On Pornography: Part 1, Navigating the Tensions

This last spring I was on the campus of Belmont University, invited to share some thoughts about pornography during their week reflecting on spirituality and sexuality.

When I get invitations like this my default is to pass as I don't think I have anything particularly helpful to say. But Jana encourages me to accept. "You might not think you have anything helpful to say," she tells me, "but what you will say will be a lot better than what most people would say." You can disagree with Jana about that assessment, but she gives me the courage to talk.

So I'll share in a few posts some of the things I said about pornography at Belmont. You might not find a series on pornography all that enjoyable, especially those of you who join me over your morning coffee, but a lot of people are struggling and concerned about pornography's increasing impact upon our lives and society. And if we aren't personally struggling, we live with people who are, within our churches and within our homes.

The first thing I shared at Belmont was how hard it is to talk about this subject. On the one hand you want to say something more insightful and motivating than a simplistic finger wagging imperative: "Don't do it!" Just saying "Stop!" makes for a very short presentation. Plus, "Stop!" is just a command, and issuing commands is a very poor way to change behavior.

But if you're not going to say "Stop!" you also want to avoid saying "Well, since everyone is already doing this, and I don't want to shame you, it's all okay."

Beyond navigating the tensions between prohibitions and permissiveness, there's also the issue of stigma and shame. Ramp up the prohibitions and you ramp up the stigma and shame. Tune down the prohibitions you avoid shaming people, but at the expense of speaking a clear, firm word and warning about the moral darkness and depravity of pornography. Say too much and people feel stigmatized and shamed. Say too little and you don't speak a clear prophetic word.

All that to say, this is a very difficult conversation to navigate, and few people are going to be pleased with what you say, judging your speech as either too conservative (prohibitive) or too liberal (permissive).

What's the right balance?

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