Christians and Pornography

50 shadesWhat are you consuming? If you profess Christ as Lord, does it impact the decisions you make about what you watch and read? I’ll be candid from the start here – I’m concerned that professing Christians are regularly making entertainment choices that should be absolutely off the table for them.

I was encouraged to see this post by JillAnn Meunier, a junior in college who decided not to read a book for class because of its graphic depictions of sex and violence.

But I’ve been far more often discouraged to hear of a number of professing Christians who have no problem taking in porn.

The book Fifty Shades of Grey has become the best-selling book of all time in Britain and is wildly popular in America. A lot of those sales are to church-going women. But the book is an erotic novel. People are calling it “mommy porn.”

In the last few years, have you watched any of these movies?

All of these, at least judging from the raw descriptions of them, are exceedingly vulgar, erotic, and yes, pornographic. Yes, I’m sure I could have chosen others. I thought this was a good, representative sample. The links are to ratings and descriptions of each movie’s sexual content, violence, and profanity from Kids In Mind. Judging by these descriptions alone, it’s hard for me to believe there’s a proper place for any of these movies in a Christian’s life.

The New Oxford American Dictionary says pornography is “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” By this definition, wouldn’t we say all of the movies listed above contain pornography?

Why are Christian women reading “mommy porn”? Why are proud church-goers (and even leaders in the church) watching pornographic movies without any qualms?

A few of the reasons I think people may give, and my responses…

“I’ve never even considered that there’s an issue with these.”

I’m sure this is true for several people. And that’s one of the reasons I write this. I hope you’ll consider it. You were created and called to be holy. And taking in profane things like this surely is detrimental to that, at best, and an outright rebellion against God’s intentions for you, at worst.

“It’s important for me to share things like this with friends – especially those who aren’t Christians. How can I ever share my faith with them if we have nothing to talk about?”

I get it. You may have truly pure intent behind this. But I just don’t buy it. How far will you go to build relationships so you can be relevant and share your faith? Going to strip clubs with them? Using illicit drugs? Where’s the line?

I wrote about this in “Relevance and Holiness.” I hope you’ll read it, too.

“Speaking of lines, how are you so sure this is where the line should be drawn?”

This may be the most common objection. Why am I drawing the line right here? Maybe for others, the line is just in a different place (e.g. anything that’s not in the “adult” section of the movie store is fair game).

But I’m not drawing the line here. Honestly, I think drawing lines is very difficult – a constant struggle for me. How do we ever decide where the line should be drawn? And yet, we all must draw a line somewhere. Otherwise, nothing would be off-limits.

What I’m suggesting is that all of the particular examples I’ve given here are well beyond the line. If you can acknowledge that something is pornographic, I think that’s enough to say a Christian just shouldn’t be involved with it. Yes, many moral decisions will be difficult, but I think these all pass beyond that.

“I disagree with your definition of pornographic, so this whole argument is null and void to me.”

Okay, you don’t like the dictionary definition I use above. You don’t think that’s what “porn” truly is. Porn is the stuff that gets an X-rating. We can quibble over the semantics, but I think we can agree that the things I’m mentioning are intended to stimulate erotic feelings. And whatever word we assign to those things, I don’t think we can call them godly.

Some may say, “No! The Reader uses these depictions artistically. And The Hangover uses them for humor.” I’ll get perhaps uncomfortably blunt here. Does this material sexually arouse you? I think that was a part of the intent. Don’t tell me the producers of The Hangover weren’t counting on excited young men being more motivated to buy a ticket because of those scenes. Don’t tell me Kate Winslet nude on-screen for the majority of a movie and having sex with a teenage boy is all just art. And even if it is, is it appropriate art? Should you be watching other people have sex? In most other contexts, we would call that person a pervert or a voyeur, right?

But Jesus says, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15).

