A word about pornography.
As a man in a highly sexualized culture, I feel the tug and temptation toward lust as much as the next person.
When I was younger, I tried to convince myself that my engagement with pornography really didn’t hurt anyone but myself.
I am grateful for organizations like XXX Church and fightthenewdrug.org that highlight not only the moral implications of engaging in pornography, but also the physiological, psychological, relational, and societal consequences of doing so. Increasing awareness is a good thing. At the same time, simply acknowledging the problem is not the same thing as addressing it. At times we seem confused on this point, highlighting the problem openly, but then rocking back onto our heels and offering ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back.
As such, for those who are Christian, to the witness of these organizations I want to add a more challenging thought.
It hits me in the gut every time I read through 1 Thess. 4:3-8
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
As a younger Christian, I often worried and lamented as I exclaimed, “What is God’s will for my life?” I often cited my ignorance of God’s will as a rationalization for my actions, however, then I began to notice a few places within the New Testament where the Scriptures are clear about what God’s will is. There is no gray area in these passages; each one states, “For this is the will of God…”
Based on the passage above, let me highlight a couple of things in relation to Christians who engage in pornography.
1. It is demonstrative of a lack of self-control, a willingness to sacrifice others in order to gratify our uncontrollable desires in a given moment.
2. It is an action that is devoid of honor. Although we might argue that the actors and actresses within the films we watch are doing so willingly, the raw truth of the matter is that in the moment, we are not looking at them as human beings, we do not care what their hopes and aspirations are, nor are we really concerned with the circumstances that led them into the industry. We are simply concerned about whether or not their appearance and performance gratifies our desire.
3. It is an issue of exploitation. Again, we might offer feeble counter-arguments here, however, they are simply that, feeble. The connection between the pornography industry and human trafficking has clearly been documented in a multitude of places. When we indulge our desires in this manner, quite simply we are complicit in furthering an industry that exploits both women and children. Furthermore, many of the men and women who work in the porn industry are married, and thus we end up indulging our mental fantasies and lusts by salivating over married people thereby violating that sacred union in our minds. This is something that Jesus openly challenges (Matt. 5:27-30).
4. It is a rejection of the purposes for which we were created and redeemed. We have been given the opportunity through the power of the Holy Spirit to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, to become those whose lives are increasingly characterized by sacrificial love. Engaging in pornography is the antithesis of this because it dehumanizes other human beings, demands nothing of us, and voraciously consumes the images of others in order to gratify our self-centered desires.
5. Ultimately, it is a rejection of God’s will for our lives, as well as His authority over us as followers of Jesus Christ. This one hurts. The text does not allow us to dance around this implication. To reject this exhortation for our lives is to reject not the teaching of men, but rather the very impetus of the Holy Spirit that seeks to make us look more like Jesus every day.
I share this word not in a spirit of judgment and condemnation from a moral high ground, but rather as one under deep conviction that this disease which has become a cultural norm hinders us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and bearing witness to Jesus Christ and the life of the kingdom that his death and resurrection inaugurated to our fullest capacity.
I also do not share this word to shame anyone. Shame, for the most part, is a useless emotion, simply because it often mires us down in our self-hatred, sense of worthlessness, and hopelessness.
My desire in sharing this is that it might be a means of conviction for us all, a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit might bring about genuine and lasting transformation.
We were made for more than this. The longings we are seeking to fulfill, as well as the chaotic emotions we are seeking to numb, will not find their answer in pornography. It is smoke and mirrors, and slight of hand, only capable of momentary relief. Rather, when we can bring these longings and chaotic emotions before God along with a conscious renouncing of the manner in which we have lived without self-control and honor, exploiting others to gratify our own desires, all the while rejecting the purposes for which we have been created in opposition to God’s will for our lives… we will find fulfillment and peace in God.
It is not enough to simply ‘confess’ this to another brother or sister, often with the shoulder shrug that implies, “I am only human.” No, this is subhuman behavior; it is those created in the image of God enslaved by the base instinctual sexual drives of animals. God desires more for your life and mine. What is necessary is true repentance, a turning away from the dehumanization of others to gratify our lusts in order that we might experience true restoration in our relationships, our sexuality, and our witness to Jesus Christ within the world.
This journey is not the work of an individual; the problem is pernicious and has pervasively infected our culture on every level. As I mentioned, awareness is a good thing. However, God is calling us to take the next step together, as a tribe of people who have not only been promised but empowered to be liberated from the corruption that is in the world due to lust (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
In a world where captivity and bondage have often forsaken iron shackles in favor of digital ones, perhaps as we do so the gospel we proclaim might once again be infused with the power to bring hope to the hopeless and declare that in the kingdom of God the captive can truly be set free.
Think on these things.
Are you interested in learning more about human sexuality as designed by God? Into the Light: Healing Sexuality in Today’s Church by Mark Ongley tackles tough topics and paves a way forward for thinking about and practing human sexuality in a genuinely Christian, biblical, and holistic way. Get your copy from our store here. “In a culture and a church that seems to be lost when it comes to God’s best for the human sexual experience, Into the Light is a ray of hope.” (Jeff Greenway, Lead Pastor, Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church)