Cigarettes & Prostitutes — The Body as Sacred Temple

You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you.
(1 Cor. 6:19a, NCV)

Paul’s claim in this verse is very important to us Adventists (see 2nd sentence). We extrapolate from this verse that we should not only avoid sexual prostitution (the verse’s context) but also avoid cigarettes, alcohol and to varying degrees a few other substances that tend to have negative health effects. This verse also motivates us to offer stop-smoking clinics and CHIP programs as services to our local communities. The body is God’s temple, so the body should be as healthy as possible.

I like to believe this verse also motivates our work through ADRA and Adventist Community Services. The body is a temple so it should be cared for, whether the need is food, water, clothing, shelter or medical care. We take Paul’s assertion very seriously.

Of course, the focus on personal health and humanitarian service does not rest on this single verse. The Bible provides a rich description of the importance of bodies. For example:

  • So God created human beings in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female. (Gen. 1:27, NCV)
  • You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. (Ps. 139:13-14a)
  • Jesus answered, “It is written in your law that God said, ‘I said, you are gods.’” (John 10:34; Ps. 82:6)
  • Together you are the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:27a)

In some mysterious way, we are created male and female to somehow embody and carry out important characteristics and functions of God. We are formed in amazing and wonderful ways. We are created with the capacity to be “gods” when we accept God’s truth (John 10:35). And together, disciples of Jesus form his body in the world. Our bodies were made–among other purposes–to be temples for God and to jointly be God’s body.

Bodies are amazing, important, sacred.

Your body is amazing, important, sacred.

Bodies come in all shapes, sizes and colors. There are younger bodies and older bodies. There are stronger bodies and weaker bodies. There are cleaner bodies and dirtier bodies. And all these bodies are amazing, important and sacred.

I want to hold on to the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:19 that leads to CHIP programs and ACS while also getting a bit more personal. I want the verse to open my eyes to the sacredness of everyone around me–the normal people at work and at church, the strangers at the grocery store, the drivers during my commute, the family members I take for granted, the people that make my life more difficult than I think it should be. They are all sacred temples that God has created as a place to dwell. I want to see them as God sees them.

And I know I’ve been writing about human trafficking a lot lately because of the Summit at Andrews University. But let’s revisit this topic of sex trafficking in the context of 1 Corinthians 6:19, which is first and foremost about sex and prostitution.

The body is not for sexual sin but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 By his power God has raised the Lord from the dead and will also raise us from the dead. 15 Surely you know that your bodies are parts of Christ himself. So I must never take the parts of Christ and join them to a prostitute! 16 It is written in the Scriptures, “The two will become one body.” So you should know that anyone who joins with a prostitute becomes one body with the prostitute. 17 But the one who joins with the Lord is one spirit with the Lord.

18 So run away from sexual sin. Every other sin people do is outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies. 19 You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, 20 because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:13d-20)

One of the common themes during the Summit at AU was that prostitution and trafficking are not as disconnected as we often think. Sex trafficking is the sexual exploitation of people for commercial purposes (and for those over 18 it must include force, fraud or coercion). We saw how much mental and physical force, fraud and coercion is involved with prostitution (e.g., the story of Annie Lobert).

May we have eyes to see every person–including every prostitute, pimp, trafficker and John (purchaser/client)–as sacred, as created in God’s image, as a place for God to dwell. Satan uses the sex industry to destroy the soul of every person involved (not only the abused victim), and we have been called to set the captives free (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Bodies are made to be God’s temples.

Bodies are not made to be exploited.

Bodies are people made in the image of God, not objects for buying and selling–whether in magazines, the street corner, or a brothel.

Rather than an object, she is a person, and “a person is exactly what a woman is first and foremost to God, a person made in God’s image, filled with God’s Spirit, and gifted to serve God as a member of the Body of Christ” (Hoag).

In my volunteer work doing research for Tiny Hands International (Chris Blake introduced me), I keep wanting to look the dads, husbands, uncles and random men and women in the eye and say, “How can you sell your daughter, your wife, your niece?! Can’t you see that she is a sacred temple?!”

