Other Thy Neighbor

I wrote this for the Star Light blog in October, 2008:

I had a dream a few weeks ago. I was hanging out in a brothel. The brothel was raided by the police. The police started rounding up all of the women there, me included. I kept thinking, “I’m a minister, not a sex worker.” And then I would think, “I can prove it!” Then I realized that I could not prove it. I had nothing on my person or in my purse that proved that I was a minister. I was handcuffed and taken away. I remember being resigned to this, to not fighting my way out of it, because this is what sex workers face all the time.

When I awoke from the dream, I knew something was different.

Maybe it’s only a tiny shift, but it’s a shift nonetheless.

I have worked, since the inception of Star Light, for viewing sex workers as whole people, as bright and shining women and men, who are powerful agents in their own lives. But in all honesty, when I started this ministry eight years ago, I thought there was a difference between me and the sex workers. I believed I could help. Mind you, it was never a sense that I knew what was right for any woman, never that I knew better than her where her life could go, never that I had all the answers, but it was, perhaps, that I had more experience, more networks, more maturity and could help. Basically, I thought that I was better than sex workers, even if only in degrees.

In my immaturity, I committed the sin of othering, especially when it came time to talk about the ministry I was doing. I talked about the kind of statistics Melissa Farley talks about. I used the “these poor women” tactic, because it was the only one I knew. I shudder now when I think about talking about some of the sermons and teaching I did. I try to imagine myself saying those things in front of the women I work with, and I just can’t imagine it.

I’ve been thinking about a sermon I heard in my preaching class in seminary, by a friend named Kara. The type of sermon we were supposed to be preaching was on a specific social justice issue, and hers was on homosexuality. As a rhetorical device, Kara used a lot of “those people” statements, which were very effective for understanding that “those people” weren’t different from everyone else (by the way, this was a VERY radical view in our seminary, which I shared with Kara). The finale of the sermon came when Kara, this straight, sweet, innocent woman with a lilting voice, exclaimed, “I’m a homosexual!”

I saw myself as “other,” and that is sin.  I am sorry.

I perpetuated that othering through conversations, preaching and teaching. I am sorry.

Ultimately, though, I realize that I didn’t take the role of prophet far enough. I am convinced that the church is replete with well-intentioned people who are committing the sin of othering through their mission endeavors. Church members are concerned with the sin of commercial sex, but, really, it keeps them cozy in their feeling, “I’m better than you.” Failing to understand this, and failing to point this out, put me in collusion with their sin.

And I am sorry.

Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he begins explaining to his disciples that he’s going to be killed. Then he says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.”

I don’t resonate with Jesus calling his disciples servants. However, the shift in his understanding of who the disciples were does resonate with me. It’s a shift from “I’m better than you,” to “I’m equal to you and you are equal to me.” It says, “I no longer teach, I learn. I no longer comfort, I am comforted. I no longer lead, but I am lead.” There’s a healthy reciprocity in the relationship. I feel that, and I think my dream on Saturday illustrates it more than anything.

I am grateful for my friends who are sex workers for putting up with me thus far. You have taught me about strength. You have taught me about resilience. But most of all, you have taught me acceptance, the greatest component of love. Thank you.