Pornography and the UMC

So, let’s talk about pornography.

When I was a teenager, I discovered magazines that show pictures of naked women. When I was an adult, I found the same pictures on the Internet.

Most Christians consider viewing such pictures a sin. As a Christian, I do as well for reasons that have to do with Scripture and the meaning of holiness. (I am going to skip biblical references because this is a long post.)

And yet, even though I have faith in Christ and the assurance that my sins are forgiven, I do still find temptation raging up from time to time. Sin remains in me even though it does not — by the grace of God — reign. When I flee to God in prayer, temptation is conquered by grace.

If I am to believe Mr. Wesley, entire sanctification, or “perfection in love,” will not eliminate the source of such temptations, although I may by God’s grace reach a state in which they are so easily resisted that it does not feel like resistance at all.

Until  then, being in the flesh is to face temptation. Indeed, in our culture, it can be hard to avoid triggers for such temptation. I have no doubt, however, that giving into that temptation is a sin, and not just for married people.

Not everyone agrees, of course. According to the Gallup organization 3 in 10 adult Americans consider pornography morally acceptable. It appears there is a significant age gap on this. Young people are more than twice as likely as older Americans to say pornography is morally acceptable. The size and reach of the pornography industry is staggering.

In the face of all this, I turned to The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church expecting to find clear statements about pornography. (These pages are the 2004 version.) I did find a somewhat general statement in the page on Human Sexuality:

We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality.

This sounds to my ear to be more concerned with production rather than consumption, but you can certainly read into this strong disapproval of pornography if you are willing to work at it a bit. It certainly is not as clear as “Making and using pornography is sinful.” Avoiding plain English, however, appears to be a common characteristic of the writing in The Social Principles.

A bit more troubling is the General Board of Church and Society’s definition of pornography:

A commonly accepted definition of pornography is sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation or degradation for the purpose of arousal.

This definition may be “common,” but it is not the one in the dictionary, which would include much more material than the GBCS would. Reading the page that the quote above comes from, the GBCS appears concerned primarily with the harm done to people in producing pornography and the harm to relationships that is caused by distorted understandings of sexuality — especially violence and degradation — caused by viewing it.

These evils are real and should be opposed, but I want to argue more broadly than GBCS. Even if no women were exploited or harmed by pornographers and even if all the representations of women were “artistic” and “tasteful,” it would still be contrary to God’s will for men to view it.

I don’t think this is a controversial view of things among Christians or United Methodists, right? We all can agree about this, yes?

32 thoughts on “Pornography and the UMC

  1. I’m in complete agreement, John. We discussed this issue at some length in one of my classes at Asbury last Fall, and the professor said something that deeply resonated. He claimed that the person who suffers temptation is being assaulted, and that we need to realize that we are at least as much the victims as the perpetrators. Porn stars are adults. They’ve chosen to enter into an industry that destroys me spiritually if I imbibe. In short, if I hate sin, I should hate porn primarily for MY sake rather than theirs.

    While I do believe there is a place for ministry and healing for the people who are in porn, I also believe that many (perhaps most) men are not in a place to take on the external virtues as expounded by the Social Principles. Our war is waged internally, and I know it does me no good if I have an eye toward the victimization of the people who are in the industry.

    Finally, a Lutheran pastor who offers weekly confession and absolution made an observation based on his ministry. He argued that our war is waged as much with masturbation as it is with pornography. The person who is addicted to pornography is really addicted to the chemical fix of orgasm; a conclusion that link d posted bears out. If we’re going to get serious about sexual sin, I think our seminaries need to get busy with making courses on human sexuality mandatory.

  2. Yes, definitely sin…and it has many negative consequences in families and society, but it is also definitely forgivable as all sin is expect for turning your back on Christ.

  3. “I don’t think this is a controversial view of things among Christians or United Methodists, right? We all can agree about this, yes?”

