An old article at The Gospel Coalition drives today’s article. Justin Taylor of “Between Two Words” originally ran part of a sermon by John Piper on pornography. Today’s post looks at the issue of sex in evangelical Christianity. From cultural issues, to problems in accountability to my analysis of John Piper’s talk. These thoughts are from a man hammered and burned out by evangelical Christianity on this topic. This was to be part of a Men’s Ministry post but I decided to divorce the two. This is the first part the second part will come soon. While this post is aimed at men women are free to read it.
“The internet is 95 percent porn and spam”
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.“
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NIV
Shi’a Muslims self flagellation in India
I told Bill M that I was going to do a post on Men’s Ministry. I have so many posts in the works and this is part of the Men’s Ministry post. Instead I decided to divorce the two and have two separate posts. I saw an old article that featured a John Piper talk on pornography originally run at The Gospel
Corporation, I mean Gospel Coalition in the recent past. Justin Taylor who still has to apologize for trashing Janet Medford for challenging Mark Driscoll on plagiarism originally ran this post. So I decided to write a few things about pornography here. Part of this is going to be a rant, and part of this is going to be blunt. I believe evangelical Christianity can be very toxic when it comes to issues like sex and pornography. By the way when I speak of pornography in this post, I am speaking about legal adult material. I am not speaking of child pornography like what happened in the scandal with Matt Chandler’s The Village Church. You can read more about what happened at The Village Church here.
My Experience with Accountability
Who here knows what the Islamic holiday Ashura is about? Its celebrated by both Sunnis and Shi’a Muslims. Ashura commerates the death of Husayn ibn Ali, who was Muhammad’s grandson and is a day of mourning. It remembers his martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala. In the Shi’a tradition there are some Muslims who celebrate the holiday by self flagellation, meaning some Shi’a Muslims whip themselves and beat themselves with ropes, leather, or strings with rocks attached. Originally people used to cut themselves but in countries like Iran cutting is forbidden. So why am I telling you all this? Its simple actually I think many evangelical Christian men through accountability programs do the exact same thing. Instead of practicing Ashura, instead they practice self flagellation and beat themselves up over sexual mistakes. Only evangelical Christians can be a master at manipulating guilt. Let me illustrate by a personal example.
When I was in Cru (Campus Crusade) I heard about an idea for sexual purity called accountability. I bought into the idea and did it to its full extent. I did so with a friend who also was in Cru. I loved Zach, we were very close. As I type this today I can still hear his distinct laugh that was known as uniquely his. Zach and I regularly did the confession thing, challenged each other all in the quest of sexual purity we submitted to authority in this area. In the process we beat each other up. At the time I had no idea of what was coming down the pike. We did this regularly Zach and I from 2001 or so until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2007. Then all of a sudden things went quiet. I won’t talk about this publically but in other forms of the Christian faith I was hammered for my confessions and was dealing with that when I wondered why Zach suddenly went quiet. A slow, creeping feeling grew on me in time that the accountability we did wasn’t healthy or good as I was led to believe. Against all this in time my faith imploded and I lost my belief in God. In the course of time Zach sent me a message on Facebook telling me he missed me and wanted to catch up. In the course of time not long before my grandmother’s death and funeral I was home sick. I was on Facebook and in the messenger part Zach popped up, and he was asking me how am I doing. I was cold and told him that I was agnostic and out of the Christian faith. He was taken back and said something to the effect of “really?” The conversation was terse and in the conversation I told Zach in a message, “Zach I didn’t appreciate you lying to me when we did the accountability...” And it was like I hit the most sensitive button I could have pressed. Zach blew in an emotional messaging exchange. “Eagle….I’m a Baptist I am not supposed to deal with lust!” He continued “I had to keep up appearances, things were tough in my family, my brother came out gay, and I couldn’t let on to anything else” I sat there reading the messages having been burned and fried by evangelicalism, and the pain accountability had done in my life had bothered me. Zach and I spoke on the phone. He told me what happened…his family was having difficulty and against that his brother came out as gay. If I remember correctly (though I could be wrong…) Zach’s brother attended John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist. His family was shocked when this happened and his parents feared church discipline. Zach told me when he heard the news, especially with the pain the Christian community caused his brother, Zach cried into his pillow for about three hours. We both were hurt, but I was entering my stage of trashing anything remotely Christian. I had it with evangelicals and the evangelical faith. I posted George Carlin on Zach’s Facebook page where Carlin talks about how religion is bullshit and that got me unfriended. The relationship was destroyed.
