Archive for March, 2010

On Prostitution, Prostitutes, and Laws That Harm Them

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Wow. The things my friends and I discuss over coffee . . .

But last week John and I wandered onto the subject of my year in Odessa, Texas, as a young cop reporter — the fortunate one on the newspaper staff who gets to report on, and witness the aftermath of, the violent crimes, the bloody car wrecks and plane crashes, and the blistering examples of poverty- and abuse-turned-vice in the paper’s circulation area. That was me in 1983. I’m not sure it was the best job for a 22-year-old away from home for the first time in a terribly violent city with no friends or family. But I did have T.J. and Casey, and I was blessed to call them friends.

These women worked as prostitutes out of the stately confines of Odessa’s Antler Inn, a rundown motel just off the grungiest bar- and strip-joint slice of this racial tinderbox of 100,000 people suddenly aware that massive resources of oil in the Permian Basin was, in the early 1980s, no longer a guarantee of continued prosperity. I had proposed a series of articles on the sex trade in Odessa, and their subsequent publication garnered me the admiration of my more refined peers and the wrath of West Texas Christiandom, which found myriad ways to express fury over Sunday newspapers that discussed oral sex and lesbianism. I couldn’t get a seat in a restaurant or cash a check at a store for weeks, it seemed, but during my research, I met these two women and we became friends.

Besides being one of the geographically ugliest places I’ve ever seen, Odessa was hostage to the fluctuations of the oil market. Frustration reigned and rage simmered among men accustomed not to the excesses of great wealth, perhaps, but to steady work in relatively high-paying jobs and the accompanying prestige of big trucks, big belt buckles, and big-haired women. The sex trade flourished, as it does when men accustomed to victory find themselves drowning in loss — that is, if “flourished” is the word for dirty sex in dirty surroundings with angry men and thoroughly defeated women.

Casey and T.J. were, in ways of the heart and the pocketbook, thoroughly defeated women, beaten in body and spirit by those who should have loved them, and smart enough to know how to work through it. They were heroin addicts, and their love for each other, however dysfunctional at times, was profound; it kept them alive, I’m convinced, after nights and days of impersonal sex with men who held them in utter contempt but needed servicing. They knew what they were. They knew what they weren’t, and they knew that I loved them very much. T.J., in particular, was one of the kindest women I’ve ever known, and I’m sad that we lost touch with each other after she went to prison for heroin possession.

Do I need to say that prostitution is wrong — that it’s sin, both for the woman and for the man? It’s adultery, and it’s unloving; men who frequent prostitutes are not men who have an innate respect for women, and angry men who make use of defeated women act in contempt, not simply lust. Still, I believe that sexual sin in particular comes from a wellspring of need; it’s an illegitimate means of meeting an entirely legitimate need, whether for release, relationship, or respite from something too heavy to bear. Nonetheless, prostitution elevates no one and offends the righteousness of God.

It’s sin, but it shouldn’t be a crime. The purpose of law is not to convey societal disapproval of behavior. If that were the case, then adultery without payment would be illegal, and enforced, and so would multiple and careless marriages, bigotry, and a host of other things that make us sniff in disgust, confident that we’re somehow above such things. Laws exist to protect people, and within the goal of protecting people is the implication that harming them is wrong — societal disapproval of wrongful actions against others is expressed in laws against murder, rape, assault, theft, and driving like an idiot through crosswalks peppered with pedestrians. Evangelicals may argue that no crime and no sin is “victimless,” but we acknowledge, generally, that both the law and the Law are inadequate to secure true morality, and we therefore call for the State to enact laws that protect people and their property, their rights and their livelihoods, from aggression, physical or otherwise.

So if prostitution harms women, and at least causes spiritual injury to men, why not continue to make it illegal? The answer lies in what I’m convinced is the true motivation of anti-prostitution laws, and that is societal disapproval of women who sell sex, not of the transaction or its content.

Women who let men pay to use their bodies are generally not women raised in families or cultures or lifestyles that allowed them the luxury of contemplating various career options. I’m aware of the high-priced, pampered whores who entertain powerful men in relationships they find liberating and reciprocal; I’m also aware that that’s nonetheless a tragedy, and that most prostitutes live and work under the constant reality of rape, assault, theft, and degradation-laced poverty unlike anything you or I could imagine. And while the escorts to the elite enjoy the protection of high-class propriety and madams who watch over them, most sex workers are subject to abuse from both the men who hire them and quite often the men who recruit, pimp, and control them. Or, like Casey and T.J., they work independently, which means they keep their earnings but have no pimp to beat the hell out of anyone who threatens his investment.

