Pop diva Britney Spears was in for a surprise when she recorded chart-topper “I’m a Slave 4 U” on her latest album. Last month, the singer received letters from iAbolish.com personnel, one an escaped slave, raising concerns about the song and urging Spears to use her voice to speak out against slavery.
iAbolish.com was launched by the American Anti-Slavery Group in 1993 to combat slavery worldwide by bringing it to the forefront as “a pressing human rights concern” and by mobilizing an anti-slavery movement.
The AASG has helped liberate more than 45,000 slaves around the globe. Directors of the organization—some of whom have survived slavery—have testified before Congress three times and have met twice with the secretary of state.
Slavery didn’t die in 1865, the anti-slavery Web site says upfront. In 2002, slavery is alive and kicking throughout Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and in North and South America.
Slavery, according to the Web site, is forced labor without pay under the threat of violence.
In Sudan, women and children are kept as spoils of Holy War. In Thailand and Australia, girls and young women work as sex slaves. Traces of domestic slavery are found in France and Haiti.
In the United Arab Emirates, young boys are used as camel jockeys. Brazilian slaves perform forced labor in rain forests.
Baptist World Aid Committee Director Paul Montacute reported no discussion about slavery from Baptist World Alliance member bodies. Likewise, the committee has received no requests from BWA member bodies for program assistance.
Ben Bryant, analyst of justice and reconciliation issues for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said CBF is not currently involved in specific anti-slavery work. Rather, the organization works in conflict transformation and in community and economic development “to influence the environments where slavery exists,” Bryant said.
CBF personnel in Thailand and other parts of the world remain concerned about prostitution and slavery, Bryant said. Workers often find that families have been tricked into selling their children into the sex trade or sweatshops. Some families see these as the only options for income.
Bryant posed a fundamental question: What constitutes slavery? The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines slavery as “‘a submission to a dominating influence,'” Bryant said.
“That is a broad definition and raises the issues of how we function in the world as Christians,” Bryant said. “With the need for sustainable change, we need to look in the mirror and see how we affect the lives of so many.”
That involves the willingness to question manufacturers and businesses about their practices and “hold[ing] them up to a standard that respects humanity, God’s image that we are all created in,” Bryant said.
“Can we change the way we operate in our economy so that fair wages and compensation is the order of the day?” Bryant said. “Are we willing to be the kind of managers, CEOs and investors that make decisions based on a fair return rather than one that exploits people in order to squeeze out another margin point?
“Can we look in the mirror and really claim complete, unequivocal innocence?” Bryant asked.
“Slavery is an affront to all religions,” reads iAbolish.com. “Religious communities were the backbone of the 19th Century abolitionist movement. Today, in the 21st century, religious groups continue to play an important role in the efforts to end slavery.”
Here are ways iAbolish suggests congregations can help:
— Build awareness about modern slavery. Pass along the iAbolish.com web address and have everyone you know join the Freedom Action Network.
— Ask Sunday School teachers to address modern slavery in their lessons. To download free curriculum visit the STOP Web site.
— Hold an anti-slavery service. Have your minister incorporate the anti-slavery message into a talk or sermon or put together your own presentation for your congregation or activist religious group. Or, invite an escaped slave or abolitionist to address your congregation.
— Organize a fundraising drive. Collect money at each week’s service or use your church or temple to stage a fund-raising and/or awareness-raising event: a gospel concert, a talk by an abolitionist or escaped slave, etc.
— Join together with other religious, civic and human rights groups. There is strength in numbers!
Jared Porter is a journalism student at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
For more information, visit www.iAbolish.com.