By Matt Walberg
Not many years ago, you had to make an effort to get pornography, sneaking into the 7-Eleven late at night, or the adult bookstore on the way out of town.
Today, graphic sexual videos and images are a few clicks away on our smartphones or laptops.
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming availability of pornography–coupled with advances in technology that enable it to be viewed easily and privately–have resulted in startling increases in the number of people who view graphic sexual images and the frequency with which they view it.
Along with that, attitudes toward pornography have begun to shift, as it is viewed as less taboo — even as a growing number of academic researchers, governments and secular and religious groups are warning of the public health crisis pornography has engendered.
Unfortunately, pornography use among those who follow Christ is not too dissimilar from usage among those who do not call themselves Christian.
A recent Barna Group study found 41 percent of Christian men age 13-24, and about a quarter of men age 25 and older sought out porn at least twice per month.
Usage was lower among Christian women, but still significant — particularly among women age 13-24. The study found that 13 percent used pornography at least twice per month.
OKAY, PORN IS BAD.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH FBC?
I think it would be naive to assume that the statistics would be any different at FBC.
I believe there are people in our church for whom pornography is a regular part of their life.
Men who watch pornography on their laptops with their wives and kids in the same room.
People who’ve been called in to to talk to their company’s HR department because they were looking at pornography at work.
People who live in terror over the prospect that they’ll lose their marriage if their spouse finds out.
People who have become so desensitized to pornography that it’s not a question of whether they’re fighting temptation — it’s a question of why should they bother.
And people who’ve just given up.
EVERYBODY GETS HURT
One of the great lies about pornography is that it’s a victimless crime. Certainly, most people agree that child pornography, or sexual content that is recorded without the consent of all parties, is immoral, abusive and (rightly) illegal.
But what about the rest of it?
Maybe you don’t watch “porn,” but that movie — or the show you’re binge-watching on Netflix — has a lot of nudity or sexually explicit scenes, and you’re a little slow with the fast forward button. Is that victimless? #metoo.
The bottom line is this: Nobody who gets involved with pornography — either as a maker or consumer — gets away unscathed. It violates the dignity and demeans the value of everyone and everything it touches.
GOD GETS IT, AND HE WANTS TO HELP
Even if we set all of that aside — we still have to deal with what God says about how we should responsibly exercise our sexual appetites.
While the U.S. Supreme Court may have had difficulty defining pornography, Jesus Christ had little trouble cutting through the noise, setting a standard as intractable today as it was in the First Century:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5:27-28)
That’s tough get around, and Jesus knew it. If that’s the bar, the only thing that can get us over it is grace and forgiveness.
Fortunately, Jesus knew that, too.
Which is why I don’t want this piece to be about pointing fingers or passing judgment or hand wringing.
I want it to start a conversation — not some abstract discussion about “the decline of our culture” or “the church at large” — but a conversation about what real steps the people of FBC can take to make sure we are a place that offers grace and forgiveness and help.
I don’t claim to be an expert or to have all the answers. But maybe I have some starting points — first for those who use pornography, and then for the community called to love and support them.
FOR THE PERSON STRUGGLING WITH PORNOGRAPHY
YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE
I’ve struggled with pornography in the past, and I’m sure I’ll have to struggle with it again. It’s everywhere now, even when you’re not looking for it. I thank God for every victory, yet I’d be stupid to think I’ll never be tempted again.
It’s hard to admit that I’m not perfect in this area, but one of the best things about being forgiven is that I don’t have to care anymore if people know. In fact, if telling someone about it helps them to move toward freedom, then maybe that’s a way to allow God to redeem my past mistakes.
So if you are struggling with pornography, now you know of at least one person who you worship with that knows what you’re going through.
BUT YOU’VE GOT TO OWN WHAT IT IS
If you are looking at people — or images of people — for your sexual arousal or satisfaction, you are:
Sinning against God, the one who actually invented sex as an incredible gift for the people he created and therefore gets to say how that gift is to be used.
Sinning against the people in the images or videos, many of whom may not be the willing participants you imagine them to be. Remember, when you click on a link, somebody’s making money and it’s probably not the people on camera.
Sinning against your spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend or fiance, unless you think Jesus was somehow exaggerating in Matthew 5.
It’s serious. Don’t rationalize it.
AND YOU’VE GOT TO OWN WHY YOU USE IT
Telling yourself, “I just have to stop” is like getting deathly ill and saying, “Well, I just have to get better.”
You wouldn’t do that — you’d find a doctor that would ask you about your symptoms in order to identify your illness and figure out how best to treat you.
So don’t do that to yourself with pornography. Ask yourself questions. Do you turn to it when you’re stressed? When you feel lonely? When you’re feeling dissatisfied with your marriage? When you’re tired of being good and want to just do something risky? When you want to regain a sense of control? Knowing your weak spots will help you mitigate them.
AND THEN YOU’VE GOT TO ASK FOR HELP
I’m not qualified to differentiate between pornography usage and pornography addiction, but if you feel like you’re addicted, you should seek out professional help. It’s that important.
