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Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner: Legal Prostitution and the Christian Church

Maybe it’s just me, but I read articles about Christianity and various topics on sexuality all the time. Sex and the body is a point of tension for the Christian Church, an area of human life constantly under scrutiny and attempts at regulation. I think I have heard the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” in conversations about sex more than in conversations about any other topic.

Last week, NPR published an article about Rome’s plan to create a zone of tolerance for prostitution. The southern neighborhood of EUR, full of parks, buildings, and people with money, has become a hot spot for sex workers; while aiding and abetting prostitution is a crime in Italy, exchanging sex for money is legal. This has led to EUR becoming a popular area for sexual solicitation and neighborhood leaders are attempting to deal with the problem by drawing boundaries. Under the plan, prostitution would be banned near home, schools, churches, parks, and playgrounds, pushing sex workers to the margins of the neighborhood. Along with zones of tolerance the plan “also calls for specially trained social and health workers to assist prostitutes and help women who want to get off the streets” (Rome’s Plan for Prostitutes Upsets Sex Workers And The Catholic ChurchNPR: April 2015). One supporter of the plan, Paolo Lampariello, sees the plan as protecting Rome’s women from the unsavory business of prostitution: “This is not a problem for us men, but women — wives, mothers — should not have to see this,” he lamented. “We now have grandmothers going out on their balconies and looking down at, at, at you know what” (Rome’s prostitutes, church opposes ‘zones of tolerance,’ The Star: March 2015).

Rome’s EUR neighborhood

While the zone of tolerance idea has support from many community members who agree with Lampariello, the Catholic Church has vocalized its opposition to the plan. Many Catholic organizations charge the plan with continuing and legitimizing the exploitation of women, and Father Aldo Buonaluto is quoted saying, “It is shameful that the city of Rome, the cradle of Christianity, can carry out such a proposal, endorsing the sale of the human body” (Rome’s Plan, NPR).

What the zone of tolerance plan highlights is the continual struggle of the Christian Church to reconcile human sexuality. In Rome, the Catholic organizations dedicated to helping women out of prostitution have been some of the most opposed to the zones of tolerance, calling instead for a criminalization of those who seek out sex for money. What I find particularly interesting is that Amsterdam, with its infamous red light district, has not inspired the same kind of criticism in modern media. A Google search for articles about Christianity and prostitution in Amsterdam turned up almost nothing; the most interesting article that popped up was a brief piece from this past February about Christian Democrat city council members proposing a minimum age for prostitutes [21 years old] and more strict licensing rules (Amsterdam city council as pimpDutch News: February 2015). Wikipedia offers a reference to religious efforts in the 20th century to end prostitution in Amsterdam, but it is just a few sentences in the bigger history of the area.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

There are a number of social and cultural differences between Rome and Amsterdam that may account for the differing religious responses to prostitution, but I am more interested in the tension between Christianity and legal prostitution. Human trafficking is a problem, and women and men who are forced into prostitution certainly deserve assistance to get out, but what about those who willingly engage in legal prostitution? How can the Christian Church support men and women who choose sex work as their profession? Should Christians attempt to stamp out all prostitution, legal and illegal? If this is the chosen response, as is the Catholic Church’s in Rome, there’s got to be support for all those who will lose their jobs. What will the Christian Church do for all the men and women who worked the streets or the brothels?

Rome’s zones of tolerance and the Catholic Church’s opposition demonstrates, to me, a bigger trend in Christianity: often Christians call for the end of a practice – prostitution, capitalism, denominational hierarchy – yet there is rarely a plan for the aftermath. It is not enough to hate the sin and love the sinner: to simply do away with systems of sin or oppression [hate the sin] leaves hundreds and thousands of people with nowhere to go. Is that really loving the sinner? Perhaps it is time to really put away the hate – of the sin, of the sinner, of unsavory businesses – and instead fight against the sin and love everyone, not only those who are given the label of “sinner.”

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