Yes, I’m not focusing here on what comes out of a person – good deeds, outreach and witness. And those are greatly important! But are you really going to use this verse this way? Does this verse make it acceptable for you to consume anything you please? I’m just not buying it. Let’s consider 2 Corinthians 6:14-17:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” is typically used in evangelical circles to tell Christians not to marry anyone who isn’t a Christian. I think the passage intends far more than this. “Come out from them and be separate. Touch no unclean thing.” I think this is telling us that we should expect Christians to touch and participate in markedly different things from the rest of our world. When we abstain from worldly things, can we still be relevant and still have a witness in the world? I sure hope so. If not, I hope we’ll choose to abstain anyway. See “Prophets and Pragmatism” for more on that.

“There are so many other things to consider in our reading and viewing choices. You’re focusing too much just on sexual issues.”

Yes, there are many other issues to address. They don’t make this particular issue any less of a problem, though. If you want to list other things we should consider abstaining from in addition to some of these, feel free. And if you want to say I’m focusing too much on what not to do rather than what to do, well, I think we need both.

The reason this is all upsetting me so right now… At the same time as I’ve seen a number of American Christians making entertainment choices no different from the rest of our world, I’ve been reading accounts of Christians in other parts of the world who were severely persecuted for things like refusing to work on the Sabbath. I’m disheartened at our level of commitment if we won’t abstain from some of these things at no real hardship to ourselves while others around the world are taking much bolder stands at risk of suffering and even death. Would those brothers and sisters around the world, who are persecuted for their faith, be shocked that we call ourselves Christians but can’t abstain from pornography because of our culture’s influence or our own desires?

I know I’m going to come off as a prude to some people. The word prude comes from the same root as prudence. And I suppose that’s what I’m asking for: a bit more prudence (and temperance) in our choices. If you disagree, help me understand what I’m missing.

19 thoughts on “Christians and Pornography

  1. “Prude” carries with it a stigma that it shouldn’t, much like many of the words that are aligned with good morals and/or what the Christian lifestyle should be like.

    It’s funny; being prude among the other things alluded to is arguably non-PC nowadays, and being the opposite is what is accepted. Further proof, in my opinion, of how evil this world is and where it’s headed.

  2. I can’t speak to the content of any of the movies you’ve cited (I’m the father of a two year old and a four year old – movies are a dim memory) but I can’t help but wonder why the sexual content of a movie is of more concern to us than, say, its violence, or the degree to which it glorifies excessive consumption, or – well, you get the point. Why is sex more “obscene” than graphic violence? Why is it worse than gluttony? Why is it ok to feed the mythology of redemptive violence, or the depict material prosperity as the goal of life, but sex – horrors, no!

    Sometimes I think Christians are every bit as sex-obsessed as every other part of our culture – just in a negative sense. We somehow seem to think that if we are sexually pure our other sins will pale by comparison. Note: I’m not in any way defending the use of porn, or trying to underplay the degree to which it damages society and individual lives. I agree with much of you say above.

    I’m just wondering why sex is the only thing we seem to be able to get upset about in the church. It is perhaps that our puritan heritage makes that the only part of culture we feel safe in critiquing? Or are we just so accommodated to the violence and greed worship of our culture that we don’t even notice it anymore?

    • Hi palousepastoral,

      First – I agree that sex isn’t the only thing we should get upset about in the church. That’s what I intended when I said above that there are many other issues to address, too.

      Second – so long as we live in a sex-obsessed culture and Christians are regularly succumbing to that culture’s influences, I think we should be sex-obsessed “just in a negative sense.” In a culture filled with idolatry, the prophets were pretty idol-obsessed in a negative sense. And I agree that our culture is also obsessed with consumerism, so Christians speaking prophetically to our culture should be pretty obsessed with simplicity and generosity. In fairness to myself, if you’ve read many of my posts, I think you’ll see I’m far more obsessed with simplicity and generosity than with sex.

