Everybody likes a good villain. Whether you are watching your favorite superhero defeat his archenemies, or waging a righteous war against the office lunch thief, we love being able to identify and root against the bad guy, and watch him get what’s justly coming to him. Unfortunately, evil doesn’t always wear a flashy outfit or walk around with stolen mustard remains on its shirt. Most of the time, evil in this world is hidden in plain sight.
This week’s episode of Ringside welcomed back guest Raleigh Sadler from Let My People Go, an organization committed to combating human trafficking by partnering with congregations to identify and love those in their communities who are most vulnerable to exploitation. Tens of millions of people are currently being trafficked worldwide, including cases reported in all fifty states, but Raleigh says most people have the wrong idea of what trafficking looks like, “The danger in the QAnon conspiracies is that it shifts our understanding of human trafficking to a more sensational depiction, and when we’re looking for that, we’re not going to see the people who are groomed for exploitation right in front of us… People who are trafficked are hidden in plain sight right behind our assumptions, so we have to look behind those.” Human trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerability for commercial gain. There are vulnerable people everywhere, so there is also trafficking occurring everywhere, and it is taking place right in front of us, we just don’t see it for what it is.
But it is not just human trafficking that we are tempted to dramatize. We’ve created a culture in our world that applauds the sensational, and encourages a level of public secrecy and seclusion that continues to shape how we see the world and the other people in it. “It’s very easy when we’re hiding behind screens, not only to protect ourselves and only be as vulnerable as feels safe, but we can also dehumanize the person on the other side of the screen,” says Raleigh, “when we think about technology, and where technology impacts our vulnerabilities, it’s ultimately isolating us and redefining our understanding of intimacy, and we’re unable to actually be intimate in a way that’s healthy, either romantically or interpersonally.” The combination of vulnerability and being dehumanized dramatically increases the chances of someone ending up in a trafficked situation.
Technological advancements and achievements are wonderful gifts from God that we should use wisely and enjoy, but we are at a point where technology has fundamentally altered the “public sphere” and the concept of community in ways that have very tangible consequences. “The life of the faithful is a public life, it’s a shared, very open thing,” claims Rev. Paul Koch, “I think the component that gets missed is the public piece of it, and that’s what our cell phones and things have robbed us of. They allow us to be out in public doing very secretive things all the time. Hiding from everybody.” In other words, people are not forced into back alleys or darkened bedrooms to engage in amoral and sinful behaviors. Such behaviors are facilitated on cell phones… in public, yet private… just as the rest of our communications and socialization is. When everything is so closely wound together, it is hard to tell who the villain is, and where the acceptable ends and the unacceptable begins.
We want to point to some of the people around us as monsters, “At the end of the day, it’s really easy to want something extreme by thinking that the people who are traffickers are less than human, monstrous as their actions may be. I don’t think the solution here is to dehumanize those who are dehumanizing others,” says Raleigh. But, that is not the role we are given as the church.
As always, the identity of the villain depends on what story you are telling, and it is important to remember that we are all sinful beings, capable and guilty of doing terrible things to our neighbors and to God. “We call them monsters, so we don’t have to forgive them. That’s where we as a church really need to do a better job with proclaiming forgiveness to people who have confessed. We live in this totalitarian cancel culture where if you’ve ever done anything wrong publicly, we can cancel you and wipe you out of existence. The church needs to be the place that doesn’t cancel people but cancels sin, and redeems people.” Jesus smashes through all the secrets and sin, brings everything into the light, and comes to us with mercy and forgiveness. There is no legislating our way out of this problem. The trafficking crisis only gets better when the church steps up and loves the vulnerable among us, making them inherently a little less vulnerable.
For more information on human trafficking and available resources and trainings for your congregation, please visit the Let My People Go website at www.lmpg.org, and take a look at Raleigh Sadler’s new book “Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking”, currently available on Amazon.
This article is a brief examination of the “metaphorical and theological rugby match” that was this week’s episode of Ringside Preachers. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Ross Engel, Tyler the Intern, and special guest Raleigh Sadler as they duke it out over the horrifying realities and prevalence of human trafficking, whether widespread use of porn has led to a collective psychosis, the pitfalls of technology, and more on the full Ringside Preachers episode, “QAnon”
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