Thursday, April 16, 2015

The other, older slave trade

Quick review & background:

Ancient slavery has its roots deep in our past, stemming from humanity’s fallen self-centered nature.  God created humankind free, yet slavery is found earlier than the time of the Biblical Abraham.  Many ancient nations despised manual labor and consigned it to slaves.  Many of these were prisoners taken in conquests of various kingdoms.  All ancient civilizations were built on slave labor—Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the ancient civilizations of Central America, and the great kingdoms of Africa.  In Grace, ¾ the population of Athens were slaves.  In Roman society, a rich man “needed” at least two slaves to carry him to the circus, but eight to ten usually went along just to impress people.  The more powerful Romans had staffs of over a thousand slaves, and some emperors had 20,000 or more.  In the Greek and Roman world, human beings had no intrinsic value.  Their value was only as citizens of the state, and only a small minority qualified as such. 
Decline of slavery with the spread of Christianity
This began to change with the advent of Christianity.  The teachings and example of Jesus “pulled the rug” from under the basic supporting premises of slavery.  When people of means began to become Christians, many of them used their wealth for the relief of the poor and suffering, and the liberation of slaves by Christians became common in the Roman Empire, especially on Easter Sunday.  Gradually the vise of slavery began to be loosened and slavery all but disappeared from the civilizations touched by Rome, leaving only “Slavic” names to remind some that they were once slave populations.
Islam reintroduces slavery
With the advent of Islam, all that began to regress quickly.  Part of this was because Muslims naturally followed the example of their founder, who both traded in slaves and owned slaves himself.  Since his example is paramount in Muslim thinking, slavery has always been deeply ingrained in Muslim tradition.  Perhaps this was best said by Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of the Senior Council of Clerics in Saudi Arabia.  He said, “Slavery is a part of Islam and whoever wants it abolished is an infidel.”

Part of this was also because of the teaching of the Qur’an.  According to its teachings, masters were permitted to enjoy their female slaves, and it is justified to enslave “infidels” and their children.  In Islamic vocabulary, that included (and still includes) Christians, Jews, and anyone who does not submit to Islam. 

A few years back, I watched a TV program that purported to be historical.  The man was easily identifiable as a Muslim apologist.  He poo-pooed the idea of Islamic slavery, an extensive trade in African slaves that pre-dated transatlantic slavery.  He asked, “If all these slaves were sold into Europe and the Middle East, where are they today?”  The answer was easy.  I’m sure he must have known it, historian that he was.  I think he was just counting on the idea that not many others would know it. 

The reason there are not many descendants of the African slaves traded by Muslims is that they had a practice of stopping at certain cities in the Sahara as the slave caravans passed through, where most males were castrated.  Such “eunuchs” brought the highest prices, but sadly only 1/10 to 1/30 of them survived the ordeal.  In general, Islamic slavery had very high death rates.  It is estimated that 80% died on the long, harsh march through the Sahara.  Others were killed in battle, for Muslim rulers conscripted male slaves into their armies as young as ten years old.  Although many modern historians choose to ignore that part of the history of slavery, in fact Islam dominated the African slave trade from the 7th to the 15th centuries—a period of 800 years, much longer than the later transatlantic slave trade existed.

Not all Islamic slavery (sometimes called by the fuzzy name Arab slavery) exported slaves to the Middle East and Europe.  In the Muslim Songhay Kingdom in West Africa, for example, non-Muslims were enslaved and used in agriculture.  Over time they became “vassal peasants” but they were still little different from slaves & formed the bulk of the population.

Of course, Muslims slavers, like the transatlantic slavers who followed them, did not enslave blacks totally on their own.  As it was in Europe before the advent of Christianity, many African tribes had their own slaves, often prisoners of war from intertribal fighting.  For example, the Nupe of northern Nigeria, the Ibo of southeastern Nigeria, the Ashanti of Ghana, and Dahomey of Benin all used slave labor in agriculture and other forms of manual labor.  In some cases, defeated kings were required to pay tributes of slaves annually.  Some were sacrificed in the “annual office” to renew the power of the king, while others worked for the royal family and the elite class.  This played into the hands of slave traders, for the kings were happy to sell some of their slaves first to the Muslim traders, and later to the transatlantic traders.

