How Evangelicals Took Sex Trafficking From Feminists and Made It a Christian Cause Célèbre - 2015-03-05
Every January, tens of thousands of Christian college students from all over the world attend the conference Passion, where they sing, pray, and hear from a variety of pastors, authors, and activists about issues resonating within evangelical culture. For the last several years, conference founder Louie Giglio has made the issue of human trafficking an increasingly central part of these activities. In 2013, 60,000 students gathered at Passion in Atlanta for a late-night candlelight vigil dedicated to celebrating "Jesus, the ultimate abolitionist, the original abolitionist," Giglio told CNN. The organization's anti-trafficking project designated Feb. 27 as "Shine a Light on Slavery Day," encouraging young people to raise awareness by taking selfies with red X's drawn on their hands.
Human trafficking—and sex trafficking in particular—has become something of a Christian cause célèbre. There are prayer weekends, movies, magazine covers, Sunday school curricula, and countless church-based ministries. More unusual efforts include lipstick sold to help "kiss slavery goodbye" and tattoo alteration services for victims who say they have been "branded" by their captors. An extraordinarily complex global issue has somehow become one of the most energetic Christian missions of the 21st century.
Many of the new anti-trafficking advocates compare their work to the 19th-century abolitionist movement against chattel slavery—with some leaders in the movement referring to themselves (and, apparently, Jesus) as "abolitionists." But, according to Gretchen Soderlund, author of the 2013 book Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, 1885–1917, the better comparison may be to the "white slavery" panic of the late 19th century. Like the current rhetoric around anti-trafficking, "white slavery" engaged both feminist and Christian activists. It also focused primarily on protecting female virtue—often depicting prostitution as "slavery." The phenomenon of women being forced into selling themselves on a widespread scale was mostly malarkey, as it turned out. But the movement was triumphant anyway: The 1910 White Slave Traffic Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for "immoral purposes," effectively ended an era of commercialized prostitution (and criminalized plenty of consensual sex along the way).