Santa in a Brothel

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink  …. I was imprisoned in a brothel and you rescued me.

So begins Daniel Walker’s book God in a Brothel. It’s a bold and blunt beginning and the rest of the book is nothing but boldness and bluntness. The book is a primer on the ugly reality of human slavery – particularly sex trafficking. It’s a tell-all account of one man’s efforts to put his faith into action and to apply his gifts and graces toward rescuing as many of the women and children who are victimized in this slave trade as possible. It’s also a call to action on the part of the Church, the “one organization more than any other in human history [that] has been charged with seeking justice on behalf of the oppressed and rescuing vulnerable children and advocating for exploited women” to rise up and truly live-out it’s calling.

I read the book just before the rush of the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas madness. The synchronicity of this didn’t fail to dawn on me.

The basis of the Santa Claus myth is memory of a real life good guy who helped people in need. Nikolaos was a historic person who was born in Patara in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the 4th Century A.D. Nikolaos’ wealthy parents died when he was young and he was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara. Nikolaos became a bishop of the early Christian Church Myra in Lycia (who wore red clerical robes). While bishop he learned of three young sisters who were destined to a life of poverty, and likely prostitution. Nikolaos intervened by providing dowries –- an abundance of gold — to each of the girls (placing it in their stockings according to legend).

Various miracles were also attributed to him (and his remains) and he was eventually canonized as a saint. In time, and as stories about him traveled the nations, St. Nikolaus became known to many as Santa Claus (from “Saint ‘Klaus”).

Sadly, instead of following Nick’s bold actions of seeking to rescue damsels in distress from lives of being used and abused in despicable slavery, we’ve largely tended to “honor” him by showering the members of our families with too much stuff that they don’t really need.

What if instead, we sought to honor this great man by one-upping him? Instead of merely giving some money to a few vulnerable girls, what if we organized the Church to actually be the Church by creating interventionist cell groups to rescue as many of the 2 million children in the world who are caught up in the sex slave industry as possible? What if we were to honor the Christ child, who came into the putrid, ugly messiness of this world (he was born in a cattle stall) in order to redeem it, by stepping up and doing what we can to prevent any of God’s precious little ones from being used, abused, victimized, and discarded  — and rescue those who are?

What if we were Santa in a brothel for God in the brothels?

Walker’s book provides a nitty gritty, vision for what that might look like and what might be involved. A place to start is to read God in a Brothel. Another place to start might be to give donations to as Christmas gifts to your loved ones this year.

This book isn’t for the wimpish – neither is authentic Christianity.

Visit the Patheos Book Club on God in a Brothel for more resources on this book, including an excerpt and author interview.

Roger is an ordained United Methodist pastor and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity.

About Roger Wolsey

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He's the author of "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity."

  • Deborah Arca

    My favorite line here: “This book isn’t for the wimpish – neither is authentic christianity.” Thanks Roger! This is an enormously important cause and one that brings on a bit of fear for me to think about how to engage; but so important to bring to the light and find ways to act. I got to meet the book’s author, Dan Walker, at a recent book event and he was extraordinary. So passionate about his work, fearless and a person of deep faith & humility. Very inspiring. You can read my interview with him here:

  • Michelle Miller

    Even better, what if we started interfering with male demand for paid sex that is driving the global sex industry? If we end (ok, curb) male entitlement to the bodies of women and girls then there will be no market for their bodies and no money to be made by pimps and traffickers. I applaud a book that raises awareness about trafficking but am leery of sensational “rescue” missions that don’t address the male prostitution behavior – a demand for paid sex – that fuels the market (supply). What if the church took her prophetic, liberative mandate seriously and became leaders in dismantling demand?

  • Debra Jene Collum

    An older movie that is also not for the faint hearted is “Call and Response” The music in the movie is awesome; but the tales of human slavery is heart rending. I agree with Michelle. We need more voices, male in particular, to open up the dialogue about the demand for paid sex and the degradation of the whole of humanity that is a result.

  • Roger Wolsey

    Michelle and Debra, I can assure you that Mr. Walker addresses the male demand aspect of this in his book God in a Brothel. My failure to mention that in my brief review/promo of his book does not reflect any lackings on his part.

  • Roger Wolsey

    Let’s turn Penn State’s lemons into lemonade. Let’s transform it from a “football” issue into a human rights concern; i.e., as a moment for raising awareness about the plight of children caught up in sex trafficking.

  • JenellYB

    Michelle, I think there will be no real progress in the larger term, longer term, until we, as a society, and the church and religion, to be honest, most especially the church and religion, deal with the still pervasive patriarchal attitudes that devalue. demean, dismiss, women as less than, and subject to, men, and worse, as subject to men’s desire’s or their bodies as an entitlement, even right here in our own country. One “positive” thing I’m recognizing about so many of the outright crass, crude, disgusting things being said, coming out of the mouths of, right-wing Tea Party/Christian right, Teavangelical aligned politicians, pundits, celebrity preachers and others stepping into the public sphere, is that this s getting those attitudes within those sib-cultures up front ad right out there, for EVERYBODY to see. What women that have lived within that culture have been experiencing, have known by that experience, that was often not believed if any tried to speak of it, is now coming out into the open for all to see. And until the church openly recognizes and addresses that in it’s own midst, where is the interest in dealing with the men that drive such industries with their demand for services?

  • BrotherRog

    There may in fact be some historical basis for the “naughty or
    nice” thing; i.e., Bishop Nicholaus provided gold to several girls every
    year so that they wouldn’t resort to prostitution to get by. He may
    well have checked in on them to ensure that they were avoiding that

    What is ironic to me however was Nicholaus’ own naughtiness in
    violating one of the essential teachings of Jesus; i.e. the call to
    nonviolence. While attending a Church Council gathering, he punched a fellow Christian who was an advocate of Arian views on the Trinity. IMO, that’s a far graver breech of faithfulness to Jesus than Arianism. – Roger Wolsey

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