This week I present at the annual Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting. The theme this year is “‘This is My Body”: Addressing Global Violence Against Women,” a challenging topic for any scholar to address. Yet violence against women is a global phenomenon that is felt by people in virtually every community, including Pentecostals. I have no doubt that this conference will be enlightening, but I am sure it will also be extremely painful to be exposed to the awful reality of how often women suffer violence in our world. But I also look forward to hearing the way scholars have engaged this issue and what Pentecostals have to offer not only to put an end to the violence, but to minister to the needs of the victims.
In light of the theme, I wrote a historical paper about early Pentecostal engagement with the social issue of human trafficking, known then as the “White Slave Trade.” Although a highly recognized issue today, I was surprised how often Pentecostals talked about human trafficking in their publications at the beginning of Pentecostalism. I was also inspired at how Pentecostals felt compassion for victims and were compelled to open rescue homes where women could be ministered to. In fact, it was the the discovery of a Pentecostal Rescue home run by E. N. Bell and Howard Goss that first introduced me to the concept of the “white slave” industry (see photo below). However, behind the noble work of ministering to victims of sexual violence were currents of racism embedded in views of black men and women during this era that are troubling. There were also victorian attitudes about women and sexuality that were equally problematic. All of these factors made this research not only interesting, but extremely difficult to navigate with the proper perspective and sensitivity. I hope I have done that.
If you want to read the paper, you can download it below, but please don’t share. I hope it gives Pentecostals some perspective on the compassion and complexity of Pentecostal engagement in sexual trafficking.
“In recent years, Pentecostal scholars have shown a particular interest in how Pentecostals have engaged in social issues. Among the social issues neglected in these conversations is the phenomenon of early Pentecostal engagement in working with victims of human trafficking and prostitution. Dubbed the “white slave trade” by social reformers in the late nineteenth century, organized efforts by both progressives and conservatives in American society campaigned to stop the sex trafficking of women across state lines. Advocates for legal reform of the “white slave trade” sought through laws and media campaigns to protect women from exploitation through prostitution and to preserve American culture during a time when the age of industrialization was producing social and racial anxiety.
This paper will trace the history of early Pentecostal responses to sex trafficking and the related issue of prostitution. As early as 1907, Pentecostals took up the cause of “rescuing” women and established Pentecostal missions in the US and abroad. Stories of women who had been rescued Details about these missions were reported on the front pages of Pentecostal papers such as the Bridegrooms Messenger, Apostolic Faith, Weekly Evangel and the Pentecostal Holiness Advocate. This study explores Pentecostal views of society and culture as well as rhetoric about trafficked women especially the concepts of victimhood, guilt, and culpability for “fallen women.” It will demonstrate how ministry to trafficked women positively and negatively shaped Pentecostal attitudes toward women and dress in the Pentecostal tradition.”