Thursday, 26 February 2015

Behind 50 Shades

Two weeks ago the film ‘50 Shades of Grey’ broke opening week records in eleven countries, grossing $158 million. Although reports are that it was not as explicit as expected, those attending cinemas that weekend thought it would be. Such interest is just one symptom of how acceptable material that would once have been considered pornography has become.

And the colours of culture rub off on the church that inhabits it. Recent research of 500 men by Christianity Today[i] found the following:
·     30% of church leaders access porn more than once a month
·     42% of Christian men say they have a ‘porn addiction’
·     75% of Christian men say they access porn on a monthly or less regular basis
·     10% of Christian men say they have paid for sex
·     90% of Christians say the church does not adequately support those who struggle with pornography use

As ‘50 Shades’ has shown only too well, we should not forget that women struggle with pornography too. But these stats are sobering, showing the need to teach on this area, and to do so in such a manner that encourages folk who struggle to seek the support they need. I am aware as I write that this may be an issue for those reading it. If so, please read on. What follows is especially intended to help you realise the seriousness of this, but only so that you will seek out sympathy and help from Christ and his church.

Why such interest in pornography?
1) It is easy to access without anyone knowing, with just one click on a computer or phone. The Independent reports that pornographic websites are “by far” the most visited on the internet.[ii]

2) There has been an increase of cultural bridges to porn, whether through books like ‘50 Shades of Grey’ or popular series such as ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Black Sails,’ which are redefining the TV genre in a way that is more sexually explicit.

3) The worldview in the west is increasingly secular and naturalistic. Belief in a God and angels who see what goes on behind closed doors has waned and been replaced by a relativistic view of morality that readily defines what is acceptable by what one feels or desires, as this is assumed to be natural. The biblical picture of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation is instructive here (Dan 4). To reject God is to become beast-like, losing the dignity and self-control that should mark those who image him.

Must Christians really steer clear?
I recall one couple who had received secular counselling that advised them to watch pornography to stimulate their sex life. Certainly, some are ready to naively argue it is a harmless bit of fun.


1) To engage with pornography is to dishonour God. The first pages of the Bible teach that the gift of sexual intimacy and nakedness is to be enjoyed within the secure protection of exclusive heterosexual marriage (Gen 2v24-25, Lev 18v6-19). To ignore this is to trivialise the gift and dishonour its giver. And strikingly, humanity’s first rejection of God is immediately followed with shame accompanying nakedness (Gen 3v7-10). Indeed, from that point, when it is outside marriage, to gaze on another’s nakedness or expose one’s own to others is considered shameful (Gen 9v22-23, Is 57v8, Hab 2v15, Nah 3v5). No doubt this is because it disdains the proper place for such things, but the context of these verses implies the contemplation of sexual sin.

Jesus grounded his sexual ethics in the creation account (Matt 19v4-6), and clearly denounced lust (Matt 5v27-30) – which we might define as a dwelt upon desire for sexual activity with someone to whom we are not married. In declaring it adulterous Jesus implied it was to be sexually unfaithful to one’s current spouse, or to the spouse of the person desired. But as God’s intent is for sexual intimacy and nakedness to be reserved for marriage, it could be argued that for the unmarried to lust is in some sense adulterous towards any future spouse, for whom such thoughts should be kept. Paul goes as far a saying there should not be “any hint of sexual immorality,” so forbidding not simply sinful sexual acts, but the contemplation of them. He adds that there should not even be any “obscenity, foolish talk or course joking” (Eph 5v3-4).

2) To engage with pornography is to harm others. We are called to act not only in love for God but our neighbour. Those who use porn inevitably support the porn industry – an industry today’s children cannot but stumble across with terrible consequences.[iii] And the consequences of pornography in the wider culture also need consideration. How it fuels sex trafficking is well documented.[iv] Pornography breeds a desire for more perverted sexual practices that individuals may be too ashamed to ask of their partner. And so they seek out adults and children who they can pay to engage in them. This in turn encourages traffickers to force more adults and children into prostitution so that they can gain financially. Prostitutes have commented on how in recent years they have witnessed a greater interest in more depraved practices, sometimes being shown pornographic pictures that portray what is desired. Yet traffickers force those they traffick into pornography too as a means of control and of making money. Those who watch pornography share some responsibility in all this.

There is harm to be done to normal relationships too. If one partner struggles with pornography they are likely to live with this area of their life hidden from their spouse, breeding a deceptiveness of spirit. And if they are open about it, then it will breed an immense lack of self worth in the spouse who will feel they have failed sexually. Pornography also distorts sex from being an act of intimate delight and selfless giving, to something that is more functional, in which one simply seeks self-gratification. Not only can this be emotionally damaging to one’s partner, as it treats them as a means to this end, but they can feel pressured into doing things they would rather not do in mimicking what has been watched. Significantly, there is a concern that a whole generation of teenagers are growing up with such a distorted view of sex. I cannot find the source, but recently read that the increase of access to pornography has accompanied a rise in reports of sexual assault and coercion from teenage girls.

3) To engage with pornography is to harm oneself. We can now see how the use of pornography can be detrimental for one’s current or future marriage because of how it distorts one’s view or expectations of sex, breeding dissatisfaction, disharmony and dishonesty. But we might add too, that images seen can reside in the memory for decades, causing distress or temptation in later life.

Most serious, however, are the eternal consequences of pornography. In the context of his teaching on sex, Paul writes that “no immoral, impure or greedy person…has any inheritance in the kingdom of God” but rather “because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph 5v5-6). Jesus gives the same warning with respect to lust (Matt 5v27-30). James charts how temptation can lead this way: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death” (Jam 1v14-15). The point is that our own innate evil desire for what is contrary to good will entice us. We are all therefore likely to consider clicking the mouse or downloading an image at some point. What is important is what we then do. If we let that desire conceive sin by acting on it, all is not lost. Repentance is always possible. But we are certainly in danger of that sin growing as we are increasingly drawn into it. And as it grows and the Christian’s conscience is constantly pricked in the knowledge they are doing wrong, so they can tend to consider Christ less, before doubting and then denying him in order to follow their desires. By this means sin, “when it is full grown, gives birth to death” as the individual proves themselves faithless and so forfeits God’s grace.

What should I do if struggling with pornography?
1)     Seek forgiveness: This side of Christ’s return God readily forgives – again and again and again. And he forgives fully, meaning a truly fresh start – cleansed and purified.

2)     Seek change: Forgiveness is a gift to those of faith, but those of faith prove its genuineness by their deeds. Grace is not cheap. You must repent, turning from pornography. And if you fall again, turn again, hating the sin. Remind yourself that your old self has died and a new self is now alive to God. Desire the pleasure of Christ and the purity of his coming kingdom above all. And get rid of whatever might tempt you, putting in place what will help you resist.

3)     Seek help: None of this can be done from ourselves, but only by God’s power. So pray daily for his Holy Spirit to grant you the strength to do these things.

4)     Seek accountability: God does not however expect us to manage alone. He has given us other believers in the church to “spur one-another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10v24) and “carry each other’s burdens” (Gal 6v2). Remember that they know what it is to be tempted too. So tell your church leadership and ask them to pray for you and help keep you accountable. If pornography is not currently a struggle for you, be aware that your heart is deceitful and so it could become one. Consider with those you live with how you might ensure accountability in your computer and phone usage at home. Think about signing up to ‘Covenant eyes’ software that helps Christians to be accountable to one-another in their internet use. Tell those you live with if programs you watch are unhelpful in their content, and agree what your limits will be.

Whatever else you do, don’t just let yourself continue dabbling in pornography - for the sake of God, others and yourself.