God in a Brothel

Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue (InterVarsity, 2011), 209 pages

Human trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking, has risen into public consciousness over the past decade. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of persons by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them. The United Nations estimates that worldwide more than 2.5 million people are trafficked annually and more than half are children. Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking ranges from domestic servitude and small-scale labor operations to large-scale operations such as farms, sweatshops, and major multinational corporations. 

Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation in prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. While awareness of sex trafficking has increased recently, with the number of children enslaved topping 2 million, this type of sexual exploitation has been a global phenomenon for more than four decades.

Organizations like International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and others combat sex trafficking and care for and rehabilitate victims. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Daryl Hannah are activists. Taken and Trade are examples of popular movies that depict the exploitation and horror of sex trafficking. Authors like Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Carolyn James, Kathryn Farr, Patricia McCormick, Siddharth Kara, Kevin Bales, E. Benjamin Skinner, Victor Malarek, and now Daniel Walker, with his book God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking, are informing millions of readers about sex trafficking and inspiring them to respond.

The Global Sex Industry 

Walker is an undercover investigator who infiltrated the multi-billion-dollar global sex industry for the purpose of freeing women and children from sex trafficking. Walker tells of horrific exploitation and abuse. Children and young teens are raped multiple times a day by evil men participating in the brutal and corrupt sex industry. Many parts of the book are exhilarating and joyful as hundred of sex slaves are set free thanks for Walker’s dedication and courage. There are dramatic rescues in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the United States. There is also a haunting darkness about those left behind to suffer or die in the brothel or at the hands of corrupt systems of law enforcement. But Walker’s story is not only about the sex slaves and the sex trade. He also reveals the intimate personal pain and loss of fighting this evil on the front lines.

Combating sex trafficking is one issue that Republican, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, atheists, British, Chinese, and just about everyone else can all rhetorically shake hands on. Sex trafficking has taken center stage in many nations as an issue of a threat to national security and societal cohesion. But with all the consensus about the evils of sex trafficking, why does this industry continue to flourish?

Supply and Demand

It flourishes because there is a wall of complacency, complicity, and corruption. Sex trafficking runs by the laws of supply and demand. Demand is generated by thousands of men around the world. Economic, social, cultural, and gender factors make women and children vulnerable to being exploited as an endless supply.

The international political economy of sex includes the supply side—the women and children raped and abused multiple times daily. But this side cannot maintain itself without the demand from the organizers of the trade. These evildoers pay from a few dollars to thousands of dollars to rape and abuse women and children. The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains misogyny, abuse, sexual assault, and exploitation of millions of women and children worldwide.

God in a Brothel addresses rescuing sex slaves (engaging the supply side) and investigating and prosecuting those who exploit the weak and vulnerable (attacking the demand side). I have waited for years for a book like this and thank God for Walker’s work. With God in a Brothel and Half the Church from Carolyn James, Christians now have great resources to learn about sex trafficking from Christian perspectives that avoid both shallow theological platitudes and non-theological pleas for activism.

In response to sin and its effects, Walker clearly celebrates the furious love and radical grace of God while at the same time declaring that God hates injustice and saves his harshest words in the Bible for those who exploit the innocent and vulnerable (Isaiah 59:15-16). Walker insightfully writes: “We tend to fear evil or trivialize it” (134). Rather than calling the church to non-reflective activism, he offers biblical wisdom: “Fear of our sinful nature, fear of the world, fear of evil, and our fear of failure can only be conquered when we fear God alone” (136). Walker invites Christians to become abolitionists in a way that inspires instead of using condescending brow-beating and guilt. Referring to the Christian tradition, he writes: “Indeed the church has a rich history of courageous men and women who have selflessly rescued and restored the exploited women and children of their day. . . . The church has played an integral part in setting captives free from slavery and injustice” (132). Instead of motivating by guilt, he inspires the church to respond in ways that is true to its calling, identity, and history.

I applaud Walker for his work on the field and the sacrifices he made. Additionally, I am thankful for a well-researched book on the issue that approaches the reality and brutally of sex trafficking from a Christian perspective. I admire him for his transparency and honesty about his agonizing failure. It was risky to tell that part of the story, and I am thankful that he has received and experienced the forgiveness of God.

Solidarity and Redemption

One weakness of the book is his description of God’s response to the darkness of sex trafficking and his sin. He presents well the fact that God is in solidarity with those who suffer. I think his point is deeply biblical and the starting point for discussing God’s response to evil and suffering. Through Jesus, God identifies with and has compassion for those who suffer. At the root of God’s compassion is the fact that he witnesses the suffering of the abused. His compassion for and solidarity with the oppressed is embodied in Jesus Christ.

However, solidarity is not enough for a full-orbed, biblical view of redemption. More should be said on how Jesus accomplished redemption and overcame evil and sin, specifically in his death and resurrection. His incarnation and crucifixion are not just examples of Jesus being in solidarity with us and feeling the pain of sin’s effects. Jesus’ incarnation communicates God’s solidarity with and compassion for those suffering. It also offers hope that God see, hears, and knows the sufferings of his creatures. More explicitly, it is by the death and resurrection of Christ that sin and guilt are destroyed. It is only by absorbing the effects of sin and law breaking that Jesus, the only one who was sinless and fulfills the law, can free the world from its curse.

God, in Christ, runs the world by coming into the world and being roughed up by it. God the Son took the evil on himself and redeemed it by letting it play itself out on him and then being raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is the core of the whole thing. Death is swallowed up in the victory of life.

God’s Final Word

Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, exploitation is clearly depicted throughout the Bible as sin against God and neighbor, and is referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation.

The victim’s experience of trafficking is not ignored by God, minimized by the Bible, or outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God’s response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation. And that should be the church’s response.

Evil and violence are not the final word. They are not capable of creating or ultimately defining reality. That is God’s prerogative alone. However, evil and violence can pervert, distort, and destroy. They are parasitic on the original good of God’s creation. In this way, evil serves as the backdrop on the stage where God’s redemption shines with even greater brilliance and pronounced drama. What evil uses to destroy, God uses to expose, excise, and then heal.