Here’s a hard truth I’m grappling with lately: dignity for some necessitates dignity for all.
In my world, we hold out hope for the trafficked victim. We focus on rescue, recovery, and restoration of the vulnerable one who was exploited and sold. We bear the burden of hope for our community, that we’ll stop it, prevent it, and protect the innocent. We celebrate when patrol officers and social workers and ER nurses start seeing people through a trained lens, recognizing new signs in old cases.
Dignity and restoration are our beacons of hope. And while we wait, we activists hold it steady: this is theirs for the taking. It is available because we have made it so. We offer. We beckon. We are gospel-bearers of mystery – freedom is theirs for the taking because it is His gift, no strings attached. Forgiveness and renewal come with the package. Dignity comes to image bearers.
But wait. Are we not all image bearers?
What of the man I sat behind in court last week? He asked for mercy, then quietly received his sentence. Friends and family filled the bench and silently said goodbye. Twenty years is a long time.
The District Attorney made his case. The Judge said her peace. This man had obtained a youth, took her pictures, posted them online, drove her to hotels, sold her to men, and pocketed the money. He was a sex trafficker. I craved justice, and it seemed to come, though twenty years is not so long.
I would have exited the courtroom with a clear sense of rightness save the last few minutes when it became muddled for me. The Public Defender requested visits between Defendant and his child and the Judge said no. In the name of justice, and in an attempt to protect more minors, one singular decision created a fatherless child. And I? I finally saw the man.
In that very moment in which dignity seemed to vaporize, I saw through a different lens a broken, wounded man who had been self-protecting and deflecting pain to cling to survival for a lifetime. I saw Jesus, the beacon of hope, holding out restoration and renewal and forgiveness. The same God who re-storied Saul, persecutor of the Chosen, sanctioner of Stephen’s stoning, offering hope.
And I wondered. What if we truly believed we are all created in the image of God? What if we believed All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God? What if we believed all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus? As in, we’re all alike?
What if we hold out hope for restoration for victims and we also hold out hope for restoration for those who victimize?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe justice was served in court that day. I’m certainly not advocating we grant probation to a man who has committed 6 felonies, the last of which involved a teenage girl while on parole.
However, if we are indeed gospel-bearers of mystery, how can we offer “freedom” to some and not others? If it is truly a gift, no strings attached, we must give indiscriminately. Because in this crazy new kingdom Jesus has ushered in, re-storying is happening. And in this crazy world of human trafficking, that is the best hope we have. And if it’s true for me, I have to believe it’s true for victims, traffickers, johns, police officers, advocates, judges, public defenders, hotel managers, and you.
Dear one, where is God re-storying you? What in your life is He rewriting? How might you hold on to a beacon of hope and restoration today?
Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at www.bethbruno.org.