Today, a huge emphasis has been placed on the transatlantic trade that began in 1519 in Europe, when Emperor Charles V brought slaves from Africa, and in America in 1619 with the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia.  This is natural, for it is the history of the vast majority of African-Americans.  It also affected more people, because the need for virtually free labor to produce southern cotton swelled the demand for slaves beyond all previous numbers.  It is unfortunate, however, that we have largely forgotten what preceded the transatlantic trade.  The Islamic trade of the 800 years before was not as large, but lasted longer and was in some ways even more cruel and deadly.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter in the early church--slaves set free!

Liberation of slaves was frequent in the early church, and especially on Easter.

Christianity was born in a world that was overwhelmed with slavery.  Rome, the dominant world power, was utterly dependent on slave labor.  The message of Jesus and the New Testament, while not forbidding slavery nor organizing any campaign to abolish it, struck at the very roots of slavery, to dry up its power much as popular herbicides works to kill stubborn weeds from the roots up.

Slavery thrived because the elite classes despised manual labor, but Jesus dignified labor by working as a carpenter.  Slavery thrived on the distinction of privileged masters and powerless servants.  Jesus chose to take the form of a servant, washing His disciples’ feet.  Slavery thrived with loving oneself and looking down on enemies, especially those captured in warfare; Jesus taught us to love, pray for, and serve even our enemies.  Slavery thrived on deep-rooted traditions based in the sinful nature of man; Jesus had a habit of calling people back to God’s original intention in the beginning of things.  He reminded us that God created people free and gave them the dignity of choice.  The exercise of choice is possible only in liberty and not in slavery.  Christianity promoted the equality of its members, accepting slave and slavemaster as equal brothers and sisters serving side by side in the church (see Galatians 3:28). 

Because of the Christian emphasis on love and mercy to all, slavery was soon rid of most of its extreme features of cruelty.  For instance, a popular Christian writing said a master just love his servant:  “Let him consider wherein they are equal even as he is a man…he should love his slave as a brother” (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book IV, xii).  The same book instructed masters not to command their slaves “with bitterness of soul, let they groan against thee and wrath be upon thee from God” (Constitutions, Book VII, xiii).  It further taught Christians that the slaves ought to work only five days a week and be permitted to go to church for instruction on Sunday and other special days of the church (Constitutions, Book VII, xxxiii).  Christians who had taken concubine slaves before conversion were required to marry them legally before baptism (Constitutions, Book VII, xxxii).

This does not mean Christians approved of slavery.  The admonitions of early Christian writers for believing slaves to serve their masters wholeheartedly may be compared with admonitions of pro-lifers to avoid bombing abortion clinics and executing abortionists.  The act of abortion is abhorrent and inherently immoral, but since it is now legal and Christians have thus far been unable to change that, Christian leaders urge their followers to keep within the limits of the law.

What we find in early Christian writers (popularly called the Church Fathers) is an emphasis on being free in spirit to serve Christ, regardless on one’s status in life.  Abrose wrote that the slave might be superior in character to his master and might be more truly free (Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Expansion of the Christian Church, p. 622).  He encouraged Christians to free slaves, writing, “the highest kind of liberality is to redeem captives, to save them from the hands of their enemies.”  In 378 A.D., Trace and Illyria were devastated by the Goths and a multitude were carried away into slavery.  At that time, Ambrose redeemed all he could.

Indded, one of the most exciting things to me, has been to learn that in the second and third centuries after Christ, tens of thousands of slaves were freed by people who converted the Christ, and who then understood the inherent wrongness of the slave condition.  Melania is said to have freed 8,000 slaves, Ovidus 5,000, Chromatius 1400, and Hermes 1200 (Schmidt, p. 274, from W.E.H. Lecky, History of European Morals, 1911).  One popular Christian book said that Christians should not attend heathen gatherings “unless to purchase a slave and save a soul” (by teaching the slave of Christ and then freeing him or her) (Constitutions, Book ii, Section VII).  Church law in the early fifth century allowed for liberation (called manumission) of slaves during church services (Canon LIIIV, The African Code Canons, also called the Canons of the Fathers assembled at Carthage, 419.A.D.)

 This happened because many Christian converts at that time were people of considerable wealth.  Converted out of a decadent, totally self-centered society, many Christians sold their goods and lands and used the proceeds to help the poor, support hospitals, take in orphans, free prisoners, and liberate slaves.  Liberation was frequent, and freedmen soon became a prominent feature of society.