So women who engage in prostitution are vulnerable — vulnerable to the economic, social, psychological, and gender realities that turned them toward prostitution, and vulnerable to the men over them as pimps or under them as johns. They’re quite aware of the disapproval of society. But they need, and deserve, the protection of the law. Women who work as prostitutes have few options for recourse or protection if they’re beaten, robbed, or raped, unlike women who aren’t prostitutes. The reporting of a crime against them requires their taking the very real risk that accompanies an acknowledgment of having engaged in illegal activity — they can be arrested on the basis of information that accompanies their report, and they are disregarded simply as whores who, after all, signed up for it all when they “decided” to turn to prostitution. The woman is left entirely without protection, subject to abuse from johns and pimps and arrest from the police who, I’d venture to say, generally would regard a crime against you or me with much more severity and energy than a crime against a whore.

It’s easy to point out that prostitutes volitionally engage in sex for payment with strangers, which I suppose makes it easy to decide that having made their criminal and immoral beds, these women now have to lie in them. Most of them didn’t enter the world of sex-for-payment with a gun pointed at their heads. That’s true. What’s equally true, though, is that most turned to prostitution out of despair, poverty, and hopelessness — not the despair that we feel when a relationship falls apart, not the economic stresses altogether common to most people at some point in our lives, and not the vague sense of ennui, or even the profound acceptance of profound misfortune, that defines the bleak periods in our lives. Most of us have some resources, internal or external, that weave together to provide a rope of encouragement and expectation that can lift us out of acute or chronic tragedy. But when women lack that, when their lives are riddled with degradation and addiction and abuse and anger and violence, that rope doesn’t exist, and they are led to conclude that legitimate needs can be met, and rent can be paid, through illegitimate means.

It’s about the next fix, or the rent, or dinner; women don’t become prostitutes so that they can give conventional Judeo-Christian morality a stiff middle finger. They don’t becomes whores as a political statement, a “fuck that,” against your values or mine. And I doubt very much that women consider prostitution alongside career options we find acceptable, but are nonetheless out of reach for them — I think the dilemma is not along the lines of, gee, selling my body, or becoming a marine biologist? Enduring long nights of dirty, degrading sex for pay, or getting a bachelor’s degree in English? I’ve written before that poverty has much more to do with a paucity of education, a lack of economic means and advancement, and entrenched political disenfranchisement than simply with a shortage, however chronic, of cash. A society truly concerned with Biblical morality would be infinitely more concerned with expressing disapproval of the political, educational, economic, sexual and cultural factors that drive women into prostitution than it would be to simply label her actions as wrong — wrong, and therefore illegal, and therefore removing them from the protection they require and deserve. Such a society — and we don’t have it now — would reject simplistic calls for preserving Biblical sexual morality through legislation and would, instead, devote itself to the understanding that prostitutes, like everyone else whose degradation, rejection, and disenfranchisement makes them “least of these” of whom Christ spoke — with whom he identified, for whom he died — are worthy of mercy. Law cannot make people righteous, but it can express some framework of mercy that the Church could operate in. Likewise, the absence of laws against certain things doesn’t convey societal approval, and Christians needn’t be worried that without laws against it, prostitution will become an exciting career option for their daughters, or that the absence of legal disapproval will result in a wholesale overhaul of sexual mores.

It comes down to what it is we truly value. I would hope that the Body of Christ would be infinitely more concerned with the well-being of women, of daughters and sisters and mothers, than with the need to encode into law what Christ and they, and I, find morally objectionable. But we tend to value morality more than we value women. Opening our arms — our protective and loving arms — to prostitutes, and removing the barriers to their claims for police protection, would, I know, be a far more moral and Christlike approach to healing sexual sin in society. Lamentably, it’s easier — less messy and less risky to the gleaming tidiness of our own little sexual cocoons — to try to please the Lord Jesus by standing on the right side of the law instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the devastated women he died for.

It Bears Repeating . . .

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

From feminist and suffragette Susan B. Anthony, 1889, on abortion:

“Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”

As the mother of two of the finest young men I’ve ever known, and a woman who’s seen much pain and desperation in the lives of women around her, I couldn’t agree more.

And Speaking Of Planned Parenthood . . .

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

It’s really pretty simple.

