Let’s get this out of the way right from the start, I am a recovering sex addict. I only mention this because I want you to understand that much of what I am writing comes from experience (and not the kind of experience most of us want). So here goes: I believe one of the biggest barriers standing between the church and truly loving the poor is pornography. Yes, the rampant use of pornography among Christians hinders our ability to seek justice for others.
Now, I am not talking about all the injustices in the porn industry. I am not talking about exploitation or human trafficking. Those are important social justice issues that must be addressed. Rather, I am talking about the day-to-day viewing of porn by many Christians and how it interacts with our ability to love the poor and hurting.
You see, we live in a time where many in the church are acknowledging that personal sin isn’t the only thing we need to deal with. We recognize that simply not stealing and not lying does not make one like Jesus. We must love the lost and hurting. We must sacrifice to bring help to the poor. It is one thing to be moral, it is another to be Christ-like.
However, what many fail to recognize is how “personal sin” actually keeps us from loving our neighbor. In fact, what some Christians espouse is the notion that social justice is all that matters. While this is probably just a reaction to the perception that the church has cared about personal morality but not about justice issues, it eventually hinders the cause of compassion. We must become a people who seek justice, but to do that we must confront the sins that keep us from developing real love for others. And right now, nothing interferes quite like pornography. Here’s how.
1. Pornography is costly. Just check out the stats below.
- Every second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet
- Every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography on the internet
- Every second 372 people are typing the word “adult” into search engines
- 40 million American people regularly visit porn sites
- 35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography
- 25% of all search engine queries are related to pornography, or about 68 million search queries a day
- One third of porn viewers are women
Or if the stats don’t get you, how about this headline: “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter Combined.”
Various estimates are that Americans spend between 13 and 16 billion dollars on porn a year. And no statistic can quantify the amount of time and energy working on relationships damaged by pornography.
That is a lot of time, mental energy, and fiscal resources. And when pornography becomes an addiction it consumes even more of our time and money. Just imagine the good that could be done with all the hours and dollars spent on porn.
2. Pornography turns people into objects. It is probably obvious that pornography is all about objectifying people. The people on the screen or in the magazine are no longer fellow humans, they are objects we use for our own pleasure and needs. They are a thing we use and then discard.
However, what may not be obvious is how this process of objectification bleeds over into other parts of our lives. It happens in all sorts of ways. We begin to notice the “beautiful people” and ignore those that don’t pique our interest. We become users of people, only interested in those who can do something for us, and the poor and hurting rarely qualify. And in an absurd twist, we will serve the poor, using them in an attempt to ameliorate the guilt and emptiness that pornography fosters.
3. Pornography eats at the heart and soul. It is hard to pray when you regularly look at porn. It is difficult to study the Bible. Pornographic images linger in our minds, obscuring the truth of who we are in Christ. Over time the shame can pile up to the point where we doubt the efficacy of Jesus and the gospel.
Pornography pushes, pulls and eventually distorts our hearts. It appears to offer the satiation of a deep longing, but in reality it creates more emptiness. As Frederick Buechner says, “Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.”
It takes an enormous amount of spiritual and emotional energy to work for real justice in our world. But pornography exhausts our spiritual stamina. So while we may truly long to become like the compassionate Christ, we simply don’t have the space in our hearts.
Now, I am not trying to imply that looking at pornography prevents someone from doing anything to help the poor, or that perfect personal morality will magically lead to acts of compassion. But we can reach a place where we believe that our focus must be either personal morality or social justice. Perhaps it is time we put this “either, or” approach to spirituality behind us. It is not that we don’t have to choose between personal morality and social justice, but rather that we can’t.