Modern Theology for Modern Slavery: Review of Slavery Free Communities by Dan Pratt

25 Feb

Another book review for you this time. Slavery Free Communities was kindly lent to me by my friend Joan, and I took far too long to read this, considering there were other people waiting in line. I’m fairness, my tbr pile is insane. Anyway, I’ve finished it now, I’m passing it on to the next readerg hopefully today, and I’ve used the remainder of my time with it to write a big long review.

The review is up on GoodReads but, for reasons discussed before, I’ve also posted it below:

Slavery Free Communities, edited by Dan Pratt

This is an enormously thought-provoking book, and one that would have been heavily underlined in places if it had been my own copy. I attended the book launch and felt that I had to read it after hearing only overviews of chapters, and it did not disappoint.

The book is split into three major parts:

  1. Three survivors’ stories, covering the ‘classic’ sexual exploitation of someone from a poor country looking for a better life, the less well known exploitation of domestic servitude, and the most eye-opening, the story of a vulnerable British man who spent most of his adult life in slavery despite coming into contact with the police at various times during his enslavement.
  2. Theologies of slavery, including liberation theology (obviously), restorative justice theology and a trinitarian meditation on slavery, which is surprisingly effective.
  3. Practical stuff – what churches and other organisations are doing and should be doing.

I found the theology the most stimulating part. ‘Restoring What?’ by Myra Blyth and Joshua Findlay was genuinely challenging about how I conceptualise exploitation and exploiters, and about my accepting as normal and inevitable a system for survivors that is (and is perhaps meant to be) quite brutalising. This is underscored by the proposed changes in the new Nationality and Borders Bill (announced after this article was written, I think) which would make the same system wantonly cruel. A key quote:

“While those identified as ‘traffickers’ can experience prosecution, incarceration and deportation, those marked as ‘victims’ often tread a similar journey despite government claims about protecting and supporting them.”

A couple of other chapters seemed like they should have been in the theology section, but weren’t. One was an exploration of the evolution of Jewish thought on enslaving and being enslaved, ‘Thank God for Not Making Me a Slave’ by Gabriel Kanter-Webber and Mia Hasenson-Gross. The other was John Weaver’s chapter ‘Exploitation of the Earth, Exploitation of the People’, which is fairly self-explanatory and very topical. It quotes the following from M. Northcott:

“The militarization of borders, the growing confinement of migrants to immigration camps or virtual prisons, and military interventions in climate-threatened regions against ‘insurgents’… reveal the political response of nation-states to climate change more clearly than their claimed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

There is a section of prayers at the end, which I didn’t find especially useful but which might be handy for churches that use liturgy or people who find written prayers helpful. I suppose they could also be used as part of an anti-trafficking prayer event.

I liked the way this book did not shy away from the legacy of slavery in Christianity’s past (in fact, one of the first chapters is about this) and the way it joined up issues that are too often considered in isolation. It’s aimed, I would say, at Christians or people of faith who are already involved in, or at least seriously interested in, the anti-trafficking scene. That’s fairly niche and may explain the hefty price tag. But if that describes you and you can get hold of a copy without selling a kidney, I would strongly recommend it.


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