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 pastor for Preaching and Vision of Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, North Carolina; director of Theological Training for Acts 29; and a council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including Love Your Church, Ruth For You, The Christ-Centered Expositor, and … 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