Monday, August 30, 2010

Strippers protest, pleading with a church in their community to behave more like Jesus

Why people are losing interest in the church – Case 1
Perhaps more Christians should be concerned about what’s going on in some churches today. The more I look, the more I understand why it’s getting hard to tell people about Jesus. We have churches making a mockery of what Jesus taught us. What are these churches thinking? I never read the author Anne Rice until she posted this on Facebook: “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.” I think I’m beginning to understand her point. In each part of this series, I want to look at what one local church is doing and then ask what Jesus might say to them. Your feedback and guest posts are most welcome.
Strippers-protest-church You’ll be surprised to hear why these strippers are protesting on Sunday mornings at New Beginnings Ministries Church. The dancers say they're fed up with Bible-brandishing churchgoers who picket the club where they work. Pastor Bill Dunfee believes that God has called his church to shut down the strip club, the Fox Hole. "As a Christian community, we cannot share territory with the devil," Dunfee said. "Light and darkness cannot exist together, so The Fox Hole has got to go." So for four-and-a-half years now, members of the church in Warsaw, Ohio have been travelling nine miles down the road to the strip club in New Castle each weekend around 11pm in order to demonstrate with picket signs and bullhorns at the Foxhole strip joint. These church members invite customers and employees to their church but they also block traffic and attempt to shame patrons, asking them what their wives or mothers would think. And when those tactics fail, they take photos of patrons’ license plates to post on a "shaming" site.

Is it working? Well, one stripper named “Lola,” a mother of four children, said she made $30 instead of a couple hundred dollars last Friday with the protesters outside. "I'm not the most beautiful woman in the world," she said. "I go out there and I try to make my money." About seven dancers are trying to make a living at the club. Some of the women feel this is the only way they can make money in the tiny village of 900 people. They’re tired of being called “whores” and “homewreckers” and losing income they really need.

After four-and-a-half years of these demonstrations by the church goers, the club owner and dancers decided it was time to protest at the church. They didn’t match the tactics of the church members—no bullhorns and no intimidation of church attenders—instead they arrived with lawn chairs and signs which mostly displayed verses of Scripture. A few verses I could make out include Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Matthew 6:44, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and a rather interesting interpretation of John 8:41-44, “I have been misrepresented by those who don't know me.” An Associated Press article described one scene at the church:

Laura Meske — known as Lola, stage age 36 but really 42 — hid behind a sign proclaiming, "Jesus loves the children of the world!" as the preacher extended his hand for a shake.

Two nights earlier, Dunfee and more than a dozen churchgoers stood outside the club, one of them calling out Meske's stripper name. Strippers-protest-Debi-Durr-Laura-Meske

"He who casts the first stone ... ," Meske said Sunday. 

The pastor cut her off and repeated, "Lola, Lord bless you."

"Everybody has sinned, and that doesn't mean I'm not gonna get into heaven," she said, the stud piercing in her chin shimmering in the sunlight. "I believe in Jesus. I don't believe what they preach. They preach hate."

Debi Durr, who attends the church, disagreed. "You don't stand up there for four years for hate. That's not hate. That's love," she said.

That’s the first case of what I think is a church causing people in their community to lose interest in the church and its message. (For an update on this story, see Religion Dispatches Magazine.) What do you think about what this church in rural Ohio is doing?

What would Jesus say to them? Perhaps the same thing he said to the self-righteous religious leaders of his day: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31, TNIV).


  1. It is interesting that Jesus was condemned by the Jewish religious leaders for spending time with prostitutes, and showing compassion to those people shunned to the outside of society.

    The aggressive church of our day is really out of step with Jesus and what he taught.

  2. At frist glimpse of the gut feeling is that the pastor (using the term loosely) struggles with sexual issues and see this ridiculous campaign as a way to expunge himself of his guilt. I do not endorse strip clubs (nor have I ever visited one) but is there not a better way of dealing with the issue. I am fairly confident that none of those women are dancing because they see it as artistic expression, or a way to demonstrate their sexuality. For those women it is a pay cheque...out of absolute necessity. Could this congregation not find other ways to minister to these women. How about a daycare so that the women can find 'daytime' work? These women (not knowing their faith situation) are not sinners because they dance...they are sinners who by circumstance are dancing. I do find it interesting and admirabale that the dancers took the high ground in their protest and did not resort to the absolute nonsense the church did.

  3. Good analysis of a turnabout fair play story. I think you're right to point out that the church running this protest at the strip club is EXACTLY the kind of thing that turns people off from Christianity. It reinforces this idea that Christians and self-righteous, holier than thou and judgmental.

    It's time for us to be willing to call out churches which are doing such crazy things.

    I look forward to seeing what other churches you cover in this series.

  4. Hi, Ken! I tend to make the devout nervous. You must have a soul of steel!

    I read an article by an evangelical in the CSMonitor. The author forsees religious interest waning drastically among Christians. A church near me pretty much serves as a country club.

