MINISTRY WITH PERSONS IN FEMALE-HETEROSEXUAL PROSTITUTION WITH EMPHASIS ON MINISTRY EDUCATION
[Depaul Genska, a priest in the Franciscan Order(OFM), has been actively involved in ministry with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution since June 1972. This article is written in cooperation with John Paul Szura, OSA, mentor of Depaul, and with Genesis House -- a house of hospitality and nurturing for women in prostitution. Depaul is on the staff of Catholic Theological Union. He is on the Genesis Board of Directors.]
Ministry education has as one of its goals the preparation of persons for ministry in the real world -- a world where happiness and hopelessness interact.
It might seem that ministry with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution is far distant from any use in ministerial preparation. However, the phenomenon of prostitution provides relevant roles for ministerial preparation and concern.
MINISTRY EDUCATIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS
Enumerated here are five ministerial educational contributions provided by the challenge of ministering with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution: 1. Respect for the dignity of persons: A central emphasis motivating church renewal is respect for the dignity of all persons. This may remain a theory in the classroom, but insight comes alive when students encounter those for whom society has little reason to value other than their per- sonhood. A constant temptation is to value the other for conditions and circumstances having little to do with the core of their person. When a student gets to know, understand, appreciate, and even love persons in prostitution for the persons they are, this deep mystery of personhood and its dignity are bases for life and not mere church documents.
2. The mission of the church is to preach the gospel to the poor: Few groups are marginalized as are persons in fermale-heterosexual prostitution. When they are victims, they are treated like criminals. When they are with other women and men, they seem not to fit in. Even when they are with `their own', there is often competition and jealously preventing real acceptance and friendship. To reach out to these persons is to reach out to a group more often than not mar- ginalzed both by society and the churches.
3. The imitation of Jesus Christ: In professional education for ministry there can be a neglect simply to imitate Christ as a guiding norm. In the hurried preparation of techniques and knowledge, the student may not be urged strongly enough to do what Christ did and to go where Christ went. This ministry is a constant and unforgettable challenge to keep Christ's example uppermost.
4. Person and system: Ministry sometimes relates well to persons but neglects the systemic issues. Frequently the reverse is true. It is difficult to be present with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution for very long to forget either person or system. The person is always the key factor --encountered in pain, boredom, difficulty, need. The total reality is the constant evidence of a system of social relations, laws, expectations, and other factors that make the person what s/he is. One cannot be with persons in prostitution without making a serious critique of society and systems. However, even in the hard-headed critique persons are always of prime importance..
5. Local and global dimensions: Prostitution is often referred to as `the world's oldest profession' -- certainly it is older than Christianity! Every culture has its form of prostitution: Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe -- every city includes the `lively commerce' of prostitution. Conservatively estimated, there are over 100-million persons engaged in female-heterosexual prostitution in the world (5-million in the U.S.). This counts both the women (prostitutes- madams) and the men (johns-customers-pimps). For every woman (prostitute), there are 10-15 men (customers-pimps). Certainly the men have to be counted -- women do not prostitute by themselves! Instead of calling the phenomenon of prostitution `female', it would reflect more the reality by calling it `heterosexual' prostitution.
TIME magazine featured as its cover story (June 21, 1993), "Sex for Sale: An Alarming Boom in Prostitution Debases the Women and Children of the World". It is worth reading not just because it is interesting but more so for ministers who might mistakeningly think that prostitution is an esoteric concern for the few. Prostitution is `alive and well(!)" for millions of persons world-wide who are engaged in it.
The TIME article says:
Desire has cash value, the market has no rules, possesses no scruples. From Eastern Europe to the Himalayas, from Tokyo to Tegucigaipa, transaction by sorbid transactions has created a multibillion-dollar sex trade. It is encouraged by massive socioeconomic movements: the collapse of the Soviet empire, the increase in global mobility. The wrenching disparity of world-wide incomes. But its effect is most devatsting on an individual level. Poor women and children are commodities traded on the street, products barttered, haggled over, smuggled and sold as hedges against hunger or as cruel but quick routes to profit. Souls do not count, only bodies, debased over and over, unmindful of social costs or disease.
