“A pornographer, a prostitute and a public official” sounds like a setup line for a joke, but it isn’t. It’s actually the sad content of a story on a newspaper Web site that caught my eye.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune report is about the U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who represents Louisiana, the state of my birth. It is also about Wendy Yow Ellis, a prostitute in New Orleans–the city of my birth–and Larry Flynt, the notorious sleaze-peddler, with whom I have no birth connection.
Here’s the gist of the article:
–Vitter campaigned and got elected on a platform of morals and family values.
–He allegedly had an ongoing “business arrangement” with Ms. Ellis in a French Quarter apartment.
–Flynt is obsessed with the senator’s “business dealings” with Ms. Ellis.
–Ms. Ellis is now making really good money by telling her story to Mr. Flynt, and by letting Mr. Flynt show the world via photos in Hustler magazine what she purportedly showed the senator in the privacy of that French Quarter apartment.
Something about this article keeps hounding me. Maybe it’s because I dearly love the city where I was born and raised. Maybe it’s because I love reading about the slime that is Louisiana politics. Or maybe it is because I can’t stop singing “The House of the Rising Sun.”
There is a house in New Orleans
they call the Rising Sun
and it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy . . .
If Flynt can produce some serious evidence connecting Vitter with Ms. Ellis–and Flynt seems convinced he’s got what he needs–this may well become the senator’s theme song.
As one sick of politicians using God and the Bible to get elected, part of me wants to cheer the exposure of such hypocrisy on the part of the powerful–recognizing, of course, that hypocrites reside in both parties.
As a pastor who tends to cheer for the underdog, I’m glad to see Ms. Ellis get her story out there, and I’m even O.K. that she’s getting paid to do it. Maybe now she’ll have the money she needs to live a better life and can stop selling her body to make ends meet. Her story reminds me of one of Faulkner’s tragic, sorrow-filled, almost-doomed-but-essentially-good, characters. I hurt for her.
But as a follower of Jesus, I can’t get rid of some nagging sense that I should also be hurting for Vitter and even Flynt, and I don’t want to.
The Bible has a lot to say about the powerful, the wealthy, about those who exploit others for their own gain. Yes, the Bible has a lot of harsh things to say about men like the senator and the pornographer finally reaping what they’ve been sowing. Their time is gonna come, alright.
And yet, something about Jesus keeps pricking my hard conscience. Something about Jesus keeps jabbing at me to see Vitter and Flynt as broken men. Something about Jesus keeps nagging me to stop judging them.
Or maybe it’s something about the Blind Boys of Alabama singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”–which is playing over and over on my iTunes–that has me mixing grace with prostitution.
Sure, it makes me sick that both men have used and abused women so flippantly for their own pleasure and gain. Sure, it makes me sick that both use their money and power to be movers and shakers, to manipulate and fight. And sure, I abhor their politics and their sense of values (or lack thereof).
But–doggone that nagging Jesus–I think I’m going to have to pray for them, too. I think I’m going to pray that when they come to terms with their own brokenness–if and when they do–that maybe in the midst of all the people jumping up to kick them when they’re down, that someone will be there to reach out a with hand of mercy and grace to hurting men. And by the grace of God, may I be in the latter category rather than the former.
Now, in our deepest, bluesiest, howling-est voice, and to the tune of the classic folk song about a brothel, let’s all stand and sing:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found!
Was blind, but now I see!
Bert Montgomery is pastor at Campbellsburg Baptist Church in Campbellsburg, Ky.
Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville, Mississippi, and the author of five books, including “A Rabbi & a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade,” Montgomery also teaches religion and sociology courses at Mississippi State University.