My Right, Your Right Whose Rights Are More Important?

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My Right, Your Right – Whose Rights

Are More Important?

Derrick Campbell

After all, what makes any event important,

unless by its observation we become better

and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love

mercy, and walk humbly before God’?”

(Olaudah Equiano)

The 25th March 2007 will mark 200 years to the day that

Parliament passed the Bill to abolish the slave trade in

the British colonies. However, slavery still continued in

other parts of the world, and even the Civil Wars which

pursued did not stamp it out. These new desires for

civility by a conscience-stricken society started the

metamorphosis of slavery. We would now see another

form of enslavement manifesting itself, in a way that

would persist even unto this very day.
Some of our early records show us that the long dark

history of slavery had its most identifiable roots in the

Middle East, as a consequence of wars and conquests,

and still remains a prevailing tool for wealth and power.

Profiteers, drug dealers, governments, gambling

institutions, religions and sex dealers thrive on the

addictions that enslave people to their cause. Although

slavery was finally abolished in the Americas in 1888,

there are many millions of people still in some form of

servitude today.

No longer would man just be shackled with the physical

chains of bondage, or be branded with the mark of his

master, but he would now experience a more

devastating form of slavery. It would be one that would

enslave him in a way that he would not so easily

escape. The new masters are now able to enslave us by

shackling our mind.
People are enslaved to fiction, lies, idols; the ideologies

portrayed by rap music (which includes the denigration

of women); addictions and even one’s own beliefs. Now

more than ever we should take heed to scripture, which

Give glory to God before [He] cause darkness, and before

your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while

you look for light, it is turned into the shadow of death,

and made gross darkness.

But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret

places for your pride and my eye shall weep sore, and

run down with tears, because God’s flock is carried away

captive. Jeremiah (13:16,17 NKV)
Today, it is estimated by experts that approximately 27

million men, women and children endure brutal

working conditions, for no money, under the constant

threat of beatings, torture, and rape. Contrary to popular

belief, slavery didn’t end with Abraham Lincoln in 1863,

but continues in countries on all six inhabited


In the United States the CIA estimates 14,500 to 17,000

victims are trafficked into the “Land of the Free”1 every

year. These figures, although staggering, show that there

is a clear appetite for modern day slavery to continue.

Can it be true that many have become numb to the

horrors it represents or are we all sleepwalking in a

state of denial, seemingly bemused by its continuance?

According to the American anti-slavery group, some of

the facts surrounding slavery are:

  • Slavery was officially abolished worldwide at the 1927

Slavery Convention, yet it continues to thrive thanks to

the complicity of some governments and the

ignorance of much of the world.

  • The four most common types of slavery are: chattel

slavery, debt slavery, forced labour, and sexual slavery.

  • In the 2000 Refugee Report, “Trafficking in Women

and Children: A Contemporary Manifestation of

Slavery,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

called human trafficking “the fastest growing criminal

enterprise in the world.”

  • 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked

internationally every year. Approximately 80% of them

are women and children.

  • Slavery is an extremely profitable international

industry. Experts estimate trafficking in the US yields

$9 billion every year. Around the world, trafficking in

women for commercial sex purposes nets $6 billion

per year. The trade of human flesh is so lucrative that

authorities complain that even as they close in on one

smuggling ring in the US, another one pops up. ii

But why hasn’t more been done to end this

dehumanizing, universally condemned practice?

To attempt to answer this question wil1 pose many

challenges to the concept of humanity’s understanding

and acceptance of what is morally good and acceptable.
One challenge is that slavery today takes on many

subtler forms than it did during the Atlantic Slave Trade

- including sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced

domestic or agricultural labour, and chattel slavery

making it tougher to identify and eradicate.
In our world today we ask the question “Whose rights

are more important, those of the bourgeoisie or the

proletariat, the free or the enslaved, the rich or the

The dark reality that faces the modern day abolitionist is

that many people condone slavery because it allows

them to achieve the greatest prize of a corrupt human

‘will’: money and power over their fellow man.
Despite their early efforts to end the slave trade, men

such as Lord Grenville (who in February 1806, formed a

Whig administration), his Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox

and William Wilberforce - all influential in the House of

Commons and Lords during the early nineteenth century

- would discover that the addiction of slavery would

prove a very difficult habit to change.
But due to their persistence and resolve they would go

on to set the example, which would serve us unto this

very day, that through determination the scourge of

slavery can be overcome. History showed us that Fox

and Wilberforce led the campaign in the House of

Commons, and Grenville had the task of persuading the

House of Lords to accept the measure. There he made a

passionate speech where he argued that the trade was

“contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and

sound policy” and criticised fellow members for “not

having abolished the trade long ago”. 111 We too must

continue to stand up and be counted.

