Archive for the tag “Erich Bridges”

Shut up, they explained

By Erich Bridges | WorldView Conversation

A letter recently published on my local newspaper’s editorial page helpfully summarized the view of many secular folks when it comes to religious expression in public.

We “stand for separation of church and state,” the letter writer declared. “Pick your religion, believe what you want, pursue greater knowledge toward that end. Do it for yourself — and keep it out of public discourse. That’s where the [secular] left stands.”

I appreciate his honesty, if not his all-too-common misunderstanding of church-state separation. Open hostility toward freedom of speech is better than paying lip service to it while working behind the scenes to silence it. Either approach, however, is wrong.

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“Keep your views about God and His commandments to yourself,” society increasingly tells believers — particularly conservative evangelicals, traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews. “Socially accepted truths and morals have progressed beyond your antiquated theologies. If you can’t embrace the new normal, just keep your mouth shut. If you don’t, we’ll shame you, shout you down, call you a bigot. We might even take you to court and charge you with ‘hate speech.’”

Such responses to religious speech undercut the spirit of the First Amendment. You have every right under the law and the Constitution to express almost any religious belief in public. If those views happen to be unpopular or minority positions, you still have the right to express them. That’s why the First Amendment exists.

Free religious expression in the United States didn’t come easily, as I wrote in a 2008 column, and it won’t endure without vigorous exercise and defense. State church tyranny was the main opponent in the nation’s infancy. Baptists, who experienced persecution by state-controlled churches in Europe and early America, played a key role in helping forge religious freedom in the new nation. Today the threats to religious speech are coming primarily from secular extremists who see biblical Christianity as “intolerant” and evangelism as “hate speech.”

By far the greatest threat to religious expression, however, is the self-censorship practiced by believers. We fear offending someone more than we care about telling him or her the truth. We don’t want to be thought intolerant. We don’t want to go against the pluralist grain.

Let’s find some inspiration — and backbone — from followers of Christ in tougher places who put everything on the line to share truth.

Recently I met several Muslim-background believers in North Africa and the Middle East. They are taking full advantage of the new freedoms they’re experiencing following the “Arab Spring” revolutions last year to spread the Gospel and make disciples. After generations of enforced silence, people in a number of Arab countries feel freer to express their opinions and seek their own answers — for now, at least.

“Sometimes I even get calls from [militant Islamists],” one believer told me. “They just want to know who is the right God. … So I think God is really working after the revolution.”

Another believer was arrested multiple times for telling people about Jesus before the revolution in his country. He just could not stay silent about the wonderful truth he had found. He’s wiser now about when to speak and when to be quiet, but he’s just as bold.

“Before, I was controlled by the government,” he explains. “I had to go and sign in every three months and tell them everything — what I did, where I moved. If I was having any guest [in my home], I had to go and ask permission. I really hated that. I feel more free now in doing God’s work.”

Even if the new freedoms disappear, however, these believers will keep telling others that Jesus is the only way to God. If they aren’t afraid to talk about the truth in places where the hammer could come down at any moment, why should we be?

Don’t squander your freedom in the land of the free. It’s not guaranteed.

Erich Bridges writes at WorldView Conversation. This article copyright (c) 2012 Erich Bridges. Reprinted with permission.

Fatima’s story

By Erich Bridges | WorldView Conversation

I still think about Fatima, a 15-year-old girl who almost became a perishable product.

She ran to greet us five years ago at a Christian shelter in north India — a safe place for women and children rescued from slavery, forced prostitution and human traffickers.

Her smile shone as brightly as her yellow sari. She was learning to read and sew, to sing and laugh. She recited the Lord’s Prayer by heart and was getting to know the One who taught it. She didn’t go to bed hungry anymore. She knew someone cared whether she lived or died.

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Fatima’s father pulled a rickshaw in Kolkata (Calcutta). She never went to school. When she reached age 6, her abusive stepmother forced her to start cooking and cleaning for the rest of the family. She also worked cutting rubber to make sandals — one rupee (about 2 cents) for 12 straps.

When Fatima was 14, her stepmother took her to a “youth hostel” and left her there. It turned out to be a brothel.

