“the whores will enter before the priests,” declares jesus christ
RACHEL As the sun sets over Nazareth, the microphones of Emisoras Latinas are located on the outskirts of this city where Jesus Christ was born. None of this existed in your time, did it, Jesus?
JESUS No, all this was just bush.
RACHEL Now it’s a populous Arab neighborhood with lots of movement. Liquor is prohibited, but it’s still sold. Drugs are prohibited, but they circulate. This area is what we’d call the red light district, Mr. Christ.
JESUS What do they call it that?
RACHEL Let’s say, it’s a tolerance zone. Check out those young girls over there. If you were walking alone, without me at your side, they would already have approached you.
JESUS Are they prostitutes?
RACHEL Yes, prostitution is a social plague that never ends.
JESUS In my time it existed also.
RACHEL Well, they say it’s the oldest profession in the world.
JESUS It’d be better to say the oldest “abuse” in the world.
PROSTITUTE Hey, you with the beard! Leave that skinny girl and come with me!
RACHEL See what I mean? Nowadays some people talk about them as sexual workers. They claim it’s a job like any other that a woman might freely choose.
JESUS The ones I knew weren’t free. They were poor, abandoned women who needed to buy food for their children. Others were held as slaves and unable to escape. Prostitution is one of the worst ignominies committed against God’s daughters.
RACHEL In an earlier program you explained to us that the best known prostitute in history wasn’t really a prostitute.
JESUS You’re referring to Mary?
RACHEL Yes, Mary Magdalene. In the pictures and other images she always appears as the great sinner weeping at your feet
JESUS They talk that way about her because they didn’t know her.
RACHEL Imagine, there was a radio drama called “A Certain Jesus”, and even though the writers spoke very well of you, they presented her as a prostitute plying her trade on Jazmine Street.
JESUS Well, they were quite wrong if they wrote that.
RACHEL Now they regret it. They claim they didn’t know. Anyway, returning to our topic… In your group … did any prostitutes belong?
JESUS Of course. Society looked on them as the last of the last, so they had no trouble understanding the good news. They joined our movement.
RACHEL Did you defend them?
JESUS I told people that the prostitutes would enter God’s Kingdom before the priests did.
RACHEL Those are strong words. I can imagine there were strong reactions.
JESUS The thing is, the priests used to humiliate them terribly. They would spit when they went by and would avoid even letting the women’s shadow fall on them. But those same men who condemned the women as impure during the day used to go looking for them at night. What hypocrites!
RACHEL We have a call… Yes, hello?
MONA Hello, this is Mona Sahlin. I’m calling from the Ministry of Equality in Sweden.
RACHEL It’s a call from Sweden, Jesus. Yes, speak to me, madam minister.
MONA Rather, I’d like you to inform Jesus Christ that my government has decreed laws about prostitution. In my country the police arrest and punish not the prostitutes, but the clients.
RACHEL Very good. And do they put them in jail?
MONA Yes, because it’s a crime. It’s considered violence committed against women.
RACHEL What about the prostitutes?
MONA We offer them opportunities for work and rehabilitation if they want it. It hasn’t been easy following this road, but we’re doing our best.
RACHEL Many thanks to the Swedish Minister of Equality. You heard her, Jesus. Some things are getting better in this world, don’t you think?
JESUS Yes, I think so, and it makes me happy, Rachel. It will be a long and narrow road, but it’s the one that leads to life.
RACHEL And you, friends of Emisoras Latinas, what do you think? Are they ladies of the night, sexual workers, or victims of gender discrimination? Reporting from Nazareth, this is Rachel Perez.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
The first in the Kingdom
We understand a prostitute to be a woman who engages in sexual relations in exchange for money or other benefits; it’s a commercial transaction. In Jesus’ time there were prostitutes. And to be sure, there were also “pimps” who organized the business. Because of the prostitutes’ low social status and the religious “impurity” associated with their “profession”, these women were ostracized and despised by everybody. But not by Jesus, who spoke of them and held them up as models of openness to his liberating message. He claimed that they were the foremost citizens of God’s Kingdom and would be the first to enter into it, even before the priests (Matthew 21,31). Jesus’ words and his positive attitude toward the prostitutes caused great scandal among the religious figures of his time.
Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, even though she has traditionally been depicted as such in the history of Christianity. Nowadays we realize that most likely the gospel writers, all men, “made” her a prostitute in order to diminish and devalue the fundamental role that Jesus gave her in his movement and to belittle the protagonism she had in the first Christian communities. When the present authors wrote “A Certain Jesus”, we did not know of the important research that was being done on Mary Magdalene’s vital role in the early church. We also “made” her out to be a prostitute. And now, as Rachel tells Jesus, we repent of our error.
Is it not slavery?
The Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde has investigated the reality of prostitution in Cuba. In her brilliant essay “Crime or punishment?” (July 2007) she offers important reflections on the reality of female prostitution as it exists in any part of the world. We share with our readers some of her ideas and reflections on the drama of prostitution. She writes:
“My body is not me,” wrote a 24-year old prostitute, distinguishing between her “being” and her “soul” in order to defend herself, especially from her own chiding conscience. I had interviewed many prostitutes and pimps, but till that moment nobody had spoken to me so graphically of the drama of the human being who sells herself and thus submits her existence to a dualism, a schizophrenia that in practice divides her body in two. Nobody experiences with greater violence than the sexual slave the drama of being despoiled of one’s most intimate self. “It’s possible,” one friend told me, “to sell your soul and keep your body untouched, but it is impossible to sell your body without damaging your soul.” Prostitutes are in a position even more detrimental than that of persons who are subjected to the more usual form of slavery, that is, persons who alienate their labor power, but not their intimacy.
