Lessons from the Well

[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]

The discourse on the decriminalisation of prostitution is one that I try to follow as far as possible. It is a polarised discussion with a diverse range of conflicting views that is often soaked with emotions and stigma. The issue remains on the agenda of the SA Law Reform Commission and a decision is to be made on either decriminalisation, regulation, partial or total criminalisation of the South African sex trade.

Situated at the centre of this discourse is a mother, a daughter, a father and a brother who find themselves in the sex trade. The issue of ‘choice’ is a minefield and presents a plethora of issues to debate. Notwithstanding the multi-layered complexities associated with this discourse, we, as Christians, are mandated as ambassadors of Christ and cannot shy away from engaging with ‘undesirables’ in our communities or the issues that affect ‘them’. The very use of our language is yet another factor we need to re-evaluate. Sodden with a dichotomy of “us” and “them”, “right” and “wrong”, “profession” and “oppression”, our choice of language has the potential to further reinforce the chasm between those sitting on the opposite ends of the table when discussing the issue of prostitution.

My personal view on the decriminalisation of prostitution issue is one where I will much rather uphold the rights of our men, women and children not to be in prostitution, than their rights to opt for it. Turning to the Word of God and more specifically the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we get a glimpse of how Jesus interacted with individuals who often find themselves on the fringes of society. The principles set out by John Maxwell[i] below capture the heart of Jesus and should serve as a yardstick when we stand at the intersection of judgement and grace:

John 4:1-26

  1. Jesus initiated contact. He spoke first and did not isolate Himself even from ‘undesirables’ (verse 1-7)
  2. Jesus established common ground and connected with her about a familiar and mutual interest: Water (verse 7,8)
  3. Jesus listened and allowed her to speak (Verse 9)
  4. Jesus stirred her interest. He built a ‘verbal bridge’ and she became thirsty for something more than water (Verses 10-15)
  5. Jesus ‘took’ her only as far as she was ready to go. Jesus said just enough (Verses 16-19)
  6. Jesus accepted her where she was. He knew her lifestyle but never condemned her (Verses 17,18)
  7. Jesus stuck with the key issues. He didn’t allow her to get distracted and He did not divert the focus from the real issue (Verses 20-24)
  8. Jesus communicated issues directly and simply. Jesus revealed His identity in clear and simple terms (Verses 25,26)

It is absolutely true that every person on the face of this earth (at least those we don’t know) faces a battle we know nothing about. We should be reminded that not even Jesus came to judge (John 12:47) as we strive to personify his love and grace when reaching out to those often finding themselves on the fringes of society.

[i] Maxwell, J.C. (ed). 2002. (Page 1282). The Maxwell Leadership Bible. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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