Christ & Paddles sex club

What is the proper response of the United Methodist Church to the general situation described in this story from the New York Times?

At around 4 on a Saturday morning, a time when most of the gay bars in New York have closed and locked their doors, a steady stream of young and middle-aged men, almost all shirtless and some stripped down to their boxer briefs, have found their way down a dark stairwell and into a maze of basement rooms, where the décor can best be described as fallout-shelter chic.

They have come to Paddles, an after-hours sex club in Chelsea, not yet ready to end their evening. They prowl the long cinder-block hallway, exchanging knowing glances. A husky, bearded man in his 40s lounges on a corrugated black rubber bench, admiring a chorus line of smooth-chested 20-somethings, their flesh glowing under a pink neon sign and black lights. A man in a metal-studded black leather chest harness strides toward a back room, the hookup room, where a circle of men, skin glistening with sweat, hover around a swing, watching.

Before you jump on me, I am not saying this is 100% of the behavior for those with same-sex attraction. And I’d be happy to ask the same questions about heterosexual hook-up culture or the normalization of extreme pornography. Indeed, if you’d rather read those stories and post about them, please do. (I will warn you that the pornography story is graphic.)

What I’m trying to get my head around is how the church responds to what is considered normal sexual behavior in our culture. I’m trying to establish whether we have any common ground in our understanding of Christian sexual ethics by pointing to what looks like a clear-cut case and seeing if I am correct that it is clear-cut to United Methodists.

Do we agree that this kind of culture is not in keeping with God’s will for humanity? Do we want to encourage the men in the story I quoted above to change their hearts and lives?

The obvious answer is “yes,” right?

Our Social Principles would say that obvious answer is “yes.” Wouldn’t they?

Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience would, too, yes?

We all agree, don’t we?

If your congregation had its church building just up the block from Paddles sex club, what would you do?


13 thoughts on “Christ & Paddles sex club

  1. Many communities make it illegal to have strip clubs or gambling establishments within certain amount of blocks from churches and schools. Hopefully the same thing would apply to such “clubs” as this.

  2. John, if you would “be happy to ask the same questions about heterosexual hook-up culture or the normalization of extreme pornography” then ask it rather that making the highly unfair and inaccurate implied equivalent of SSA with utterly immoral behavior. Yes, there are horrific sexual actings out in the GLBTQ community. How long have houses of prostitution existed? That’s nice and hetero, after all. We need a discussion, not of the excesses here, but of those who love God and the church, seek to live with the highest of moral standards, and which, for them, going into a heterosexual marriage covenant would be an act of dishonestly and lacking in integrity. Let’s compare apples to apples, not “holy” straight people to the lowest level of twisted sexual immorality.

    1. I’m not making the connection you accuse me of making. Indeed, I explicitly point out that I am not doing that.

      Point to the language where I do what you accuse me of doing.

      Paddles sex club is so normalized in our culture that the New York Times covers it like it was a new supper club in Manhattan. And this is a newspaper that still refers to people as Mr., Mrs., or Ms. on second reference. Extreme pornography is becoming normal. Heterosexual hook ups are not just normal, but expected in some cultural settings.

      I am asking if the UMC has any witness in response to such things.

      Can we not ask about what you call “twisted sexual immorality” without being accused of making invidious comparisons?

  3. There seemed a certainty in degradation.
    – T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

    These men have many justifications for their practices, that they are daring, ecstatic and liberating.
    But I’m certain the majority of them the honest morning after deeply understand they are are often in thrall to forces beyond their control, and know they are sad and broken vessels.
    Just as Christian straight (is anyone really straight?) and boring sinners know we are too.
    The key is to help them understand there is a way out and a real liberation for them as well as us.

      1. John, you are amazingly economical with words. And you cut right to the quick I must say.
        Good to be called out on that. Easy for me to say “The key is…” because words are easy, Actions are not always. Especially as regards ‘Paddles’.
        Even those followers of Christ who have come from the margins of society, those wounded deeply, who should have an easier and more likely sympathy with other broken men and women….are many times found wanting.
        Pray for the weak and poor disciples that they are granted wisdom to find the right words and love deep enough to share the Gospel in this world.

