Who ought to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?
The ending to my last post included these words: “There are many in the world who have no platform and no voice. Only others can speak on their behalf. If we are unwilling to risk speaking [for them], who will?”
God said to His people in Judah, whose leaders sat on the throne of David:
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3 NIV)
And King Lemuel said at the end of Proverbs:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV)
These are just two examples of many different places where God has placed the responsibility of advocacy for the downtrodden squarely onto the shoulder’s of His people. Sometimes we might be called to advocate for policy, morality, economy, or ecology. At all times, however, we are called to advocate for human beings.
Most evangelicals are adamantly pro-life. To be pro-life means to be pro-imago Dei, from the womb through the grave. To be pro-life means to speak up for the unborn, but also as the Bible says in multiple places for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the refugee.
From the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1, human beings are elevated above any other created thing. The imago Dei was introduced in the biblical story long before the fall of human beings (Genesis 3), yet far too many Christians use “the fall” as an excuse to look the other way from the suffering and exploitation of other people.
Paul said in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (NIV).“ This is, in essence, the major point I have been trying to make in these last several posts. As far as it depends on us, we should always display patience, speak to others with respect, default towards kindness, and do our best to give the perspectives of others a fair shake. We should remember that our words matter.
There are times, however, when we are compelled and perhaps even required to speak against something, or someone, or some situation. There is such a thing as righteous anger and warranted outrage. Some things should offend us and sicken us. Sometimes our words need be used to speak into the void where others choose to remain silent. As the Bible says above, there are times where we must “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Why are so many remaining silent about many of the worst modern plagues of humanity, while speaking through a megaphone regarding other issues, many of which are less severe?
Is it possible the old devil himself is pulling his most famous trick — a sleight of hand whereby we become blinded with anger towards certain issues to the detriment of being completely ignorant of far worse evil?
For example, how many evangelicals have claimed to boycott a brand over their company stance on moral issues, without every considering whether or not a company is “fair trade” or ethically sourcing its products? Companies that are certified “fair trade” have gone through a rigorous process to ensure their products are not the result of human trafficking, modern slavery, and cruel labor practices. Yet this remains one of the specific areas about which many seem to be silent, uniformed, or dare I say unwilling to address.
Let’s look at 3 issues specifically, then a story.
Human trafficking is around a $200 billion enterprise worldwide, with between 20 and 30 million victims, most of whom are women and children. And these numbers are growing at a staggering rate. In Oklahoma, where I live, the interstate highways are among the most most heavily used thoroughfares for human trafficking. Human beings are being transported as illegal goods right under our nose every day. (Read more about Oklahoma at (http://dayspringvilla.com/human-sex-trafficking/.)
According to the Polaris project, human traffickers “use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage, and other manipulative tactics to force people to engage in commercial sex or to provide labor or services against their will.”
While we are on this issue, two of the most common human trafficking scenarios are pornography and prostitution. The chances that a female in online pornographic content is actually a trafficking victim is scarily high. The chances that a prostitute is a trafficking victim is also very high, especially when overseas. In other words, if you view pornography or have a dalliance with a prostitute, you have very likely been privy to exploitation. Pornography and prostitution are sinful and degrading by their nature anyway. The Bible has a lot to say about both. Their connection to trafficking and exploitation also needs to be articulated.
Would it surprise you to hear there are more slaves in the world today than in 1860, the height of slavery in the nineteenth century? It is true. In 1860 the number of slaves was 25 million, and today the number is accelerating quickly towards 30 million (NY Times).
Modern slavery takes many different forms, and our habits drive a slave market that is growing exponentially. The places we shop and products we buy have an impact. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 150 different goods from 75 different countries have been tied directly to forced and child labor. Some of the most common products that result from modern slavery or forced labor include things you might expect like diamonds and clothing, but also chocolate, coffee, parts for mobile devices, rubber, shrimp, and countless other things.
I highly encourage you to take this “slavery footprint” survey. If you are like me the results and the questions themselves are sobering. This has definitely led me to give more thought and have more discussions about what we buy and from where it is sourced.