Augustine led many clergy under his authority at Hippo to free their slaves “as an act of piety.”  (Of the work of Monks, p. 25, Vol. 3, Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers).  He boldly wrote a letter urging the emperor to set up a new law against slave traders and was very much concerned about the sale of children.  Christian emperors of his time for 25 years had permitted sale of children, not because they approved of it, but as a way of preventing infanticide when parents were unable to care for a child (The Saints, p. 72).  In his famous book, “The City of God,” the development of slavery is seen as a product of sin and contrary to God’s divine plan” (The City of God, Ch. 15, p. 411, Vol II, Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers).

Freeing slaves in those days took great conviction and courage, since the Roman emperors issued edicts unfavorable to it, and keeping on the good side of the emperor was essential to survival.  Not until Justinian (527-565 A.D.) did Christians find an emperor who was sympathetic to what they had been doing (Schmidt, p. 274).

The practice of freeing slaves began quite early, for Clement of Alexandria, who was probably a contemporary of the Apostle Paul, said in his Epistle to the Corinthians no. 55, “Some Christians surrendered their own freedom to liberate others or even money to provide food for others.”  He talks as if it is common knowledge of which he is reminding them.  He also says it was a church custom in his time to redeem prisoners of war from servitude.  He wrote that Christians should not have too many domestic slaves.  He said men did this because they disliked working with their own hands and serving themselves (The Instructor, Book II, Chapter IV).

Ignatius, in his epistle to Herodustus, urges believers to “despise not servants, for we possess the same nature in common with them” (I, p. 114).  Basil (330-379) wrote of slaves and masters as all being fellow slaves of our Creator and spoke of “our mutual equality of rank” (On the Spirit, Ch. xx).  Lactantius in the fourth century wrote that in God’s eyes there were no slaves (Divine Institues, mentioned in Schmidt, p. 274). 

In the fourth century, Chrysostom wrote that Christ annulled slavery and admonished Christian to buy slaves, teach them a marketable skill, and set them free.  The freeing of slaves by Christians was so common in his time that some people complained Christianity had been introduced just for that purpose.  In the fifth century, Patrick, Celtic Christian missionary to Ireland, actually condemned slavery. (Schmidt, p. 275).

In fact, due to the influence of Christianity, slavery was rapidly declining and had all but disappeared from much of Europe when the advent and subsequent conquests of Islam brought a rebirth of the slave trade.  That is a subject for another post.  It is enough on this Easter Sunday to recognize all those early Christians who spent their own resources to free others from bondage.  Thank you.  I have tried to follow in your footsteps.
(Information from my original research in the Church Fathers)


Monday, July 23, 2012


I've heard a lot of talk about The Hunger Games book & movie, so recently on my trip home from Ghana, I took advantage of the opportunity to watch the film on the plane.

All the way through, I kept being reminded of the situation we are facing in West Africa with ritual servitude or shrine slavery.  It has many forms and is called by many names--trokosi, fiashidi, worwokye, vaudonsi, yevesi, etc.

First, there was the devastating control of one group of people who had arbitrarily set themselves up over the others.  One of the most striking things about the film was the inhuman, callous way in which the rulers treated the others, the way in which they used them for their own amusement, disregarding the awful, devastating consequences, the suffering and senseless death which resulted.
I see those features played out today in real life in Ghana, Togo and Benin.  Priests and priestesses and shrine owners and elders set themselves up over others.  They send out spirits to hunt down and kill people.  When those same people resort to the shrines for help, they consult those same spirits they sent out to do such mischief and ask them how to stop the mischief they sent them out to do.  Surprise, surprise.  The spirits need another virgin girl to come and suffer in perpetual servitude as a sex slave of the priest who serves them. 

In the Hunger Games we see the callous, inhuman treatment of others, using them as pawn in a game for their own amusement.  In shrine slavery we see girls whipped, forced to kneel on broken glass with their arms raised high for hours, starved, forced to eat off the ground like a dog, stripped naked, forced to sleep on the bare ground stacked in like logs, cut with a razor, denied education and human companionship.  In the Hunger Games we see an MC laugh about every difficulty the victims face.  In shrine slavery we meet priests who repeatedly have sex with these young girls without ever managing to show them one shred of affection.
In the Hunger Games we see a deference to an ancient tradition that could not be questioned just because it was a tradition.  In modern-day West Africa, shrine slavery survives for that very reason.  Although it is illegal in Ghana, the government makes no attempt to enforce the law because it is an ancient tradition.  The Afrikania "Mission" brazenly argues that it should not be challenged because it is their tradition in Ghana.  (Sometimes.  At other times it argues that it is a dying practice and at other times Afrikania denies that it exists.)  But when it is upheld, it is always upheld on the basis of tradition.  Just like the Hunger Games.

