(The following post is a departure from the usual content on Fat Beggars blog. It is, however, related (in a round about way) to the regular content in that sex trafficking is a matter of homeless sex. (See post on Homeless Sex here.) Home – The HOUSE of GOD, in particular – is God’s answer to the problems on our streets, in our alleys, and the backyards of our American Bible Belt.
This post is an edited version of a paper I wrote for my Rape Investigation course at Wayland Baptist University in 2015. When I saw the video which I link here at the start, this paper became my class project because I found it inexcusable that the highway connecting one end of the Bible Belt to the other is actually the most sex trafficked highway in the nation. I hope you will take note of the problem and seek God’s answer to it. It is in our own proverbial/Christian backyard.)
(Warning: Graphic content/long post – but at least watch the video)
“The first time a boy told me he wanted to f[*]ck me,” writes Suzi Parker in her book Sex in the South: Unbuckling The Bible Belt (a book I will not recommend by the way),
…I was sitting on a pew in the First Baptist Church in Russellville, Arkansas, a small town on the edge of the Ozark Mountains. A chubby blonde classmate to whom I had never given a second glance in high school passed me a note asking to do that very thing, earning him my contempt and a withering go-to-hell glance. I never spoke to him after that, and I certainly never accepted his offer. But years later, I was amused – but not entirely shocked – to discover at a class reunion that he had become a minister. That’s the South, where what you see is never what you get. Peer behind the hymnals and homilies as I do to find out what really happens when the pastor’s not looking. The region is a full-to-capacity carnal playground where the den mother buys dildos, the principal is a swinger, and the preacher is a porn fiend (Parker, 2003).
Parker’s tawdry expose stretches over 350 pages. It offers nothing substantially positive, except for exposure to the light of things which typically reside more comfortably in the shadows. A cursory glance achieves the needed effect, making the 349 remaining pages pretty much a redundant parade of shame for the Christian South to endure. She offers all the effect needed on the opening page, and highlights an ugly, suspicious stain on the wedding dress of the Bride of Christ – the church. We Christians of the Bible Belt need to do a little soul searching, a little confessing, and a lot of repenting – especially as it regards sex.
My point in this brief paper is to examine sex-trafficking vis-à-vis the American church – especially in the southern states. As a Bible-believing, disciple of Christ, I am shocked to learn that Interstate 20, which cuts from Fort Stockton, Texas across the Bible Belt to Florence, South Carolina, “is America’s number one road for human sex trafficking” (“The Wellhouse I-20: The Sex Trafficking Super Highway,” 2014, 1:40) Wow! That observation alone fuels my inquiry here. And as a citizen of Lubbock, Texas, I see that highway as cutting across my own proverbial backyard. I got a Bible degree from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas – a school which sits only a stone’s throw off that highway! So this hits close to home, and as a Christian prophet, I think Jesus wants it addressed.
I hereby address my topic with a pair of related questions orbiting the stated issue: 1) Where did the Bride of Christ (the church) go wrong? And 2) What should the Bride of Christ (the church) do about sex-trafficking? My desire for this exercise is to explore the issue in a way that puts the church into action regarding I-20 and our own backyard – in fact, our own sex life as the Bride of Christ.
I begin with the first of the pair of questions:
1) Where did the Bride of Christ (the church) go wrong?
The first obvious answer to this question surely is wake up! If you, like me, are shocked to hear that I-20 is the number one road for human sex trafficking, then we went wrong in our ignorance. We need to wise up. We need to get in the know. We need to talk frankly about sex, open our eyes and ears, and bring the issue into the light. The examination of the issue(s) is not the taboo. The taboo is in the seedy commission of the sin(s) and the subsequent cover up. And Suzi Parker is one of the voices eager to point it out.
We do not need to engage in tawdry expose to do this. In fact, I think Suzi Parker, and those like her, find it all too easy to make a fast buck off the nastiness she can dredge up – which depends on our shyness. But she is actually almost as much a part of the problem as she is the solution. (It seems she makes no attempt at solution.) But really, I have personal experiences that, when I stop to think critically about them, add up to quite a shocking expose in my own life and that of my Christian community. Parker’s experience as a teenager on a church pew is one I frankly share with her. I distinctly recall friends at church youth groups from my past bragging on their own sexual exploits – some of them right in the church house! I recall one young lady turning up pregnant after the “lock in” where apparently the chaperone fell down on the job.