But regardless of whether you seek out a professional counselor, you’ve got to talk to someone about it, and the first person to talk to is Jesus. He’s not going to be shocked because he already knows, and the best thing is that he has real power.
You could try stop using pornography on your own, and you might have some success. But if you really want to break free, you have to let Jesus do it with you, and for you. It’s not like He is unwilling — he died for your sin before you even thought about committing it.
Tell Him you have a problem and you can’t fix it. Thank Him for the fact that He’s already forgiven you, and ask Him to help you change.
But God also knows that we need to live in community. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have spent so much time inventing the church and telling us to be involved in helping each other live out our faith.
He knows we need our fellow imperfect-but-forgiven believers to encourage us and help keep us on the right path. It will take some courage (and maybe a bit of desperation), but seek out someone you can talk to regularly.
WHICH LEADS ME TO THE COMMUNITY
DON’T BE WEIRD ABOUT IT
Some sins (gossiping, pride, anger) are a lot easier to confess. We expect those sins. They’re vague, kind of generic and universal. If someone confesses that they’re just really struggling with pride, you probably know exactly how to nod and put your hand on their shoulder and pray for them.
But pornography? That’s… real.
And that’s the beauty of it. It is real. It is vulnerable. If someone comes up to you and says, “I’ve got a problem with pornography,” you can be almost 100 percent certain that he or she is seriously invested in making a change, because those are difficult words to say to another person.
Don’t freak out. Take a deep breath and start listening.
PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR COMBAT BOOTS
If pornography has never been a temptation for you, you should thank God for that and then rush to the aid of those wounded by it.
Let me give you an example of how pervasive pornography is.
I try to stay current with what’s going on in the news, and one of the ways I do that is to check one or two popular news aggregators each day. I’ve learned to roll over a link before I click so that I can see where that click will take me. Because there are a number of non-U.S. news sites that have legitimate news — and porn.
I also use social media regularly as part of my job, to promote my work and that of my colleagues. It’s a good way to connect with people – it’s also a good way to get spammed by fake profiles that are nothing but porn.
My point is that many of us spend a lot of our working lives on the internet, and unintended exposure to pornography or sexually suggestive material is virtually unavoidable.
As followers of Christ, we’re all part of a kingdom at war with evil, and we go out onto the battlefield every day. Inevitably, some of our fellow soldiers find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When they do, we have to make every effort to support them – even when they make poor choices. What kind of kingdom sends its soldiers out to battle and then looks down on them when they get shot?
DON’T OFFER PITY; OFFER GRIT
Sin is an equal opportunity destroyer, so let’s not set up “porn” as somehow worse than any other sin.
As a community, we can simply acknowledge that it makes perfect sense that people are struggling with pornography. We won’t excuse sin, but we can love them and choose not to view them as somehow more broken than us.
If someone comes to you for help, pity is not helpful. Respect them as someone you can learn from, because that person is willing to risk their reputation in order to weed out sin. And that makes them someone God is using to further His work — not some permanently damaged sex weirdo.
And then, don’t give up if things don’t turn around right away. Keep talking with them. If they won’t talk, be respectfully persistent and keep praying. You work at a hospital, not a hospice.
IT’S HIS (OR HER) STORY TO TELL, NOT YOURS
The joke has been told a thousand different ways, but the gist of it is this: Christians don’t gossip; they share prayer requests.
Sharing “prayer requests” is also a fool-proof way to make sure that no one will ever feel safe to talk about their struggles — be it pornography or any other “embarrassing” sin.
If a person comes to you looking for help, unless there is some extenuating, super-critical reason to break their confidence, don’t talk about it with anyone but God without that person’s permission.
And if there is a reason to break their confidence, strongly consider approaching the person first to tell them why you want to bring another person into the loop.
ONCE MORE, NONE OF US ARE ALONE IN THIS
I suspect that, while this piece is sort of divided between addressing an individual’s struggles and addressing our community’s response, the reality is that many of us might find ourselves in both camps.
Your story can encourage someone else, just as I hope mine can encourage you. We need each other, and we can’t buy the lie that our failures have left us permanently damaged damaged goods.
Our adversary wants us to withdraw and hide, convinced we are unworthy. But our Champion views us as beautiful, worthy of not only His unconditional love, grace and forgiveness, but also deserving of love, respect and grace from the people that worship him at FBC.
Finally, if you are struggling with pornography and you don’t feel like you have anyone you can talk to, talk with one of our pastors. Or check out some of the links below to resources that can help you put pornography behind you. And you can always talk to me or my wife, Erin.
http://www.covenanteyes.com Covenant eyes is a respected program that offers a unique way for people to be held accountable for activity online. There is a cost, but the site also offers free trial periods.
http://www.pornaddictsanonymous.org 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.
http://newlife.com/ Founded by the Steve Arterburn, author of the “Every Man’s Battle,” New Life holds a wealth of resources from counseling to workshops to radio programs intended to help men and women (and their spouses) find freedom from sexual sin.
And, of course, http://counseling.fbcelgin.com/, with Pastor Jason Poland.