Modern slavery is thriving and millions of vulnerable people are subjected to debt bondage and trafficked across the globe.
In many parts of the world, women are oppressed by honour killings, forced prostitution, genital excision, (sex-selective) abortion, and exclusion from education and literacy.
The poor are exploited by unfair trade, and large swathes of the world’s population are denied basic religious freedoms.
In our latest Cambridge Paper, John Coffey, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester, insists that the human yearning for freedom or pardon is as strong as it ever was. Our most radical bondage is our enslavement to sin and death, and at the heart of the gospel is the claim that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).
But as we preach Christ crucified we should share Christ’s concern for the marginalised and the down-trodden. Yet, the deeply rooted modern liberation movement ‘is laden both with the promises of true freedom and threats of deadly bondage.’
So, free-market capitalism has generated great wealth but has also placed us in thrall to advertisers and overpowering consumerist impulses. Our search for sexual liberation has led to widespread addiction to internet pornography, and recreational drugs that promised to free the mind have shackled the body. Oddly, these peculiar forms of oppression ‘have attracted astonishingly little notice from the political theologians of our generation.’
The Bible reveals a God who hears the cries of the oppressed and loves to bring deliverance. The mission of God sets an agenda for the Church. In our preaching, prayer and worship we need to recover an integrated vision of the gospel as a message of liberation ‘from every kind of oppression’ (to quote the 1974 Lausanne Covenant).
Churches ought to pray for the spiritual and material needs of the world, and educate and empower their members to tackle injustice. On a very practical level, our congregations could do more to support the many Christian organisations that work heroically to liberate people from various kinds of oppression: drug and alcohol addiction (rehabilitation centres), religious persecution (Open Doors, Christian Solidarity, Barnabas Fund), modern day slavery (Stop the Traffik, Dalit Freedom Network), human rights abuses (International Justice Mission), deprivation and debt (Tearfund, Micah Challenge, Christians Against Poverty, Jubilee Debt Campaign).
Oppression and poverty – like sin and doubt – will be with us till Christ returns, but when we ‘loose the chains of injustice’ we open the door to spiritual renewal (Isaiah 58:6–9) and anticipate the day when ‘the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).
Dr John Hayward is director of the Jubilee Centre. He has 12 years experience in the charity sector and a history of campaigning on social and political issues. www.jubilee-centre.org
From every kind of oppression
Published 19 January 2010 | John Hayward