How can we respond to the problem of sex trafficking?

February 6, 2015

How can we respond biblically and practically to the problem of sex trafficking? The book of Ephesians provides four challenges for what we can do as evangelicals who love the gospel, love people, and want to follow Jesus and flood the darkness with light. In Ephesians, the fifth chapter in particular, Paul talks about the theme of darkness and light. When we look at this book, we are reminded that in the middle of all this darkness were the saints—this little colony of the kingdom, this little outpost that was to shine the light of truth and love to a sex-filled culture. Here are the four ways we can do just that:

1. Stop Looking at Porn: Our first challenge as God’s people who walk in the light is to end—and we need to encourage our people to end—our involvement with every form of porneia. As Ephesians 5:3 says, there shouldn’t be a hint of it.

Verse 6—the wrath of God is coming because of sins like it.

Verse 7—don’t associate with people in it.

Verse 8—become who you are.

If you want to help fight sex trafficking, stop looking at porn. I don’t think people make this connection. The eighteen-month-old baby who is sold, the girl who is trafficked at the Atlanta airport, and your pornography addiction are related. You can have a college student who wants to fight sex trafficking, but has a pornography addiction. There is a massive disconnect there.

Pornography is creating the demand for sex trafficking, and in many ways, it’s a gateway drug to sex trafficking. I believe if you are looking at pornography, you are perpetuating the problem of sex trafficking. You are involved in sex trafficking. Many of the ladies that men, and also women, view are victims of sex trafficking. Martin Luther King, Jr., says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” You want to affect the dark world of trafficking? You need to walk in light. We need to tell our friends, and we need to tell our churches, to end every involvement they have with porneia.

2. Live a Righteous Life: Endeavor by God’s power to live a life of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Live an everyday life of justice. Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light—for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph 5:8–9). In these trio of terms, Paul almost summarizes Christian ethics. All that is good and right and true is what the Christian is to be about. We don’t simply go do justice; we live a life of justice. We don’t simply do good; we live a life of goodness. Out of lives of holiness and justice and goodness and truth, we affect darkness. In all of our dealings with people, we should pursue justice.

I love the concept that Job expresses in Job 29 when he says, “I put on righteousness and it clothed me. My justice was like a robe and a turban.” He says: I wear justice. I put on justice like you put on clothes. I live with a social conscience. I live every day of my life looking out for the oppressed, looking out for the vulnerable, looking to be honest in all of my dealings. We should put justice on every day. Use your gifts. Use your abilities. Use your rhythms. Use your vocation in a way that can make a difference. For example:

I also believe churches need to consider developing aftercare facilities and ministries. It is one of the best ways we can minister in this world of sex trafficking. Not all of us can be lawyers or politicians, but when these girls are rescued, they need to see what a family looks like. They need the gospel. They need to come into a worshipping community and see what that’s like.

In addition, please do background checks on volunteers and practice church discipline wisely and faithfully in your local church. Report suspected abuse to the proper authorities. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is managed by the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C., can be reached at (888) 373-7888 and is a good resource. Use this number to report a tip. You can also connect with anti-trafficking services in your area and request training with this number.

3. Expose the World of Sex Trafficking: It’s a dark world. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Believers are to not participate in sexual sin, and we don’t keep our light under a bushel, either. We flood the world with light, exposing the sin of unbelievers. This word “expose” in the Greek means to correct or convince. Paul does not tell us here how we ought to expose those shameful sins that people are doing in secret, but surely it means by our words and our deeds. This will be different for everyone.

I follow the Good Samaritan principle on this. We can’t do everything, but we can meet needs in our area. What can be done to expose the problem? How can you use words? How can you use your deeds? We will all answer this differently, but we can’t live with our head in the sand. Perhaps you would form a justice team in your local church or do a community assessment, a great tool provided by International Justice Mission, to evaluate your own context. You could contact local services and ask how you can help them. Live your life with your eyes open.

4. Evangelize: We need to evangelize those in darkness. Light not only exposes sin, but it transforms unbelievers into the realm of light. That is the beauty of the gospel. How does the gospel overcome sex trafficking? It combats two of Satan’s primary works: Satan is an accuser and a deceiver. The gospel brings truth that exposes this deception. Out of love, God convicts us of sin and leads us to repentance. The gospel brings to bear truth that tells people, “You can’t live under this deception. This is sin.”

The gospel also works against the accusations of the devil, who tells these victims, “You are nothing.” Many of these victims feel an enormous sense of shame and brokenness. The gospel says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and that we stand holy and blameless before him. Only the gospel brings that sense of wholeness. It is the power of God unto salvation that can transform even the perpetrators’ lives, who are, ironically, slaves themselves. J. B. Phillips translates Eph. 5:14 like this, “It’s even possible (after all, it happened to you!) for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light also.” When the gospel goes into dark places, it can transform people into the realm of light.

Remember these few things when you think about evangelism. God transformed many in this Ephesian congregation who had come out of this lifestyle. This church was probably filled with those individuals. The gospel even transformed Paul who wrote this letter. Some need to hear the gospel when they are freed and others need to be freed in order to hear the gospel. I have seen both happen.

You can draw a tight connection to the book of Exodus where God says: I want my people to go so that they may worship me—because it’s hard to worship when you are carrying rocks all day in Egypt. It’s hard to worship when you are so crushed with despair that you are just trying to survive. So often, you hear people say we should be about proclamation. I agree. Alleviating eternal suffering is primary to temporal suffering, but they can’t hear our proclamation when they are on drugs and are raped six times a day. For many of the two million underage people trapped in trafficking, we have to work to free them in order for them to hear the gospel.

We must pursue, as best as we can, an integrative model of mission that takes both physical and spiritual needs seriously. We want to alleviate temporal suffering, and we definitely want to alleviate eternal suffering. Jesus didn’t wake up every day and ask, “Should I do justice or evangelism today?” No, Jesus went out and loved his neighbor, and that involved both—caring for the totality of a person.

Why should we care about this problem? If we care about the Bible, we are going to bump into this issue a lot. We all need to prayerfully apply the teaching of the Bible in areas that are uncomfortable for us, conforming our lives to the whole of the Bible. Sex trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, and it is a world of demonic darkness, filled with the schemes of the devil. May God, by his grace, help us to fight this world of darkness as the children of light.

*This post has been adapted from “Traffic Stop: How the Gospel Can Overcome Sex Trafficking” in Sexual Brokenness and the Hope of the Gospel.

Tony Merida

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also serves as Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. His books include: Faithful Preaching, Orphanology, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down, Proclaiming Jesus, and Eight volumes … Read More