Last Friday we celebrated National Freedom Day. On that day we commemorated the events of February 1, 1865, on which President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint House and Senate resolution that would later become the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, declaring that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude would exist in the United States of America.
If only it were true.
It is 2013, almost 150 years since that historic day, yet slavery persists in America. It persists where abusive spouses control their families through emotional, physical and psychological coercion, forcing them to live in fear, in subjugation and in submission. It persists where domestic workers and factory laborers are forced to work in inhumane conditions—subjected to long hours, little-to-no pay, abuse, dangerous working environments, and threats to involve immigration or other authorities. And it persists where women and children are bought and sold for sex every day as commodities rather than as human beings.
The 13th Amendment was a remarkable accomplishment. Unlike the rest of the Constitution, which only places restrictions on what the government can do, the 13th Amendment placed restrictions on everyone. It said that nobody—neither the government nor anybody else—was allowed to own another human being.
The problem, however, is that the 13th Amendment only said what could NOT be done, and not what the government was required TO DO, and any law is only as good as its enforcement. Thus, while we live in a society in which we are supposedly free, that freedom has its limits—confined by our own depravity and the myriad ways we continue to oppress one another.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. . . .” This means that in Christ, we are free. This also means that there is something about the essential quality of freedom that made it worth freedom for Christ to set us free. Dwell on that for a moment. What was it about freedom that made it worth Jesus’ pain, suffering, and time separated from His Father to set us free?
In the freedom we have in Jesus, we are no longer under the law, we are beholden to no one, and we are slaves to no master, not even our own demons, our own pasts or our own sins. Of course, we are called to use our freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13), but this is not within the confines of the Law, but rather out of the freedom of choosing to serve and to love God.
My husband and I have the privilege of working for Agape International Missions, and we leave on Sunday to go work in Cambodia for the next three months to work with young women and girls who have been abused in sex trafficking. This horrendous tragedy persists not only in Cambodia, but also around the world, including the United States. In our work, it is devastating to know about the countless women and children who are coerced by pimps and traffickers to sell their bodies for sex. Yet we continue this work because we have also been blessed to see young women abused in sexual slavery find freedom, not only in the physical and tangible sense, but also freedom from the psychological, emotional and spiritual trauma to which they have been subjected.
While the former may come from the work of law enforcement and the government–and that work is important–the latter comes only when they are freed from the demons and the lies from their past, which tell them they are dirty, unlovable, and only good for one thing. Those lies must gradually be replaced by a new identity and new truths about who they are, about their value, and about their potential and capacity for real love.
The 13th Amendment didn’t mark the end of slavery, though it was certainly a landmark victory in the fight to end involuntary servitude and abuse in the United States. Even were it perfectly enforced, however, it still would not be enough. No, true freedom comes only through the work of Christ—that makes us new creations, whereby the old passes away and the new takes its place (2 Corinthians 5:17).