Live and Let Live ImageAlong a stretch of Interstate 45 in Central Texas (south of Corsicana), one finds the interesting juxtaposition of country churches and “gentlemen’s clubs.”  In one case, the church and the men’s establishment are literally a mile or two apart from one another.   The amazing thing to me is how “normal,” how common, this vista has become.

Remember, we’re not talking about the flesh pots of Egypt.  We’re talking Bible Belt country.  And I can easily find the same thing elsewhere, in Kansas, for example, my home state.  Deep in the southeast corner along federal highway 166, as one gets ready to enter into NE Oklahoma to pick up Interstate 44, one finds a roadside strip joint very close to a fairly new church building.  I assume it’s still there.  I haven’t been down that road for a while.

(Because I have a few friends who read this blog who are real pranksters [I’m thinking of you, Rick Just!], I feel anxiously compelled to anticipate this question: “Rankin, how come you know so well where these places are?”  Answer: I drive a lot.  I don’t stop.  Just sayin’…)

Two thoughts emerge.  First, a highway landscape dotted with gentlemen’s clubs has become “normal” in the past about 25 or 30 years, which makes me wonder what changed.  Remember, this is  roughly the same period as the emergence of groups like Moral Majority.  Long before the Internet gave us easy access to sexually explicit materials, the Interstate started becoming a place for these “gentlemen’s” establishments.  I used to drive Interstate 70 through Missouri on my way to a semi-annual meeting in Kentucky.  If memory serves, I started noticing these places in the early 90s.

Other places, too.  They began springing up in places where, in another generation, one would have never found them.  Some years ago, I started noticing ads for these “gentlemen’s” establishments on my favorite classic rock radio stations.  Right on the heel of the benefits of Dr. Scholl’s, you hear a woman’s purring voice telling you of the great time you can have at _______’s.

I’m struck by the “live and let live” attitude that the close proximity of churches to “gentlemen’s” establishments suggest.  Imagine: you take one exit for the church parking lot and Sunday morning worship.  You take the next exit and find your way to a place of worship of a different sort.  Some people are “church people.”  Other people like to “have a good time,” so to speak.  I know, sometimes they do both.

Yes, I understand that these places are probably not for the local folks.  They’re probably for people who spend lots of time on the road and are just passing through.  Still, it’s the live-and-let-live idea that catches my attention. “It’s your choice.”  We’re different kinds of people with different values.  Some people like going to church and others like going to strip clubs.  It’s your choice.

I’m not posting to rail about strip clubs.  I am trying to think about what this scene tells us about us.  Whether you go to one place or the other is really “your business.”  It’s not “my business.”  And there is something troubling about the expression of this attitude.  I’m not interested in meddling in other people’s business.  I am interested, however, in a good and healthy society, and I don’t think that the ease with which we’ve come to live with this ironic juxtaposition of establishments is a good sign.

In our society we prize individual freedom.  But we also know that there are limits and those limits are usually set by a people’s values.  For example, I heard recently that even those smoke-free vapor electronic “cigarettes” will be banned from Starbucks shops.  I was in a local coffee shop (not a Starbucks) recently, and a the guy at the table next to me was smoking one of those things – the first one I had seen in public.  It was fascinating.  I only saw vapor when he picked it up and took a drag on it.  Otherwise, it sat on the table, emitting nothing.  Man-at-the-table-next-to-me, I apologize for staring at you.

For some reason, people who go to Starbucks apparently won’t tolerate this behavior, even though it poses not a single solitary health risk, so far as I know.  I’m not up on this technology, I admit.  But the only reason I can think of that Starbucks would make the move to ban even e-cigarettes is because some people complained.  Or Starbucks managers worried that some people would complain.

So, do strip clubs and churches peaceably coexisting within the same small space suggest a healthy society or a weakening one?

I don’t know what to make of any of this.  I’m just aware of how we tolerate some behaviors and we don’t others.  And that what we tolerate changes over time.  I think, at the least, we need to be aware that these changes happen.  And we need to ask whether certain changes are good.  And we need to think about how (by what criteria, on what basis) we go along with the changes.  The experts can help us think about these things, but we can’t leave it to the experts.  We have to live with one another.  We have to think and come to some conclusions that work.



What We Tolerate, What We Don’t

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14 thoughts on “What We Tolerate, What We Don’t

  • June 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Along the same line of thinking, I have always found it interesting that these places are called “gentlemen’s clubs.” No real gentleman would go there.

