Last summer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to accept actively homosexual persons as members of their clergy and to condone gays and lesbians living in “lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships.” This has caused a firestorm of controversy in that church body. In response, the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, an independent pan-Lutheran organization that produces a magazine called Lutheran Forum, and a newsletter Forum Letter, published an article titled “Temple Prostitution: A Modest Proposal” by the Associate Editor of Forum Letter, Pastor Peter Speckhard, nephew of the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. I asked for permission to share this brilliant piece of satire here and they kindly granted it. And so, here is the article printed in the December 2009 issue of Forum Letter. Copyright 2009 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved. For further information about Forum Letter, visit www.alpb.org. [Editorial warning: May be unsuitable except for mature readers]
Temple prostitution: a modest proposal
by Peter Speckhard, associate editor
November 2009 Forum Letter
Every now and then a new way of looking at things not only solves a problem but opens up unexpected opportunities for that one solution to lead to a whole host of related solutions. The recent decisions of the ELCA regarding homosexuality solved the problem faced by gay couples seeking church weddings. But even better, the new way of looking at the issue could solve several more perennial problems in the church with one grand innovation.
Facing our problems
What are the biggest problems, practical and theological, that Lutheran churches in America face today? I would submit the following:
Inability to retain or reach out to young, single people, especially men. Think about iton a typical Sunday in a typical Lutheran church, how many 28-year-old single men are sitting in the pews? How might we draw them in? What are their felt needs?
Failure to use the gifts of the laity. Sure, it is easy to use the gifts of creative, educated, energetic, talented people. But many Christians are none of those things. Like the Little Drummer Boy, they have not much to offer. But if they sincerely, humbly, and faithfully offer whatever gifts they’ve been given, shouldn’t they expect their offering to meet the approval of their God?
Declining revenue. Especially in a tough economy, we need new and creative ways to raise money if we’re adequately going to fund critical ministries such as feeding the hungry or blanketing Africa with condoms.
Legalism. We can’t be a gospel-centered church with a do-this, don’t-do-that mentality. Legalism, a focus on rules and moralistic preaching have always threatened the freedom of the gospel.
Biblicism. Too often we use selective proof-texts merely to maintain traditional opinions rather than really listening to the Spirit.
Irrelevance. We need to address the real social needs in and of the world as it exists around us, not as it supposedly was in the 1950’s or how we might wish it were. We must face the joyful challenges of today.
Worship without impact. Too often our worship is only a matter of words and music rather than an expression of radical freedom that encompasses the whole person.
Now imagine all those problems solved with one simple innovation. The answer: temple prostitution.
I know, I know. Outrageous and offensive. I can hear readers already dismissing the idea out of hand. And I admit that we may not be ready for it quite yet. But please hear me out on this.
First off, let’s address the common objections. Sure, there are a handful of Bible verses that might seem to condemn the practice. But all the condemnation of temple prostitution involves pagan practices or worship of false gods. The objectionable thing is the idolatry, not the physical act itself. Sanctified, faithful prostitution in service of the true God is a new thing. The Biblical writers never foresaw or contemplated sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing prostitution in the churches and thus never wrote about it. Attempts to find a Biblical injunction against the practice therefore fall short.
Secondly, let’s not cherry-pick verses selectively. We don’t stone disobedient children to death. We don’t refrain from pork or sodomy merely because this or that verse says we should. We have to look at the whole Biblical witness in light of the freedom we have in Christ. For example, God ordered Hosea to marry a prostitute. Such Biblical precedent offers interpretive nuance to seemingly black-and-white prohibitions.
Thirdly, Jesus himself seemed to have a soft spot for prostitutes. Many reputable scholars today think he may have been married to one. And Jesus showed radical inclusivity, breaking taboos by hanging out with prostitutes. So he would want us to celebrate and affirm their prostitution and give them a venue for making it their true vocation, a way of serving God by serving manselflessly and with their whole being.
Fourthly, some primarily Lutheran nations in Scandinavia have already legalized prostitution. Left-hand kingdom legalities need not stand in the way of the general idea of sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing, church-sponsored prostitution.
Science tells us
Lastly, the idea that church prostitution would cause any harm has been put to rest by a host of studies. The opportunity for a woman to explore her sexuality in a controlled, churchly environment surely beats the back seat or back alley. She would have the mutual trust of knowing her client is a fellow faithful Christian. There would be proper testing, protection, and hygiene standards in a suitably sterilized environment. What she might have done in service to the devil, the world, and her own sinful nature she would now do in service to God, whom we serve by serving our fellow man.
No more living a lie
And for the client there are similar advantages. Think of the number of single males who would be saved from living a lie concerning their deepest emotional and psychological desires. The plain fact is that most of the unmarried men in the congregation are sexually attracted to women. Right now their cruel alternatives are to deny those urges and live a lie, carry out those urges in secretive and destructive ways, or leave the church because their desires are not welcomed and affirmed. But with temple prostitution available, they could avoid dangerous, destructive behavior, help the church raise money, use the gift of sexuality in a God-pleasing way, and sit in the pew focusing on spiritual things without all that pent up desire and frustration getting in the way.
Love conquers all
So there are no valid objections to sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing prostitution in the churches apart from tradition and conservative morality, which are surely trumped by love.
Furthermore, even if there are some controversial points, they do not touch the heart of the gospel. This plan does not eliminate John 3:16; it exposes more people to John 3:16 on Sunday (or, more likely, the Saturday night service). And if there is some Biblicist objection that such behavior could be considered immoral according to traditional, puritanical mores, well, everyone is a sinner, right? Salvation by grace through faith says nothing specifically about prostitution, right? And Jesus never explicitly addressed the issue, either. Do we think we’re saved by proper sexual behavior? I think not. Nor are we saved by our interpretations of a few non-gospel related verses of the Bible.
Now think of the benefits. This program would attract the very demographic we have had such trouble reaching (young men). It would end our fiscal woes. Think of the money we could raise to feed the hungry! Or do you want them to starve because of your puritan hang-ups? It would also provide a teaching opportunity against the age-old heresy that the body is evil. God made us with perfectly natural sexual urges. Why are you so hung up on sex?
The Law is fulfilled in Christ; we are a free, gospel-centered people. We can serve Christ via sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing, church-sponsored prostitution.
Needn’t be church-dividing
But hey, I understand we’re all in different places on this. This needn’t be church-dividing. We can live together with diverse views on this. Some traditionalists may not be comfortable having temple prostitutes in church. They don’t necessarily hate prostitutes; they might just need time. They don’t have to offer it themselves; besides, what seems crazy at first might, with several years of repetition and refining, become perfectly acceptable. Must those of us who are in favor of it be written out of the body of Christ?
Some of us are ready now. I certainly don’t insist that anyone become a temple prostitute or worship God with the help of one. But I do say that there have always been willing prostitutes and willing clients who have been marginalized by traditional sexual mores, and the time has come to change that. And the way to change it is to stop the marginalizing. We’ll all benefit from being a healthier, more inclusive, more faithful, more forgiving, and more satisfied church body if only we’ll be open to the idea of God doing something new.
by Peter Speckhard, associate editor
Copyright 2009 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved.
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