Last fall CSF had a “Human-Trafficking Awareness Day” during which we sold t-shirts, handed out information about modern-day slavery, and at night had a guest speaker who has worked with a group in Cambodia to save women from slavery. From this CSF ended up partnering with the Step Dance Team for a benefit show, all proceeds going to the Not for Sale Campaign to end slavery.
Why do we do this? Why do we care that slavery exists in the world and why do we work to create a world in which it no longer exists?
This question does strike to the heart of what it means to be a Christian in this world. If the whole point of being a Christian is to go to heaven when we die, then working to end slavery (or poverty, or other things) is not important. But when we read scripture it is clear that Jesus did not come to earth just so we can go to heaven when we die. Being a Christian is about a lot more than the afterlife, it is about living in this life.
I tell the students that we do this work for reasons that flow from our Christian worldview. As Christians, we believe all human beings on this earth are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent worth. Biblically and theologically it is unjust for God’s image-bearers to be enslaved as prostitutes, laborers, child soldiers or anything else.
Along with this, we believe that the God of Israel, the God fully revealed in Jesus Christ, continuously commands his people to care for the weakest among us. This is seen in the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, Paul’s letters – all over Scripture. Just look at Jesus and how he lived. He fed the poor, healed the sick and expects his followers to do the same.
Another reason is that we believe Jesus is risen and therefore old creation is in its death throes as new creation begins to break in. Jesus’ resurrection is the first act of new creation. Life is coming out of death. We live in between the end of old creation and the full onset of new creation. Our work as Christians is to bring this future new creation into the present. Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We seek to bring heaven, God’s domain, to earth. One way to do this is to free the slaves. Put it this way: since we know there is a future day coming when there will be no more slavery, we work today to bring that future into the present by freeing the slaves.
So Christians have deep theological and Biblical reasons to work to end slavery. Yet, as we work to end slavery we join with others who also seek to end slavery. This is great and Christians should work with whomever will join us to end such suffering on this planet. Some of those we end up working with consider themselves agnostic or atheist, lacking any belief in God. While I believe we should work with these people, I think as we work with them the natural conversation that will come up is about why such work is necessary. If we step back from it we can ask: Within their own worldview, what motivates them to give their time and energy for this, or any, social issue?
Christians have every reason to work to end slavery: we believe humans are created in God’s imagery so enslaving them is unjust, our Lord commands us to work for those in need, we look to a future that we know is coming when there is no more slavery. Without such beliefs, to be blunt, I do not think there is any reason to work towards ending slavery. In other words, a naturalistic worldview void of any Creator and Redeemer God gives people no reason to work to change the world into something better. Certainly, many who hold such a view of the world do work for justice, but the question is, based on what they believe, ought they work for justice? Within their worldview, can we say working for justice is better than sitting at home and watching TV?
Atheist groups throughout the country, and world, have gone on PR campaigns with billboards such as “You can be good without God.” I agree, you can be good without God, that is certainly true. But that is a meaningless statement, no more true than “you can be good with God“, “you can be bad with God” or “you can be bad without God.’ The question is about the word “can”. “Can” means you know how to, you are able to. Certainly any person, atheist or Christian, is able to be good.
The issue is should or ought you be good without God? Or to move to our specific issue, if there is no God, ought you work to end slavery and thus bring in a more just world? You certainly can, and if you do we all celebrate that decision. But without God, without any objective reason for “should” replacing “can”, then you do not have to. To put it another way, there is no obligation acting on you which means no one can complain if you choose not to engage in ending slavery.
Think about it. Imagine there is no God, that somehow the universe came into existence and we naturally developed into the humans we are today. You have one life to live and then you are gone forever. If you happen to have gotten lucky to not be born in a situation where you end up a slave, then why should you spend the one life you have working to end injustice? Why not enjoy your life? Who can possibly tell you that you should help others? What could someone possibly appeal to in order to motivate you to help others?
In such a situation, there is no good reason for why you should work to end slavery. You can work to end it, if you so choose. Or you can choose to ignore it. Neither choice is more or less praiseworthy, within a naturalistic worldview.
Only a worldview in which God created every human in his image with inherent worth and then took on flesh, died and rose again in order to save the people and create a new world gives us strong reason to join the fight to end slavery.
Two final thoughts. One: this by no means proves God exists. My point is, if there is no God, there is no reason to work to end slavery. If there is no God you can choose to end slavery, or you can choose to enjoy the short life you have and none of us can criticize your decision. Two: this does not discount the fact that Christians fail consistently and often to work for justice, even being perpetrators of injustice. That leads into a whole other discussion, moving from the abstract ideal of what Christianity is to the messed up ways we put it into practice. But Christians who fail to obey Christ no more disproves Christianity than a baseball player who fails to hit a home run disproves the fact that home runs exist.
PS: For a helpful video on this same topic, go here.