Leaders of the world’s major religions gathered last week at the Vatican to show their united commitment to ending “modern slavery.”
The “Declaration of Religious Leaders against Slavery” was signed by Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby and prominent Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu representatives.
The event and declaration drew little media attention in the United States.
Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, noted that their commitment came at a time “when faiths are seen wrongly as a cause of conflict.”
Faith initiatives that bring social capital to the public square rarely receive the same level of interest as faith failures.
The narrative that faith is a problem contributing to social ills is the dominant narrative in our culture.
Even some Christian media outlets intensely cover the negative side – the shortcomings – of the houses of faith more than the positive stories.
Nonetheless, last week’s declaration deserves acknowledgment within the global faith community.
The declaration called the statement “a historic initiative.” Its purpose was “to inspire spiritual and practical action by all global faiths and people of good will everywhere to eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time.”
“Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labor and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity,” the declaration read.
“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored,” the signatories wrote.
Rightly observing that “the evils we seek to combat will not yield without struggle,” Welby said that collaboration among faith, government, law enforcement and business leaders would be needed.
He also offered a list for what could be done.
“We can make sure that every worshipping community, of every faith, knows about modern slavery and is ready to work to prevent and put an end to these abuses. We can look to our own actions and choices as consumers and users of financial services whose managers can put great pressure on companies in which they invest. We can make sure that those who have been enslaved and trafficked are supported, respected and welcomed into community. We can continue to press governments to implement more effective laws to root out these evils … We can work with the business sector across the globe to ensure robust systems for slave-free supply chains,” Welby wrote.
Pope Francis called modern slavery “an atrocious scourge.”
“This crime is frequently concealed in apparently accepted customs but the reality is that it claims victims in prostitution, human trafficking, forced labor, slave labor, mutilation, the sale of organs, drug abuse and child labor. It is hidden behind closed doors, in certain homes, in the streets, in cars, in factories, in fields, in fishing boats and in many other places. And it takes place in both cities and villages, in the slums of the richest and poorest nations in the world. And the worst thing is that the situation is unfortunately worsening every day,” the pope said.
Bringing together worldwide religious leaders was the Global Freedom Network, which contains a number of Christian educational resources from the Anglican and Catholic communities, as well as governmental resources.
It also has a supply chain audit, a guide for companies to remove slavery from their businesses. Produced by the Walk Free Foundation, the guide is available to download.
Ending modern slavery is an issue around which many rank-and-file churches could collaborate.
Given the ideological polarization within many U.S. churches, finding common ground issues is critical, especially where tangible common good can be achieved.
Surely, Welby’s first action step is a doable one – making sure every house of faith knows about modern slavery.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.