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Drama, documentary and detention

Drama documentaries on TV about abuse in the church must be like buses. None for ages and then two come along together, as was the case this week. Unless you have a catch-up TV option you will have had to choose on Monday evening between the story of Bishop Peter Ball or the Ben Field case in which two elderly people were groomed in their own church community. Both no doubt made for harrowing viewing. I will leave you as viewers to make up your own minds about what you saw.

Early January in the Methodist Church is Covenant Sunday season and this service took place at my own church this last week. Our reading was from Acts and told the story of Paul and the earthquake, when he and his companion refused to leave the jail after the quake had broken the chains. But what was interesting to me was our minister’s take on the possessed slave girl whose ability to tell fortunes earned her owners a good living. Paul intervened in her case and the result was his detention. This was an early recorded example of trafficking and modern slavery. It demonstrated how unscrupulous people will exploit the situations and supposed ‘gifts’ of vulnerable individuals for their own lucrative gain, keeping the victim in abject conditions to protect their ‘property’ and investment.

Publicity over the last year or two in the church has reminded us about the presence of modern slavery in our communities, and the Anglican-led Clewer Initiative has provided resources for us to use so that it can be more easily recognised and reported.

But although not immediately obvious there is a link between the TV documentaries, modern slavery and Paul’s dramatic intervention. It is the exploitation of the vulnerable for seemingly selfish purposes and that in some cases, drawing attention to the issues or individuals involved is not always welcomed. We do well to join up the dots when we think in our training about the different types of abuse. There are common themes we should always recognise.

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