Christians and Pornography

February 12th, 2013
Does Fifty Shades belong on a Christian's nightstand?

What 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?

  • The Watch
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Hangover Part II
  • Sex and the City
  • Magic Mike
  • The Reader
  • Old School

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. Judging by the descriptions of these movies on www.kids-in-mind.com, 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.

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