Of course boys and girls of adolescent and teenage years have impulses raging through their bodies that require parental supervision. It’s natural! They have the hormones, but lack wisdom, experience, and years. They need shepherds to guide, guard, and direct them. It is the shepherds who keep the sheep innocent. So, I do not blame the kids for doing what comes naturally, but the shepherds for sleeping on the job (Ezek. 34:1-10).
So let’s look at those shepherds a moment. For years now, pastors on TV, radio, and in print have struggled famously with exposure of their double lives which snare them in pornography, prostitution, and even homosexual/alternative lifestyles – all of which they themselves condemn as sinful. It turns out that even the adults need chaperones. Sexual desire is a powerful force that pulsates through most of us. Left alone with the impulses, we are no match for them.
This phenomenon is not just in the media. Even the pastor where I attended church in Lubbock, Texas, in just the last five years, openly confesses his addiction to pornography. He and his wife have turned their experience into a ministry/seminar in an effort to help others caught up in the snare. Yet even closer to home, in my own skin, I was divorced several years ago and joined divorce care groups at various churches here in Lubbock, where I witnessed first-hand sexual solicitation – complete with “boob show.” And now I am talking about the former husbands and wives of fellow, professing Christians struggling with their own broken homes and damaged spirits reaching out to each other for sexual comfort in tawdry displays of vulgar, cheap sex. Yes. I have seen it with my own eyes. Thus, it is not just the kids who need chaperones, but their parents too.
Christians need to shine the light of God on this God-given gift of sexuality. When we sweep this stuff under the rug, as Suzi Parker claims, we let it run wild in the shadows of our own homes and in our churches. Christians get divorced just like those of the world outside our church walls. We are just as damaged and broken. We make the news at least as often (Stetzer, 2014, para. 7). And yet it is a shock somehow to learn that the interstate highway that cuts across the most churched backyards of America is the most sex trafficked in the nation. We need to wake up to our own mess.
Even if you personally do not engage in pornography, sexual promiscuity, or prostitution, you still need to wise up to the fact that our church does. I do not wish to turn this paper into a personal confessional, but I will not attempt to hide my own mess. I personally am not above the fray; no, though I currently live a well-behaved sex life, I have succumbed to temptation before. I have no innate immunity from temptation even now. I am a dedicated member of the assembly which has become, like Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Exod. 32: 1-10), part of the problem for which I/we are supposed to be part of the solution.
We are the church – the assembly of God’s people, in fact the Bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2). We represent him. But the smut and victimization associated with sex trafficking is not his doing; it does not represent him; it is repugnant to him. It is not welcome in his house. He says:
Bring your worthless offerings no longer… They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you. Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
Human sex trafficking is a spiritual matter. Ultimately, it is a matter of idolatry among God’s people, and that is always deadly.
Human sex trafficking is a form of slavery. Don’t let the word “traffic” fool you; it’s not about transporting hookers across state lines. It’s not about transportation at all (though that might be involved). The term depicts a category of sex trade (probably the most common category at that) in which the sex worker provides services at the behest of a boss – a pimp. These sex workers, usually women and girls, are forced into the lifestyle – mostly against their will. They make money from their services that largely they never receive. Thus, sex trafficking is a blend of money, sex, and power – the three great “gods of modernity” – as N.T. Wright has described them. (Wright, 1997, p.155).
The church has a worship problem. I am not talking about squabbles over contemporary music styles; I am talking about worshiping the wrong gods! The Bride of Christ goes whoring after other gods! It’s as if God can’t keep her out of pagan temples! N.T. Wright describes how the ancient pagans of the HOUSE OF ROME worshipped Mammon (Wealth), Aphrodite (the goddess of Sex), and Mars (a Roman god of War) and then links those same ancient, pagan gods to Money, Sex, and Power which rule over American society with an iron grip – and really all of the modern western world that worships at the HOUSE of AMERICAN PRIDE (Wright, 1994, p.15). More recently, Kyle Idleman has explored the problem of idolatry in the church with his book, Gods at War: Defeating The Idols That Battle For Your Heart. But I find Wright’s proposal most compelling and appropriate since sex trafficking appears to embrace Money, Sex, and Power in exactly the idolatrous terms he describes.
