by Peter Varney
from Signs of the Times No. 66 - Jul 2017

The GAFCON website tells us that it is:
‘a Bible-based movement which submits to the authority of Scripture’.

Many Baptists would align themselves with that claim and this book shows how one Baptist uses biblical authority to urge active involvement in work against contemporary expressions of slavery.

The author is secretary of the European Baptist Federation's Anti-Trafficking Network. Like GAFCON Marion Carson takes the Bible’s authority for granted but says ‘we must learn to discern the voice of love’ in the scriptures, which demands a hatred of injustice and exploitation. She adds ‘the task of biblical scholarship is to find the original and universally valid meaning’ and finds that oppression of the poor is challenged throughout the Bible.

Carson is thorough in her examination of the biblical passages dealing with human trafficking and prostitution. She acknowledges the ‘several strands of thinking’ in the Old Testament, some reflecting everyday life, the prophets challenging oppression and corruption, while the Law was not intended to be universally valid. She urges that the New Testament is seen as appropriate for its time, but ‘should not be applied in a literal universalised way but must be understood in the light of the central message of the love of God for all’ and of Jesus’ identification with the poor. Carson demands that we discard ideas which cannot serve as a basis for Christian living today and interpret anew the biblical witness about slavery. Would that others who claim biblical authority could adopt such an approach to the texts about human sexuality.

A comprehensive survey of trafficking in today's world, finding that 27 million people are enslaved, demands our response. But no sources are cited and Malaysia is identified in the context of criminal gangs recruiting workers for forced labour. Those who live there, as I have, would question this.

In Carson’s account of abolitionism, she acknowledges that Quaker involvement was based on their belief that all are created equal and quotes a Quaker Monthly Meeting minute of 1688 that

‘we should do to all men like as we will be done ourselves’.

She fails to note that, as Quakers didn’t view the authority of the Bible as others, their attitude to slavery was more easily changed. Indeed, she includes Quakers amongst the ‘biblical Christians’ who led the anti-slavery campaign. Further she fails to recognize how the same law of love works in other religions, suggesting that because Hinduism accepts suffering it doesn't protest at human trafficking.

Two chapters examine the attitude to prostitution in the Bible. Carson concludes ‘the laws regarding prostitution have to be seen against their cultural background, we should not try to universalize them as commandments to be obeyed today’.

Carson finds that the message of the Bible is clear: slavery is incompatible with God's love for all people. She calls for Christians to stand against injustice, to change the values of the world, to live prophetic lives that speak of the love of God for all people.

This is an accessible text which aims to stimulate discussion, prayer and action to combat the evil of trafficking.

Peter Varney is a member of Norwich Quakers and a retired Anglican priest.