Friday, March 16, 2007

Vinyl Siding For the Slums; Whitewash For the Tombs

I live near, and work in, a medium-sized city: Fort Wayne, Indiana. About 230,000 live in the city itself; the "metropolitan area" is home to about half a million. It's fair, I think, to say that it's reasonably typical of midsized Rust Belt cities. It grew through most of last century with a national economy that was based on the manufacture of hard goods, durable goods, automobiles, machinery of various kinds. International Harvester used to build a lot of trucks here; now only a smallish engineering facility remains. General Electric built many motors; that's pretty much gone, too. A "new" General Motors assembly plant was built in the late 1980s, but it was new only to Fort Wayne; GM simultaneously closed its equivalent existing facility in Wisconsin. The largest employer is local government, in the form of the city school system. The local economy isn't exactly what you'd call Dickensian, but it's tight; it's pinched.

Fort Wayne is probably also typical in another way: it's a prolific self-awarder of alternative names. A variety of boosters have come up with quite a few. The Summit City (this, on what must be some of the flattest land God ever made). The All-American City. America's Most Livable City (houses are cheap; of course, wages are low, too). The City That Saved Itself (much volunteer sandbagging during a big flood in 1982). The City of Churches (the German immigrants of the 19th century, from whom lots of us are descended, were mostly Lutherans with a large Catholic minority, and they were all a church-building bunch). And now ... the City of Strip Clubs. It seems that one of the candidates seeking the mayoralty of the Fort has just purely had enough:
Kelty said he wants to examine whether city ordinances regulating the businesses are adequate and are being properly enforced. He’s been looking into the issue for some time, he said, and last week’s story about two sixth-graders engaging in sexual activity during a class at Raymond Park Middle School in Indianapolis makes the issue timely.

“There is a real problem with the way human sexuality is portrayed in our culture at large,” Kelty said in a telephone interview. “What happened at Raymond Park is an extrapolation of what is going on with sexually oriented businesses in Fort Wayne.”

Fort Wayne was once known as the city of churches, Kelty said, but now has a reputation as the city of strip clubs.

Kelty appears to be looking for tougher laws regulating strip clubs. Strip club patrons aren’t there for the music or drinks but “are going to witness something that is difficult to construe as entertainment.”

The city’s strip clubs came under fire from the American Family Association in 1999 and 2000, and in 2001 the City Council adopted zoning-law changes that closed some loopholes and defined regulations for other sexually regulated businesses but did little to change the operations or hours of strip clubs.

Regarding government regulation of businesses, Kelty strongly opposes the pending smoking ban. “I don’t need the government telling small businesses how to do business,” he said last December.

But Kelty suggested that strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses are a different story because of their effects on society. “If somebody goes into a bar and has a cigarette, how is that related to violence against women, rape?” he asked.

To get tougher laws, a Mayor Kelty would have to win City Council support. To enforce existing laws, he would need a police department willing to do so and, more importantly, the backing of a county prosecutor, who has shown more interest in attacking violent crime than vices.
Now, I think that Candidate Kelty is addressing his target audience here: the "values voters," who are often thought to be Christians -- and, in many cases, undoubtedly are. He's not likely to be the worst candidiate to seek the Fort Wayne mayor's office this time around. Myself, I don't have a vote in city elections; but if I did, I might well find myself casting it his way, depending on what other hats might be in the ring. This isn't really about Mr. Kelty; it's about the subject he brought up, and the reactions that it perennially gets. I, like Mr. Kelty, will address my comments to my fellow Christians; others, as always, are most welcome to read.

OK, strip bars. Strip bars are not good. They are places where men pay women, directly and indirectly, to do things that they'd be upset (I hope) to see their sisters, or their daughters, doing. They are places where men fail to recognize their sisters. (You say the nekkid dancers aren't your sisters? Think twice.) They are places where women fail to recognize themselves: images of the living God, for whose redemption Christ willingly submitted Himself to death by torture. Their failure to value themselves appropriately is a not-unlikely explanation for these women being all too often involved in substance abuse, prostitution, and the other sorry concomitants of disordered life in modern America. Strip bars are one of the symptoms of the fallen-ness among us ... along with the many other symptoms, such as material acquisitiveness, envy, murder, belligerence, gossip, theft, et infinite cetera. Many symptoms ... one basic disease.

So, what's the cure? Well, really, the cure is a who, not a what. Jesus is the cure. Jesus offers salvation for the soul and sanctification of the person: his thoughts, ethics, morals, and entire way of life. How should His church apply the cure? Well, if the church is actually Jesus's body here on Earth, it (we) might consider following His leading. Matthew 9:9-17 is just one passage from the Gospels that points to the path. In part of that passage, Jesus says: "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The church (all of us) should exemplify sanctification, which -- inconveniently -- requires us to have some. The church (all of us) should love those around us, by seeking their good in practical ways, which includes food, shelter, clothing, medicine, companionship, and salvation -- what, after all, is more practical than salvation? The church (all of us) should be about curing the disease of the Fall.

But so often, the church concerns itself exclusively with the symptoms. Never mind the disease -- get rid of the symptoms! Or at least hide them. Outlaw those strip bars. All we have to do is get rid of them, and then the men that used to attend, and the women who used to strip off their clothes and make simulated love to the brass poles, will all enroll in self-improvement classes instead, right? Not powerful enough to actually shut down the meat museums? Well, at least zone them firmly away into the decaying remains of the former industrial areas, so we won't have to drive past them on Sunday mornings.

Well ... let's hear from Jesus once more (Matthew 23, verse 23 and following):
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too appear outwardly righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Let's face it: our town is a tomb, filled with dead men's bones and every sort of corruption. Never mind the paint brush -- at least for right now. Let's try to learn to do a little carpentry.

1 comment:

lemming said...

B - let me begin by stating that I am a Christian and would no more strip to pay my bills than I would sell drugs.

At the same slightly uncomfortable time, the strip clubs provide employment - the strippers, the bouncers, the cooks, the waitresses - in an area which, as you say, needs jobs. Unlike meth and its ilk, all of these activities are legal and are helping provide some sort of financial footing for the city.

All right, so the isue is zoning, and where is where Indiana will get it wrong every time. Hoosiers will fight any sort of zoning tooth and nail... and they be stunned to discover that there are no laws in place to protect homeowners from living next door to a shooting range (as happened in Owen County a few years back.) In my biased opinion, Indiana desperately needs zoning regulations; one need only drive past our grey and dismal strip malls and compare them with what can be seen in Ohio and Illinois... but oh no, we can't have laws about having streets that actually look nice!

I'm not advocating that strip club owners be given tax incentives or anything like that. I'd be all in favor of keeping them all in one area of town (though we know what THAT would do for urban renewal.)

Getting back to teh personal, I'm tired of legislators attempting to dictate morality and would be grateful if they'd do something productive, such as build roads, help the poor and come up with ways to encourage new businesses to come here... OK, with the exception of brothels.