When her first customer came to her room, Fatima hit him on the head with a hard-soled shoe and fled. She walked 20 kilometers to the main train station in Kolkata. A child protective agency found her there and sent her by train to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. On arrival she was taken to the Christian shelter.

“She was very tense and afraid,” recalled the shelter director. “She shouted, ‘Leave me alone!’ She thought she was being brought to another brothel.” But Fatima was among friends at last.

If only every child in her position could find such a sanctuary.

Human trafficking is a business. More to the point in these brutal economic times, it’s a very profitable business. Like any other business, it has employers and employees, buyers and sellers, supply and demand.

The only difference: The products of this business are people — like Fatima, who was about to be consumed when she jumped off the shelf and escaped.

These human products are bought and sold, used and abused via prostitution, pornography, “entertainment,” slavery, forced labor and other forms of exploitation. When they reach their “use-by” date, the industry tosses them aside and goes after new inventory.

That’s the case in north India, one of the biggest crossroads of human trafficking. Beset by too many mouths to feed, poor villagers often sell young daughters outright to sex traffickers, who turn a profit by selling them to urban brothels.

When I visited the region in 2003, traffickers could buy a village girl from neighboring Nepal for 10,000 rupees (about $200 at the time) and sell her in Delhi for up to 60,000 rupees ($1,200) — “depending on her color, texture and size,” according to a local observer.

Sometimes, parents “mortgage” a daughter for a few years. By the time they save enough to redeem her, “she has suffered a lot,” said a local Christian leader who fights the sex trade.

“These girls usually start around age 14,” he said. “By the time they are 18 or 19, they’re finished” — exhausted, brutalized, infected with AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, turned out on the street to beg or starve.

Between 12 million and 27 million people worldwide are involved in some type of forced servitude, according to various estimates.

Up to 800,000 are trafficked across international borders each year – the majority being women and children swept up into the sex trade.

Lest we think it’s all “over there” somewhere, more than 14,000 foreign nationals are imported annually into sexual or domestic/sweatshop slavery in our own land of the free, according to U.S. government statistics. An estimated 200,000 American children, meanwhile, are “at risk for trafficking into the sex industry,” reports the U.S. Department of Justice.

Recent investigations of the growth of globe-spanning organized crime syndicates miss the true magnitude of “how far people themselves have become merchandise, as indentured laborers, domestic slaves, child thieves, child soldiers, child prostitutes, babies for sale … and organ suppliers,” writes Peter Robb in The New York Times. “All move around the world with the collusion of customs, immigration, police, social services, charities and aid agencies.”

Bear in mind, also, that human trafficking is only the third-largest criminal enterprise on a global scale. Drug dealing and illegal arms trafficking are even bigger operations. And the United States is the world’s largest recreational drug market, with Mexico being one of its largest suppliers.

That’s why civilians reportedly ran a higher risk — more than three times higher, per capita — of being killed last year in the Mexican border city of Juarez than in Baghdad, Iraq. Out of a population of 1.6 million, some 1,800 people were gunned down in 2008 in Juarez, where heavily armed drug gangs battle police and government forces in broad-daylight shootouts for access to key entry points to the United States.

Many evangelical Christians have become passionately involved in fighting human trafficking and other global evils through education, social action and legislation. That is in the best tradition of biblical justice.

But it’s not enough.

Laws, no matter how aggressively enforced, cannot change hearts. Nations that tolerate or participate in the buying and selling of human beings need something more fundamental. They need spiritual transformation — and we must seek it on their behalf through the transforming power of the Gospel.

That’s what William Wilberforce preached as a follower of Christ and an impassioned supporter both of missions and social change, even as he fought successfully as a member of Parliament to end the slave trade in the British Empire.

“Evil and injustice are rampant in our world today; carnal values and immorality are pervasive in our own society and throughout the world,” writes former International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin in his book, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory.

However, the notion that human evil has somehow grown beyond God’s power to defeat it, Rankin warns, “is not biblical and clearly demeans who God is and His power. It also dismisses the victory Christ has won on the cross and God’s redemptive activity as irrelevant.”

If the Lord’s declaration in Psalm 46:10 is true, He promises: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

That includes India, the United States, Mexico and every other nation that is robbing Him of His glory today.

Erich Bridges writes at WorldView Conversation. This article copyright (c) 2012 Erich Bridges. Reprinted with permission. 

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