Friday, November 30, 2007

Sacred Space as Public Space

Characteristic of the mainline church tradition, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is a denomination committed to freedom of thought, social justice, and understanding others. So when you enter the doors of a local UCC church, it's possible to hear advocacy on a whole host of social issues, from many viewpoints-- at a worship service, a Sunday School class, or a community event.

The free exchange and consideration of ideas is essential in order for an individual or group to decide beliefs and direct actions. To this end, United Church of Christ congregations often act as a public square. Their rooms, tables, and chairs provide the literal space for issues to get hashed out. But in contrast to secular community buildings, the space of a church is unique. In subtle and not so subtle ways, religious spaces are infused with the presence of the divine.

Which leads to a question: What degree of accountability should a local church incur when it hosts an outside group that espouses controversial, dare I say, unbiblical views?

Consider this example. On Thursday, November 29, Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City, Iowa hosted a noon luncheon of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, a non-profit association affiliated with the University of Iowa's International Programs. Ms. Sue Simon, of the George Soros funded Open Society Institute, spoke on, "The Global Movement for Sex Worker Health and Rights: Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs."

Inside a UCC church, Simon argued that society should legalize prostitution. Daily Iowan reporter Shawn Gude writes:
Iowa City native and City High graduate Sue Simon argued for increased rights and an end to negative stereotyping for sex workers around the world Thursday afternoon at the Congregational United Church of Christ in an Iowa City Foreign Relations Council-sponsored event.

Making the distinction between sex workers and human sex trafficking - two things too commonly equated with each other, Simon said - she argued that many individuals she has come in contact with through her international work have been in the profession willingly, whether it's for personal, economic, or social reasons.

"Many believe there is no good reason to get into or remain in sex work," Simon said. "The reality is that for a lot of people, sex work is their best or only opportunity to earn enough money to support their families."

...Asserting the validity of the sex-worker profession, Simon decried the treatment such workers receive and "right-wing conservatives and prohibitionists … who believe they can and should end sex work because of their religions or moral beliefs."

...She also advocated for the complete decriminalization of the sex-worker profession throughout the world. And instead of state discrimination against prostitutes, governments should advocate for the ethical treatment of sex workers, she asserted.

"No one should lose their human rights because of the work they do," she told the crowd of approximately 60, who sat around 11 tablecloth-covered tables.
It's protocol to report the facts of an event, but it's interesting we read about the "11 tablecloth- covered tables." Could it be the reporter found it a tad odd that, of all places, it was in a "sacred place" he heard an uncontested argument for legalized prostitution?

When a church hosts an outside group, it's easy for the church to say, "The views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of ... blah, blah, blah."

Frankly, that's a cop out excuse.

Church leaders should be savvy enough to know that whenever they lend out their sacred space as an "impartial" public square, it can easily become an advocacy forum-- one that carries with it the church's implicit endorsement.

Lending sacred space for this kind of radical advocacy is tragically unfaithful.

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