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Every denomination needs one of these...

Sacred Place as Public Place

Friday, November 30, 2007

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, Kansas

Characteristic of the mainline church tradition, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is a denomination committed to freedom of thought, social justice, and understanding others. So when you enter the doors of a local UCC church, it's possible to hear advocacy on a whole host of social issues, from many viewpoints-- at a worship service, a Sunday School class, or a community event.

The free exchange and consideration of ideas is essential in order for an individual or group to decide beliefs and direct actions. To this end, United Church of Christ congregations often act as a public square. Their rooms, tables, and chairs provide the literal space for issues to get hashed out. But in contrast to secular community buildings, the space of a church is unique. In subtle and not so subtle ways, religious spaces are infused with the presence of the divine.

Which leads to a question: What degree of accountability should a local church incur when it hosts an outside group that espouses controversial, dare I say, unbiblical views?

Consider this example. On Thursday, November 29, Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City, Iowa hosted a noon luncheon of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, a non-profit association affiliated with the University of Iowa's International Programs. Ms. Sue Simon, of the George Soros funded Open Society Institute, spoke on, "The Global Movement for Sex Worker Health and Rights: Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs."

Inside a UCC church, Simon argued that society should legalize prostitution. Daily Iowan reporter Shawn Gude writes:
Iowa City native and City High graduate Sue Simon argued for increased rights and an end to negative stereotyping for sex workers around the world Thursday afternoon at the Congregational United Church of Christ in an Iowa City Foreign Relations Council-sponsored event.

Making the distinction between sex workers and human sex trafficking - two things too commonly equated with each other, Simon said - she argued that many individuals she has come in contact with through her international work have been in the profession willingly, whether it's for personal, economic, or social reasons.

"Many believe there is no good reason to get into or remain in sex work," Simon said. "The reality is that for a lot of people, sex work is their best or only opportunity to earn enough money to support their families."

...Asserting the validity of the sex-worker profession, Simon decried the treatment such workers receive and "right-wing conservatives and prohibitionists … who believe they can and should end sex work because of their religions or moral beliefs."

...She also advocated for the complete decriminalization of the sex-worker profession throughout the world. And instead of state discrimination against prostitutes, governments should advocate for the ethical treatment of sex workers, she asserted.

"No one should lose their human rights because of the work they do," she told the crowd of approximately 60, who sat around 11 tablecloth-covered tables.
It's protocol to report the facts of an event, but it's interesting we read about the "11 tablecloth- covered tables." Could it be the reporter found it a tad odd that, of all places, it was in a "sacred place" he heard an uncontested argument for legalized prostitution?

When a church hosts an outside group, it's easy for the church to say, "The views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of ... blah, blah, blah."

Frankly, that's a cop out excuse.

Church leaders should be savvy enough to know that whenever they lend out their sacred space as an "impartial" public square, it can easily become an advocacy forum-- one that carries with it the church's implicit endorsement.

Lending sacred space for this kind of radical advocacy is tragically unfaithful.
posted by Living the Biblios, Friday, November 30, 2007


For more log splitting, anyone can tune in to Son Life Radio and hear Jimmy Swaggart talk about other Christians all day long. And just as one autonomous UCC church leader can find a space to blog that another autonomous UCC church is unfaithful, also wouldn’t a local UCC church leader that truly honors diversity be willing to re-direct worshippers, especially unsuspecting new worshippers, to a nearby UCC church if a better theological match is available and desired?
commented by Blogger George R. Dreher, 9:40 AM  
I constantly marvel at this blog's ability to foment outrage out of relatively trivial events. Two points to consider:

1.) In the introduction to the post, you claim that Simon advocated the "legalization" of prostitution. But the actual news account speaks of the "decriminalization" of prostitution. There is a difference between those two words; your failure to acknowledge the distinction suggests that you are less interested in making a good faith argument and more interested in (yet again) making a mountain out of some molehill and working yourself into a lather.

2.) For that matter, the decriminalization of prostitution is something about which reasonable people--including reasonable Christians--can disagree. Plenty of experts believe decriminalization would be the best way to ensure the health and well-being of sex workers. Your arrogant assumption that there is one and only one legitimate position for Christians to take is off-putting to say the least.
commented by Anonymous Matt, 12:16 PM  
Other than semantics, what is the difference between "legalization" and "decriminalization"?
Recent history of the church's handling of the homosexuality issue shows it is a short step between "decriminalizating" and legitimizing.
commented by Blogger Steve, 11:36 AM  
There is no way you could possibly make sex work healthy physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually for either men or women on either side of the exchange. There cannot possibly be, even under the best of circumstances, "well-being" for anyone involved.
commented by Anonymous Jewelle, 12:19 PM  
While churches may be autonomous governmentally, they are not free of their obligation to God or Holy Scripture.

I find it odd the someone actually posits that "Good Christians can disagree" on the merits of sex trafficking!
commented by Anonymous Martin Thompson, 11:33 AM  
Sorry for the delay in responding -I've been on vacation...

1.) In the debate about prostitution (and drugs, for that matter), there is a commonly recognized distinction between decriminalization (reducing or abolishing criminal penalties for an act) and legalization (removing all legal detriments for said act). But don't take my word for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decriminalization

2.) Of course reasonable Christians can disagree about decriminalizing prostitution -plenty of people feel that it is, in the long run, better for the well-being of women to decriminalize sex work and bring out of the shadows so that protections for women can be put in place.

To return to my larger point: The failure to grasp the elementary (and commonly employed) distinction between decriminalization and legalization and the assumption that there is "one and only one" Christian position on such a complex issue suggest to me that the author and most of those commenting at this blog are less interested in engaging in good faith argument and much more interested in scoring points.

You are generating heat, not light.
commented by Anonymous Matt, 5:52 PM  
RE: Other than semantics, what is the difference between "legalization" and "decriminalization"?

At one time, going into debt was a crime, and the debtor was thrown into prison. Over time it was realized that this was the wrong approach and being a debtor was decriminalized. It is still a mater of law, but you aren't locked up. That seems to be a pretty clear and useful distinction.

I don't know what is being advocated in this case, but laws for the regulation of an activity, as opposed to its prohibition and punishment, are often the more rational and humane approach to a problem. This is especially true in the areas of the law that cover "victimless crimes", including prostitution.

This approach is often called "decriminalization" and it has a grounding in legal terminology since the "criminal statutes" and the "regulatory statutes" are strictly distinct, and the regulatory statutes allow remedies that are unencumbered by strict criminal procedures.

I don't have an opinion on using or not using a church for such a debate, but the debate itself seems useful and legitimate to me.
commented by Anonymous Alan, 9:58 AM  

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