-Refugees and Legal Immigrants
I have written extensively about this topic in previous posts, which you can find by scrolling down my homepage. Today, “An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.” This has been called the most severe humanitarian crisis since World War II.
At a time when these numbers are the highest they have ever been, we are set to have the lowest ceiling on accepting refugees in almost 40 years. One of the most common misconceptions is that refugee resettlement and border immigration are the same issue. They are not. Refugees are legal immigrants who are selected, vetted with more scrutiny than any other immigrant or visa applicant, and are brought to the United States by our own government. In 2016, over 72 percent of the refugees resettled to the U.S. by the Office of Refugee Resettlement were women and children (World Relief). They were not undocumented young middle-eastern men wearing backpacks, as many would have us believe.
Let me conclude with a story.
A couple of years ago, I walked into the immigration office with a friend who is here in the U.S. on political asylum. He is a legal immigrant, with all the necessary documentation to prove it. He needed a simple signature to approve his employment authorization. Without it, he could not start his new job. The immigration office was 100 miles from where he lived, and at the time he had no transportation. You can see the dilemma. He had no means to acquire the signature because he had no income. Yet he could receive no income without the signature.
To complicate things further, my friend had the misfortune of being assigned an immigration officer who despised his job and the people he was required to serve. How do I know this? The officer told me this himself when I had called to inquire as to why things were being held up. The officer was being intentionally difficult and mean for no good reason. From my friend’s point of view, the officer had all the power.
My friend needed help. Without an advocate, nothing could be accomplished.
So we drove the 100 miles, he with his paperwork and I as his advocate. Long story short, the meeting with the officer did not go well overall. But I had made up my mind that we were not leaving until he was finally given the signature he needed. And I had a few chips in my pocket my friend did not, including the direct line to both a congressman and senator, as well as no legitimate fear of being either arrested (Channel 2 works for you!) or deported. He had an advocate, and together we were successful in obtaining the signature.
You see the point here, right? My friend did not know how to get help, but I did. My friend was afraid of consequences, I was not. As long as I stood my ground respectfully and lawfully, I had no reason to be afraid. He on the other hand did not have that kind of security.
By the way, I believe wholeheartedly that had the situations been reversed and I was in my friend’s home country, he would have done the same for me.
Now more than ever, most of us have multiple platforms from which we can speak. An advocate leverages communication, relationships, responsibilities, and anything else in order to be a voice for those who do not have an adequate outlet. When we as Christians are able to yield influence on systems and structures, we bear culpability.
With great power comes great responsibility, Peter Parker.
The final post in this series will come in November, and will be on the topic of racism. As always, please feel free to comment below and be part of the discussion!
See and join the discussion on other posts in the “A Different Lens” series:
A Different Lens – The “Other”
A Different Lens – Words Matter
11 thoughts on “A Different Lens – Speaking Up”
Great article, Eric! Could you refer us to any resources that you use to source ethically produced goods? I took the modern slaveey survey and now I’m trying to figure out how to be more responsible with our purchases. Thanks!
Absolutely! Here are a couple of great places to start. I promise I will be much more specific in the future, as we are going to be making strategic changes along these lines and I will definitely share!
This is a good guide: http://www.endslaverynow.org/media/3565/end-slavery-nows-slave-free-shopping-guide.pdf
This is also helpful – but it takes some browsing. Lots of good stuff, even though mostly UK focused. https://www.stopthetraffik.org
A great word! Thank you for watching out for those who are being mistreated and neglected by the power structure– not just posturing, but taking a stand in ways that improve lives.
The analogy of the megaphone is one I’ve thought of often when considering my role as a person of privilege. The Bible says that we should speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, as you say, but sometimes being a good ally means to stay silent – not to speak for the marginalized, but instead let them speak for themselves, we then act as their megaphone– amplifying their voices and making sure they are heard in contexts where they may not normally be acknowledged, much less have a seat at the table.
Same kind of advocacy road that you travel so well, but with language that is more empowering and dignifying (“Nothing for us without us” as I have heard said by those advocating for the homeless!).
Very good word. Will definitely incorporate into next post.