At first glance, it seemed like the story of ex-stripper Heather Veitch and her friends in the JC's Girls Girls Girls ministry to women in the sex industry was destined for exclusive coverage on Geraldo at Large and other television shows that need punchy one-liners and lively images. To my shock, the Los Angeles Times took this story pretty seriously and ended up with a feature -- by reporter Stephen Clark -- that offers some insights into the sex trade as well as into one born-again woman's journey out of it. This is more than a novelty story for winking headline writers.
Yes, there are references to the fact that Veitch still likes to strip -- for her husband. You also knew that if she showed up on The 700 Club, someone was going to call her a "holy hottie." So be it. But, as a rule Clark just tells the story. Here is the basic description of the ministry:
Every month, JC's Girls (JC is for Jesus Christ) and a few female volunteer church members visit strip clubs, where they pay for lap dances. While alone with a stripper in a booth, they forgo the dance and share the Gospel. In January, JC's Girls went to Las Vegas for the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, regarded as the nation's largest trade show in the porn business, and handed out more than 200 Bibles wrapped in "Holy Hottie" T-shirts. Veitch, 31, who was a stripper for four years, founded the outreach ministry last March.
A crucial element of the story is that this unconventional ministry is, in fact, part of a mainstream church -- the 1,700-member Sandals (Southern Baptist) Church in Riverside, Calif., and is in the annual budget. The Rev. Matt Brown offered this rather understated quote: "Some people in our church were concerned that some of their offerings and tithes were paying for lap dances."
Clark raises some serious questions linked to the role of beauty and sex appeal in a ministry of this kind. Meanwhile, Veitch understands -- because of the life she has lived -- that many of the women trapped in the sex industry have endured rape and abuse. They feel trapped by the big bucks and the rapt attention of men.
So, how can conservative church people reach out to people who are living lives on the wrong side such a gigantic cultural divide? As California Southern Baptist spokesman Terry Barone bluntly states:
"These women are doing what Jesus did," he said. "He ministered to prostitutes and tax collectors. He had a penchant for going to the people who needed his message -- not the religious people."
Clearly, this kind of ministry makes many church people terribly uncomfortable. At the same time, the theological issues that Veitch and her friends are raising are serious. Many of the women who try to flee from the nightclubs into the church get caught halfway in between. They feel trapped on several levels.
Thus, this surprisingly sobering story ends this way, with questions that must be taken seriously by churches of all kinds. I am glad that the Los Angeles Times played this story straight, low-key and factual:
Veitch ... continues doing interview after interview. She recently held her ground on "Hannity & Colmes" on Fox News. "Can you be a stripper and a believer at the same time?" Alan Colmes asked.
"The question," she answered, "is can you be a glutton and a believer at the same time? Can you be a liar and a believer at the same time? Yes."