She is sacred.

He is sacred.

You are sacred.

So here’s my call: If Adventists care enough about 1 Corinthians 6 to start nationwide health programs to stop smoking and to promote heart health, can we also take its more literal meaning just as seriously? The fact that both Andrews University and Union College are showing Nefarious this year and are raising awareness about this issue tells me that it is possible, that some people are standing up.

Let’s be honest, this is hard. We don’t know what to do to fight trafficking. It’s not obvious to us like smoking or Twinkies. We don’t want to go where we think there might be prostitution and trafficking. We don’t know what we would do or say if we did go. So it’s easier to simply keep this verse personal in the area of sex. “I won’t have sex with a prostitute, and that is sufficient.” But we don’t take this approach with our other interpretations of the verse. No, we make them very public. “You should not smoke, and we can help. You should replace Twinkies with raw, vegan, organic, locally-grown celery, and we can help.”

So how could we do this? What would it look like?

I think it could start with our own hearts. And our own habits. See this post for reflections on our hearts, our lusts. We can make a stance and then work to live up to it: I will not support the sexual exploitation of women, children and men. First, do no harm. We may need to admit that no human being was put on this planet for my sexual pleasure except my spouse, where we mutually give and receive intimate affection as an expression of our love and commitment. That means Maxim and Playboy are simply at one end of a continuum of lust with the rape of trafficking just over there a bit to the right. Jesus called out this lust (Matthew 5:28). We may have to be honest with ourselves as individuals and as a community in order to acknowledge that a lot more Adventist men and women struggle with this than we like to admit. We are human, with certain human desires that easily get out of hand, but Jesus is always eager to forgive us, heal and change us, and never forsake us.

The next step may be in our own wallets. Do I buy magazines full of advertisements that use sex to sell? Do I buy individual products that use sex to sell (e.g., American Apparel, more)? A (non-SDA) pastor once told me that he really likes beer, but he won’t drink any brand that uses sex in its advertisements. Therefore, he usually drinks local, micro-brews. He explained that he has two daughters, and he wants them to know how valuable their bodies are. Bodies are not for exploitation, manipulation or cheap entertainment. Bodies are temples of the Creator of the Universe.

During my months of monitoring stories in Nepal and India for Tiny Hands Intl (see an informal news blog I occasionally update), I have become increasingly aware of our own sexualized society. Just getting through the check-out line at the grocery store involves walking past ten women’s bodies for sale on magazine covers. When skin becomes a commodity for sale, we have turned the person-temple into a body-object.

I guess I was aware of this before, I just didn’t have a problem with it. Something along the lines of: “If she wants to show off her body, who am I to protest?” But this is more than a personal decision. I wasn’t seeing the larger social pressures and values that said “You are valuable because of your body. Look this certain way and we will exchange dollars for images of your body.” Years ago I sat next to an actress on a long flight. I don’t remember her name, but I remember her analysis of why Julia Roberts was so popular at the time: “Men want to f#@& her, and women want to be her.” Her insight rolled around in my head for years, but only now is it beginning to make more sense, and it’s played out on the covers of each grocery store magazine (for starters).

Getting back to money, not only can we strive to spend our “consumer” dollars wisely, but we can also support active organizations with our finances. Consider the groups listed below as well as Keep Girls Safe, a ministry of ADRA-Thailand (video from 2009).

Next, we can become more informed about trafficking. With knowledge, we can begin to get involved in ways that fit our current life situation. To continue learning about trafficking, consider these books, films and organizations:

Jesus’ words would (obviously) end all trafficking. That is, without the lust that objectifies a person (i.e., turns a person into an object to satisfy my desires), there would be no Johns, and without demand, the millions of people in sex slavery would be free. May this freedom begin with the God of Justice and Righteousness replacing the lust in my own heart with love.

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One Response to Cigarettes & Prostitutes — The Body as Sacred Temple

  1. Celeste Lee says:

    Jeff thanks for calling us as SDA’s to be consistent in our understanding of Biblical principles… We can’t pick what is easy & socially acceptable while ignoring other damaging wrongs …..

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