Dignity: What does it even mean?

Back in May I was given the great blessing of being able to attend the triennial conference of the International Christian Alliance against Prostitution and Trafficking, held in the United States. It was a great joy to gather together with hundreds of other people working around the world for projects similar to Saffires, seeking freedom for men and women who are victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. The theme of the conference was beauty, and we looked at what the Bible has to say about God’s view of beauty in the morning plenary sessions.

During the week we were able to attend a selection of seminars on a variety of different topics, and one of the most helpful sessions I attended was on the topic of dignity. As Christians working against sexual exploitation, many of our ministries talk about ‘restoring dignity’ to those we work with. In this session we were challenged to think about what that actually means. Dignity is a word that can be used on both sides of arguments in both media and literature, and is often used to validate arguments and synonymously used to mean ‘human rights’. The way we define dignity will be based on our cultural values, but as Christians we need to think through what the Bible says about dignity and what Christian dignity is.

During the session we discussed a number of passages in Scripture which shows us dignity, but most of the session was spent looking at the creation account and what that shows us about dignity. As we studied the passage, we saw the following evidences of dignity:

  • Man’s creation was much more intimate, there was touch involved rather than just speech
  • Adam is the only creature named by God
  • Adam is invited to be part of creation when he names the animals
  • There is a lack of shame, which is the opposite of dignity
  • Man is given volition – he is able to make choices yet does not lose the dignity God creates him with when he makes wrong choices in Genesis 3
  • Man is given rulership and authority

Out of these, we were able to draw three distinct components of dignity from Genesis:

  • We are created with identity
  • We are created for relationship and community
  • We are created to do purposeful work

As a result we noted that in our ministries if we are restoring dignity it should be close to what God intended dignity to be in creation, and that these three components are inseparable.

We discussed the concept of work and that Genesis shows a distinction between work and labour; work in Genesis 1 and 2 is creative and nurturing, but in Genesis 3 as a result of the fall it becomes futile labour. We are each created with gifts, talents, abilities and skills to fulfil purposeful work, and so if we are seeking to restore dignity we should be helping people to discover this.

Dignity can never be lost, since it is part of our inherent created being, yet it can be badly damaged by our experiences in life.

The challenge now comes as we think about how we practically seek to restore people’s dignity in each of those three areas: identity, relationship and work. For Saffires, we’re still thinking this through, but for us one of the biggest challenges is how we restore dignity in relationships and build community for the women. We have seen the restoring power of family reconciliation, and the debilitating effects of broken families. How do we invite women to be part of a church community and our own families in a way that is safe both for the women and for us? One thing we are trialling, is to run a number of different events and activities that women can come along to and spend time with us outside of work, for example going on a day trip to the seaside, meeting us for brunch, or going together to a local firework display. At Christmas we’ll be inviting the women to come and enjoy a home-cooked Christmas dinner with us, showing them a glimpse of what family life could be like.

On our weekly outreach visits we are continuously striving to restore dignity in identity by affirming the women’s God-given worth and value, both verbally in stating that truth, but also by blessing them with gifts and giving them our time and a listening ear. Is there room for us to do more though?

When it comes to work, we want to help each individual woman pursue her own dreams, or give her opportunity to discover what her gifts are. Perhaps that means inviting women to write articles for our website to develop writing skills, or arranging work experience in a coffee shop, or even creating specific volunteer roles within Saffires for the women to try out a number of different skills. Alternative work options remains another of our biggest challenge as we look to the future for women – after all, for those women who have few qualifications and low skill levels, what employment options are there that will provide for them financially as well as prostitution?

The challenges may seem large in number and scale, but to our Heavenly Father they are mountains that can easily be moved. And so we continue to seek Him and trust that He has the power to overcome and to show us the way.

But what about for you? What about for us as a church? How are we seeking to restore and nurture dignity in these three areas in our own lives, in each other’s lives, and in the lives of those we minister to? Do we speak of each other in a way that is appropriate to the identity we have; do we create communities and families of dignity that we can invite others into; do we respect the career choices of those around us where they provide purposeful work?

May God help us to better understand the dignity He has blessed us with and seek to demonstrate it in our church, our ministries and our own lives.