        1. Thank you, Steve, for taking time to respond. I am grateful for the wisdom that people are willing to share with me.

  4. All people change the same way.
    When they are broken.
    When their world falls apart.
    When their arrogance and surety are put on trial.

    The alcoholic turns to the church by force or choice because they have lost their job, their home or are trouble with the law.
    Those addicted to porn are found out, ashamed and come to realize they are no longer in control but being controlled.
    Sin has a way of taking over the individual.
    Someone find they have aids.
    A parent looks into their child’s eye’s and comes to realize the child is cheated by the selfish desires of the parent and the parent is changed.
    Death is imminent and the person begin to question.
    They suddenly are not so sure.

    And some people never change.
    They are unable to change.
    Sodom was destroyed. The residence could not change.
    The inner voice given man, the voice felt, that inner voice that gives one pause the first time an act is committed, that voice that makes a person feel bad is no longer with them.

    The question for those sharing their faith and position is:
    Can you answer questions asked? Are you sure? Have you studied the issue?
    Have you listened to the testimony of those that have left the lifestyle?
    Can you methodically ( as Methodist’s do) teach the theology behind the belief’s you hold?

    Everyone loves the Grace of God.
    Few want to see talk about the boundaries God set’s.. After all they have their rights!

    There is a good article written by Carl Trueman titled: Why do we draw the line?
    & “Identifying Boundaries” by Susan A. Cyre
    Both worth reading

    “What would I do” is your question?
    The same thing you do for every other sinner.
    Pray for them

  5. When I was at Broadway Christian Parish UMC in South Bend we were two blocks east of the Kitty Kat lounge (if I talked to people in town and told them that we were located at the corner of Broadway and Carroll Streets they looked at me quizzically – but if I told ’em we were two blocks east of the Kitty Kat Lounge they all knew where we were). And within 7 blocks there were at least four more strip joints. So – while I don’t know what I would do in New York City (or anyplace else for that matter) – I can tell you what I did in South Bend. I talked with my staff-parish committee and then went and visited each of these places – I met the managers, the bartenders, and the women who worked there. I took along our parish nurse and introduced her and she passed along her information. I told folks that we would be happy to talk with anyone at anytime (night or day) and to please call. I got many calls over my 11 1/2 years there. I often prayed with the women who worked there (very rarely with the managers or bartenders). I often met their families and spent time with them. We had fascinating conversations about God, Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. Some would come to worship sometime – but none, that I recall ever took root in the life of our congregation. But I had many deeply meaningful, spiritual encounters with these women and their families, which taught me a lot – about human beings, etc. They also taught me alot about other folks in town. They often had stories about men that they knew through the strip club – who I knew because of their public lives in town – and I was surprised. It made me feel (as the poet and physician William Carlos Williams calls it) like “a spy.” But I think that helped me see both the lives of others and my own life more honestly and clearly. It caused me to grapple with discipleship and its public and private faces. It was pretty interesting.

    I actually spent more time during those years with women who worked as prostitutes in the community. One Sunday we took up a special offering and started what we called “The Hagar Fund.” One of the neighborhood leaders (not a member of our congregation) and I used the money to pay for time with 8 of the women (all at the same time) at Broadway one morning. We met and shared doughnuts and coffee. We made a simple invitation to the women who worked in the community – that if and when they were looking for a change that we would do all in our power to be useful. We told them they were welcome to call on either of us at our homes – and we told them where our homes were – and just to talk, pray, or be silent together – we could do that. Again – many, many, rich, rich, rich experiences in those encounters. More than one of those folks committed themselves to Jesus, were baptized and joined Broadway.

    One of my best teachers of this was a woman in her 80’s who lived about 2 blocks from the church – a devout woman who had been in the Salvation Army all her life. Her name was Deretheter Newell. And she pointed out to me one day that – she knew several of these women and their mothers – and I “better treat them right.”

    I hope that any church (UMC or otherwise) in the situation you talked about – would find a way to meet the people who work in those places and who frequent such places. Out of that will come a lot of really good things.

    1. Thank you, Mike, for the story and for treating my request as what it was. I wonder why the women were open to talking but the managers and bartenders were not.

  6. Have you read:
    An Open Letter to the Church from a Lesbian by A Sister in Christ.

    It is said to be going viral on the web.

    1. I think I saw that a month or two ago. That is one where she urges the church to not abandon its doctrine?

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