    When churches have all the answers like Our Sacred Primitive Heart of Hatin' on Strippers Church of Ohio and the country club church near me, why should devotees stay? They know everything. Having all the answers is dull.

    It's precisely the style and writings of CS Lewis and some fearless nuns from Catholic school that's kept me interested in religions and God. Luckily, I was able to take my faith cues from intelligent people who knew how to get a young person to wrestle with paradox, virtues, and philosophy...and sometimes divinity. :-)

  5. Scott, you bring up an interesting point...what other churches are in the area there and what have they been doing...are they turning a blind eye or have they confronted the church and pastor in question?

  6. I am not Christian, so I'm certainly not an expert, but the Christian friends who I do have would never support this type of activity.

    It's so easy to judge people who are in different life circumstances than us. Why can't the focus be on building real relationships with others rather than trying to destroy them? Where is the love? All of us have hopes and dreams and all of us feel pain, disappointment, and hurt. This type of Christianity seems to have lost its humanness.

  7. Ryan, thank you so much for posting your comment. I think you see the matter very clearly and I agree with you. The focus should be on building real relationships with others rather than trying to destroy others or shame them. Christians ought to be known for their love of others -- this is the example Jesus has given us. We're all in this crazy world together -- as you said, all of us have hopes and dreams and all of us feel pain, disappointment, and hurt. As Christians we have found that faith in Christ makes a difference to our lives.

    It's great to hear you recognize the difference... that you have
    Christian friends who would never support this type of activity. My concern is that the media presents this crazy church in Ohio and people start thinking all Christians are like this.

    Thanks again for posting your thoughts. And tell your Christian friends that some Canadian-Samaritan guy thinks they're very cool.

  8. WriteChic, thanks for the great comments. I'm going to try to track down that CS Monitor article -- sounds like it might connect with this series of posts.

    I'm finding your blog, WriteChic Press, to be totally fascinating.

    I love your thoughts on an intelligent approach to finding faith, and btw, I run a C.S. Lewis blog too :)

    Terry G: You might be on to something. Pastor Bill Dunfee is a very active right winger. That agenda seems to keep him very busy, probably little time left for his church to be "making disciples" (something Jesus said to do).

    Scott and Terry G: If you click on some of the links in the post, you'll find out about three other churches in proximity. One is just down the road from the club and they do NOT participate, they do not disapprove, but they suggest they go about it differently.

    Personally, I'm now starting to think that neighbouring churches may bear some responsibility for correcting churches that start doing crazy things. After all, in reality, there is only one church.

    Just thinking,

  9. Hi Ken,

    I understand what you say about the possibility of people mistakenly believing that all Christians are like the ones portrayed in the article. I hate when I see stories like this because it causes people to draw conclusions about an entire group based on the behavior of (most likely) a minority.

    What I admire most about my two Christian friends is that I know without a doubt that they love me for who I am right now without any expectations. We really couldn't be more different, but they have the ability to celebrate our similarities and not pass judgement on our differences. They live in love, not in fear. This is what makes them unique.

  10. That's great to hear Ryan. I'm glad you checked back and then added those thoughts about your Christian friends. We really do need to understand that it's all about making good friendships and respecting people. I don't understand it, but some Christians think it's more about being self-righteous and blowing bullhorns. A recent blog post by Writechic highlighted the relevance of something Jesus said: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full" (Matthew 6:5).

    Someone just sent me official minutes from the Warsaw Village Council Meeting held on July 21. This is under the heading "Public Problems". It's another example of how the public views this whole mess as "turnabout is fair play."

    Mayor Davis was approached by the New Beginnings Church about the horn honking being done while the protesters are outside of the Church on Sundays. Solicitor Drown
    stated that didn’t apply because the noise wasn’t continuous for twenty minutes. He also stated that there was nothing we could do about peaceful, lawful protesters. The church was also concerned about the protesters from the Foxhole wearing their “work attire”.
    Solicitor Drown stated that according to Ohio law, above the waist nudity is allowed. Solicitor Drown wanted to make clear that the Village would enforce the the law equally between the New Beginnings Church and the Foxhole.

    Ryan, you really got me thinking. Jesus challenges us 'to walk the extra mile,' to go that extra distance for someone we might not even know. Coming alongside like Jesus would, can't be done if you're going to be judging the other from your position of self-righteousness. Emerson Drive has a great song sung by the "extra mile":

    I’m that sacrifice that you make for someone you don’t know
    I’m that teardrop for the soldier you read about at home
    I’m the love you give somebody who doesn’t give it back
    Come on, walk with me a while
    Oh, I’m the extra mile

    Being more than what you see
    Takes all of you and one of me
    Come on, walk with me
    I’m the extra mile

    *great videos available at youtube ;)

  11. I forgot to share this update emailed to me from an Ohio reporter on Sept 7:

    Not much has changed. Still protesting, still dancing, still preaching.

    And still no further update in the news, so I'm assuming it continues...

  12. Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!



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