    If adults are thoughtful about this topic, imagine what goes through the mind of a teenaged boy on his way to church with his family and sees such. It seems to me that we have a parental and societal responsibility to help young, forming minds and bodies manage prurient interest by minimizing exposure.

    It is naive to think we can totally control or manage what is out there; however, ask any addict ~ sexual or other ~ what his/her first exposure or experience with their drug was about. The human mind and its chemicals are powerful cocktails. Junk in, junk out.

  • June 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Although you contrast the rise of strip clubs with the rise of organizations like the Moral Majority, I would contend they have the same cause. Our courts have interpreted the First Amendment so that strip clubs / gentlemen’s clubs and disgusting pornography must be tolerated as “free speech.” The laws and regulations that prevented the proliferation of strip clubs and pornography have been deemed unconstitutional. Those who believe that this is a misinterpretation of our constitution formed organizations like the Moral Majority to reverse this destructive trend. This is less a case of Christians tolerating the coarsening of the culture than our wise, secular elites forcing a coarsened culture upon us. I firmly believe that this type of libertine freedom is quite harmful to our families and our society. However, I am just one of the close minded, intolerant, hateful Christians that our media and secular elites love to pillory.

  • June 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    I’m not sure your juxtaposition between the strip clubs and Starbucks really holds up. On one hand are the customers of a business driving policy, on the other is non-customers wishing to deny the right for a business to exist.

    I remember when an adult bookstore got run out of Manhattan, KS by an anonymous local church or group. Their strategy was basically causing so much damage (cinder blocks with Biblical quotes wrapped around them thrown through the windows) that the business would “get the hint”. I’m fairly certain that the store didn’t have a lot of community support, but I can assure you that the actions of their vandals were not received well either.

    On the other hand the “people who go to Starbucks” (What is that code for exactly? Urban? Rich? Liberal?) apparently didn’t want these e-cig things. I’m sure that Starbucks doesn’t make company policy based on 15 complains, they clearly felt it was in in their business interests to make the change. After all, nobody accuses McDonald’s for being elitist for requiring shirts and shoes.

    The question isn’t “which group is the most intolerant”? – the question is: How are we as Christians best able to navigate the treacherous waters between personal freedom and Judeo-Christian morality? Is it with cinder blocks or engagement? Do we best accomplish our goals through legislation or discipleship?

    • June 5, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      I wasn’t trying to juxtapose the Starbucks situation with the strip clubs, Ben, or compare them. I agree that customers complaining versus non-customers trying to close a business are two different situations. The live-and-let-live attitude is far from absolute. What we are willing to tolerate is a mystery to me.

      • June 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

        Maybe this will help you with the mystery.

        Tesco Direct  was selling a pole-dancing kit in their toys and games section.
        The game “Peekaboo Poker” was also available whose advertising was clearly directed at children. “Unleash the sex kitten inside…simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!”
        They were forced to stop selling the products after complaints from parents and citizens concerned. (Reported in UK news)
        So I guess someone thought it a good idea to teach the art of pole dancing for future employment.

        • June 6, 2013 at 8:17 am

          My goodness. I’m speechless. Thank you for bringing this situation to light.

          • June 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

            Final remark I posted on elsewhere.

            How far will we go?
            As far as history records and further.
            The push is already on to lower age of consent laws.
            You can read Peter Tachell’s letter to The Guardian 1997.
            We need to know how and why those laws are being challenged and why countries raised age of consent laws in the past.

            The new ethicists argue in favor of after birth abortions.
            See Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva

            Who has not read of assisted suicide that is now legal in Oregon, Washington, &
            Euthanasia was defeated in Canada & South Australia recently. Just that the bills were proposed and voted on should be of concern.

            In the news today it is reports a new family model has emerged made up of pimps and prostitutes. One big happy family.

            Christ said to Peter:
            “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18-19

            If there are no gates to push on Hades walks right in unobstructed.
            Those gates are the church.

            You’re welcome.

      • June 6, 2013 at 10:57 am

        Fair point Steve, perhaps we seek to change that which we can affect, and tolerate what we cannot change?

        It seems to me that some of the tension in this issue comes from trying to combine free-market ideas with legislated morality. I don’t really have a horse in this race, but I’m not sure we should be too surprised when there are markets for things we don’t approve of.

