This is our truth, tell us yours
As a Christian a daily sorrow is how many others who share my faith see the eradication of sex work as a laudable aim. Not the eradication of work, or exploitation, or the eradication of all suffering that the new Earth will mean, but specifically targeting sex work as a sin that must be stopped.
I wonder what Rahab would have made of this attitude. Imagine if Joshuas spies had refused her offer of hospitality and instead followed the Swedish Model of reporting her and her clients to the city authorities? Imagine if instead of suggesting the red ribbon of saftey they explained that as a prosituted woman she was unable to offer them any help, that clearly she was a victim of pimps, and they would instead suggested sewing lessons? Given that Rahab is one of the few, named female ancestors of Christ this is quite an important question.
Of course some try to twist out of considering this by claiming Rahab ran an inn, not a brothel, I could even see some insisting she must be a “happy hooker” that most demeaning of terms. We know almost nothing of Rahab’s life, or choices. We do know she was a Godly woman, obeyed the customs of hospitality that culturally were so important, was quick witted and most certainly acted with agency and autonomy in her life. Perhaps though that is the issue for those who want to save sex workers, Rahab clearly has choices, and seems happy with her life. She does not need rescue, and so is dismissed, dismissed in a way she was not in Scripture, dismissed. What is infuriating, no, rage inducing, is how many Christian charities which want to rescue sex workers from their own choices are called Rahab, named for a woman who took control of her own life and made her own choices.
It is as if once they read the word prostitute they are unable to actually read further. Of course this is what happens to sex workers all the time. We are defined by our job and people put us into a box based on their whorephobic assumptions, a box which means they never have to listen to us.
What if you belong to the mindset that would dismiss Rahab as a happy hooker, unrepresentative simply because she does not suffer enough for your liking, is that Christian? Is the Christian response to someone who is presented as a hero of the Old Testament ignoring them? If every word of scripture is the received word of God what does it say about those Christians who ignore the existence of Rahab, or worse rewrite her story to make her a victim?
Rahab is too strong, too in control, too aware of her own choices for most of the Christian Rescue industry, even though they appropriate her name. How about a survival sex worker then, what does the Bible tell us about women forced into sex work by economic circumstance, women on the margins, women denied their rights?
Tamar is a story of exploitation and the denial of rights. There was little worse than being a widow without children to support you in a culture where a womans worth was determined by her relationship to her husband or father. Economically, socially, culturally Tamar represented an intersection of oppressions, and like so many oppressed people the Patriarch denied her rights. In this case the right to marry her dead husbands brothers, to bear children and be supported as the Law laid down.
As bleak a picture as one could imagine. A situation where Tamar was forced into sex work by circumstances. Surely the rescue industry does not dismiss her as a happy hooker. The ending of the story of Tamar always intrigues me, she is about to be killed, as is the law of the time,by order of Judah. She names the father of her child, outs her client, and his response is “you have been more righteous than me”. Not because he slept with her, but because he contributed to the oppression which caused her to become a sex worker.
The whorephobia of the Christian rescue industry comes out when we have so many projects named for Rahab, the woman whose sex work is not condemned and brings her salvation but none for Tamar, the woman forced by patriarchy into sex work. This need not be the response, the American Jewish World Service bases itself on faith, and supports sex worker led projects and decriminalization, as the response to injustice. Moving beyond the idea of the sinful aberrant woman it understands that punishing those who sell sexual services is neither just or godly.
Some will of course look to those levitical laws that condemn sex workers, even if they were never meant to apply to those outside of the priestly caste. Others will cite Paul, who condemned all sex, to hide their objection to sex work. For another group it is “hate the sin, love the sinner” without remembering Christs instruction to deal with the plank in our own eye before we complain about the speck in our brothers and sisters.
So what is a Christian response to sex work? It should, in my opinion be the same as a Christian response to all work. are the workers safe, not exploited, can they organise to promote safe working conditions and their welfare? If as a Christian you are not fighting for this for all workers, if you are singling out sex workers but not to improve their lives then perhaps you need to consider what you are objecting too, and why.