Saturday, March 30, 2013

Slavery & Human Trafficking

A few weeks ago, I began a series on tough, ugly issues that confront our world (and fantasy stories) today. I encouraged us as fantasy writers to use our writing as a platform for change. So far, I've spoken about racism and bullying. Today, I'll continue the series with a post on the very ugly issue of slavery and human trafficking. It'll be a bit longer than usual, but please bear with me!

I. Slavery in the Bible

First, some Biblical background. In the Bible, slavery is mentioned multiple times, especially in the context of the enslavement of the people of Israel. The Bible addresses how horrible slavery felt to those suffering in it by saying in Exodus 2:23, "The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help." However, the story doesn't end there. The Bible tells us that, "Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel--and God knew." (verses 24-25) And God acted by bringing the people out of slavery.

In the New Testament, where slavery was a common practice, the church did not forbid slavery. Rather, speaking to slaves, the Bible said, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ...rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man." (Eph. 6:5-7) To masters, Paul wrote, "Do the same to [your slaves], and stop your threatening, knowing that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven." (verse 9) We should keep in mind, though, that slavery was legal back then and that the early church tried to obey the laws as much as possible, so long as they did not contradict God's law. More important for today may be the verse Micah 6:8, which reads, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" It is our calling as Christians to fight injustice--including human trafficking--in the world today.

But let's dig a little deeper into Scripture. The Bible also refers to slavery in a deeper spiritual sense. Romans 6:17-18 and 22 reads, "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin ... and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. ... But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." While we know that physical slavery is a horrible injustice, we must remember that as Christians there is an even greater issue: the slavery of people's hearts to sin.

II. Slavery Today

Now let's fast-forward two thousand years to slavery in today's world. For some background, I'd like to quote from the information found on International Justice Mission (IJM)'s website.

Forced labor slavery is the use of deception, threats or violence to compel someone to labor without pay or for no pay beyond the substance necessary to continue the labor. It is called by many names, including debt bondage and forced labor, and is a form of modern slavery.

Modern-day slaves face brutal conditions in rock quarries, rice mills, brick kilns, fisheries, garment factories and many other industries around the world. Victims of slavery are often deprived of the freedom of movement, unable to leave the facility where they are forced to work and unable to seek employment elsewhere. Forced laborers are also often victims of violent physical and sexual abuse.

Debt bondage is a common method used to entrap victims of slavery. In this illegal scheme, an employer offers a small loan (often as low as $25) to a laborer, with the understanding that the loan will be repaid through work at the owner’s facility. The owner then ensures this repayment is impossible by refusing to pay the employee and inflating the loan through exorbitant interest rates, false charges, and denying requests for information on the status of the loan. The laborer is forbidden to leave the work facility until the loan is “repaid” in full—despite the fact that the work already completed by the laborer should have fulfilled any obligation to the owner long ago. The employer becomes the laborer’s owner—and the loan’s conditions are often extended to relatives of the victim, including children, who are forced to work off a false and ever-growing debt.

  • There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today—more than any other time in history.
  • Children below the age of 18 years represent an estimated 26% of all forced labor victims.
  • In a wide-reaching survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, approximately 40% of countries had not registered a single conviction against perpetrators of trafficking and slavery, which is crucial for deterrence.

III. Slavery in Fantasy

So, now that we've got that information under our belts, what can we do? Besides donating our time and resources to supporting ministries like IJM, we can harness our writing as a tool for change. How?

First and foremost, you can mention the issue of slavery or human trafficking in your story. Even just mentioning it will raise awareness of the issue. Getting the problem out in the open is crucial to eventually affecting change in our world. It doesn't have to be a major theme in your story, but knowing that the problem exists in the background could make a world of difference.

Second, if your story allows it, you can describe and show the suffering caused by slavery through the lives of one or more of your main characters. Mentioning the problem of slavery is all very well, but it's only when people realize that slavery is a problem--an unjust, painful, hideous problem--that people will start to think about what they can do to change it. As writers, one of our best tools is making something come alive to our readers. What better way to use that skill than to make the pain of slavery visible and tangible to readers, making them realize that not only slavery exists, but it must be changed!

Finally, if your story permits, you can even propose solutions to slavery through your story. Perhaps the talking eagles in your fantasy world are enslaved, but your main characters, a group of fearsome magical mice, wage a war to free the eagles. Or maybe your characters recruit freed slaves to join the fight against the evil dark lord. Maybe your main character, a former slave, returns to the place where she was kept as a slave in order to rescue her family or friends. The possibilities are as wide as your imagination; through these and other ways, you can use your story to propose solutions to slavery.

As always, do keep in mind that your story is not a sermon. Your story is life contained in words on the page. Never try to force your story into a message; instead, allow the flow of the words and the lives in the story to allow your message to shine through.

Now tell me: can you recommend any good books that tackle this problem? Have you ever tried to write about slavery? Do you have any suggestions or things to add to what I've mentioned above? Any resources about slavery in the Bible? Please comment and let us know!

(By the way, if you haven't had a chance to yet, I'd really recommend checking out IJM and getting involved in the fight against modern slavery.)


  1. I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated this post. While I agree whole-heartedly that slavery is a monstrous thing, I grow very tired of hearing it addressed from a knee-jerk, purely emotional standpoint, which 99% of the time turns into a guilt trip. You have addressed it very rationally, calmly, and Biblically, and you have my sincerest thanks for that. Keep up the good work.
    Now that you mention it, I can't think of any books that address this issue. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini features a main character who is sold into slavery and later escapes to become a pirate who, over the course of the story, joins three different armies. So, while it 'deals with' slavery, I don't know that it's necessarily a great example. ; )
    Again, great post. Thank you for writing it.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment! I'm really glad that you found the post helpful and not too much of an emotional guilt-trip. I definitely agree; it's really hard to think of fantasy books that mention, much less deal with, slavery! Thanks for the example!

  2. Actually, one of my books has a sort of plot about this. And the story of God, his people, and sin is almost a sort of parallel to it. We were slaves of sin but Jesus ransomed us with his life and all we needed to do was accept it. Almost reminds me of the book Dragonspell. Slavery was mentioned in the Return of the King, what happened to the Shire... but then Frodo and the others save it.
    Slavery is in the Rise of the Wyrm Lord (2nd book in the Door Within trilogy).

    1. Wow, that sounds really cool! And thanks for bringing in more Biblical connections--we always need more of those. Plus, true, great point that Return of the King does sort of reference/include slavery! Thanks for the comment!


Please remember to post graciously, whether or not you agree with the post.

Proverbs 15:1
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."