      Third – I’d still say there’s a difference between a movie depicting violence and a movie with nude people on screen. I agree that violent portrayals are having a bad effect on us. I didn’t see the Dark Knight Rises because of it. But violent images on screen are usually fake. Nude people on screen are really nude. I hope the violent (or materialist, etc.) portrayals won’t lead us to endorse or participate in similar, and for that reason I agree that they’re a problem. But I know we shouldn’t be looking at nude people put on show for erotic effect.

      • I avoid truly violent movies too. I was kind of an odd man out even on the seminary campus among single guys by staying away from the newest Batman film. This is partly principle, but also personal preference as they have made me uneasy. Even if I don’t enact violence on people from those movies I know they shape us…

  3. Thanks so much for this, Teddy. I know that in the post you aren’t trying to waylay every possible rebuttal, but I thought I’d throw out a couple other justifications I sometimes hear that might be worth responding to:

    What if I watch these types of movies but avert my eyes or fast-forward during those particular scenes?

    Couldn’t God extend a special grace to me where I don’t find those scenes arousing?

    Aren’t we failing to engage many of the deeper issues some of these movies want to address by ignoring them altogether?

    So does this mean I don’t watch anything that mentions sex, implies sex, has nudity, or somehow could be arousing?

    I’m not at all saying the above are my views or that they negate anything you have written – I’m just throwing out more possible discussion points. I think it’s important to think through the various possible responses people may have and how we may interact with them.

    Great post. Convicting and something that needs to be loudly proclaimed in today’s culture.

    • Thanks Jonathan. These are good extra questions, and I admit I struggle to have definitive answers. Honestly, they all sound like easy rationalizations to allow someone to do what they want to do, which takes this back to a commitment issue. Persecuted Christians in other parts of the world surely could have rationalized a stance that would have made life easier for them – and that regarding things far more important than entertainment choices.

      I get all of these. Really, I do. They all try to figure out where the lines are and what exceptions can be made. And lines and exceptions are difficult to figure out. That’s probably why abortion is legal across the US. No one can agree on the right lines and exceptions. I’d rather we first focus on a commitment to holiness without looking for loopholes. Then if there’s a particularly compelling reason to do something contrary to the norm, we consider it carefully.

      I will say I don’t find at all compelling the argument about “engaging the deeper issues these movies are trying to address.” Find another, non-pornographic way to engage the issues.

      • I completely agree – the pursuit of holiness needs to be first and foremost. I’d much rather err on that side.

        Interestingly enough, I read a great passage from Augustine of Hippo this morning that I think relates very well to this discussion. Here it is, slightly paraphrased:

        “You do not yet love chastity, you do not yet love justice, because you have not yet condemned the lust that is seething inside of you” (from Augustine’s Chusa discourse on the 10 commandments).

  4. Good post, Teddy! I think this is troublesome to a lot of people in our churches.

    To me, it brings to mind Philippians 4:8:

    8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

  5. Hi teddy, really interesting post. I think that one of the problems with extremely stimulating activities (and I use the word stimulating with the broadest possible definition…ANY sense can be stimulated) is that it can lead very easily to compulsive consumption. So for that reason I would put these films in a similar category as films depicting violence. However, I think that violence is a much worse seed to water than sexuality. Whereas sexuality is a healthy part of the human experience, I think that we should do all we can to practice peace and that means abstaining from violence and violent representations. I think your statements about pornography may be also predicated on the belief that sexual experiences are something that should only be shared between two married heterosexual adults, which is probably one of the many ways we’re coming at this from different angles :)

    • Thanks for this, Sarah. First, I certainly agree with you about violence. It’s generally unhealthy and destructive and, I believe, against God’s design. And a lot of our media certainly isn’t helping with what it promotes.

      I agree, too, that sexuality is a healthy part of the human experience. Certainly don’t read this as something to state otherwise. But you’re right that we’re coming from different perspectives about where sexuality is appropriate.

      And the other question I still ask: Even when a sexual experience is appropriate, who should be privy to watching it or hearing about it in graphic detail? I would argue only those involved in it. Don’t we call the rest perverts and voyeurs?

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