Yesterday we tweeted about a strange little story in Ohio where a group of strippers protested a church. It’s such a bizarre story that we couldn’t help diving in further (it seems the rest of the web couldn’t either). Here’s the story in a nutshell:
Pastor Bill Dunfee and the New Beginnings Ministries church have spent every weekend for the past four years picketing Tommy George’s Foxhole strip club. They show up with bullhorns and video cameras, preaching and capturing the license plates of customers to post online.
George tried suing the church in federal court several years ago and lost on free speech grounds. So he opted to use the church’s own tactics against them and started a protest of his own on Sunday morning. George and the strippers show up with bikinis and burgers, sitting in lawn chairs with their protest signs.
The first few weeks Dunfee had the sermon piped outside, but that only caused the strippers to “dance in the streets” (there’s your new tagline: “Preaching so good, the strippers dance in the streets!”). Now the two sides mostly ignore each other, though the article notes that one church member stopped to pray with one of the women, who appreciated the gesture.
Getting people to church is a good thing, but I don’t think this is how you want to do it. Protesting, shaming and antagonizing people is never a good way to communicate the gospel. In this case it’s blowing up in their face as so many point and laugh.
Your strategy should be consistent with your message. If you believe in love, you should communicate with love. Maybe this church believes in judgment and, whether or not that’s the case, that’s exactly what’s being communicated.
The lone example of the one church member crossing the lines and talking to one of the women is encouraging. That’s where the story of the gospel is happening. In the Gospels you don’t find Jesus shouting at sinners with a bullhorn or shaming people into following him.
These kinds of stories show up all too often as Christians and their churches wage a painful culture war. In the end hearts are hardened on both sides and innocent bystanders become victims of holy tirades. You certainly can share the gospel by aiming a sword or a bullhorn at the heathen masses, but history has proven that it doesn’t go over well.
If you want the strippers to stop stripping, you might try loving them instead of protesting them, talking to them instead of shouting at them, befriending them instead of vilifying them.
You can find reaction all over the web to this story (and I’m sure in our comments section as folks begin to chime in), but here are a few responses we heard in social media and blogs:
Neto Mejia: “I’m with the strippers. Not just to be oppositional, this is a good lesson on how church foolishness can backfire.”
Chad Neal: “Why did only one church member go out and speak to the ladies? The church should have been overwhelming them with the love of Christ. Bringing them refreshments, and maybe even held an impromptu cookout with them.”
Todd Rhoades: “The one thing this church has done with their actions is pretty much guarantee that none of them will have anything to do with any of these people coming to Christ.”
@SisterSimplify: “I’m afraid I’d be sitting with the strippers. That pastor is an [expletive]!”
Update (Aug. 19, 2010):
This culture clash has turned into hugs and likely reconciliation as two representatives from a strippers-turned-Christian ministry called JC’s Girls went to Ohio and talked to Bill Dunfee and his congregation, as well as Tommy George and the women who work at the Foxhole strip club. Neither side has completely backed down and agreed to end the protests, but this is a giant leap forward. People of the Second Chance give the summary, the local paper has the full story and the JC’s Girls blog has several updates.