Aphrodite’s House (Proverbs 7… and 9:13-18)
The church is neck-deep in idolatry – whoredom of a worshipful nature. Street sex, strip-club sex, computer porn, prison sex, child and animal sex – every last category a home-breaking expression of idolatry in the HOUSE of GOD! And yet she (the church) does not notice the slavery going on in her own backyard. She needs to open her eyes and repent. For every time a pastor or one of his flock pays a prostitute to have sex, divorces and/or engages in an extramarital affair, or even looks at porn, that Christian cheapens the love of God and elevates cheap sex up on the altar of his heart. His heart – the very TEMPLE OF GOD! This is a matter of worship infidelity. This cannot help but make space for the victimization of human sex trafficking in our own backyard. And sex trafficking involves the ongoing rape of its victims until they are able to escape the clutches of their traffickers. (Savino & Turvey, p. 73).
That is a strong word for it. But that is effectively what is happening up and down our Bible Belt highway. Mostly it is men – either from the Bible Belt (which strongly suggests men from church) or it’s those passing through (which are men coming under the shadows of our steeples) – raping women and girls from the Bible Belt.
Do I have your attention yet?
Such potent claims as these mean there is no way around the fact that to a large extent men of God are raping women of God on a regular basis in our own backyard. The church has unwittingly defiled her own bed in the HOUSE of GOD! And those of us not directly engaged in it are frequently indirectly engaged. Those porn sites and magazines feature victimized women and girls. They are someone’s mother, someone’s sister, and definitely the daughters of your Father. He might just have something to say about that.
In Mammon We Trust (back of a dollar bill)
Then there is the matter of profiting from this mess. I took a drive across the Bible Belt a few years ago and was stunned by all the strip joints and sex super stores I saw on the roadside. Jammed in between truck stops and strip joints I found gigantic, monolithic, church buildings casting shadows over it all. But this stuff gets a pass because “it’s just business”. Lots of money to be made out there. So what if regular rape plays a role in it? It is important for all that cargo to get to Wal-mart so I can get cheap stuff I don’t need. But that is all I care about, even though it facilitates the trucking industry, broken homes, divorce, and rape. I might never directly engage in the smut myself, but there is every reason to believe that many of my brothers and sisters do and no way around the fact that all the commerce benefits my bottom line. Rape is just a small price for good business.
POWER (Thank you, Neichze)
But rape is not really about sex per se. Oh, sex is involved, but it is really about force and power, so say the victim advocate experts (Savino & Turvey, p. 385). And there is no way around this aspect. Rape is the unwanted, nonconsensual, sexual penetration that can only happen under duress, force, or manipulation (Savino & Turvey, p. 9). Sex is involved, but it is brutal sex forced upon a victim against their will. And this rounds out N. T. Wright’s picture of modern idolatry. Money, Sex, and Power – the three great gods of modern life which push and pull people out of joint with his will for their lives and for creation.
Image-Bearing/HOME-MAKING Sex in the House of God (Proverbs 9:1-6)
Here’s the thing: Humanity was created in the image of God to be male and female (Gen. 1: 27). This is a sexual image of fidelity – of trust, of faith. The husband and wife at the beginning sexually represent God before the creation. The vocation of humanity is to bear the image of God, and the first and foremost expression of that image is one of holy sex. The church, as the Bride of Christ, is his lover – expressing the equivalent of holy sex in worship of the one true God.
Sex and worship cover a lot of common ground.
It is my speculation that the thrill of sex is not merely the orgasmic rush of the hedonist, nor is it merely the passing on of genes for the survival of the fittest. No. The thrill of sex is bigger and far more spiritual than either of those ideas (though it fully encompasses both of them). Rather, the thrill of sex is found in its God-likeness. Even in a sinful capacity, sex has to do with being like God. And we all want to be God-like masters of our own making. Such is the primal temptation (Gen. 3:5). So sex seems to have the scent of God we so dearly crave on it, even when abused (and it seems sinful sex is almost the only kind we of the modern world know). Thus we chase after the thrill of sex for all we are worth. We become idolatrous pagans in the house of God despite ourselves, and then we hardly notice when the interstate highway at our back door becomes the sex-traffic superhighway of America.
