It’s not what you think.
I am not speaking about church folk being addicted to porn or anything like that. In fact, I am not writing here about sexually explicit porn. Nonetheless, to be frank, I am concerned about something less obvious, as harmful, maybe even more dangerous. Especially to the church.
We seem to know the common definitions of the words “porn” or “pornography” as images of sensuousness, sexuality, and sex. Interestingly, there is a definition that puts porn/pornography on a whole deferent level beyond the easy to identify “sexual porn.” Merriam-Webster also defines “porn” as the “depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.” Most immediately pivot to the sexual implications. However, while that can—as it should—definitely be understood to be the sexual nature most associated with porn/pornography, this definition makes it possible that more than sex can be in the arena of porn. In fact anything “emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of even a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest from their audience” is, well, porn.
Here I’d like to focus our attention on what I will call “church porn.”
I am borrowing from the so-called image-based sexual revolution that has been afoot since 1916, when ladies began displaying knee-high bathing suits above the ankles and men showed off their muscle-building on the beach to display their fit bodies for public consumption. (And you thought it was a sixties thing.) It’s taken decades, but the sexual revolution has created everyday habits and associations that form the way you and I think, literally about everything.
As teenage boys (and sadly, girls, as well), by the time they are young adults, are exposed to thousands of hours of sexual imagery (explicit and soft and suggestive), mostly depicting that women are there to meet their needs and pleasure, the same is also true of those entering ministry. Here I am not just focused on sexual porn, but the porn of success, images of desire and expectations that have formed a whole narrative about the world and how it works. This has created sensational and, yes, sensuous feelings, expectations, and imaginations in those training for ministry, who will be praying and seeking for “a call,” and, as well, those simply picking a church and looking to meet his/her (or family) needs—informed and shaped needs created by those thousands of hours of exposure. As individuals seek “God’s will,” they have been, already, exposed to hours of imagery of what will meet one’s needs, bring success, and be affirmed by one’s felt peer group. These thousands of images have shaped the imagination of what that “call” or church should look like.
This is the porn that is molding the expectations of both their choice of a church and “the call” one feels when looking for a pastoral call, a potential place of ministry (lay or pastoral), or simply “being led” to a choice of church to attend. This is a problem. A problem for the church. A problem for churches that don’t stimulate that compulsive interest that has been embedded into us, culturally, socially, or personally.
This type of porn is not obvious, but it is ubiquitous. This type of porn is everywhere, in advertisement, in TV shows, movies, social media . . . heck, it is even used in advertising one’s church or church event.
We are at a place where we should, as Supreme Court Potter Stewart said of obscenity itself in 1964, “I know it when I see it.” We know this cultural and social image-based porn is bombarding us. We should. But do we? Perhaps, somehow, we feel, as Christians, as mature Christians, we are above this ubiquitous sensual bombardment of cultural and social images and free to let God be God in our thinking, especially as it relates to church or a call to ministry. We are not. And, that’s a problem.
This cultural and social porn is not even considered as a factor that plays a role in our decision-making process as we consider a call to ministry or what church to choose. Mostly, that call or that church has been chosen for us—we just don’t know it—of course, we’ll affirm we’ve been led by God in that choice. Yet, there is a good chance that God has not. Church porn has.
In part 2, I will address how such church porn, the amassed thousands of embedded cultural and social images we are inundated with, molds what we think is God’s leading when it comes to “the call to ministry” or simply choosing a church to attend. In part 3, I will offer a counterstory as a path of recovery from addiction to church porn.
Sometimes we should be deeply impacted by a text of Scripture, not so much as an encouragement or a comfort, but seriously scaring us to death. We are conditioned to seek solace, comfort, encouragement, even exhortation, in the Bible. We are told and, perhaps, have taught others to hold on to its promises. But, this is only half right. We should be consoled by texts meant to console, yet scared to death by texts meant to slay us. Ephesians 3:1-13 is one such text of Scripture (despite most preachers never presenting this path of relevance or application from this pericope of Paul’s words–at least to my knowledge).
“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Here some of my thoughts that arise from Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:
I recall, now too many years ago to acknowledge, telling some bible college students that were complaining about the rule that all hats, including baseball caps, were to be taken off inside a campus building:
“If you can’t take off those caps now, what makes you think you’ll be able to die for your faith in some god-forsaken land when all indication seems to indicate that God has abandoned you?”
If you are a Christian (especially a Christian leader), you shouldn’t be able to read Ephesians 3:1-13 with any measure of comfort either—and it should scare the hell out of you, as well. The question remains, nonetheless, where will you go? To whom will you go to? With whom will you live and ministry so that all, that is those now outside the church, may have access to the Father?
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.