The Slave is Our Brother
In the mid nineteenth century, an American writer named John Sullivan Dwight heard the song “O Holy Night” and was moved by the lines of the third verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” This lyric echoed so strongly with Dwight that he published the song in his own magazine as a protest against slavery in the southern United States. O Holy Night became popular in the North, sung by thousands of Americans who believed that the end of oppression was near and were willing to fight for the freedom of their African-American brothers.
The abolition movement of Dwight’s day was successful. History books tell us that the fight against slavery was won as the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, making slavery illegal and ensuring the eventual release of all slaves in the United States. Although many will still admit that racial oppression exists in North America in many forms, most would argue that slavery ended with the Civil war.
Modern Human Trafficking
Most people don’t know that there are more slaves worldwide today than there have ever been at any other point in history. According to a US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report published in 2005, at least 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80% of people caught in the slave trade are women and girls, many of whom are forced into prostitution. Up to 50% of the people trafficked are minors. All are forced into situations and arrangements that were not their choice.
Some were abducted and turned into child soldiers. These are the stories we hear coming from Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony terrorized the northern half of the country during the 1990’s. They forced children and teens to serve as soldiers, moving from village to village abducting tens of thousands of civilians. Some of the people who were trafficked escaped, but many more are unaccounted for.
Others were sold by their families to pay off debts and spend years working in torturous conditions. Young women are sold as house helpers or maids, told that they will be paid but are held captive with no rights or wages.
Still more were lured into false agreements, promised jobs or schooling, and then pimped out at one of thousands of brothels around the world. UNICEF estimates that two children are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation every minute. The face of slavery may have changed in the last 150 years, but the abolition movement is far from over.
Chains Shall He Break
It is my hope that when we sing that “the slave is our brother” we will no longer fail to recognize that our brothers and sisters are still slaves. We also must understand that Christ is still breaking the chains of the oppressed. He used John Sullivan Dwight and other abolitionists to begin the movement against the global slave trade, but the work continues today and we must be willing to, in his name, work towards the end of all oppression.