    No, we do not all agree. Making this assumption and then stating it out loud simply is a passive aggressive way of stating your true intention, which is to say that all those who do not agree with your definition are wrong, sinful, and not Christian/United Methodist. Anytime you try to contextualize your own viewpoint as “the” codified viewpoint, you are not engaging in holy conversation nor truly inviting discussion. Rather, you are only seeking to be affirmed in your conservative viewpoint while yet admitting earlier in your post that statistical studies show that some folks… especially young people… tend to disagree with your lens on this issue.

    1. The stats do show more acceptance of pornography by young people (especially young men), but I fail to see how that casts “my lens” in the junk pile. If you fall into that group, please explain to me how pornography and holiness go together.

    2. There is no argument that young people are statistically less likely to view pornography as problematic. The Biblical standard is unequivocal. You can not justify the viewing of porn, even “soft” porn from a Biblical standpoint. John suggests that it should be obvious to Christians – even assume-able – the we could agree that this standard is non-negotiable. I would agree.
      The fact that there are people – young or old – who don’t recognize the problem with porn speaks to our failure as a church to teach people the Scriptures as a reliable guide for doctrine and practice.

    3. I find it ironic that you are likewise trying to be affirmed (in your case, by calling someone else close-minded). I may be a liberal college student, but I am proud to be one of your “young person” who believes that porn is unequivocally sinful, evil, and opposed to the will of God.

    1. Could you expand on your point? I’m not sure I am making the connections you want me to make. What does the existence of this love poem in the Bible have to do with pornography in our day?

      1. If you want to rid society of porn then a good place to start is to remove the erotic metaphors and sexual imagery in the Song of Songs from the Bible itself.

        1. You seem to be trying to confuse the issue. There is no real comparison between the SoS and the likes of Playboy, Hustler, Internet Porn, etc., and I believe you know it is not the same.

        2. Having watched the churches my own mother was a member of remain silent as she committed the sin of adultery through divorce and remarriage many times over during my childhood. As well as being well aware of how Christians have defended tyranny, murder, slavery, bigotry and racism. It is extremely difficult for me to consider Christianity as a moral institution or its members as anything but misinformed pawns of their leaders.

    2. I think this is a case where we need to distinguish between art and porn. We might call many Greek statues “erotic,” but they do not encourage the same extramarital lust and voyeurism as most Internet porn. Intention is very important. What was the Supreme Court saying? Something like, “I shall not attempt further today to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

  4. Having watched the churches my own mother was a member of remain silent as she committed the sin of adultery through divorce and remarriage many times over during my childhood. As well as being well aware of how Christians have defended tyranny, murder, slavery, bigotry and racism. It is extremely difficult for me to consider Christianity as a moral institution or its members as anything but misinformed pawns of their leaders.

    This helps me understand your comments, DaPoet. Thank you. The pain you express about the failings and shortcomings of the church are familiar to many Christians. We are a collection of sinners who are seeking the grace to be more like Christ — at our best. At our worst, we are servants of darkness dressing up as children of light.

    The failures of the church do not remove the holiness of God, though, and we are invited to join in the already established kingdom of heaven. Our citizenship, Paul says, is in heaven. We live into that by living into the image of God that reflects that holiness.

    Not all of us do, but all of us are invited.

    1. John,
      Thank you for expressing my basic thoughts much more eloquently than I could have.
      DaPoet, Thank you. The church has had, and still has many chapters in it’s history where people have failed miserably to live up to what Scripture requires of us. I am grieved by your pain. I am reminded of song which has a line that goes something like, “Please don’t blame the Father for the sins of the children.” God Bless.
      Mike

  5. The list of morally accepted things is a cause of concern for me. It’s sad that we, as Christ-following people, have not taught morals and the reasoning behind them enough that this survey would look differently. I was taught that there were unacceptable behaviors, but not the why or Bible reasoning for it.

    So, do we change because the culture is changing? Could we not change the culture? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? I know MTD might be overused, but I really think that’s what we’re being as a denom (or GC). I know I’m guilty of MTD at times.

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