We have contacts with 247 ministers in 29 countries throughout the world who work with persons in prostitution. The harvest, however, always remains greater that the laborers. If you know of anyone(s) working with persons in prostitution, we would appreciate if our name/address is shared with them, and theirs with us -- so that we might share insights and inspiration from one another.
In using female-heterosexual prostitution as a paradigm for theological study, the English alphabet includes: A-abuses (physical-emotional-sexual), AIDS; B-battle of the sexes; C-criminal justice system, cross-cultural in every century; D-discrimination, drugs; E-education, empowerment; F-female, feminism; G-grace, greed, etc. Faced with the challenges presented by the pervasiveness of prostitution, how do we respond? The answer is not simple. Matters of relationships, sexuality, spirituality, STD's [sexually transmitted diseases]. violence, and a wide-range of women's issues, completes the alphabetization challenging the zeal for God's People.
PILGRIM OR TOURIST
Dr. Doris Donnelly, Professor of Theology at John Carroll University (Cleveland OH), in her article: "Pilgrims and Tourists: Conflicting Metaphors for the Christian Journey to God", provides a significant illucidation on ministerial involvement.
Adapting Dr. Donnelly's insights and applying them in this ministerial context, we ask a most serious question: Are we involved as pilgrims or tourists? The difference between these two is the whole difference in whatever we are about. including ministry.
Dr. Donnelly states there are five ingreients in being either a tourist or pilgrim:
1. Pilgrims perceive an internal dimension to pilgrimage; tourists are concerned with the external only. Depth, not distance, is the goal for the pilgrim but not for the tourist.
2. Pilgrims invest themselves; tourists avoid personal commitment. Investment of time, talent and treasurer by the pilgrim yields ample dividends and profound insights; for the tourist there is hardly any investment of anything worthwhile or enduring.
3. The focus for the pilgrim is to be affected by the pilgrimage; the tourist seeks to be untouched at all.
4. Both the journey and the arrival are of import for the pilgrim; only the arrival matters for the tourist. The Emmaus story, perhaps, best illustrates this: the journey itself is the occasion for growth in loving recognition of the person called `stranger' -- his disguise evaporates and the inner blindness of wayfarers yields to sight and celebration.
5. Community is formed for the pilgrim; community is unimportant for the tourist. Bonding is essential among the pilgrims with those with whom one makes the pilgrimage -- we are all connected! Pilgrims are in solidarity with those visited on pilgrimage also.
Two ways among the many in which persons in female-heterosexual prostitution are directly encountered in pilgrimage: `going on the stroll', and visiting/participating in Genesis House.
`GOING ON THE STROLL'
`Going on the stroll' -- into the highways and byways -- where female-heterosexual prostitution is practiced offers serious pilgrims opportunities to see first-hand some of the `challanges of prostitution'. More importantly, `going on the stroll' puts human faces on the persons who for whatever reason are practicing it. To encounter prostitution and especially the persons who practice it can often frighten strangers to the world's oldest oppression, but, hopefully, with open ears to hear the cries of the poor and with open hearts to respond with compassion.
Since June 1972, when I first became engaged in ministry with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution, I have been taking persons `on the stroll' [as of January 1998, some 1600 persons] into the highways and byways where prostituion is a `way of life'. There are three components of `going on the stroll':
1. Preparation: There are several elements needed for the proper and prudent preparation for those making a stroll. These are noted:
Students meet with an experienced street minister for discussion of expectations and to dispel false notions; and to assure, as far as possible, that the stroll experience will be one of growth.
History and facts of prostitution are outlined. Strollers are advised concerning the manner of conversation and behavior on the street and in the bars. Strollers prepare for entry into a world in which they are strangers, the guests. They will, however, meet persons much like themselves. This is the paradox of universal human nature dwelling in different cultures and expressions, a valuable lesson for ministers doing this ministry.