We need to get back to the thrill of God’s sex: the thrill of faith in a life-long mate, the thrill of trust in a spouse and THERIN MAKING A HOME FOR GOD– the temple of our hearts. We need to know the thrill of bearing the image of God for creation to see, as we give ourselves completely to the sexual love for our husband/wife in a life-long commitment. Then communally, as the church, the Bride of Christ must worship him and manifest the image of God for all of creation to see (like Adam and Eve at the beginning (Gen. 1:27)). It has the effect, so says Isaiah, of “making mountains bow down, valleys stand at attention, and the rough places to smooth out” (Isa. 40:3-5). In this, then, we bear the image of God before the world bringing conviction and blessing to the hurting places festering in our own backyard.
More Godly Sex, then, is the call to action I put forth to the church; not less. MORE!
This brings me to the second question:
2) What should the Bride of Christ (the church) do about sex-trafficking?
Is there some proactive agenda in which the church should engage? I mean, surely we don’t research sex trafficking in America, discover that the sex-slave trade is alive and well in our own backyard, and then just pray and hope it goes away! Surely there is more to it than that.
Well, yes and no…. but mostly no. Here is the reality that ONLY THE CHURCH can handle! Therefore we must not short-change our worship. Getting our worship straightened out is first and foremost important as an assembly of concerned disciples of Christ. Actually, that is the point. That is the most important thing we can do. We need to get our own heads and hearts right with God, and that is a tall order. This whole agenda begins and ends with prayerful reflection, conviction, repentance, worship and more prayer. And those are the key things. But yes, there are secondary matters of ministry too, and we can roll up our sleeves and do something about it.
I am reminded of a visit I had in Seattle, Washington eight years ago when I visited the Free Methodist Church in Shoreline as they hosted a seminar on the subject of human trafficking. It turns out that the Free Methodists have a particular historical involvement in the abolition of slavery (What is a Free Methodist?, 2012 p. 2, bullet 1). They also happen to be a leading force even today in confronting human trafficking – including sex trafficking (Onstot, 2015). Perhaps we should inquire among the Free Methodists about their experience with ministering to those caught up in sex trafficking. They have a good track record of being on the right side of such issues.
Furthermore, I find that merely talking about this subject in Sunday school has a very positive effect. Like me, most of my fellow Christians are deeply shocked to hear that I-20 is “America’s number one road for sex trafficking.” The ignorance and disbelief confronted in Sunday school is a start. It gets the conversation going. It gets the prayers going. And, many of my fellow Christians are also staunchly conservative voters who are apt to write a congress person or make a phone call to the mayor’s office. Getting these folks educated on the matter is a simple step that pays off in many effective ways. And I am sure that as these concerned citizen/disciples begin praying and thinking and talking together, many more programs and ministries will begin to develop. But in the end, I come back to worship and prayer.
Worship/Sex… Spiritual Warfare and God’s House
I really do not want this aspect of our confrontation with a sinful world to get short-changed by all the pragmatic things we might dream up. Those things are important. But we absolutely must be centered on God and rely on his power, his love, and his justice. It is the church’s job to usher the homeless “lost” INTO the HOUSE of GOD!
As I learn from N.T. Wright, we really can confront the world and all the principalities and powers therein with the lordship of Jesus Christ (Wright, 1997, p.155). That confrontation is a worshipful confrontation, and it really has the deepest impact.
I will wind this paper down with a brief story from my past. It happened the year I took that afore mentioned road-trip across the Bible Belt. I was not actually on I-20 (though part of the trip involved that road). Rather, I was coming across Tennessee and Arkansas back to Texas when I had to take shelter for the night from a vicious storm raging in the skies overhead. I pulled into a Super 8 Motel for the night – one that stood four stories high. And wouldn’t you know it; I got a room on the top floor. It was a raging storm outside, and I was on the fourth floor of a motel in a tornado alley! I would have preferred a cellar just then.
As you can imagine, I turned on the TV to see if the weather was going to get any worse. It seemed to be easing up, so I got a shower and then got ready for bed. It was getting late by this time, but I thought I should check the weather report one last time. I clicked the TV back on again. Only now, the local news was off the air and the smut was on.
I had innocently stumbled into a rather nasty temptation.
I saw things.
Things I never saw before or since.
I changed the channel, and wouldn’t you know it? More smut. And I mean it was some strange, kinky stuff. I had never in my life considered the kinds of junk flooding my brain just then. It was a freakish fascination. I was repulsed and fascinated at the same time. My thumb almost wanted to click the “off” button on the remote control and go to sleep, but suddenly my thumb turned to lead and weighed a million pounds. I couldn’t budge it. Meanwhile, my eyes feasted on the most insane, sexual frenzy I ever saw (and I have been around!).