The tradition itself is utterly destructive, but this is made palatable by garish costumes and empty, raucous laughter.  So the tradition of ritual servitude is made palatable by traditional costumes or royalty under giant umbrellas, pompous parades and annual festivals that rake in tourist dollars.

The tradition is sadly accepted by the masses.  It's too big to challenge.  The best one can do is to heroically deny the rulers their "winner" for one single year.  Ritual servitude is too widely accepted.  It is passed over too lightly.

In the Hunger Games, the annual victim  is made into a hero who supposedly saves the community for another year.  In trokosi and other forms of ritual servitude, the unfortunate victim is given as a sort of living sacrifice to the gods.  Some traditionalists extol her servitude and suffering as saving the family and the whole community from certain doom.  Yet she never chose to become a heroine or to give her life as an atonement for the sins of her ancestors or family.
In the Hunger Games, there is no evidence that anything dire will happen if the annual games are discontinued.  The need for them is solely in the minds of the rulers who profit from them.  Indeed, so very much like trokosi yevesi, vaudonsi, and other forms of ritual servitude.  The chains that bind the victims are not physical chains but they are perhaps more powerful and profound.  They are the chains of fear, the chains of control, forged tightly about their victims to the profit and pleasure those in control.
Do you think the Hunger Games are far-fetched?  Are you sure we'd never do anything like that, as intelligent, caring human beings?  Before you become too sure, I invite you to come to West Africa and let Every Child Ministries introduce you to victims of ritual servitude.  Listen to their stories.  Then watch the movie again and make your own comparison.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why I Can Never Be Politically Correct

I can't be politically correct. I admit it. I am not even going to try.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a hater, not even of those with whom I passionately disagree.

But I can't pretend that all religions are the same and that they are all good.

I could talk about this from the viewpoint of Scripture, which I do regard as authoritative. But my experience bears out what the Scripture says about religions who turn from the creator to worship the creature. And right now, my heart is burning with my own experience.

I have shed so many tears over the children of Africa. Tears for a preschool girl whose eye teeth were sawed out of her jaw to make powerful medicine to enable someone to get rich. Traditional religion. Tears for a boy who at one day old had his testicles and penis cut off because the father believed the child was bad luck. Traditional religion. A girl who was forced to laugh while she watched their friends kill their parents in order to survive. LRA--Roots in traditional religion.
Another girl who was enslaved at a traditional shrine so young that her mother had to go back every day in order to nurse her. A shy young girl who was enslaved at a shrine at 13, stripped and forcibly raped by the priest. So many beautiful children, so many precious lives, so terribly torn asunder. All in the name of traditional religion.

I am supposed to speak kindly of all religions, as if they were all equal. That's political correctness, you know. Sorry, I can't do that. I have seen too much. I have shed too many tears. I have felt too much of the children's pain.

I am not saying, of course, that all the troubles of Africa's children are due to African Traditional Religion, but ATR surely plays a huge part in their pain. Neither am I saying that we as Christians are perfect and have always done what is right. We are human beings, and I am painfully aware of my own sins and shortcomings and many of those of my brothers and sisters.

Yet I face the evidence of this truth again and again. African traditional religion is a major abuser of Africa's children, causing untold pain and suffering. Think of the little boy who had his private parts removed. He was deprived of marriage and fatherhood. He was opened to ridicule and shame his whole life. To say nothing of the agony of the actual procedure.

In ancient religions, certain gods required the sacrifice of children. It seems to me that those same or similar spirits are at work in African Traditional Religion today, working constantly for the destruction of Africa's children.

At Every Child Ministries where I work we have a motto that I believe with all my heart. We say "Children are Africa's (and any nation's) greatest resource--A precious treasure from God." Oh, how I long to help Africa's families understand the preciousness of the treasures God gives them in their children!

