Several readers have asked me why I wanted to write The Black Lens novel — especially since it deals with such a dark topic like sex trafficking. That’s a great question, so here are my three main reasons:
Personally, I spent more than three years researching sex trafficking and interviewing survivors, social workers and police officers. One of the women I met with told me she got enslaved in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit at age 15. Fifteen! And she’s not alone. In the United States, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received reports of at least 14,588 sex trafficking cases since 2007.
That’s a harsh fact. But this book can make a difference. Not only does it tell a great story, but it also helps raise awareness of modern slavery. While this topic has received more press in the last few years, many people still don’t think sex trafficking happens much in the United States. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A few recent books and movies have drawn attention to this crime, but no popular fiction so far has focused solely on trafficking in America. That’s where The Black Lens can help.
Take crime seriously
When you consider recent Christian novels or books, most of them don’t take crime or “sin” seriously. They focus so much on the truth of grace that they hide from the truth of evil. And yet if you spend any time reading the Old Testament, you discover that it’s filled with descriptions of evil. You’ve got rape, incest — even torture. None of these authors glorified those crimes or described them in graphic detail, but they also didn’t shy away from them either. Why? Because they were trying to contrast the depth of man’s evil with the depth of God’s grace.
One of my favorite Christian authors is Flannery O’Connor, who became famous for her dark, brutal and violent short stories. She once wrote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” That’s great advice for every Christian writer. We need to contrast both good and evil if we want to have any chance at engaging the world with our words, especially with such a dark crime and topic like sex trafficking. As British author C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.” I strove to accomplish that with The Black Lens.
Engage the arts
As created beings, Christians have so much to contribute to the arts — especially in the area of writing. For centuries, believers were at the forefront of art and culture. The Catholic Church sponsored some of the most famous artists of all times, such as Michelangelo. But for decades, Christians have retreated from the arts. I don’t know all the reasons, but Swiss author Francis Schaeffer once wrote: “I am afraid that as evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. C.S. Lewis wrote that, “Art … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Fiction is a form of art, so it too has no inherent survival value. But novels can give value to survival in unique and powerful ways. Think of the impact behind books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or To Kill a Mockingbird. Those novels affected so many people’s views of race and slavery in ways that no other medium could.
One of my favorite books in the Bible is Esther, because it reads like a work of modern fiction. You’ve got a strong female heroine, romantic suspense and even a murder plot. But most interestingly, the book doesn’t mention God once. Yet for those who have eyes to see, every sentence in the story points to God and gives value to the idea of surviving suffering. That was my same goal with The Black Lens.