In February, I had the privilege of meeting with two colleagues from the ecumenical community of faith leaders in Nevada. I sat at the table with Bishop Joseph Pepe, Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas, and Bishop Dan Edwards, Episcopal Bishop of Las Vegas, with staff members, community organizers and our North District Superintendent, Candace Lansberry. Our conversation centered on a bill that was coming before the Nevada Assembly. Assembly Bill 67 (AB67) was at a crucial juncture, coming before the Judiciary Committee for approval in order to advance eventually to the floor of the Nevada Assembly for a vote. Our hope was that unified as we were in support of AB67, that we would offer a united front as the bill went before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. With joy, I can report that on April 9, the bill passed the Committee unanimously. It now goes to the Appropriations Committee, and if passed, to the floor for a vote by the entire Assembly.
The substance of the bill addresses the escalating problem of humans being forced against their will into prostitution. Las Vegas is one of a handful of cities where the problems related to human trafficking are becoming monumental. The problem is increasing in Arizona as well. Everywhere it occurs, beside the obvious victimization of women and children, the cost to society is immense.
What the bill will accomplish, if ultimately adopted by the Nevada Assembly, is to strengthen our ability to prosecute crimes of human trafficking. AB67 more clearly defines sex trafficking, increases penalties, and provides for victims of trafficking to seek restitution from the perpetrator. New provisions are included in the bill which will protect the vulnerable, especially children, from being exploited and enslaved for purposes related to forced labor and prostitution.
The provisions of AB67 are in accord with stated understandings we have as United Methodists, as contained in our Social Principles. There, we read: “We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human persons. To lose freedom and be sold by someone else for sexual purposes is a form of slavery, and we denounce such business and support the abused and their right to freedom. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and financially responsible. We call for the establishment of adequate protective services, guidance, and counseling opportunities for children thus abused.” (¶ 161 H)
In the conversation with Bishop Pepe and Bishop Edwards, we prayerfully decided to send a letter to the members of our respective denominations urging support for the passage of the bill. We did so because of our understanding that God calls us to care for the vulnerable in our society, and because we believe that these efforts to combat the exploitation of women and children is in keeping with what God asks us to do in loving our neighbor.
The fact that we must continue to address this issue is a reminder to all of us that our world is fraught with evil that harms and demeans human persons. We have yet much to accomplish before we can proclaim that the peace of God in Christ has become a present reality in our communities. Christ calls us to be in ministry to the least and the lost. I ask you to become more aware of the incidence of trafficking in our communities. And I invite you to hold the Nevada Assembly in prayer as this bill moves closer to a vote on the floor. With the support of the faith communities of Nevada, I am hopeful that the Assembly will vote for the provisions of the bill as a positive step in our effort to bring about the Kingdom of God as we combat the scourge of sex trafficking.
Please pray: God, loving and gracious creator, you have given us the precious gift of life, for which we give thanks. We are saddened when we humans treat others in ways that demean and degrade. We know that your will is to love and honor and respect all persons. Help us to treat others with dignity and grace. We pray for the Nevada Assembly as it considers action on Assembly Bill 67 and for all those who are now victimized by human trafficking. Wherever it exists, give us courage to stand on our faith which calls us to speak for those who have no voice that your will may be done on earth as in heaven.
In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.