It’s my second night in Bangkok and I find myself with a few of my friends having a drink at a bar in Soi Cowboy. I have found myself in some strange places, but this place was the most surreal and the worst. Soi Cowboy is one of the major red light districts in Bangkok, Thailand. It was made famous by the movie, “The Hangover 2”, and for reasons of absolute ignorance it has become a tourist spot. Immediately the surroundings began to overwhelm me. It felt like I was watching a movie. I was there physically, but not yet participating in the reality. There are bright neon lights and people everywhere. The scene is filled with scantily clad female shapes and ladyboys hanging outside their dens of despair while men prowl the streets like caged lions eyeing something to devour. It was all so sensational that it took a while for me to settle into the situation. After getting over all the distractions I began to reconcile myself in to the reality of it all. I am not sure if you have seen this first hand, but when you see a man in his mid-60s walking along holding the hand of a 14 year old girl, it’s hard to handle. When you witness ladyboys signaling to the men walking by, one does not know how to conceptualize it. I finally straightened out my mind, and began to realize what was happening around me. That old man is with that young girl and they are going to engage in sexual acts. This is real. I am here. Everyone I see on the street is present with me. They are not actors on a screen.
This is an attempt to write a theological reflection about my experience in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Theology functions as critical reflection. Gustavo Gutierrez said, “Theology does not produce pastoral activity; rather it reflects upon it.” My attempt here might prove to be futile due to the radical evil happening in Thailand (and the world’s) sex industry. Yet it was there, with a drink in hand, sitting in the midst of Soi Cowboy, that my theological reflection began. Before Thailand, theology seemed a clear-cut endeavor. We had our statements, memorized our verses, read our Bibles. All of this was called into question as I began to reflect. In the heart of Soi Cowboy a voice in my head asked, “what does theology look like now?” I took a drink and said, “I’ll get back to you later.
Now, it is later, and I ask, “How will the Church help prevent the dehumanization of these boys and girls?” I pursued The SOLD Project and Thailand because I could no longer read or talk theology without putting my money where my mouth was. My reflections have led me to three considerations in answering the above question. First, we must be attentive of the language we use when speaking about the poor. Rachel Goble, the President of The SOLD Project, has already written beautifully about this in her post on RLC. I would like to add to it. Taking page from the Liberation theologians like Ignacio Ellacuria, Jon Sobrino, and Gustavo Gutierrez, the poor must be named. They used to be the serfs, or the proletariat, but today they have no name, and without a name they do not exist. Jon Sobrino offers the name: the crucified peoples. “[C]rucified peoples is useful and necessary language on the religious level because the cross is the death Jesus died. So for the believer it can evoke the fundamentals of faith, sin and grace, damnation and salvation.” As the church, we have to embrace this name for those who are being crucified daily. The young girl that is crucified every night she is with a man. The term crucified peoples evokes the essence of Christian faith and places it with the least of these. God did in fact choose the weak of this world in order to save it. As the Church sides with the poor she will continually find her salvation.
Second, the church is not the voice of the voiceless. I owe this realization to Rachel. The crucified peoples are not voiceless, nor are we being the voice for the voiceless. Their voice is the essential expression of what God is saying to the world. We must listen to them. I need to listen to them. What I found is their voice is the voice of God. It is the voice of the crucified Messiah crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Third, we must understand the sheer size and intricacy of the Thai, and other similar, experiences. Now, I now understand that there is not one way of doing theology. Life and theology happens in context. To perform theology within the context of The SOLD Project’s prevention program is to perform it with improvisation. The Church has to be okay with the grayness and acting in ways that might appear to be contradictory. The people I met in Thailand had an edge to them. They understood the chaos. Their concern wasn’t getting people to become “Christian, ” but to follow Jesus Christ. It is in these places that theology leaves the high towers of academia and the pulpits of the church to find itself in the slums of Bangkok sitting next to a ladyboy, or with a pedophile holding the hand of a pre-teen who is only trying to make money for her family. Christianity as I know it falls to wayside, allowing something new to emerge: the Crucified One who is walking amongst them. In these slums and red light districts the Son of Man dwells. Here we are forced to ask of ourselves: “what have I done to crucify them? What do I do to un-crucify them? What must I do for this people to rise again?”
All of this requires great faith because we cannot lean on our own understanding or the theological understanding we’ve been taught. We must take the side of the crucified peoples as sister and brother. The Church must come to serve, not to be served. Our theology is to be led in to the heart of an immense darkness in order to become a theology fitting for the name of Jesus Christ. As Miroslav Volf stated, “[T]he sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are “the sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his own soul, in solidarity with them.”