Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

"The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes, and of earth’s abominations.' " Revelation 17:4-5
On Sunday, David unpacked Revelation 17’s description of the great prostitute, who we found, in her association with the ancient city of Babylon, represents the deadly allure of the city. She is attractive and enticing, decked out in purple, scarlet, and jewels, signifying wealth and worldly beauty, and promising sensual pleasures; her golden cup overflows, she is drunk and satisfied, she is seated on a magnificent scarlet beast whom she appears to have dominion over.
Yet, all is not as it first seems. Revelation is nothing if not, well, revealing. A closer look at the contents of her cup reveals abominations and impurities. She is destined for destruction, and will eventually be laid desolate and naked by the very beast she now rides, her once well-adorned flesh burnt up by fire (Revelation 17:16).
In this powerful vision, God reveals the mystery of the cities that you and I live in. Like Babylon, they provide so much promise. The promise of wealth and luxury through commerce. The promise of sensual and sexual pleasure through the relative anonymity the big city offers. The promise of power through status, knowledge, and domination. And yet, these things ultimately lead to death. They rely on something that is in direct conflict with God’s kingdom and so cannot last. At the root of these promises, we see how the city relies on the principle of using others to get what we want. The prostitute uses the beast, and the beast turns on and then destroys the prostitute. This is such a fundamental principle of how cities operate that we have developed our own terms and expressions for it. The rat race. Dog eat dog. Etc.
This Revelation series has afforded us a lot of opportunity to examine our hearts, and certainly this passage is no exception. Poythress in his guide to Revelation writes how every day advertisements tell us, ‘If you only have enough money and toys and sensual pleasures, you will be fulfilled.’ And that little Babylons grow in our hearts as we compromise with sin to pursue our own desires, whether it be for sex, fame, power, health, or beauty (p.161,2).
What then are we to do? Renounce the city’s evil ways and turn our backs on it, lest it contaminate us with its abominations and impurities? Flee the city, lest it becomes drunk on our own blood?
Interestingly, in Jeremiah 29:7 we are told instead to ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ You see, as we draw further towards the end of Revelation, we will find out that God is building a new city, a place where people will not be used by one another for selfish gains. And as future citizens of that new city, we have a role to play in ushering in the kingdom living that God intends. I believe this means not only examining our own hearts- though it’s a good place to start- but also standing up and taking action on behalf of those who become victims of the city’s oppressive forces.
One of the ways the city's oppression happens, which David used as an example on Sunday, is trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as  domestic workers held in a home, or farm workers forced to labor against their will. As such, it’s a good example of the kind of devastation wrought by the city’s promotion of sex, wealth, and power. It makes people slaves to the gratification of others' desires.
Here are the facts. Human trafficking is the third largest crime industry in today’s world (there are more slaves today than ever before in history), and you’ll find it in Africa, in Europe, in America, and in Massachusetts – right here in our backyard. To give you a further idea of the scale of this issue, a study in 2001 showed that at least 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation annually in the U.S., and that number is likely to have grown since then.
If you’re anything like me, when you’re confronted by issues like this you are shocked, saddened, but perhaps most of all, overwhelmed. How can we have a real impact on issues of this magnitude? Yet, there are people working tirelessly, who are not afraid to speak up on behalf of people in situations like these. And as Christians who believe in the unique value of all human beings, created in the image of the Almighty, we should be at the forefront. So, I asked a friend who has spent a lot more time researching these issues than me what I as an individual can do, and I was surprised by the everyday choices that I make that can help turn the tide against trafficking both here and abroad.
First, we can pray.
Second, we have choices we can make as consumers that have an impact on trafficking, like committing to buying fair trade. My friend writes, “This is because there is slavery throughout supply chains, especially in the fashion, cocoa, and coffee/tea industry.  Two useful tools are: and who rate companies according to how ethical they are. There are a number of shops I refuse to buy clothes from and some favorite chocolate that I no longer eat - yes, this means that the clothes I buy are slightly more expensive, so I have less clothes, but I think this is a small sacrifice. The most common objections I hear from my friends are: it isn't as convenient, I don't have enough money to buy fair trade, and it won't make a difference. But it definitely will - consumers have power.” We can also sign petitions online calling for changes in those industries. Or write to our favorite shops asking them about their ethical policies or telling them that we will not buy their products until they commit to eradicating slavery from their supply chain.
Third, we can educate ourselves, so we can better tell others. My friend says, “Learn about what trafficking is (and what it's not!) and how to spot the signs of trafficking (try the information here). Keep your eye open for trafficking in your community and be ready to report it if you think you see it (even if you aren't sure). Talk to friends and work colleagues about trafficking to raise awareness that slavery still exists. I started talking about slavery at work, and as a result my colleague organized for the CEO of an anti-trafficking charity to come and give a lecture to nearly a hundred students. As a result some of the students decided to make this particular charity their chosen charity for the semester and raised a large donation to give them- amazing and a completely unexpected result of me talking to my friends. One thing I have learned is that people can't care about it if they don't know about it.”
Fourth, we can join organizations that already exist who are working to eradicate trafficking, or some of its causes like poverty, or lack of education. This could be as simple as liking or following these organizations and sharing/retweeting their posts on twitter or facebook (a list of suggestions is at the bottom of this post). It could be as quick as making a donation to a grassroots organization to keep girls in school or assist women with setting up their own business which will help prevent the most vulnerable from being targeted by traffickers (consider signing up for Pure Charity who partner with companies that will donate a percentage of your spending to the cause of your choice). Or choosing to buy gifts from 'companies with a conscience' (there is a list in this blog).
A lot of these things do not actually take that much of our time or resources, but if you have more time on your hands you could even join an organization to take part in a march or walk on Anti-Slavery day, fundraise on their behalf or help to lobby for changes to law.
And should we need further encouragement, Jesus himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Instead of using others for our own ends, may we seek to replicate the love that God has for us, a love that is lavished on others as we seek not to be served, but to serve.

  1. What other issues today, like trafficking, do you see arising from the nature of the great prostitute, the city?
  2. Spend some time praying for these issues.
  3. Take half an hour to research an organization that is tackling these issues and choose at least one action you will take to bring God’s light into the darkness of these situations, such as those highlighted in the post above. Below are some suggested anti-trafficking organizations you could take a look at:
End It Movement (organize a march or walk on anti-slavery day)

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