After drug trade and counterfeiting, human trafficking is estimated to be the largest criminal industry in the world. Almost 25 million victims are trapped in modern day slavery, a quarter of which are children. The number of prosecutions is alarmingly low. (1) What does the bible say about the stealing of people? And how should that inform and activate the worldwide church?
During our week-long visit of biblical sites in Greece with the AICEME network of international churches earlier this year, we had the honor of hearing professor Myrto Theocharous summarise her findings on the topic of human trafficking in light of Deuteronomy 24:7, where peoplestealing is condemned.
The emphasis in the book of Deuteronomy is on protecting people, particularly those who are vulnerable. Peoplestealing carried the death penalty for various conceived reasons. Professor Theocharous suggested that it reverses the exodus and violates God’s “property rights”. In addition, it is a form of “social murder”, cutting people off from their family and community - indeed from their own bodies - with far-going and life-long consequences.
Photo by lalesh aldarwish from Pexels
She pointed out that the bible is unique in its emphasis on protecting humans over property. In most ancient laws, humans and possessions could be treated similarly. However, in the bible, no property theft carried the death penalty - only people theft did. As far as I understand, in Swedish law, human trafficking (människorov) is punished more heavily than theft (grov stöld): 4-18 years versus 6 months-6 years. However, in some countries, such as Greece, the sentences do not differ as much. In in some cases, fines can be paid instead of prison sentence - this is nothing less than human commodification.
The most radical part of her lecture was her advice to the church: “What does the death penalty for peoplestealing teach the believers of the Church? Is it a call for them to push towards introducing capital punishment? Or is it rather an exhortation that it is appropriate for believers to respond by dedicating their lives to seeking, rescuing, protecting, and investing in the lives of these victims—life for life? If someone must “die” for this crime to stop, should it not be the Church that gives itself over as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) in the manner of their Lord (Luke 9:23; 1 John 3:16), thus making a public declaration of the pricelessness of humanity?” (2)
1. Human Rights First, Human Trafficking by the Numbers, viewed 10 July 2018, https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers.
2. Theocharous, M. (2013). Stealing Souls - Human Trafficking and Deuteronomy 24:7. In: J. DeRouchie, J. Gile, and K. Turner, ed., For Our Good Always - Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns Inc., pp.508-509.