Lutherans Confront Human Trafficking

Lutherans from around the world have gathered near Geneva, Switzerland, to draw attention to the plight of refugees, slave laborers and forced sex workers.

"God weeps with those who cry," Dagmar Magold, president of the Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Switzerland, and the Rev. Marc Blessing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, told participants Thursday. "God is at the side of those who are imprisoned, voiceless and terrified with fear."

"Upholding Human Dignity: Confronting Human Trafficking" is the theme of the Lutheran World Federation's Oct. 22-27 Council meeting this week.

Participating Lutherans were informed that in the Swiss canton of Vaud alone humanitarian organizations identified 19 cases of modern slavery within ten months.

Forced sex workers are beaten, drugged and threatened with death, the Lutheran church representatives – along with the Rev. Lusmarina Campos Garcia of the Church of Geneva – noted. They are often sold from one place to another in order to maintain their dependence, isolated from colleagues and placed under constant supervision. Magold, Blessing and Garcia called fellow Lutherans to engage in vigorous action against this form of injustice.

The grim report and call to action opened the Council meeting, which is held once every 12 to 18 months between Lutheran World Federation assemblies – held every six years.

The meeting comes as the ongoing global financial crisis is forcing more people into extreme poverty, making them more susceptible to human trafficking, according to a 2009 U.S. State Department report. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are at least 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time. More than half of all forced labor victims are women and girls.

LWF General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko in 2007 called for interfaith cooperation to address the problem.

"It is quite clear in my mind that there is a need to address the fundamental moral issues that lie behind the demand and supply side of this trade," he said during an international forum. "This is a special task of religious leaders, that can be effectively undertaken when religious communities are committed to working beyond their own denominational lines of division."

The phenomenon of human trafficking is not new, he noted. "It has been present as an expression of human cruelty and greed since time immemorial. The dimensions and scale of the trade today, however, present one of the worst faces of globalization."

Noko, who is leaving office next year, called religious leaders the "custodians of our most fundamental values" and reminded them that they have a responsibility to help establish a society in which "a deep regard for the inherent dignity of every human being would be the strongest possible protection against this abhorrent trade."

The Council is responsible for the business of the Federation between assemblies. It elects and directs the work of the general secretary and the treasurer, sets the budget, and presents an annual report to its 140 member churches – which represent over 68.5 million Christians.

The Council decided to delay voting on the election of a new general secretary from Thursday to later in the six-day meeting. Noko has served as general secretary since 1994.