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?