Imagine that you are a homeless woman. Perhaps you had health problems that led to financial problems. Perhaps you are a victim of domestic violence and, having grown up in a community that prefers you become a wife instead of a provider, you don’t know how to take care of yourself after leaving your abusive spouse. Perhaps you have or had an addiction problem that made it difficult to take care of yourself or keep a job. Regardless of the situation, you are now homeless. To make matters worse, you have a two-year-old daughter to take care of.
So you swallow your pride and go to a homeless shelter. You accept that you cannot take care of yourself and your daughter and that you need help. You live in a 10’ x 14’ room with a twin bed, dresser, table and chair, and a sink. You have to go to mandated counseling or lectures or sermons, and you’re read a list of things you need to do. One of those is don’t have sex.
But you like sex. It makes you feel good. It helps you forget how destitute you are. It helps you forget that you’re a grown woman living like a teenager. So, even though the shelter tells you not to, you find a man, another homeless person like yourself, who’s nice and actually doesn’t pity you. The two of you have sex. Maybe you keep having sex. Maybe you only have sex once.
Then the director of the shelter tells you to leave. He tells you to take your child and go. He tells you that you’re sinful and ungodly because you had sex. He tells you to leave the town you grew up in and take a bus to a women’s only shelter 40 minutes down the road. You need to uproot your child again. You need to sever ties with the man who made you feel good. And you need to understand that you are immoral.
How would you feel? Would you think you deserved it? Or would you think that sex is the last thing you have, the last free activity that can make you feel good, and that you should be able to decide when or if you have sex? Would you be terrified about going to a completely new town with new people who might look down on you and your child? Would you mourn the fledging relationship that you had?
This is the scenario that about a dozen women in Williamsburg, Kentucky are undergoing. Until recently, they were residents of the Emergency Christian Ministries, the only homeless shelter in Williamsburg. However, the director, Billy Woodward, recently decided that the Bible doesn’t like people having sex out of wedlock and so, since there are slightly less women than men at the shelter, the women have got to go.
This is a decidedly unchristian attitude. We are not meant to judge others. We are not meant to cast them from the safe haven of God. And, as Song of Solomon shows, we are not meant to demonize sex. Sex is a natural part of life, and it is often the natural expression of love between two people. It is often a balm to sadness and a way to escape the stresses of life. Yes, it can be bad, especially when it’s nonconsensual (which is in fact rape), but that’s not what the director was talking about. He was not saying there had been rapes. He was simply saying that men and women were having sex in an ungodly manner, i.e. outside of marriage.
I feel for these women and what they’re going through. I’ve worked in eastern Kentucky with women in domestic violence shelters and from poor communities. I know how much they’ve suffered and how hard it is for them to live there. I’ve seen the harassment and discrimination they face for being poor or domestic violence victims or single mothers, and I have nothing been respect and sympathy for them. They should be allowed to live in shelters without judgment. They should be allowed to make adult decisions about sex. They should not be punished, and they certainly shouldn’t be cast out – that, turning your back on someone in need when you can help, is ungodly.