by David Bent; Team Rector
There is a story in the book of Acts where a slave girl, exploited by her owners for financial gain, finds spiritual freedom and emotional healing through the Christian gospel and the ministry of Paul (Acts 16:16-18). There are echoes of this story in the recently disclosed crimes that have been carried out over many years in Rotherham, where girls in our communities have been abused and treated as slaves for financial gain.
As I have reflected on these events I was reminded of the words of Jesus concerning the ill-treatment of children:
Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2)
The care of the young, the sick and the vulnerable is the responsibility of all of us in our homes, communities, churches and mosques and, according to Jesus, the punishment for harming our children is harsh. God is a God of justice and, as the truth gradually emerges, justice must happen and must be seen to happen. And yet the very next words that Jesus speaks show us that God is also a God of mercy. Jesus continues:
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3)
Where there is repentance there can also be forgiveness, and forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian gospel. We believe in a gospel of forgiveness, of healing and of reconciliation, where the love of God sets the captives free. If the victims of exploitation are to recover from the past they will need to find love and healing and if our communities are to recover from the past they will need to find reconciliation as people of different races and backgrounds learn to trust and respect one another and to live together in peace.
As Christians we are called to a ministry of healing and also to a ministry of reconciliation and so we have a role to play in our homes, in our communities and in our churches. Let us pray that the victims of this exploitation find healing, let us pray that the abusers find forgiveness through repentance and let us pray that our communities find peace and reconciliation. Let us also do all we can, through our words and our actions, to work for the healing and the reconciliation of our communities.