Understanding prostitution as a form of slavery leads us necessarily to recognize that such a practice is not an isolated tragedy. All acts of sexual violence, whatever they may be, are carefully interconnected with economic structures of domination which seek to disguise the sexual practice or render it invisible and which diffuse or confuse prejudices, according to the morality at work. Marginalized, humiliated, forgotten and left defenseless, prostitutes belong to one of the most tragic groups of modern life. Whatever the legislation in effect and whatever the attitude of authorities, prostitution is everywhere an activity denigrated by society and considered to be inimical to normal social life.
The oldest profession?
Elizalde further writes: Almost all the myths [about prostitution] are based on an error that has been much publicized in recent times. One myth is that the oldest female profession in the world is sexual commerce. Such a description suggests that prostitution is an innate attribute of women and therefore quite inevitable. Nevertheless, this practice is unknown and has never been known in many societies considered “primitive”. This is confirmed by archeology and by folk mythology, in which women usually appear practicing the noble professions: they are potters, artisans, charioteers, teachers, harvesters, and transporters. But this was ignored by historians during the long centuries of patriarchal dominance, and even today it is a subject that is treated too lightly, even in texts on sexual education.
A profession, a choice?
Elizalde continues: It’s one thing to practice prostitution, responsibly or not, and it is quite another to choose it freely. When we say that a woman chooses prostitution, we assume that she does so with complete freedom, but this is another of the great myths used to camouflage the phenomenon. Prostitution is not a cause, but an effect. That is to say, the decision to satisfy personal goals by means of sexual commerce is preceded and predetermined by the woman’s social, educational, economic, and familial circumstances. Understanding these factors is very important in conceiving strategies for achieving the social reintegration of prostitutes, so that we act against the evil instead of harming the victim further.
Calling prostitutes “ladies of the night” or, even worse, “happy hookers” is one of the most scandalous lies that can be uttered on this planet. These phrases were no doubt coined by the clients: they are terms that appeal to the buyer, who can thus free himself from guilt when he makes his purchase. The life of prostitutes is neither easy nor happy, but sexist prejudices have such a hold on our thinking that even the prostitutes make use of frivolous epithets that absolve the clients and the pimps of culpability. In reality, both clients and pimps are key factors in the chain of sexual exploitation, and both are socially dangerous because of their decisive role in institutionalizing the exploitation. There is a tendency for society to identify prostitution with the figure of the prostitute, its most visible and fragile face. The more sinister characters of this story don’t usually emerge from the shadows, but the person who puts her body up for sale, who gambles with her dignity, even if she wouldn’t admit it, is marked by a devastating experience and by the permanent torture of guilt.
Sweden: a law that shows the way
Inspired by these same ideas, which view prostitution with unconventional eyes (female eyes instead of male), Sweden has shown the world the way in the form of new law. Mona Sahlin, Swedish Minister of Equality and head of the Social Democratic Party, participates in our program to make known some of the provisions of this novel law.
In 1999, after years of research and studies, Sweden passed a Prostitution Law and integrated it into the country’s sophisticated legal code for eradicating violence against women. The Swedish law penalizes the client and decriminalizes the prostitute; it penalizes the purchase of sexual services and decriminalizes the sale of those services; and it provides opportunities for the prostitute to leave the situation in which she finds herself. On the other hand, the law considers the client as much of a criminal as the pimp and prescribes that he be detained, fined, and put in prison for six months.
The rationale for the law reads thus: In Sweden prostitution is considered to be an aspect of male violence against woman, girls and boys. … True gender equality will continue to be inaccessible as long as men buy, sell and exploit women, girls and boys by means of prostitution.
The text of the law reads: The idea that it is possible to buy a human being as one buys an object, to use as one pleases, is completely aberrant. This kind of sex has nothing to do with pleasure, but only with power. The law considers and treats prostitutes as “victims of gender”, and the government provides the possibilities of work, education, housing and psychological counseling to all who wish to leave their situation. It also dedicates public funds to educate and motivate public opinion toward a new understanding of the reality.
Sweden: a successful experiment
Excellent results have demonstrated the value of the Swedish law. In the first five years since its enactment, the number of prostitutes in the streets of Stockholm was reduced by two-thirds, and the number of clients by 80%. In other Swedish cities sexual commerce in the streets practically disappeared. The brothels, and the massage parlors that camouflaged them, also disappeared for the most part. There was also a decrease in the traffic of foreign women who were sent to Sweden for the purpose of prostitution. The Swedish government states that in recent years only 200 to 400 women and girls arrived in Sweden for that purpose; that is a small number compared with the 15,000 to 17,000 who arrived in neighboring Finland. According to opinion polls, 80% of the Swedish population supports the law.
The Swedish experiment is exceptional, but it is successful and exemplary. Finland and Norway want to follow along the same road. It has been shown that penalizing prostitution does not work, nor does the regulation or legalization of prostitution. A 2003 study from the University of London demonstrated that legalization or regulation always lead to a drastic increase in all facets of the sex industry and organized crime, to a dramatic increase in child prostitution and trafficking of girls and women for sexual purposes, and to an increase in violence against women.