Two Thumbs Up: “Sex Working and the Bible” by Avaren Ipsen

by aaron

Hello beloved readers!  I’m writing to let you know about a resource found by my partner, which we recently used in Bible study with folks from our church.  It’s a book called “Sex Working and the Bible” by Avaren Ipsen (Equinox Publishing, 2009).   And it is OFF THE CHAIN.

Some of you may have noticed recent increase in attention to the issue of “human sex trafficking” in Christian circles.  What many of us here at Special Communion  noticed in particular was a lot of talk about nice Christians swooping in and “rescuing victims”… without actually seeking out the knowledge and concerns of sex workers themselves first.

This book, in contrast, is a series of Bible studies where the author sits down to read scripture (and commentary) with organized sex workers (from the Sex Workers Outreach Project in the Bay Area).  Together, the workers and the author focus on the stories of Rahab, the two prostitutes in the court of Solomon, the anointing woman in the 4 gospels, and the whore of Babylon.  Themes repeatedly pulled out members of the group included:  that the economic and social reality of poor women, queers, and trans people hasn’t changed much since Rahab’s time; that scriptural (and cultural) metaphors about sex work as sin have contributed to real violence against sex workers (as in the case of the Green River Serial Killer, an avid reader of the Book of Revelations); and that there is a SERIOUS, MEASURABLE difference between interpreting Jesus as a patronizing “rescuer” of poor sinful whores, and interpreting Jesus as someone who actually *listens* to sex workers, holding himself and his community accountable to their plight and their fight.

I have to admit that I was definitely nervous to do this Bible study with our own church people!  But it turned out to be fantastic, especially because the book is grounded in real life stories and struggles that challenged a lot of assumptions and habits of interpretation.  We had a crowd of about twenty people show up  for it– mixed gender, all ages, rich and poor, all with a fairly wide range of political beliefs.  And by the end of the study, lots of people expressed an interest in wanting to connect to sex worker support networks in our own area, in a way that could go beyond charity and “rescuing”  to actually building relationships and holding ourselves accountable to our sisters and brothers who do sex work (i.e. hosting our own similar Bible studies).  Like I said, this book has a really effective teaching and motivating style!

Once again, that’s: “Sex Working and the Bible” by Avaren Ipsen (Equinox Publishing, 2009).  100% of the proceeds from this book go to the Sex Workers Outreach Project (  Spread the word and buy the book!!

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