By Brenda Ihssen
Daniel Walker’s God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue is a disturbing—and important—read on several levels. While the “undercover journey” of the title most obviously refers to Walker’s role as a covert investigator of sexual slavery across international lines, a secondary theme is his very personal account of an undercover journey into the slum of his own soul.
Because Walker begins with a description of his attraction in adolescence to machismo heroics and evangelical Christianity, the reader is not surprised when—after completing his master’s degree in third world development—he puts his vocational call and passion for social justice at the service of an organization based in New York that works on a micro level to rescue victims of oppression. From this point, the format of the book moves the reader between the outer-world of slavery and the inner-world of Walker’s personal narrative. For all his admiration of romantic heroes, his detailed descriptions of the experiences of sex slaves is free of idealistic language; in these passages he provides for the reader a clear sense of the monstrous conditions in which millions of children and women live, the evil machinations of the pimps, families, villages and governments that profit off the degradation of the most vulnerable of their people, and the depravity of the predators, some of whom work solely for the ability to afford sex tourism in these developing countries. As well, Walker provides equally intimate details of the toll this takes on his life and his relationship with his wife, as he charts his descent into temptation and sin. The result of his decline, however, is a better working knowledge of – and humility about – grace and shame.
A story of love, liberation and bravado, God in a Brothel is an effective text to confront the naiveté of complacent American Christianity with the harsh realities and levels of sin in this world generally and in this own country specifically. Walker’s story thus operates as a call for American Christians to question to what degree they share characteristics with abusers when they ignore the plight of the impoverished, those to whom Jesus referred to as “least of these.”
Dr. Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University, where she teaches courses in the history of Christianity and Islam. Her research is focused on the social ethics in monastic and spiritual texts of Orthodox Christianity during the age of the Byzantine Empire.