Sunday, 26 July 2009

Would Jesus go to Stringfellows?

Stringfellows is a well-known London strip club ... sorry, did I say that? I meant "high-class entertainment venue" which, in addition to "a mouth watering range of dishes from our A La Carte menu", offers:
Hundreds of beautiful Angels - fully nude, dancing alongside your table, and at the various stages dotted around the club.
Actually, I just checked the mouth watering range of dishes - the range of main courses under "meat" is: Lamb, rib-eye steak, sirloin steak, fillet steak, butterfly steak or ribeye steak with lobster (that's for if yer goin' real posh.)

Now you might perfectly well ask why I should be writing about a strip club. Primarily it is in order to answer the assertion of Fr David Gilmore, Anglican priest in Soho who recently got up on stage "(next to the "pole") and told the punters:
"if Jesus was alive today he would be at Stingfellows bar having a drink and chatting to the girls"
It all sounds like a vintage sketch from Not the Nine O'Clock News but sadly I jest not. On the other side of the "pole" was Fr Michael Seed, pictured on Peter Stringfellow's blog together with a bevy of the "Angels" (See "Saints and Sinners"). Fr Seed was there to launch his new book "Sinners and Saints", memoirs of his meetings with prominent political and public figures.

So OK, am I being an old prude here, a pharisee in the mould of those who criticised Jesus because he ate with tax collectors and sinners. Isn't it a jolly good thing for a priest to go down to the strip club and preach the gospel? I don't think so: our Lord's ministry was marked by the fact that He was God, and therefore sinless, and incapable of sinning. For the rest of us, the Church has always observed a certain sensible prudence in such areas of life, and ministry to prostitutes has historically been carried out by women. Today, in Rome, just such a ministry is undertaken by the Missionaries of Charity; but I don't think that they go to strip clubs as part of their work.

Nor did Jesus for that matter: his ministry was focussed on repentance and forgiveness. In the gospels, this is almost taken for granted: first century Jews would not imagine that a religious leader might actually approve of strip clubs. Today, we do need to make this explicit. Nevertheless, Our Lord does make it clear on occasions:
Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him. (Matt 21.31-32)
Key words here are "repent" and "believe". Our Lord railed against his opponents among the Pharisees because they did not think that they also had to repent of their own sins. Our attitude to prostitutes, pole-dancers and strippers should not be one of personal judgement, certainly: but neither should it be one of celebrating their contribution to the entertainment industry. We need to repent of our own sins and humbly pray for other sinners, understanding that we may have been given much greater opportunities to respond to God's grace and that he may well judge us more harshly than he judges them.

My purpose in writing this post is not to attack Fr Seed. I believe that his decision to launch his new book at Stringfellows is misguided but he has gone on record to say that he is not too bothered by the reactions of fellow clergy so I hope he won't mind me expressing an opinion on a public act and the way in which the gospel has, in my view, been distorted to the advantage of Mr Stringfellow's empire.

As a postscript, here is a link to an RTE News report on the closure of Stringfellows in Dublin. an email correspondent tells me that the "protests" included ladies from Dublin praying the Rosary outside every night until closing time.
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