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BCU presents expert on human trafficking

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

An upcoming talk at Briar Cliff University will delve into the topic of human trafficking while specifically focusing on its theological dimension and Christian response.

“Practicing Values: Progressive Christianity and the Movement to End Human Trafficking” is the title of the talk to be presented at 7 p.m., Sept. 22, by Yvonne C. Zimmerman, Ph.D., as part of the Sister Ruth Agnes Ahlers Lecture Series. The event is free and open to the public.

Zimmerman is an associate professor of Christian ethics at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She is the author of “Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking.”

The presentation, which will be held in the St. Francis Center, will explore this question: How do varying Christian groups perceive this moral injustice and what are the prospects for overcoming it?

Linda Harrington, Ph.D., associate professor of theology at Briar Cliff, noted the university had hosted a conference on human trafficking in June. They felt it was important to continue to raise awareness about the issue.

“Human trafficking is an issue that we all need to be aware of in our time and even in our place, here in Sioux City,” she said. “What we want to do is offer a theological reflection on how and why Christians, as Christians, can respond to the issue.”

Paul Korchin, assistant professor of theology at Briar Cliff, said the Sister Ruth Agnes Ahlers Lecture Series in general, and this year’s talk on human trafficking, seeks to stress the connection and relevance between the social and theological.

“Human trafficking is a political issue as we know. There are economic ramifications. It’s a humanitarian issue, but I anticipate, based on my conversation with Dr. Zimmerman, that she wants to remind us that it is fundamentally a theological issue,” he said.

The college professor said there are fundamental questions pertaining to human dignity and relationship at stake with human trafficking.

“She, I think, is going to explore particular traditions within the larger Christian umbrella with regard to how certain people are or aren’t invoking and utilizing the riches of the Christian theological tradition to grapple with the very ugly reality of human trafficking,” Korchin said.

Harrington said being Christian has never just been going to church, it’s been how one lives in the world.

“This is an effort to help people think beyond the numbers, statistics and the ‘gee, isn’t it terrible’ to ‘what does this mean to me as a person of faith?’” she said. For those who are interested in their own adult faith formation, Harrington added this lecture series can help the faithful “learn more about what Christianity is about, what the teachings are and how those teachings influence how we live from one day to the next.”

Korchin said it is his perception that Zimmerman believes people who view Christianity as a social force are not “connecting the dots” when it comes to human trafficking.

“They tend to not necessarily draw upon the theological richness of Jesus and his ethical and moral teachings to be able to grapple in an effective way with the reality of trafficking,” he said.

Korchin said he believes the speaker wants to probe the relationships of Christians of different denominations and different traditions with a problem – human trafficking - that he believes every Christian on some level would deem to be wrong.

“What Dr. Zimmerman, I believe, is going to be focusing on is how do we as Christians, Catholic and otherwise, answer those questions. What are our answers and if they are distinctive, what is the opportunity or ground for conversation for common ground – to be able to unite as a body of Christ to fight such an injustice,” he said.

The Sister Ruth Agnes Ahlers series began a number of years ago and started up again five years ago after a brief respite.

“Through this lecture series, we want to bring the theological discussion that is circulating in the contemporary church into a venue where regular folks can enter into the conversation,” Harrington said. “It is a resource for those who want to get more active, but it’s also a resource for those whose response can only be prayer. Sometimes all we can do is be in solidarity and we can pray for those who are suffering, but if we don’t know what is going on, if we don’t know how Christianity understands evil, then our prayer is unfocused.”

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