I wish Planned Parenthood would continue its excellent work in providing gynecological health services and contraception counseling for women but remove itself from any involvement at all in the provision of elective abortion — not abortion to save the life of the mother and, in my mind, not abortion due to rape or incest, but in elective abortion, the reasons for which I know, sadly, appear as life- or soul-shattering to some women as the two I’ve mentioned.

I wish, with equal conviction, that Christian “life counseling” services would continue their policy of neither counseling nor providing abortion and instead would offer comprehensive, non-judgmental women’s health services, including contraception counseling, for those who need it, focusing on the health and empowerment of women and preaching a pro-life message that embodies reverence for life from conception ’til death — including care for the already-born poor around them.

Asked and answered, and yet somehow I think we won’t be moving along . . .

Answering Ashwin On The Fruit Of The Womb

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

I’m wondering if you all can smell the brimstone . . . Ashwin thinks I’ve waaaay crossed the line, and I’m reprinting his rebuke here in its entirety. I take to heart what he says, but I’m afraid I don’t agree with his conclusions. Nonetheless, I thank him for taking the time to write.

So, here’s a comment from Ashwin on my previous post regarding the punishing or cursing of the womb –

“There is so much here that invites comment.

Mr. Marshall may or may not need rebuking. What he does not need is perfect strangers bringing down fire from heaven on his head. You may criticize whatever weird views he may hold but you may not drag our Lord’s name into it. THAT is something for those who love him. Neither you nor I can make that claim.

And for all the weirdness of his views, he and I and you hold to the weirdest view in all Creation: That the Word of God became flesh and walked among us, suffered and died on the cross for OUR sins that we may be deemed righteous before God our Father. There is no view that I know that is as weird as this one – so completely does it fly against the grain of all natural reason. And yet it is so.

And it is therefore rich that your definition of “reasonableness” involves a worldview absent of devils. There ARE devils. There IS warfare going on. And they are defeated ONLY by invoking the name of Jesus Christ for it is by His sacrifice ALONE that they are overcome. It is therefore perfectly sensible to acknowledge their existence and give glory to God for their defeat.

It does not do to be so ready to condemn ignorance in others.

And funnily enough you ARE the only Christian I know to be kicked out of a Bible study. Quite a feat to be ejected from a club that is notoriously lax in its membership criteria. This is a first.

And this is not at all a good sign especially since you find yourself capable of being quite charitable regarding Planned Parenthood’s “contribution to women’s health” while find you find nothing but “prophetic anger” towards a lady trying to comfort a devastated mother.

You have made Christ a servant to your ideology. IT SHOULD BE THE OTHER WAY ROUND!!!”

Ashwin

*****************************************************

OK. There’s a lot here. First, I think it’s important that I repeat what I’m pretty sure I’ve stated before: I believe there is a literal Devil, a Satan bent on wreaking havoc in the world and trying to wreak havoc in the believer’s life. But I don’t believe that having a disabled baby is evidence that he’s succeeded.

No Christian has the luxury of assigning Satan a role as some fairytale imp who somehow represents icky things while hopping about the Earth in a red leotard and bad makeup. To not acknowledge that there is a Devil eternally opposed to all that’s good, holy, righteous and pure is to ignore the clear counsel of Scripture. Liberals may want to assign the Bible’s teachings on Satan to the realm of allegory or metaphor, but I’m not a liberal Christian in my understanding of doctrine. I believe that the crux of the redemption story is that Satan has injected, with my cooperation and yours, evil into what once was pure — and will be pure again because of the fullness of the Kingdom of God, purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus and sealed by his resurrection.

There’s not a person alive who hasn’t seen evidence, all around them and in their own life, of the workings of evil. And they may understand those workings to be the natural way of the world, entirely apart from supernatural involvement, or believe as I do that there is real evil in a real Satan. Their disbelief in the Biblical doctrine of evil in no way lessens Satan’s affect on the world, or my conviction that what the Word of God says about Satan is true. Thankfully, the Lord Jesus has defeated Satan — whether or not I agree, understand it, see it around me, or give it any particular thought at all.

But there’s a tendency in the Church to conflate the reality that we all live in a fallen, sin-soaked world with specific acts of personal, directed malice from Satan. If you asked me why there’s disease in the world, I might respond that it’s because the world has fallen from its pure, holy, originally created state — that we were meant to live, not die, and yet in this sliver of eternity, death is our enemy. But if you ask me why Bucky has leukemia, my answer will not — cannot — suggest that Bucky brought leukemia onto himself by cursing Jesus or by inviting Satan into his blood. I think you would not only appreciate my response, but find it entirely Biblical.

Marshall, in my post below, did not speak that way of women who deliver disabled babies, and in fact said just the opposite: That post-abortive women deliver disabled babies because Jesus is punishing them. The Crazy Demon-Obsessed People, or the Bible study leader, didn’t simply acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and sometimes fetal development goes awry; they told women — grieving women, burdened women, Christian women — that miscarriage or Down’s Syndrome was a result of cursing God in the womb. Tell me, Ashwin, what Godly comfort that offers women? Tell me how that comports with 2 Corinthians 1, wherein we are charged to comfort one another in truth. And tell me how it’s somehow worse for me to take them to task than it is for them to make the initial charge — as ludicrous as it is ugly, as bizarre as it is uncharitable — in the first place.

You may believe, brother Ashwin, that Jesus smites post-abortive women by striking their wombs. I prefer to believe that the wrath of God against sin is, as the Scriptures triumphantly proclaim, nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. As the hymn says, “I bear it no more; praise the Lord, it is well with my soul.” You may believe that Down’s Syndrome is the result of a curse — and I know thousands of parents of Down’s Syndrome children would vehemently, passionately, in the name of Jesus, refute you. They believe their children to be “perfectly themselves,” as they are, and I would not want to be one who suggests that the apples of their eyes are somehow rotted fruit from a poisoned tree. Do you?

Finally, you are angry with me — and I absolutely affirm not only your right to choose to be, but the care for my soul that I believe accompanies your wrath — for my public rebuke of Marshall, the Crazy Demon-Obsessed People, and the hapless Bible study leader. I was in relationship with the CDOPs and the woman leading the study, and their errors were severe — as severe in their context as Peter’s error in not eating with Gentiles, which prompted immediate, public, strong, and specific rebuke from Paul. And Marshall, representing the work and Word of the Lord Jesus, spoke public error, for which public rebuke is appropriate, Biblical, and necessary. Of course he’ll never read my words; if he did, who knows what he’d do with them. But people around me, people who read my blog, have read what he said. They deserve to know that there are Christians who believe that the reasonable, not to mention kindest and most Christlike explanation, for fetal abnormality is not that the woman must’ve had an abortion — or, that if a woman who has had an abortion gets pregnant again and carries to term, that baby could very well carry a message of cursing from God in the form of a missing chromosome.

So here’s my view of evil: Satan has poured effluent — crap, shit — into the perfect world God made, and we swim in that world. You swim in a sewer, you’re going to have some of its filth cling to you; it’s impossible to live in a sinful, fallen world without sinning and without being stung by the sin around you from eternity past. And while all of us are contributing to the filth and decadence of the world around us, it negates the enormity of the atonement and resurrection to suggest that we’re helpless, hopeless, or, worse, conspirators whose pain is justified, even after we’ve trusted in the Christ who delivers us. Surely you know that.

You’re correct, and blessedly so, that the weirdest thing in the world is God-made-human, securing our redemption, our cleansing, on a murderer’s cross. But that weirdness brings life. That something else is “weird,” or a mystery, or supernatural, doesn’t mean that it corresponds with truth. God has revealed how we are to come to him — in faith in Christ Jesus — and we are not free to conjecture, particularly when it devastates the tender, grieving members of the Body — how we can fit Satan into the whole mess. Or the whole blessing.

Now, Then — Where Was I?

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Computer problems, tax time, and a huge editing project all have kept me from blogging last week, but I’m back, laptop fixed, tax information reasonably organized, and . . . a huge editing project still undone.

Nonetheless, I promised in my former post to comment on a particularly vile bit o’ spewage from Republican Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall. This is the sort of thing for which the Christian Right is tragically becoming known, to the shame of Christ Jesus and the Gospel, not to mention reasonable civic dialogue. Marshall needs to be confronted by those in the Church who recognize that calculated viciousness is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit and ought not be an entry onto the wider stage of Christian political engagement.

Remember that while I am not a fan of Planned Parenthood’s abortion engagement, although I do appreciate their significant contribution to women’s health. Those of us who believe abortion is the taking of human life ought to rise up and condemn this sort of ugliness, insisting that Marshall and others like him not be allowed to speak for the pro-life movement.

So we have the putatively Christ-following Marshall speaking at a press conference against state funding for Planned Parenthood. He blasted the organization for supporting a woman’s right to choose abortion, saying that God punishes women who have had abortions by giving them disabled children:

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children. In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment, Christians would suggest.”

Let me be clear. Marshall knows not of what he preaches. This kind of thing, frankly, makes me wonder if he knows the Christ he represents as smiter of infants. That’s not the Christ I know.

There is a tragedy that emerges from abortion, I believe, and its first manifestation is the death of the unborn baby. The woman suffers, too. While I have doubts about the prevalence of “Post-Abortion Syndrome” in women who have terminated pregnancies, I do think that abortion represents a failure in society — a web of broken promises, failed dreams, abandonment, isolation, and oppression that can cause a mother to see abortion as the last, best choice she can make. If subsequent births bring babies with disabilities, that’s not because of nature wreaking vengeance on her. It’s ignorant to suggest that it is, and it’s injurious to the cause of Christ to hurt women by doing so.

I might well be the only Christian woman you know who’s been kicked out of a Bible study. And Jeff and I have left a few churches, and have done so for pretty significant reasons. More on that later . . . but one church experience stands out from this discussion, and I think it’s a good way to end.

When we were in Monroe, Washington, the church we went to had a wonderful, kind, intelligent pastor, whose departure left the congregation reeling. In the vacuum came a married couple we still refer to as The Crazy Demon-Obsessed People, and they were able, astonishingly, to assume positions of real influence in the congregation. She believed herself to be a teacher, based not on any particular study of the Scriptures, but solely on her experiences with “inner healing.” By visualizing Jesus in her past memories, she claimed to have been delivered from crippling depression, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder.

That may well have been, but it inculcated in her an obsession with seeing Satan under every bush, behind every door, around every corner, and in the uteruses of women who miscarried. She taught, both in women’s Bible studies and from the pulpit, that miscarriage or birth disabilities resulted from a woman’s, perhaps unintentional, inviting of Satan to curse her womb and her baby — either because she was ambivalent about the pregnancy, or because she subconsciously hated the gender of the unborn baby. The cure was envisioning Jesus battling Satan in the womb, and the rest is history, as was the presence of the Emerine-Mixes in that congregation.

I was astonished at a theology that was so Satan-dependent for its legitimacy, and furious at the ease with which reasonable women and men — or so I thought — welcomed the dangerous absurdity of bad theology and twisted obstetrics. But I also knew a few women in the church who had lost pregnancies, and some of them were young Christians who were damaged and hurt by the idea that they had contributed in some way to their miscarriages. Around this time, I was in a women’s Bible study, something I’m fundamentally opposed to in most cases, with two other women. One had a profoundly disabled, non-verbal, autistic son; the other had a charming little dude with Down’s Syndrome. I had two kids, had miscarried between their pregnancies, and thought I’d enjoy the time with other neighborhood moms.

The study was intolerable. The first woman had — gee, how to put it? — a theology that reeked of the ineffably bizarre. The mother of the boy with Down’s was a new believer, and I’d been a Christian for about a decade. I’m an easygoing type of gal. I want to nurture other believers and help others learn the Bible. But I can’t now, and couldn’t then, tolerate hearing the first woman “confess” that she had “produced” her very ill son after having given Satan dominion over her uterus, and she was, having repented, now waiting for his complete physical healing of autism, tachycardia, epilepsy, profound intellectual deficit, and deafness. It would come, she said, just as the complete physical “healing” — in her mind, the reversal and elimination of any sign of Down’s Syndrome in the six-year-old boy — would come, on this side of eternity, once the young mom “repented” of having turned the workings of her uterus, ovaries, and vagina over to the Devil. Little Michael’s mom broke down sobbing, and I went prophetically angry. It may have even looked ballistic. Either way, it resulted in my being asked to never come to the study again.

This sort of hideous ignorance, masquerading as theology, is too common in the Church, the one place where loving God with both mind and heart ought to result in mercy, forgiveness, new starts, and a healthy grasp of reality. I doubt that the Crazy Demon-Obsessed People have much influence beyond whatever congregation they’ve floated into now, and the last I heard of my former neighbor is that her marriage collapsed, her son is still institutionalized, and she drifts from church to church. But the teaching leaves its impact on real women, real hearts, and real emotions. The Church would do well to model Christ and focus a whole lot less on women’s uteruses and more on their hearts, minds, and souls.

Ushering people like Marshall off the media pulpit would be an excellent start.