Tiffany Beaver has called Midtown home for almost ten years. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy and went on to earn her Masters in Social Work from the University of South Carolina. Tiffany is currently pursuing her doctorate in Philosophy from the University of South Carolina, with a focus in applied ethics. Her favorite people are her husband Benjamin and their 2.5-year-old daughter Teagan.
When I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Social Work, I cared a lot about social justice. Lots of injustices made me angry, but I hadn’t found that one thing that really made my blood boil...until I traveled to Orlando to present an academic paper at a Christian social work conference. I attended a pre-conference seminar on human trafficking/modern day slavery that changed my life. When I registered for the seminar I assumed that “far-away slavery” would be the topic of discussion. However, that was far from what was actually discussed. The seminar was primarily focused on human trafficking and modern day slavery in the United States. In fact, during the seminar our speaker pulled up a website and showed us in real time conversations that were happening amongst sex traffickers within a mile of our Orlando conference venue. My mind was blown, and my heart was crushed. How could this be a reality in my own country…and how could I be completely oblivious?
From that point forward I was drawn to the issue of modern slavery. I read and learned about it. I joined organizations that fought against slavery. I gave money when I could. I told other people about it. I slowly changed some of my own purchasing habits. I even went with a group of Midtown family to India to work with kids who have been rescued from sex slavery.
After working as a social worker for nearly five years, I knew that I was in the wrong field. So I went back to school to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and within philosophy I decided to focus more specifically on ethics. Modern slavery is one of the most complex, urgent ethical issues facing our world. (Did you know that according to IJM, a leading anti-slavery organization, 45+ million people are trapped in slavery right now?) In a light bulb moment of clarity early in my Ph.D. program, I knew that I was going to focus my Ph.D in philosophical studies on the issue of modern slavery.
Fast forward six years, and I have developed and taught a course at USC to teach students about modern slavery, presented at an international slavery conference, and I am writing a dissertation (basically a book) on issues of responsibility surrounding modern slavery.
The questions I’m most interested in answering include: “Who is responsible for the existence of modern slavery?” and “What are normal people like you and me obligated to do in response to the existence of slavery in our world?” My ultimate goal is to successfully argue that due to the gravity of the human rights violation(s) that slavery imposes, we cannot live as if the atrocity of slavery is the stuff of history books. Those of us in a position to do something (and that turns out to include most of us) are obligated to take at least some steps to change this reality.
The Dangers of Moral Relativism
If it were true that everyone has to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, what would this mean for me, my research, and ultimately for the global fight against modern slavery? The short answer is that, if individuals (or even particular societies) decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, I might as well just stop what I’m doing, lay down my pen, cease teaching, kick my soapbox to the curb, and take a nap. Because arguing for any objective human right(s) - including rights to autonomy, freedom from coercion, bodily safety/security, compensation for work, fair and safe working conditions, etc. (see the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights) – is incoherent in a world where right and wrong are subject to the whims of individuals or societies. We cannot make a case that you and I (or anyone else) are obligated to do certain things on behalf of modern slaves if we are each able to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Furthermore, we cannot condemn slavery in any place, at any time past or present or future, if we have no grounds for objectively rejecting the enslavement of human beings. After all, if right and wrong are relative, and everyone decides for himself or herself what is permissible or impermissible, we have absolutely no right to tell slavers or pimps or human traffickers or old men who buy sex with prepubescent girls and boys that they are wrong. If we take away objective right and wrong, we put all of the power into the hands of the oppressors and slavers to use and abuse others as they see fit. We simultaneously silence the victims of these injustices, who know very well that objective right and wrong exist, but who have no grounds to argue this in a world of “you do you” moral relativism.
For those of us who long eagerly for justice – especially justice for those in our world who have been the most abused and overlooked and exploited – we must cling to the reality that there are right actions and there are wrong actions. Enslaving human beings is wrong. It was wrong in ancient Greece and Rome, it was wrong in Antebellum America, and it is wrong today, wherever it exists across the globe. AND those who do wrong things are accountable. They are culpable. Their actions have consequences.We can judge them, because a standard exists, and slavery falls grossly short of that standard.
These arguments (for objective right and wrong) are logical arguments. When really pressed, most people – both atheists and theists alike – choose to accept them. The alternative is to reject the notion of human rights, which most people are not willing to do. The desire and fight for justice only makes sense in a world where some things are objectively right and other things are objectively wrong. For atheists, the difficulty then lies in justifying where such an objective standard of right and wrong comes from. For Christians, we can easily answer this question.
God’s View of Moral Relativism
The God I worship and serve cares more about justice than I ever will. He is the one who created people with value and dignity and worth. He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) and breathed into us His breath (Genesis 2:7), and when we screwed up and shattered our relationship with Him he devised a plan to free us from our self-imposed slavery (Genesis 3:15, 21). God made a covenant with His people (Genesis 17:9), and when they were slaves in Egypt He heard their cries and delivered them from their oppression (Exodus 2:23, 6:5-6, 13:14; 20:2).
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” -Psalm 103:6
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” -Micah 6:8
As a follower of Jesus, I have all the reason in the world to fight for justice on behalf of the oppressed. Jesus died to free me from my own slavery to sin, and thus satisfy the demands of justice on my behalf. (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 6:17-18)
My Christian worldview affirms that right and wrong are objective truths. God values human life above everything else He created (Genesis 1:27-31), and although injustice often reigns in our fallen world, we can trust in the hope and knowledge that our God is a God of justice. He will win in the end, and He will establish his throne as a throne of justice (Isaiah 16:1-5).
And with this hope before me, I trudge on in this broken world, fighting for justice where I can, and looking toward that day when Jesus will make everything right. With this hope, I echo John in Revelation 22:20: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”