        To address this issue we either have to weaken our ideas about free-market driven culture (which rubs uncomfortably with our notions of national identity) or adopt a more relativistic viewpoint on morality (which doesn’t sit well with our identities as Christians).

        Folks like “D” clearly favor the former of these options, portraying the church as the last remaining barrier before we descend into a nation of sadists and child abusers.
        I’m reminded by the character of Donald Marsh in Charles Sheldon’s “In His Steps” – he’s the College President (I think) who advocates a law banning the sale of alcohol. He’s one of the standout characters for me because while others make personal choices that affect them in very significant ways (sometimes negatively), he chooses a path that makes choices for others.

        However shameful that deal in the UK was with the pole dancing kit I should note a few things – that’s an example of how a free-market regulates itself. A business thinks it sees a potential for sales, releases a product then is forced to reconsider when customers complain. The cost of selling the product was much higher than the profit of selling it.

        • June 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

          “Folks like “d” clearly favor the former of these options”
          What “d” is in favor of is truth.
          What I am in favor of is the public getting the real story and the motives that drive.
          I have faith that the majority of people will make the right judgements if they are given the full story.
          Get the propaganda out.

          Take any given topic that divides and show the real story and positions are changed by choice not legislating morality.

          Are we legislating morality or are we trying to legislate immorality.
          Abortion doesn’t look so appealing after Gosnell.
          Justified by love doesn’t look so appealing after the Jodi Arias trial and do your own thing is not so appealing when it is one of your children or loved ones doing their own thing like prostitution or drugs as an example.

          What you write in your final paragraph I would agree with.
          It is true markets for drive the production of.
          It is also true if things keep heading in the direction we seem to be going those items Tesco was selling may sell well in the future.

          • June 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

            Well I apologize – it wasn’t my intent to insult or draw you into any further argument.

            It’s clear we have very different outlooks. My views on some of the issues you name are greatly affected by personal experiences that no longer allow me to see them as simple subjects requiring only the application of information to clear away the propaganda.

            The world I see is one where complex issues of moral choice are driven by many external factors – to bring authentic witness into the world and address these topics requires patience and love.

        • June 6, 2013 at 2:13 pm

          Ben, I think the only thing I’d add to your second comment is that a free market system is itself a moral system. Thus, I think we actually have competing moral systems right now working in American popular culture. One (free markets economics) is the assumption of rational, individual autonomy associated with producing and consuming. The other involves communal values. In either case, some degree of imposing the dominant values will take place. With “D,” I agree that we need to draw out these characteristics more into the open so that people can look at them and think about whether we really want things to be this way.

          • June 7, 2013 at 6:20 am

            No need to apologize.
            I was not offended.

            I agree with SF comments.
            Markets are driven by demand.
            No one will produce what cannot be sold because markets are out to make money and no money can be made if products are not sold.
            I do think there can be some minipulation by advertisers that convince the public they need a product they really do not need but… is really the moral values of the purchaser or those that demand the product that is the driving force.
            So who is blame for what?

  • June 6, 2013 at 6:10 am

    Not to out done there are also “Ladies Clubs” and there have always been “Gay Clubs”.
    The only question one has to ask themselves is, ” Would this be a goal I would have for my daughter, son, wife, or husband? To become a stripper surrounded by drunks, druggies and behind the scene activity?” Will we soon see schools of “lower learning” designed to teach the art of stripping?… But wait!…..We have schools that teach”The art of Stripping”.

  • June 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Sorry to get in so late on this conversation – I’ve been at my UMC Annual Conference and missed this one. What we really need to be asking is why are people so drawn to the “Gentlemen’s/Ladies’ Clubs” and not the church that’s right down the street in the first place? I ask this fully cognizant of the obvious answer; my inquiry seeks the heart of what it is about organized religion that so many of us find so fulfilling that doesn’t translate better to general society? To appropriate the business analogy above, Why can’t we do a better job “selling” Christianity? We wrestled with these thoughts at our recent Conference, and my local congregation continues to do so on our various committees, but we seem to only inch towards (if even at that pace) answers. The patrons at adult clubs go to meet some need that is unmet elsewhere – what would happen if we could show them that there is a place where no one should be left empty (and I admit that we still have a ways to go on realizing that goal even for those who already attend)? I think this has to become the driving force behind our command to go and make disciples. Peace …


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