Arousing Ourselves to Death
Porn Is Ravaging Our Churches by Russell D. Moore
The couple will typically tell me first about how stressful their lives are. Maybe he’s lost his job. Perhaps she’s working two. Maybe their children are rowdy or the house is chaotic. But usually, if we talk long enough about their fracturing marriage, there is a sense that something else is afoot. The couple will tell me about how their sex life is near extinction. The man, she’ll tell me, is an emotional wraith, dead to intimacy with his wife. The woman will be frustrated, with what seems to him to be a wild mixture of rage and humiliation. They just don’t know what’s wrong, but they know a Christian marriage isn’t supposed to feel like this.
It’s at this point that I interrupt the discussion, look at the man, and ask, “So how long has the porn been going on?” The couple will look at each other, and then look at me, with a kind of fearful incredulity that communicates the question, “How do you know?” For a few minutes, they seek to reorient themselves to this exposure, wondering, I suppose, if I’m an Old Testament prophet or a New Age psychic. But I’m not either. One doesn’t have to be to sense the spirit of this age. In our time, pornography is the destroying angel of (especially male) Eros, and it’s time the Church faced the horror of this truth.
A Perversion of the Good
In one sense, the issue of pornography is not new at all. Human lust for covenant-breaking sexuality is rooted, Jesus tells us, not in anything external to us but in our fallen passions (Matt. 5:2728). Every generation of Christians has faced the pornography question, whether with Dionysian pagan art, or with Jazz Age fan-dancers, or with airbrushed centerfolds.
But the situation is unique now. Pornography is not now simply available. With the advent of Internet technology, with its near universal reach and its promise of secrecy, pornography has been weaponized. In some sectors, especially of our young male populations, it is nearly universal. This universality is not, contrary to the propaganda of the pornographers themselves, a sign of its innocence but of its power.
Like all sin, pornography is by definition a perversion of the good, in this case of the mystery of the male and female together in a one-flesh union. The urge toward this is strong indeed, precisely because our Creator, in manifold wisdom, decided that human creatures would not subdivide like amoeba, but that the male would need the female, and the female the male, for the race to survive.
Beyond that is an even greater mystery still. The Apostle Paul tells us that human sexuality is not arbitrary, nor is it merely natural. It is, he reveals, itself an icon of God’s ultimate purpose in the gospel. The one-flesh union is a sign of the union between Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:2233). If human sexuality is patterned after the very Alpha and Omega of the cosmos, no wonder it is so difficult to restrain. No wonder it seems so wild.
An Ecclesial Issue
Pornography, by its very nature, leads to insatiability. One picture, stored in the memory, will never be enough to continue arousing a man. God, after all, designed the man and the woman to be satisfied not with a single sex act but with an ongoing appetite for each other, for the unitive and procreative union of flesh to flesh and soul to soul. One seeking the mystery outside of this covenantal union will never find what he is looking for. He will never find an image naked enough to satisfy him.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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