How one ministry is bringing the gospel to the sex industry

February 4, 2019

For Rachelle Starr, caring for women and girls impacted by the sex industry is not a passion as much as it is a calling. Since founding Scarlet Hope, she has seen hundreds of women leave Louisville, Kentucky’s pervasive sex industry.[1] This is what can happen when you take a risk and start serving people that many would rather avoid than love.                    

On a weekly basis, Rachelle and company go to where those most vulnerable are in their community: the strip clubs. Armed with a home-cooked meal and the desire to have a conversation, Scarlet Hope helps women locally and nationally transition from the adult entertainment industry by offering them transitional living, career counseling, housing, mentoring, transportation, and drug rehabilitation.

Preparing to die                    

But to really understand Rachelle’s mission, we need to go back to the beginning. As a toddler, she began to feel slight paralysis in her hands and her feet. Overtime, this paralysis affected her entire body. Apparently Rachelle had an autoimmune disease, for which there was no cure. The doctors were at a loss. By age eight, the medical professionals began preparing her parents for the worst. “This is looking really bad. She is definitely not going to make it,” the doctor explained. At this point, they ceased giving her medication to treat her disease.

Having exhausted all other options, her father brought her before the elders of the church that he pastored. Taking their cue from James 5:14, they anointed Rachelle with oil and prayed feverishly for her healing. If the doctors were unable to find a cure, maybe, just maybe, the Great Physician could fix what was wrong in her body. “So they prayed over me,” she explains, “and . . . over six months, I started regaining strength in my limbs, my feet, my hands.”

Six months later, during a routine follow-up, the doctors appeared perplexed. “I don’t know if we have the wrong results, but your disease is gone.” Her parents couldn’t believe what they were hearing. With tears of joy streaming down their faces, they knew that God alone had healed their daughter. Just to be on the safe side, the doctor kept her in the hospital for another week of observation. By this point, there was no missing this miracle—it was as if the disease had never been there.

As you might have guessed, Rachelle spent much of her early childhood pondering heaven and the afterlife. At the mercy of her doctors, her prescriptions, and her parents, she learned very early on that she was not in control of anything. “I knew better than probably any of my friends at that age that if I died, I wanted to be with Jesus, and so I repented and gave my life to the Lord and then it was within that year that the Lord healed me.”

The lessons learned from her childhood have never left her. Having experienced the healing and the love of God at an early age, she knew that she wanted to help people know that God loves them and is able to heal them regardless of what they have gone through. Her experience of vulnerability shaped her into the woman she would become. It would lead her to Theater X.

The birth of Scarlet Hope

In 2006, an ambitious 21-year-old Rachelle moved to Louisville. Living directly across the Ohio River in Indiana, she quickly became used to her interstate commute. Each day she drove across the bridge into the Derby City to work. Describing this period of her life as a season of “holy discontentment,” she became increasingly aware that this marketing position was not a long-term fit. Though her job was fine by all accounts, she felt that she was unable to use the gifts and calling God had placed on her life at an early age. There had to be something else out there for her.                    

Praying and fasting for God to direct her to those in need of him, she asked God to “send me to those that you want me to serve!” She didn’t care if God sent her overseas or across the street, she simply wanted to be able to share God’s love with vulnerable people. That’s when God opened her eyes to what was happening along her daily commute.                    

About a year later, on her daily commute, Rachelle noticed Theater X, an adult entertainment establishment. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, she had no real frame of reference for strip clubs or the commercial sex industry, but as she drove past Theater X, she says “it was like God just whiplashed me and took . . . my gaze straight to that building and he started impressing upon my heart to pray for them, the women in that place.”

Like in the parable of the Good Samaritan, God showed Rachelle the vulnerable people who were in her path. Now she couldn’t continue to drive past them without doing something. So as she started praying for them, she sensed God very clearly communicating to her, “Go and share my love and hope with women in the sex industry.” She knew without a shadow of a doubt it was from the Lord. So, picking up the phone, she called her husband. She told him she knew God was calling her to go to women in the sex industry. Waiting for her to finish her sentence, her husband calmly replied, “That’s exactly what Jesus would do.” This was further confirmation that she was on the right track.

Beginning that week, she took another step and started researching the sex industry in Louisville. At this point she had little to no knowledge of human trafficking or sexual exploitation. Much to her surprise, she learned that in 2007, Louisville had the fifth largest sex industry per capita in the United States.

This statistic was mind boggling. She couldn’t understand why there could be so much exploitation in a city with such a proliferation of churches. So she started calling churches and introducing herself. “Hi, my name is Rachelle and I’m calling to see if you have an outreach ministry to women in the sex industry.” The responses that she received were sobering. Many people would say, “No.” And those were the nice people. Others would not even give her an answer. Still others said something to the effect of “we have a sign in our yard and if people like that want to come, they’re more than welcome, but we don’t go to them.”

