Morality no basis for criminalization
Social Justice not a quick fix
Perhaps tweeting about the most notorious right-wing commentator in the country wasn’t such a brilliant idea.
Ezra Levant, as most know, thrives on sensationalism. The Sun News Network ringleader (who founded the defunct Western Standard and authored the controversial Ethical Oil) seems to enjoy watching people squirm at his facetious persona, similar to the way Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh do. Even though I knew that, I decided to call him out for being an ignorant asshole and calling sex workers “hookers” and “child-like” in an eight-minute rant broadcast on Sun News following the Ontario Court of Appeal’s recent ruling about prostitution law.
He re-tweeted me, likely knowing that his followers would hunt me down and make my life miserable for insulting their libertarian deity. Chaos ensued. I woke up to 17 infuriating replies — such as the eloquent “Sex workers ARE hookers!!” — and spent most of the day debating with the hardcore conservatives who cared enough about Levant and vaginas to publicly defend his stance. You might be wondering why this belongs in a faith column. Well, not to my surprise, most of the people who got into an online tantrum about my defense of the sexual agency of women were explicitly Christian, and based their arguments on the “immorality” of sex work.
This situation — aside from consuming hours that definitely should have been put towards projects — re-affirmed a suspicion that’s been growing within me for a while: most Christians have a disastrously flawed understanding of justice. As always, there are exceptions. But, most Christians are convinced that the ideals of mainstream western Christianity are infallible — or close to it — and should be broadcast onto the world without discretion. They also believe the way that social issues should be eliminated is through prohibition or criminalization.
It’s happened with abortion. It’s rare to hear any Christian outside of the United Church talking about the issue — because it’s wrongly assumed that everyone that subscribes to the religion is pro-life. It doesn’t stop there. Many uncritical Christians support the criminalization of abortion because they ideologically disagree with it. But, prohibition has never worked. It’s estimated that 350,000 illegal abortions take place annually in the mostly Catholic country of Peru. Many are dangerous and hurt the women in the process.
The same thing has happened with homosexuality and recreational drugs. A majority of Christians disagree with both “social issues” – for reasons I still haven’t really figured out – and would simply prefer if they went away. As a result, you’ll hear most Christians oppose gay marriage and the legalization or decriminalization of drugs. They just want to criminalize it. However, as most of us know, banning something doesn’t make it stop. Instead, it just makes it more stigmatized and dangerous. That doesn’t sound like something Christ would support.
This brings me back to my original point about sex work. I understand why some Christians have an issue with it: sexual intimacy is supposedly something closely tied to the spirit and sex work implies a commodification of it. But ideology doesn’t really matter that much: What really makes a difference is how morality translates into legislation. For decades, sex workers have been the recipients of a brutal stigma, police harassment and unsafe conditions, due in part to people just wanting the “problem” to go away. Prohibition hasn’t protected their rights to safety and agency. Instead, it’s condemned them for renting out their skills and talents for monetary gain — just as all of us do.
Rather than do what Ezra Levant’s worshippers did to me, Christians should instead work towards improving the working conditions of sex workers, access to free and safe abortions and the legalization of drugs in order to make it safer. Call it harm reduction, or the Social Gospel, or liberation theology, or common sense, or simply having grace for people, or recognizing that heaven hasn’t come to Earth yet. It won’t be as simple as praying the issue will go away – but true justice never has been easy.