A vulnerable approach to ending human trafficking

May 17, 2017

“Together we can end human trafficking,” she said to a crowd of over 46,000 Christians in downtown Atlanta. As I sat in the nosebleed section of the arena, I found myself actually sitting in disbelief. I knew that I was supposed to immediately jump on board with a hearty “Amen. Let’s get to work!” But I had questions. You see, I’m not a lawyer or police officer. Nor am I Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, from the 2008 hit movie, Taken. With that said, it should be obvious to the reader that I do not possess a “particular set of skills.”

Rather, I am a pastor. I had sensed a calling to vocational Christian ministry and subsequently pursued a theological education. But as knowledgeable as my professors in seminary were, they could not prepare me for this moment. How could I, a Christian minister, fight human trafficking? For that matter, how could my church respond?

According to the Global Slavery Index, there are as many as 45.8 million people around the world held in what amounts to modern day slavery.[1] Cases have been reported in every country, as well as every state in the U.S. Whether the victimized are trafficked into the commercial sex industry, the agricultural sector or the hospitality and service industries, each person has one thing in common: they are vulnerable. Human trafficking can be defined as the exploitation of vulnerability for commercial gain. For this reason, human trafficking can happen anywhere because there are vulnerable people everywhere.

The God of the vulnerable

Vulnerability should not be a new idea for the Christian community. As a matter of fact, it is a key theme throughout both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. A cursory reading will reveal that God identifies not with the earthly elite, but with those who lack power, protection and social status.

God, by virtue of his character, desires to bring “justice” to those who are in need of it. This concept can be clearly seen as the word “justice” is found over 200 times in the Bible. Its Hebrew form, mishpat, can mean “to treat people equitably,” or “to give them what they are due. In the Old Testament, God is so clearly known by this love for justice that he is identified as the “God of Justice” (Isa. 30:18; 61:6; Mal. 2:17). One particular Hebrew writer goes as far as describing him as the “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psa. 68:5; Exod. 22:21-24; Lev. 23:22; Deut. 24:19, 26:12).

In the New Testament, the reader discovers that the ministry of both Jesus and the early church is marked by this distinct attribute. In his inaugural address, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 explaining that he is the messiah that has come to “proclaim good news to the poor.” This “good news” was that Christ was bringing a new kingdom to bear; a kingdom where justice, not injustice, had the final word (Luke 4:18-20). With this in mind, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to the early Christian church, explaining that the “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). In other words, not only does God identify with marginalized people, but he challenges his followers to join him by living justly.

How to join God in the work of justice

In his seminal work, Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby explains that for the Christian the key to discovering the will of God for one’s life is to “find where God is at work and to join him there.” However, the Scriptures testify that if we desire to find where God is at work, one need only to identify those who are most vulnerable to exploitation. In essence, the believer does not have to bring the God of Justice to those who are hurting because he has already arrived and is inviting us to participate. With that said, how can the local church join God in the work of justice?  

We can join God in his work by recognizing and responding to the vulnerabilities in our communities.

First, we must recognize our own vulnerability. For many of us, we would rather run from our weaknesses than acknowledge them; however, it is our vulnerability that actually gives us the platform to serve other broken people. The recognition of our own frailty, though sobering, levels the “playing field,” so-to-speak. Whether we are standing in line at a soup kitchen on Saturday night or sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, we are all people in need of a Savior. For this reason, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, identified with each of us by being born into abject poverty to a subjugated people over 2,000 years ago. Christ willingly chose to save the vulnerable from death by becoming vulnerable to death. As we reflect on the dire nature of our situation, namely that our sinfulness required Christ to live, die, and rise in our place, we are compelled to serve others. In other words, as we become acquainted with our own vulnerability, we are better prepared to notice those in need around us.

With that in mind, we can join God in his work by recognizing and responding to the vulnerabilities in our communities. It is said that someone once asked Mother Teresa how she dealt with global poverty. Her answer seemed remarkably simplistic: "You do the thing that's in front of you."[2] The best way to discover who is most vulnerable in your community is to ask your community. Start by setting up appointments with local law enforcement, social service providers, NGOs, and even the vulnerable themselves. Ask each of them to share what they think are the greatest needs facing your community. The added benefit of this approach is that as you listen, you will also discover people and organizations with whom your church can collaborate to better serve your community.

Too often, when we hear about global injustices, like human trafficking, we are left feeling helpless and overwhelmed. We are also reminded, however, that we are not alone. As Christians, we have been invited to join the God of Justice as he brings a kingdom without exploitation. Together we can end human trafficking.

Originally published by Christian Legal Society in their magazine, The Christian Lawyer (Spring 2017).


  1. ^ The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there could be as few as 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.
  2. ^ This story is recounted in Corban Addison’s Book, A Walk Across the Sun.

Raleigh Sadler

Raleigh Sadler speaks and writes on the topics of vulnerability and human trafficking. He has been published at The Gospel Coalition, The Huffington Post, and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, among others. In 2013, he began a movement called Let My People Go, which grew into a nonprofit organization that comes alongside and empowers local churches … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24