In 2001, the ELCA Church Council adopted a Social Message on Commercial Sexual Exploitation. Spurred on by the Women of the ELCA, who had been raising awareness about commercial sexual exploitation for years, the ELCA Church Council took on the issue.
“With this message, the Church Council of the ELCA hopes to raise awareness of the industry that sexually exploits vulnerable persons, principally women and girls, but also men and boys. It calls upon members to examine how this industry might affect their lives. The council urges members, congregations, synods, churchwide units, and affiliated agencies and institutions to renew their care and concern for children and youth, recognizing that there are those who prey upon young persons in their dependency and vulnerability.”
The message describes what it calls “the sex system,” more commonly known as “the sex industry.” There are many components, insidious and interconnected. Components of this tangled web include:
+Persons become objects to be used for the benefit of others.
+Sex turns into a commodity.
+Lust plays its role.
+Persons dominate women and youth.
+Evil masquerades as good.
+Young persons and children cry out.
Despite what people say, prostitution and pornography are not victimless crimes. The message suggests some arenas for action:
+Equip the Saints.
+Find out what is happening in your community. Sex trafficking is prevalent, even in rural areas. +Prevent youth from being captives of the sex system.
+Address the demand for what the sex industry offers.
+Explore the law’s role.
+Examine your spending and investments.
+Support social agencies that work with youth and adults who are in prostitution.
+Curb sex trafficking.
Since the message was adopted in 2001, sex trafficking, especially of children, has skyrocketed globally, and even in our synod. Traffickers target reservations, and small town youth. Anyone who travels across Montana and stops in public rest stops sees posters asking “Do you feel like a slave?” These are one effort to identify trafficked persons while they are in transit. Hotels and airlines are also partners in helping to stop trafficking.
There are several resources associated with the ELCA that address trafficking, especially of children. Cherish All Children sends out weekly devotions, and has chapters and affiliates in various communities dedicated to saving children from exploitation. Adults Saving Kids is a ministry initiated by a pastor whose daughter got caught up in the sex trade. Women of the ELCA are to be commended for their ongoing work and advocacy.
Journalists Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn wrote a ground-breaking book in 2009, with a global perspective: Half the Sky—Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women. The Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches address global human trafficking, especially in the context of large sporting events, such as the World Cup, where opportunities for exploitation are plentiful.
“Let us not blink at, gloss over, trivialize, or accommodate ourselves to the sinful evil of the sex system. It is a social sin, a structure of evil that shapes and snares persons, and to which personal attitudes, decisions, and acts contribute. In its tangled web, we see the dynamics of sin at work.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA