The title of today’s blog seems to suggest I am encouraging people to go out and spend time with prostitutes. That is obviously not true, it’s way too cold to go outside. But for the record, I’m not not saying it either.
The narratives in the Bible give us plenty of uncomfortable scenes of immorality, to be sure. Its pages contain enough murder, war, rape, incest, infanticide, genocide, and foreskin collecting to satisfy any Game of Thrones fan.
Who could forget father Abraham offering his wife/half-sister to Pharaoh as a hospitality gift? The tent peg driven through Sisera’s temple is a nice touch of graphic gruesome. And why don’t we hear more sermons about the major prophet who walked around naked for three years?
But prostitutes hold a surprisingly hefty portfolio in the Bible. We’re not sure about Esther’s situation but she seems to have used her feminine wiles to influence a king and get a biblical book named after her. The prophet Hosea was instructed to marry a prostitute as a living metaphor of the nation’s sin. (We tend to pity Hosea but what about his wife who had to live with an uptight, preachy husband while keeping house on a prophet’s salary?)
Jesus’ lineage includes professionals like Tamar and Rahab. Toss in the adultery of Bathsheba and the virginity of Mary and you’ve got yourself a well fertilized family tree.
We also see that women played a major role in Jesus’ ministry. Among them were some who were morally compromised: the Samaritan at the well, the woman about to be stoned, the one who oiled his feet. These women each acted courageously, asked hard questions, and risked everything for love and grace.
Jesus seemed more at home with sinners who were thoughtful than he was with the hyper-religious who were shallow. Honest thoughts and impoverished spirits made for better kingdom citizens.
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you.”¹ – Jesus
Consider that sentence and how startling the words would have been to Jesus’ listeners; how unsettling they should be to us. The bureaucrats who collect your hard-earned money and the prostitutes who sell their bodies for sex are ahead of you in grasping the kingdom of God.
Prostitutes represented the outsiders who were out of options: nowhere to go, nothing to defend, no need for pretence. In other words, ‘outsiders’ were closer to the heart of God than those who proudly insisted they were on the ‘inside’.
I want to be on the outside with prostitutes.
Christian history is an interesting odyssey, both exhilarating and discouraging. Often our forward steps are matched with more than enough backward ones. Part of the reason we fall over ourselves regularly has to do with our selective paranoia – small corners of the christian faith have been adept at creating super villains and alternate truths in order to preserve their sense of order.
In our past we have found ways to feel righteous by blaming science, education, communism, secularism, etc. as well as by dehumanizing Jews, blacks, natives, papists, and more.
Although the abolition of slavery was largely driven by christians, there were huge numbers who justified owning humans through creative theology. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were largely endorsed by white evangelicals. Here in Canada we are learning first hand what First Nation people knew all along – the stories of abuse and death in christian residential schools are true.
I’m old enough to remember christian leaders warning against the dangers of long hair, pre-marital sex, rock and roll, evolution, and anti-war protests (imagine that!).
We were told that homosexuality, feminism, effeminate men were destroying the nuclear family (although the Bible has no real opinion). The Bible doesn’t speak about abortion either but fundamentalists in the 70s decided to use it as a political tool to unite the right.²
Western christianity did well with these strategies which supplied the wealth and political clout to build mega-churches, family ministries, anti-secular institutions, media conglomerates, business empires, and political influence.
So many pretend issues. So many imagined enemies. So much wealth and power.
So many contradictions.
So little Jesus.
These days polls regularly show that evangelicals are known for their power, narrowness, and anger. Choosing to focus on political issues rather than good discipleship has left much of it scorched and parched with no wells to drink from. Contrary to what they proclaim, it’s not clear that God is on their side.
I accept that most are still good people but recent events have confirmed that christians are increasingly possessed with politics, fanaticism, and self-serving propaganda. The elephant in the room – obvious to onlookers – is that they are no longer defined by how they treat “the least among us”.
You see, the ‘Least’ are not found in most churches and they are not helped by political fighting. Multi-campus churches, tax-exempt ministries, wordy prayers, and flamboyant worship are foreign to The Least. The Least don’t invoke Jesus at blockades, blow shofars at capitol buildings, or complain about faux persecution.
Let me define “The Least”. They are prostitutes and people just trying to survive. They have low paying or insecure jobs, little or no health care, daily hunger, unsafe drinking water. They are children who go to school without breakfast, they are single mothers, they are homeless teenagers, and victims of abuse. They are desperate immigrants and hopeless inmates. They are the sick and disabled. They are victims of racism, addiction, financial loss, poor mental health. They are broken, poor, lonely, searching for truth, desperate for love.
Jesus taught that The Least are outsiders who deserved our love and resources. My guess is that if christians would see the world through the eyes of an outsider prostitute, we would find more important things to fight for.
Jesus shows us that outsiders are the most likely citizens in his kingdom.
I want to be an outsider with prostitutes.
~ ~ ~
¹ Matthew 21:31, NIV
² A quick read about some of the evangelical political maneuvering in the 1970s: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/20/734303135/throughline-traces-evangelicals-history-on-the-abortion-issue