SLAVERY is a self-evident evil — whether it comes in the form of legal ownership of another’s life, indebted servitude, or abusive prostitution. At first glance, one might assume therefore that Marion Carson’s book Human Trafficking, the Bible and the Church would be doing little more than stating the obvious.
That is until the Bible itself is examined. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were slave-owners. St Paul says that God makes no distinction between slaves and the free, but doesn’t call for a ban on the practice. Also, biblical teaching on prostitution has ambiguities, and the moral arguments surrounding the practice are surprisingly complex.
In medieval Europe, Carson reminds readers, the Church ran brothels for soldiers and priests, to discourage sodomy. She notes: “To put it bluntly, simplistic readings of scripture are hindering a Christian response to human trafficking.”
Carson warns against using Bible texts to confirm predetermined opinions, something the 18th- and 19th-century slave-owners did. “A literalistic reading of scripture”, she writes “runs the risk of silencing the compassion and empathy at the heart of the biblical ethos.”
This is an ethos that may lead some Christians to become involved in rescuing and caring for the victims of trafficking, welcoming former sex workers into the Church without judging them.
Slavery takes different forms in different cultures and ages. Modern-day anti-slavery campaigners face a complex task, and all Christians need to examine their own indirect economic complicity in the exploitation of the poor.
The book is a well-presented and accessible study of a current social evil in the light of some of the problems posed by biblical hermeneutics. It is a guide to how Christians can turn to the Bible for guidance on a contemporary question that, for cultural and historical reasons, it never occurred to the Bible’s authors to ask.
Human Trafficking, the Bible and the Church
Marion L. S. Carson
SCM Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30
BEN COOLEY founded and heads a charity, Hope for Justice, dedicated to the abolition of modern-day slavery and helping victims escape from their ordeals of servitude and abuse.
His original ambition had been to be an opera singer, and his book Impossible is a Dare tells the story of how his true vocation came about. It is also an impassioned plea for justice and for the world, the Christian world in particular, not to turn a blind eye to an extensive evil.
Cooley first became aware of the reality of 21st-century slavery through watching a film documentary, and recalls his anger, not only at the traffickers, but at his own ignorance. “The issue was so huge and yet we had never heard of it.”
He writes vividly about the people who have been helped. Sarah, Zoe, Amaya, Jared, Lucas . . . and the many others whose stories he tells, without sparing the details.
In Mumbai, posing as a paedophile looking for a child for sex, he is taken to a brothel in an old warehouse. He hears worship music from a building opposite: bizarrely, the brothel is sited opposite a church. Children are paraded in front of him. “Disgusted . . . we make our excuses and leave.” But it is through such risky research that he finds more evidence on which to build his campaign.
The story he tells is not his alone. Several chapters are contributed by colleagues and partner organisations who have worked with him, and one is by his wife, Deb, the charity’s co-founder.
Rescuing victims frequently involves building their trust, assuring them that they are not being taken from one abusive situation to another, and then sensitively preparing them for their new life. Ben Cooley’s book is about how “a spasm of passion” turned into a lifelong mission.
Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious-affairs correspondent.
Impossible is a Dare
Church Times Bookshop £7.20