No, I can never be politically correct. Too many tears have washed it completely out of my soul.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A New Journey

I've begun another new journey. I've seen so many devastated lives caused by modern-day slavery and I want to be able to help more than I have. After doing some enlightening reading about attachment disorder and similar topics, I have decided to start studying again. I'm closer to 66 than I am to 65, but I have started courses which will lead to my Ph.D. in Christian counseling. I don't remember things like I used to, but I am asking God to help me. I need to be able to offer more to those whose lives have been destroyed. I need to be able to write training materials for our workers who help them day by day, and to have credentials that everyone will recognize to enable me to do so. I also want to be able to evaluate counselors who come to Every Child Ministries with different backgrounds and who use different methods. I want to be sure about what methods we want to follow and which we don't.

It's not that I need another thing to do. My life is full and overflowing already. It's just another of those tasks for which God has tapped me on the shoulder and said, "This one has your name on it." I'm excited, & I'm on my way!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Does It Matter Where the Power Comes From?

I just read an article that came out in CHRISTIANITY TODAY about what they call "Fake Pastors" in Ghana. In the article a fetish priest (occult practitioner) claims that over a thousand pastors have come to him seeking spiritural power from the gods he serves. Another woman is quoted as saying she doesn't care where the power comes from as long as it can help her with her problems. From my own experience, these are very common problems in Ghana and in many African countries.

A few years ago a Ghanaian pastor friend asked me to teach in his church. I sought God to know what I could share in only one session that might be a significant help to the people. My basic thesis was that as believers in Jesus Christ, we needed to seek God and His power alone. If we earnestly sought God and He for whatever reason did not see fit to grant our request, it would be better not to get our request. I talked about how God was all-wise, trustworthy, and always had our ultimate good at heart. I showed how Satan gives his gifts only with very serious and very destructive strings attached. I really wanted to make the point, so I told them (truthfully) that if my own precious child was sick and God did not see fit to heal that child, it would be better for the child to die than to seek power from occult sources. (I was not speaking against the use of medical intervention; I was speaking against seeking spiritual power from spirits other than God's Spirit.) I could tell the people were shocked. They had never considered such an idea before. I could tell the pastor was shocked. Apologetic. Embarrassed. In Ghanaian culture, getting what you want is of the ultimate importance. How you get it is not considered important. It's a huge mistake. My messsage did not impress the crowd that day, but I still stand by it. It was the right message.

Working as a modern-day abolitionist, I see occult power tied to death, child sacrifice, ritual abuse and slavery on a regular basis. I have come to understand that the gods worshiped in the shrines of African Traditional Religion do have some power. They can and sometimes do grant healing. It is ALWAYS, however, a conditional healing. It lasts only as long as the subject continues to live as a slave to the fetish. Those gods can and do help infertile women get pregnant. That child is claimed by the gods as their own, is obligated to serve the gods for life, and may be controlled mentally and physically by those spirit owners. For those like me who value freedom, it is definitely not worth it. Heal my child by making him a life slave of Satan? No, thank you.

My only hope is that these chains can be broken by Jesus Christ, the great Liberator, to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given. I have seen that happen over and over again. When the power comes from Him, it is freeing, because the Scripture says that if Jesus makes us free, we will be free indeed. Oh, yes. It DOES matterr where the power comes from.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Abuse Follows the Same Themes

As I've learned more about human trafficking issues, I've realized that to learn how it works I don't need to limit myself to reading about cases in Africa, although that's my primary calling from God. Human trafficking and human abuse works pretty much the same the world over. That's why I was confident that when I taught my recent workshop of human trafficking, I could help those whose interest was centered on their homeland America or any other place in the world.

Recently I've been studying all I can find about healing and counseling survivors of sexual abuse, preparing to launch ECM's ministry to victims of the sex industry in a bigger way. And as I read about how abusers deliberately use shame to control and manipulate their victims, I thought about how the abusive LRA army that ravaged northern Uganda would force children to kill their parents or siblings, then tell them that they were so bad that even God would never forgive them, no one would ever accept them again, and their only hope for survival was with the LRA. The same old lies. The same deceptions. The same twisted messages. The same diabolic techniques. Satan is not very creative. God is the Creator. His enemy can only take what God has made, twist it, distort it, and misuse it. The more I learn about abuse the more I realize that whether children are forced into killing or prostitution, it's the exact same method of manipulation.

It makes it a lot easier to understand the old devil's techniques, because he repeats the same old tunes over and over in slightly different circumstances. It's heart-rending to see all the damage being done to the next generation. One thing gives me hope. God is Truth and His truth is stronger than all the lies of the enemy.

Please pray that God will continue to give me understanding. If I desire one spiritual gift above all others, it would be spiritual discernment. I need it so much in the work God has given me.