Ten years ago, Pastor William R. Dunfee and his fledgling New Beginnings Church in Warsaw, OH decided to take action against the moral rot they saw in their community. So the pastor, along with a small number of parishioners, drove 9 miles to a strip-club known as The Foxhole and on weekend nights would stand outside with bullhorns and read The Bible aloud while shaming patrons who attempt to enter the establishment. They even went so far as documenting all the license plates of cars that parked there and posting them online. The dancers complained that church members shouted at them and called them "whores."
Pastor Dunfree believes that he is acting on behalf of “victims” who he defines as employees, patrons, and aborted babies that might result from “the enticement of irresponsible sex.” The clubs owner, Thomas George, responded by having several of his dancers protest topless (this is legal in Ohio) in front of New Beginning’s Church on Sunday mornings and running radio ads inviting people to come and see Pastor Dunfee’s “favorite weekend hangout.”
The feud has continued steadily for an entire decade with both men refusing to back down and reporting each other to the authorities for trespassing, harassment, assault, etc. Most recently, Pastor Dunfee has filed a Federal lawsuit against Mr. George under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The act was passed as a response to the growing number of abortion clinic arsons, bombings, and kidnappings carried out by Christian terrorist organization Army of God and the 1993 murder of Dr. David Gunn.
Signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, the act applies to both reproductive clinics and churches. It prohibits “the use of physical force, threat of physical force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, interfere with or attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person” attempting to enter an abortion clinic or a church. Pastor Dunfee argues that the presence of the topless women “threatens and intimidates” congregants on Sunday mornings. (Although I suspect worship attendance among teenage boys has skyrocketed)
|Foxhole Employees and Supporters Protest Outside New Beginnings Church|
Authorities for the county in which both the club and church reside have written both parties begging them to stop because they are draining taxpayer resources. Between the endless law enforcement calls and the un-prosecutable charges, local officials are fed up. They also cite the terrible publicity as The New York Times and CNN have sent reporters to cover the ongoing animosity.
As if it was not ugly enough, The Foxhole’s owner told The New York Times reporter that he found it rather hypocritical that Rev. Dunfee would protest The Foxhole for promoting infidelity when he was forced to resign from his previous church for an extra-marital affair. While admitting the affair, Pastor Dunfee responded that he has “no intention of looking away from evil.”
In so many ways, this situation embodies how easily Christians can get it wrong when it comes to outreach. While New Beginnings may eventually shame enough paying customers to bankrupt The Foxhole, I doubt they won many souls for Christ. It is far more likely that they have given a cynical and unbelieving world another reason to remain exactly that.
While attempting to find an update on this story, I found a far more encouraging (and regrettably unpublicized) interaction between a church and strip club.
Pastor Zack Smithson of First Church of the Nazarene in Euless, TX attributes their ministry to a church-wide viewing of a DVD about human trafficking. It started a conversation in the church that lead to a unique ministry to the three strip clubs within three miles of the church. One Saturday per month, the pastor’s wife Corrie and a group of women from the church show up at one of the clubs and wash the dancer’s feet, give them pedicures, and bring them food.
According to Corrie, the goal of the ministry is to show the dancers the love of Christ. “If they ask questions [about who we are], we answer, but we talk to them about their lives. We don’t want them to feel judged. We want them to feel loved and respected.”
So far, their ministry hasn’t shut down any strip clubs or even converted any of the dancers. No reporter from The New York Times has shown up and no police reports have been filed. Instead, something far greater has transpired: Christians are being associated with grace. Dancers have told the church members, “You guys must really love us.” Church members have confided that they had once worked in the adult industry and are inspired by the church reaching out rather than casting judgement.
It takes far more faith, courage and humility to privately wash the feet of a sex-worker than to publicly berate them and their source of income. It is regrettable that such professions exist, but it is equally as regrettable that those in the profession cannot look to followers of Christ for compassion and understanding. This must change.