God in a Brothel: Can We Handle the Truth?

[This post is part of a conversation on the new book God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker, hosted at the Patheos Book Club here.]

Not many know Hieronymus Bosch. His name on a T-shirt or tattoo would just make people scratch their heads. A Dutch painter from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, he painted triptychs (free standing paintings done on three connected wood or canvas panels) that often stood at the front of churches as sacred art. No American churches today would tolerate his work to be anywhere in the building for a nanosecond. Bosch believed that God knew about everything so he painted all the things on his triptychs that God knew about – and I mean everything. He paints things many Christians never acknowledge in church today. As a result, the hidden life of American Christianity looks like one of his triptychs. (Now you’re going to look him up, aren’t you?). A Christian in the arts, Bosch told the truth. Switching media but staying within the arts, I paraphrase Jack Nicholson in the film “A Few Good Men” in saying, “We can’t handle the truth.” At least, not too much or too close. Daniel Walker, author of God in a Brothel would get Hieronymus Bosch.

A New Zealander, Dan Walker grew up looking for an adventure whose energy would capture and propel him through his whole life. Embracing Jesus Christ at a Youth for Christ concert, he moved into university where he became a leader and learned of World Vision. This first heady look into human need and justice issues took Dan to the states doing grad work under Tony Campolo, Ron Sider and others possessing sharp theological minds and social consciousness. Taking these insights into police work, he discovered a group working with, among others, sex trafficking. Don Quixote discovered the windmill of all windmills. He understandably conceals a lot of names of people and organizations. He personally went into brothels all over the world (including the United States) and posed as a “client” collecting convicting evidence through cameras and mikes he wore. He turned that evidence over to both local and international law enforcement authorities who, if they weren’t corrupt, staged raids, freed children and brought people to trial. He lived in constant danger of his life. Dan carried a collapsible baton and often travelled in the company of Special Forces veterans prepared to kill quickly if necessary. Don’t expect anything remotely salacious or titillating. He gives it to the reader straight – both repulsive and tragic beyond imagination. He even manages scraps of compassion for the “clients” – people of all races and ethnicities, education and socioeconomic levels and religions who sexually prey on children. Dan introduces us to people he wanted to kill (The people who entrap underage women and children into the worldwide, billions of dollars a year, sex slave industry and it’s cousin and feeder industry, child pornography). By the way, Christians do feel this way sometimes. We just don’t admit it and, hopefully, don’t act on it. Eleven of the chapters end with factual summaries by topic providing the reader with the most concise yet complete summary of this evil possibly in print.

InterVarsity Press showed some guts publishing this book. It’s a little outside what they usually do. They are one of the few Christian publishers who will publish something because it needs to be out there whether it turns a profit of not. This probably won’t. University students will probably respond to it as child sex trafficking is a hot issue currently grabbing campuses from both the Christian and secular angles. The reason this book might not sell lies closer to home. We like to voice our righteous indignation from a safe distance, vicariously, by proxy. We throw money at monolithic causes without faces, slurp down champagne and gobble shrimp at fund raisers (and get our pictures taken) or put a sign in our yard reading “Darfur: Not On My Watch.” And we feel good about ourselves which seems to be the only barometer of significance. We aren’t inconvenienced. Our life remains undisturbed. But Walker’s book thrusts our noses into the muck forcing us to sniff truth we can’t handle because he brings this black ugliness into our own church pew. The seeds of what drives the world’s sex trafficking industry germinate and sprout well, not only in the United States, but in the American church. We know about the Roman Catholic problem. An average of seventy-five child sex abuse cases turn up every week in American evangelical and mainline churches. Many who try to report are disbelieved, dismissed and vilified. Any and all forms of sexual brokenness lie deeply imbedded and alive in the churches of America. Some of the most respected Christians among us carry nasty secrets.

Daniel Walker’s life tells a cautionary tale. As a Christian, he believed that if he was doing what God wanted, God would take care of him and his family. But God’s protection never comes without conditions and responsibility on our part and anyone not seeing this plunges toward disaster at warp speed. Walker became full of himself and the agency he worked for shares part of the blame. Ministries on the edge like Walker’s go full throttle and people who get results get used up. They called him “The Genius.” He worked extended tours of exposure to life threatening violence and extreme sexual temptation without supervision, accountability or debriefing. He came to where he believed that the liberation of these women and children sat on his shoulders alone. He paid a huge price. People in police or fire protection, the military, education, medicine, social work, Christian ministry, relief work or any other line of service that puts the one serving in the garbage and suffering of others should take note. We are nobody’s Messiah; somebody already fills that job and He’s left no other openings. Walker tells this side of his story with a remarkable and humble brokenness and without rancor toward those who could have backstopped him. He actually is beginning a new group to combat child sex trafficking which incorporates many corrections and adjustments that would have helped him earlier.

Daniel Walker gives much to disturb and goad us to action and prayer. He shows the humility and guts to give it to us straight. The question falls to us as to whether or not we can handle this truth. Will we throw money at this and forget about it since we’ve done our support thing and feel good about ourselves? Or might we arm ourselves to stay with this thing a little longer and deeper since it could well rear its ugly head a lot closer than Southeast Asia?

David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.

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