How could these people going to church not want to engage with those working in strip clubs? This happens because in many cases, we see people not as vulnerable image-bearers in need of love, but as miscreants. I know, because I was just like them.

The first time that I heard about Scarlet Hope was in 2010. I’ll never forget receiving a phone call from my friend Cait one Saturday morning. Cait wasted no time in getting to her point.

“Raleigh, I am considering volunteering with this organization called Scarlet Hope. They work with girls in strip clubs.”  

“Umm. What?”    

“Yes, it’s this dynamic ministry that addresses the holistic needs of women trapped in the sex industry.”            


“Yeah, what are your thoughts?”

“Honestly, Cait. I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t think that God would ever call you to do something like that. Also, those women probably make more money than you. They don’t need your home- cooking or your charity.”      

As a Christian, I found it preposterous to even consider doing a ministry of that nature. Like I said, this was 2010. A little more than a year later, I found myself repenting at the Passion conference in Atlanta. Shortly after God opened my eyes to the evil of human trafficking, I called Cait and apologized. Seven years later, I would have the opportunity to apologize to Rachelle, as well. Without knowing it, I was standing in the way of God using His people to love these often forgotten women.        

Stop praying                    

Though she had noble intentions, Rachelle was repeatedly rejected by the churches that she called. Finally, she decided if no one else was doing anything, that she could at least start praying. Dragging her friend along with her, she began praying outside of several strip clubs. She mapped out as many clubs as she could find. As she prayed, she continued to reach out to the churches of her community. The answer was still a resounding “no.” No matter how much she prayed, it was like the church just wasn’t getting behind her vision.      

That all began to change on a summer Sunday in August of 2008. As she read the first chapter of Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, she froze. The first two words on the page hit her like a brick: Stop praying.[2] It was as if God was inviting her to stop praying for a moment and to do something about the brokenness what she was discovering in her community. “Okay, Rachelle, I’ve already asked you to go. I’ve already told you. You don’t need all the pieces of the puzzle. I just want you to go.” And that’s what she and her friend did. Fasting for three days, they decided that Tuesday night would be the night when they entered into a club.             

And that’s how the ministry of Scarlet Hope began. Without a business plan and depending on God for each step, Rachelle watched as Scarlet Hope grew from an idea to thriving nonprofit, mobilizing Christians to leave the protection of their comfort zones and to find God working in each strip club.             

“God calls us to go into the darkness,” Rachelle explains. “When we see Jesus interacting with people, he’s coming into our darkness with His light.” That’s the point. Like Jesus, Rachelle and those at Scarlet Hope aren’t going to sit around waiting for women to find them; they are actively reaching women in the sex industry and showing up right where these women are. Whether these women are on the street, in illicit massage parlors, or in strip clubs, Rachelle believes that Christians can enter into the darkness to show them God’s light.           

“We knew that in order for these women to hear the gospel, we had to go to them,” she said. “The church sometimes has a tendency to give off a message that first people must ‘clean up their acts’ and then they’re ready to come to the Lord. But of course, this is actually the opposite of the message of the gospel. The gospel meets us right where we are, in the midst of our sin and calls us to our loving Savior.”[3]                    

This radical grace drives Scarlet Hope to serve the people that many would write off as perpetrators. Empowering women through their discipleship program, job training program, and their social enterprise, Scarlet’s Bakery, they direct each of their clients to their true value and dignity. Reminding each individual that they are more than the sum of what they have done or what’s been done to them.                

Excerpted with permission from Vulnerable by Raleigh Sadler. Copyright 2019, B&H Publishing Group.            


  1. ^ “Live X Rachelle Starr,” Reach Records, March 19, 2015, accessed March 30, 2018. http://reachrecords.com/116-life-x-rachelle-starr-2/
  2. ^ In the context of Crazy Love, the author is not encouraging readers to stop praying and do something. Rather, he is encouraging readers to stop talking at God and start pondering. Nonetheless, in this story, Rachelle got the first two words and felt God clearly leading her to stop wondering about what she should do and simply get going.
  3. ^ “Live X Rachelle Starr,” Reach Records, March 19, 2015.

Raleigh Sadler

Raleigh Sadler speaks and writes on the topics of vulnerability and human trafficking. He has been published at The Gospel Coalition, The Huffington Post, and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, among others. In 2013, he began a movement called Let My People Go, which grew into a nonprofit organization that comes alongside and empowers local churches … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24