as part of their "training."
Porn drives demand for prostitution and sex trafficking. Objectification of women and children is normalized, so buying them is more palatable.
If you and your church really want to stop human trafficking (sex trafficking, in particular), start a discussion about sexual sin. This discussion must be honest and grace-filled.
Ask the members of your church (male and female) to take a pledge to not watch porn and to hold others accountable when they speak of it in an accepting way.
For the members of your church who are active porn users, treat them with love, respect and grace. Direct them to resources to help them recover from this addiction.
Otherwise, your church members may turn out to be the buyers exploiting victims like Nicole.
After we remove the plank from our own eye, then we can help society at large deal with the issue of pornography and its relationship to sex trafficking.
Pam Strickland is the founder of Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now. She is a member of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina. You can connect with the organization via their website, Facebook page and Twitter account @enc_stop.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series on how local churches and nonprofit organizations are working (and can work) to address human trafficking.
Previous articles in the series are: