Finding hope in the fight against human trafficking

January 26, 2016

"I don't want this to happen to someone else," Shandra said as she recalled her story. After losing her job as a financial analyst due to an economic downturn in her native Indonesia, 25-year-old Shandra Woworuntu was desperate. Expanding her job search internationally, she found a six-month seasonal employment opportunity in Chicago's hospitality industry. After paying $3000 to the recruiters from the job agency, she boarded a plane she believed would take her to the bright future of her dreams. However, after arriving at JFK International Airport, she discovered that she would not be going to Chicago. Instead, she was forced into a life of prostitution; her passport and her freedom taken from her.

Human trafficking, or the exploitation of vulnerabilities for commercial gain, can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. This type of injustice is nothing new. As a matter of fact, human trafficking can be seen throughout ancient literature, even leaving its mark on the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, in the book of Genesis, fourteen chapters are dedicated to the story of a human trafficking survivor named Joseph. Like Shandra, Joseph, the biblical patriarch, was a dreamer, trafficked by those in whom he trusted. In his case, Joseph's own brothers sold him to traders bound for Egypt for twenty shekels of silver (Gen. 37:28). Once in Egypt, he would again be sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's Guard, to labor as a domestic servant.

Despite his circumstances, however, the "Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man" (Gen. 39:2). Though enslaved, God's presence and blessing continued to guide him. Joseph, now seen as successful in the house of Potiphar because of God's blessing, found himself the object of Potiphar's wife's affection. "Lie with me," she continually commanded, but Joseph resisted (Gen. 39:9). Finally, she could take his rejection no longer and she grabbed him by his clothing; ripping it from him. Naked, he ran to escape her advances. Angered by his continued refusal, Potiphar's wife deceitfully told her husband that Joseph attempted to rape her (Gen. 39:7-20). Though he initially escaped, he was imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. Although his situation grew increasingly more difficult, "the LORD was with Joseph" (Gen. 39:21).

Shandra, too, explains that she felt the presence of God while in the brothel. "When I was trafficked," she said, "I felt like God was next to me, like He accompanied me. I asked Him, 'Jesus, I don't think I can take it anymore. I need to be free. I am done; save me'." Soon after praying, she felt what she could only describe as "an energy" lead her into the bathroom. "It was there that I saw the window and thought 'that is the way.' I knew that this was how I would escape." Climbing through the second story window, she jumped, landing smoothly on the city street below.

Now free from the brothel, Shandra found herself on the streets on New York with relatively few options. All she could think to do was to call a phone number that she was given by a woman who had visited the brothel. Knowing no other details save the number, she called and was greeted by a man, promising to give her a better life, even a job in a hotel. Little did she know at the time that she was being groomed by yet another trafficker. Shandra would discover that her escape only seemed to make matters worse.

Having tasted freedom, she became determined to get free from her new trafficker. Seizing the right opportunity, she got away, and with no help in sight, she became homeless. But it was on the streets that she would meet a man, whom she would later call her "angel." After a chance meeting in a park in Chinatown Manhattan, he told her that he would come back at noon the next day to help her. She waited anxiously, somehow knowing that there was something different about this man.

In a similar way, now in prison, Joseph, the dreamer, found himself waiting. After interpreting the dreams of the Pharaoh's cup bearer and his baker, who had been recently imprisoned, Joseph explained that the cupbearer would be restored to his position, while the baker would be executed. "Only remember me, when it is well with you," Joseph begged the cupbearer, "and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house" (Gen. 40:14).

Two years passed, and Joseph waited for a miracle. Then one evening, Pharaoh had a dream that he could not understand. With no one else in Egypt able to interpret the dream, Joseph was finally brought before Pharaoh. Joseph explained that a world-wide famine was coming for which Egypt must prepare. Seeing his wisdom, Pharaoh made Joseph his top advisor.

In the years to follow, Joseph would find himself face to face with his brothers. Noticing their fear, Joseph told them not to be "distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). Though he was rejected by his brothers, God chose him to be their deliverer. In this way, Joseph foreshadows Christ, a greater deliverer, who would save those who rejected him, through his own death on the cross (Acts 4:27-28).

Reflecting on Christ, Shandra believes that he sent that man to the park to help her find freedom. From what seemed to be a chance encounter, the man connected her to the police, who would work to bring her exploiters to justice. Now Shandra works with other survivors of sex and labor trafficking. Through her newly founded organization, Mentari—Indonesian for "the sun"—she seeks to help survivors fulfill their dreams of brighter days ahead.

Seeing her passion and dedication, President Barack Obama, appointed her to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Her faith continues to inspire her. "You have to understand that you are loved by God," she explains. With this in mind, speaking to her recent appointment, she says "God has put me there, without him I wouldn't want to be there."

Because the God of Joseph cares for those most vulnerable, we can find hope in the fight against human trafficking. As we become aware of his presence in our lives, we can rest easy knowing that we are not alone in our effort to end this global injustice. Shandra's story is a reminder that no matter what they mean for evil, God still means it for good (Gen. 50:20).

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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