Rev. Lisa E. Caton
Human trafficking is a “red alert” in the realm of human rights. Last week’s “Price of Life” events at the College increased our awareness of current day practices of selling human beings for profit — either to become sex slaves or forced into tribal warfare as young children. In both instances women and children have no choice.
Indignation comes naturally in the face of such extraordinary and appalling abuse and we must condemn it. However, we must also become alert to ways that our own beliefs and actions may inadvertently undermine the authority of women and the rights of all human beings.
Women in this country are still fighting for control over their bodies. Limiting reproductive rights, including the right to have an abortion, is considered moral high ground for those who promote legislation that prevents women from making these profoundly personal decisions. Such legislation infantilizes women and prevents them from doing the soul searching that is part of becoming mature and responsible human beings.
Religious organizations that prevent women from taking positions of ultimate authority also undermine women’s rights. Such authority is based on cultural realities and traditions from a time when women were treated as property. Often cloaked in language of high regard for motherhood, such organizations ignore the truth that women need to be in positions of authority in order to create a safer and more humane society. The empowerment of women is essential in order to break the cycle of poverty that makes human trafficking possible. Limiting the ability of women to rise to the highest positions in religious organizations suggests that they remain second-class citizens.
Sexual preference is the elephant in the room in the human rights arena. Sex trafficking is about forcing people to have sex for money. Denying people the freedom to choose same-sex partners is the opposite side of the same coin. Both actions obstruct basic human rights in a way that is contrary to fundamental ethical precepts and the principles upon which this country was built.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the Bible, he wrote, “ There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Paul’s words were an aspiration then and they remain so today. One gender or religion or class or race does not have any inherent right to restrict the rights of others. Eliminating human trafficking requires direct immediate action as well as changes in attitudes, religious doctrine and laws relating to gender equality and sexual preferences. The “red alert” sounded on campus last week needs to be expanded to embrace a broader range of issues in each of our lives that indirectly undermine the ability of women to take care of themselves and protect their children.
The Rev. Lisa E. Caton, Chaplain at Canterbury House — The Episcopal Church at TCNJ and adjunct faculty.