New Wine, New Wineskins, a ministry through Multnomah Biblical Seminary, which Metzger founded and directs, is holding a conference this April entitled “Bound: A Conference on the Global Slave Trade” (visit www.new-wineskins.org for more information). This conference is relevant to the many issues explored in Consuming Jesus. Consumerism, along with race and class divisions, not only permeates and infects the church; these issues also greatly propel and foster the booming international slave trade. The “bound” are our brothers and sisters down the street and overseas, who reap the disheartening and flat-out evil effects of those wanting things quickly, cheaply, and for great profit. These “things” include anything from vegetables to shoes to diamonds to sex. The global slave trade is so intricately bound up with consumerism and race and class divisions, since those who have the most and consume the most are often considered the most valuable from consumerism’s standpoint. Those from the developing world and from underdeveloped places in our region who have less and consume less are often considered less valuable. Thus, their plight does not affect as much those of us who have more–especially when they look different from us. However, as Christ followers, we are called to bear witness to the all-consuming, compassionate Christ whose love knows no bounds and who cares for the poor, the orphan, and the widow in their distress. If we would follow Jesus, we must follow him wherever he goes–caring for the least of these–wherever they might be–around the world.
But the slave trade is not just out there somewhere–across town or across the globe. The slave trade encompasses every facet of our lives. As consumers, we drive the economy. If a sweatshop over in Bangladesh is making valuable profit off the backs of forced labor, then what will motivate this business to change and implement humane practices? In a profit-driven world, the profit-driven mentality maintains: “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it–and it’s not broke.” But if the backs of those forced into slave labor are broken, how can the economy not be broken?
I receive a lot of criticism when I discuss my conviction not to buy clothes made in third-world countries. I realize that not supporting the economy in an already impoverished country may sound like an unstable solution. The main question that people pose to me is, “These are poor countries. What will happen to those economies if we just quit buying from over there?”
My response is this: Within the power and control that I have, I don’t want to perpetuate an oppressive market. If I support a broken system, what will drive it to change? I don’t want to exacerbate the dire situation in poverty-stricken countries. If there are enough consumers refusing to support sweat shops and communicating clearly (using buying power, joining advocacy groups and companies i.e., Tradeasone.com) what is and is not acceptable, then businesses will be forced to re-adjust (think: Nike & The Gap were driven to improve their work ethic overseas). When forced labor is the only option for the poor, then this is where they will remain. But imagine if better job conditions were available to the common people; it would allow individuals freedom in other areas of their lives: if they are thriving in better working environments, they won’t be as susceptible to sex trafficking, and they won’t be as vulnerable to the deception of other traffickers promising a better life. Eventually this better living situation will significantly reduce poverty and slavery.
With every purchase we make we are casting a vote. As Dr. Metzger says in Consuming Jesus, the cancerous consumer culture encourages us to get what we want when we want it at the least cost to ourselves. In view of his challenge to the consumer culture, we need to ask ourselves: What about the cost to others?
If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. An unwillingness to confront an evil structural problem coupled with a defeatist attitude leads us to do just what the enemy would have us do–nothing. And such failure to act assists those in power in the slave trade in keeping slaves just where they want them–earning barely enough to survive, making just enough to keep coming back.
As consumers in the US, we have the freedom to make choices. This necessitates humble, sober responsibility and intentionality. We must do what we can with what we have. We are part of a larger whole that has the incredible power to shape and change our economy and structures. That is a blessing, which, if not treated wisely, can also be a curse. Let us make it a blessing for Christ’s kingdom work here on earth. Please pray. Please act responsibly. Please join us for “Bound”–New Wineskins’ conference on the global slave trade on April 12.
I realize that refusing to support the forced labor economy in third world countries will not in and of itself solve the massive problem at hand. This problem is so deeply rooted in our fallen humanity that there is no quick fix. I do wonder though, as Christ followers and as the church, what other things can we do. Honestly, if Jesus were on this earth today, with all the social and structural evil permeating even the smallest decisions, how would he live? What would his purchasing decisions look like? What sort of businesses would he support? Which temples/markets would he storm, and what tables would he overturn? And beyond that, what sort of neighborhood would he live in? What would his church look like? All these questions get at our worldviews, and more importantly, our hearts’ desires. So, it’s not simply “What would Jesus do?” It’s also “What would Jesus value?”
I am curious what you think. In light of the slave trade and consumerism, how responsible do you feel with where your money goes? Do you think it’s even worth it to try to fight such a massive beast with your own wallet? And I wonder, if in the end you understood that all of your efforts were futile, would you still live in light of that hope with intentionality anyway in the name of Christ and with a moral conscience? I think of the prophet Jeremiah who is known as the weeping prophet. He never saw a convert in his lifetime, despite his blood, sweat, and tears. But he was a victor in Christ’s eyes. In light of eternity he was a success because he lived out his calling in faithfulness to God. As Christ followers, our calling is to live redemptively, to live on earth in light of heaven. Whether or not my purchasing decisions greatly affect the horrific slave trade in the end should not be my primary concern. Just like the prophets, my primary concern should not be results driven, but rather driven by God’s love, which far exceeds “success stories” and sustains us when failures abound. This is one of the things I’m wrestling with: How much do you think our decisions are driven by external, worldly results? And in what ways do you think these factors affect and exacerbate the horrors of the slave trade?