The religionists
What then should be the reaction of the Christian

Church including the black-led Pentecostal churches,

which when faced with the appeal of other religious

organisations to unite under the banner of

ecumenicalism and to be embraced with arms of

acceptance, discover that the soundness of this potential

association is tested? Tested, that is, when the realisation

dawns that some of those organisations that present a

face of respectability and piety, have at their very core,

the practice of slavery in some form or another.

Do we smile and offer a tentative hand of toleration and

acceptance while turning a blind eye to that which is

wrong, even though we are fully aware that their

women and children are treated like third class citizens

with no rights, or that they practice and condone child

abuse whether sexually or otherwise? And when they

are challenged, they move to rebuff the accusations, by

adopting the ‘victim status’ and hide behind the laws

which protect them from discrimination, and to further

kick you into touch they say that this attack on their

practices is an attempt to erode their ancient cultural and

religious rights — what do we do then?

When this cloak of the ‘victim’ is used, decorated by the

statements of the claimants that “these are their ancient

customs and practices”, in these instances the churches

must challenge them, if they truly believe in fairness,

respect and equality.
But this in itself could pose a problem for those

organisations that operate almost as exclusive clubs,

where people are only accepted as members if they fit

their specific criteria and are prepared to accept their

idiosyncratic practices. We see this demonstrated very

clearly in those religious organisations where individuals

feel that they will only be accepted if they look, act and

sound like everyone else.

Are the Black—led Churches able to do things any

The black-led churches in Britain demonstrate many

different forms of control and rule. They have rules that

both encourage and restrict membership whether

knowingly or unknowingly. This phenomenon has its

roots in history and can he traced back to the rise of the

black-led churches following the abolition of slavery and

the ensuing Christianisation process of the ex-slaves by

the white missionaries.

The role of the missionaries in the colonisation process

was considerable in terms of cultural and political

domination of the people. Although the missionaries’

task was to make people accept the Bible and its

teachings, Christianity was turned into an ideology,

which could be used to convince people not to resist

white domination.
Religion was used to legitimise, maintain and even

promote political tyranny and oppression, as well as in

other instances, liberation of a people who saw it as an

opportunity to have a sense of freedom and

independence from the slave masters. In the words of

Charles Villa-Vicencio, “religion has functioned both as

the ‘opiate of the people’ and a ‘source of their social

renewal’.” iv Thus the continued enslavement of the mind

continued under the guise of Christianity. Over time,

this process had the effect of causing fear and suspicion

among the black people as they still experienced racism

and segregation in the early churches. As a result they

split away and formed their own congregations, where

they felt free to worship un-oppressed. However, this

so-called freedom and liberty in these modern day

churches is still an interesting topic for further debate.
Today the churches are urged to stand in the forefront

and to defend the rights and freedom of everyone,

particularly when it comes to equality and fairness.
Our women and children are more vulnerable when it

comes to exploitation and abuse; it is therefore

incumbent on the men who have long dominated the

social agenda, to ensure that they fulfil their roles — to

be just, good loving partners to their wives and caring

fathers to their children. It is only when we do the right

thing that God will reign supreme in our lives.


American anti-slavery group, page 101 (see note 2


ii today/primer/index.html

This is the website of the AASG, The American Anti-

Slavery group — a non-profit organisation that works to

abolish modern-day slavery around the world focusing

primarily on systems of chattel slavery in Sudan and

Mauritania; their website has been used in preparing this

article. The address of the AASG is 198 Tremont

St#42lBoston, MA, USA 02116.


American anti-slavery group, page 101.


Villa-Vicencio, Charles (1989) “Right Wing Religion: Have

the Chickens Come Home to Roost?” Journal of Theology

for Southern Africa, 69: 7-16.

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