I was stuck, like Israel on the hillside being taunted by the Giant Goliath in the valley below. Was I a man of God? Or was I a slave of Aphrodite? Where was that young shepherd boy with his stones?
And then some small voice echoed in my heart and cried out a silent scream, and I remembered my Lord Jesus.
I began saying to the TV screen, “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord.”
Suddenly, about the third or fourth time I said it, my thumb hit the “off” button. I laid there in the dark on the bed continuing my chant and feeling a cool emptiness in the room with me. I kept saying, “Jesus is Lord.” And my heart began to fill with confidence in Jesus.
He moved my thumb when I couldn’t. The giant taunting me from the television was silenced. Jesus came and filled my heart when the room was cold, dark, and empty. In his name, the demon fled from me. I slept in his peace in that motel room during a southern spring storm like Jesus slept on the cushion in the bottom of the boat while the hurricane raged making his disciples fear for their lives (Mark 4:37-8). It is the same message my brothers and sisters in Christ up and down I-20 need to hear. Also, it is the message they need to take to that road.
If you have a church building along that stretch of road, THIS IS YOUR FRONT LINE BATTLE! Sex-trafficking is not someone else’s problem; it’s Jesus’s and you are his hands and feet on the battlefield! You got a marquee? USE IT! Invite the weary traveler into your sanctuary! Why is he going to the Super 8 Motel??? Those are strangers making a buck off anyone who will pay. But you have a sanctuary sitting empty all night long while your mothers, sisters, and daughters are being raped down at the Super 8!
OPEN THE DOOR!!!
We need to take the Jesus-is-Lord message to every man, woman, and child along I-20. We need to take our worship to the roadside and invite every passerby to stop and come to Jesus. We need to get nosey and ask strange women in bathrooms if they need to escape their captors – even if they appear affluent, pretty, and “with it”! We need to leave phone numbers of parishioners who will drive down to the truck stop and give a girl (or boy) a ride to the police station! We need to not allow travelers to remain anonymous! We need to show the creation our single-hearted devotion to our Lord. It is an expression of the Bride and her Man. It sounds almost stupid, I know, but it holds the promise of Isaiah to affect the world with the very image of God (Isa. 40:3-5). And we need to get these strangers IN THE HOUSE of GOD!
Thus, in our very expression of faith, we need to be bold and actually talk to the people we meet in rest-stop bathrooms, truck stops, diners, filling stations, and roadside flats. We need to tell them that Jesus is Lord. It is the gospel message. Here’s the thing: If Jesus is Lord, then Rape is not. If Jesus is Lord, then Mammon is not. If Jesus is Lord, then Aphrodite is not. If Jesus is Lord, then Mars is not. If Jesus is Lord, then your pimp is not. If Jesus is Lord, then methamphetamine is not. If Jesus is Lord, then pornography is not. If Jesus is Lord, then this demon that drives so many of us to divorce, prostitutes, and double lives as would-be Christians is not. (Each one of those statements would make great bumper stickers that could characterize the church’s campaign against this nonsense!)
And Jesus IS Lord!
Let’s get real about it; let’s stop turning a blind eye, stop excusing rape as part of good business, stop pretending we are proud Americans and act like the humble hands and feet of Jesus! AND let’s get the word out. Let the Bride of Christ and her Man bear the image of God for creation to see, and then watch the healing begin in earnest.
Parker, S. (2003). Sex in the South: Unbuckling The Bible Belt. Boston, MA: Justin, Charles & Co.
The Wellhouse. (2014). I-20: The Sex Trafficking Super Highway. Retrieved from http://the-wellhouse.org/i20/
Christianity Today. (2014). Marriage, Divorce, and the Church: What do the Stats say and can be happy?.
Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/february/marriage-divorce-and-body-of-christ-what-do-stats-say-and-c.html?paging=off
Wright, N. T. (1997). What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?.
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Wright, N. T. (1994). Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
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Idleman, K. (2013). Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart. Grand Rapids, MI:
Savino, J. O. & Turvey, B. E. (2011). Rape Investigation Handbook. (2nd ed.). Waltham, MA: Elsevier
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