God in a Brothel

{once again I’m participating in the Patheos book club}

Most of the time, reading and writing is pretty easy for me, but this book, God in a Brothel, was really hard to read and is even harder to write about.

Sex trafficking–the commercial sexual exploitation of women, girls, and boys by force, fraud, or coercion–is a terrifying reality, and not just ‘overseas somewhere’ or ‘a long time ago.’ Thousands–no, millions–of people are enslaved so that their captors can profit by prostituting them. There are more people enslaved today than at any point in human history.I think there are a few reasons why this is such a difficult subject for someone like me.

First, I have grown up in (and belong to) a religious tradition that values sexual purity to a very high degree. And with good reason: the New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus’ followers are to be pure. However, the emphasis on safeguarding personal sexual purity as a hallmark of Christian faith–perhaps well-intentioned–has also served to demonize those who struggle with normal human desires and drives. It has also made talking about sexual problems–like addiction, abuse, and exploitation–very difficult.

Second, I think that women and girls have unjustly carried the blame when it comes to the issue of selling sex. More than once, I have heard people say that Bathsheba shouldn’t have been taking a bath on the roof, because in so doing she was tempting King David. (And, thus, the ensuing adulterous affair was her fault. There are so many reasons why this interpretation is completely ridiculous.) To hear some people talk, you would think that prostitutes picked their job at a Career Fair. In reality, abuse, fraud, force, addiction, illness, and coercion are usually involved. Blaming the women (and girls) is kind of beside the point, not to mention that it wasn’t Jesus’ approach. And yet, talking about prostitution is still kind of uncomfortable.

Third, as the author Daniel Walker points out, in many churches, the focus and aim seems to be

“typically on gaining victory over personal sin, and there is little apparent understanding of the whole gospel as it applies to […] a creation groaning under the weight of injustice and evil.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying personal morality is not important. But it does seem that, in many Christian circles, there’s maybe 1,000 “combat personal lust” discussions for every 1 “how can we fight commercial sexual exploitation?” discussion. Maybe, though, if we could get a clear picture of where unbridled lust and greed lead–to girls and women enslaved as prostitutes–we might have a compelling reason to fight against lust, and not just the kind that’s within us.

Daniel Walker, a New Zealand cop and the founder of NVader, an organization that investigates and helps to prosecute perpetrators of sex trafficking while rescuing and restoring the victims, went into the darkness and the temptation of brothels driven by love, compassion, and the desire to see Jesus in “the least of these.” This book is a candid telling of how Walker lost his life–his security, his peace, his carefree spirit, and even his beloved wife–for the sake of this mission.

I can imagine Walker being judged by other Christians for the failures he so candidly admits in this book, but I sincerely hope he will not be. His is a compelling, vulnerable, and heartbreaking story of one who tries, succeeds, fails, and tries again in the sometimes messy, often ugly, always complicated business of setting captives free–of making possible a world where people are neither owned nor sold.

{Learn about Daniel Walker’s anti-trafficking tour here. Click here where you can read an excerpt, hear an interview with the author and see further discussion on the book.}