The dynamics of why prostitution exists and the connection of prostitution with society and the church are explored. Some vocabulary is presented, for like theology, this world of prostitution has its own language.
2. The Stroll: Strollers, prepared to stay out late, leave together in a group of two or three accompanied by an experienced street minister. They go where prostitution is the customary activity, and prudently engage in conversation with both the women (prostitutes) and men (customers, and sometimes pimps) when the occasions present themselves. This is entrance into an initial friendship -- entrance into one another's lives -- the minister and the person(s) in prostitution. No immediate revelation of ministry status is given, lest conversation is inhibited right from the start. There is simply a meeting of persons. Continuity of such visits brings about a maturing friendship and when the `revelation' of ministerial status will help and not hinder the relationship.
3. Theological Reflection: After the stroll, at an acceptable time and place, the strollers gather to reflect on their stroll experience(s). They become aware that those engaged in this ministry have lives intermingled with each other (persons in prostitution and ministers) -- their lives challenge one another.
Reflections continually occur: the exploitation of women in our society and churches. Who has the power in society and churches? How is this power related to sex? Are the churches really all that different from society in general? Are we all prostitutes in some ways -- selling-out in our relationships? Exploiting one another?
Ministry itself becomes an object of reflection. Strollers ask: What went on the night(s) on the stroll? Some think nothing occurred, others recognize ministerial encounters. Ministry is broadened to include friendships made -- persons with person, and not just ministry as may be narrowly defined in church terms.
One of the astounding experiences of this ministry is that of being ministered to by the very persons (prostitutes and customers) one thinks of as the subjects of ministry. To grow in awareness that these persons in prostitution have goodness, loyality, care for and selfless love is an important step for any minister. There is always the secret temptation to regard oneself as better that those in prostitution. Sound theology demands a greater humility! There is no evidence that the minister is in grace or that those in prostitution are in sin. No one can tell where the corners of sin and selfishness dwell -- in the churches/mosques/temples?, in the bars? -- none of the above, or ALL of the above? Because the mystery of grace cannot be fully appreciated by humans no one can justify their wishful thinking -- `There but for the grace of God, go I!"
Another ministerial question frequently posed is: Are the churches available in fulfilling its universal mission of bringing the good news to ALL peole? The world seems to `read the signs of the times' more quickly -- of being available around the clock -- police and medical personnel are available all 24-hours each day; even fast food establishments stay open all day and night. Churches in contrast are mainly available only during the day. This lack of availability of ministers at night challenges the kind of operative ecclesiology in which ministers are available only for some persons but not for all persons - especially night persons!
I quote only a few persons of the nearly 1600 who have made the stroll with me in these twenty-five years (since June 1972):
Sr. Barbara Jennings: There are many impressions that stay with me after making a stroll into the world of prostitution. My main impression is that the United States is a nation of contradictions: men and women are proclaimed equal in our legal system and church documents, but in practice, there remains very much imbalance. At one of the bars where prostitution is practiced nightly all year round, African-American women are the objects of white men's `service' (pleasure). Is it any different elsewhere, where African-Americans are still second-class citizens? After all the laws and pastorals of the churches barriers of racial prejudice, coupled with sexual discrimination as in prostitution, persists.
Terry Murphy: I know, as most of you, that Jesus calls us to accept people for who they are, But that is very different in a world -- like prostitution -- that is caught up with its own rules and oppressions. When I made the strolls, I discovered how I myself as a male am a victim of an exploitative system where it is far easier to label and categorize people into boxes. I did try to be Christ-like the nights I went on the stroll, but I found myself frustrated with my own powerlessness in not being able to accept these people as people, struggling to exist with a measure of happiness and hope in their lives, but rather I looked upon the women as prostitutes and the men as lust-seekers. The experience did show me a world that is often condemned and evokes very little compassion. I really believe Christ did cross barriers and was able to see persons rather than just label them for what they do or do not do -- tax-collectors and prostitutes -- they were the ones promised to get into heaven before others!