In the course of time I raged about the Christian faith. I also raged about Zach. Today however I grieve how accountability not only backfired but helped to destroy a close friendship. I also grieve because I think it was experiences like accountability that helped drive Zach from the faith in the course of time. If I had known how toxic evangelical accountability was going to be I would have not pursued it. I would rather have a guy struggling in the faith trying to work through things and deal with failure than someone who walks away burned out in the course of time. In December 2014 I attended a wedding in the former Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee. I saw Joe Blow and his wife get married and while there I also heard the rest of the story of what happened to Zach. It so grieved me that I retreated into a rest room and wept. I talk a lot about Andrew White on this journal but not as much about Zach. I am conflicted and here’s why…I love Zach. I care for him a lot. I’ve worked on a way to try and engage him but most of it involves prayer. Above all I love and miss a friend who made Milwaukee special and home when I lived there. Today I grieve Zach and still think about him from time to time. I am not angry at him, instead I empathize in the fact that I believe he was burned and hurt by evangelicalism as well. In the course of time with how evangelical Christianity functions I believe the casualty list of those fried from evangelicalism will make the toll of those killed in World War II seem conservative by comparison. I am not trying to be sensational, I just think the numbers of men who suffer in silence is deep.
Evangelicals and Sex
Evangelicalism is toxic in many forms one of the most toxic is how some evangelicals approach sex. Before I continue let me also state that while I do not think pornography is especially healthy I also don’t think its the most evil thing that exits. I know it creates problems and I am aware of those issues. So I want to at least acknowledge those issues here. Honestly I am burned out over the topic of sex and the mere thought of it being discussed more is exhausting to consider. But the evangelical culture is destructive in a number of ways let me emphasize why.
- Many evangelical Christians speak and act as if sexual sin is the only sin that exists. I contemplated this in recovering from weight loss surgery in which I asked myself…”Why haven’t I heard a sermon or talk about gluttony?” Pride, greed, and questionable church growth are all sins also, and I have often seldom heard any of that be discussed.
- The culture in evangelicalism hammers people who are honest and encourages or rewards dishonesty. That is what I learned from my accountability partner, its what I ran into time and again. It encourages people to be dishonest and do things behind the scenes which I honestly think most people would be very, very surprised by what some people have done and /or are doing.
- There is a stigma for certain sexual sins and less for others. Why is a guy who sleeps with his girlfriend hammered yet the church acts like child sexual abuse (which is sexual sin by the way…) not a sin?
- Many evangelical churches and ministries have lost the moral authority to speak about sexual sin when they are also engaged in child sexual abuse cover up. I realized this when an Air Force Captain was pressuring me to attend Redeemer Arlington when the largest lawsuit in evangelical Christian history was beating at the doors of Sovereign Grace. You can’t talk about homosexuality or other sins while covering up child sex abuse simultaneously.
- The evangelical culture I would suggest actually results in increased pornography addictions. Why? People are so shamed over sex in evangelicalism that they turn to stuff like porn and some get hooked. I think it would be fascinating if the curtain could be rolled up and the percentages between the world and the evangelical church are rolled out. My hunch is that people in the church would be using pornography more so than those outside the church. This is probably a dirty little secret probably no one wants to admit.
- Many evangelicals have embraced techniques like accountability which can seriously mess with one’s head. Plus accountability is often about control not helping a person. The answer many evangelicals often pose is legalism and not grace, which exacerbates the problem.
- While some have gone too far in one direction others like Mark Driscoll went way too far in the opposite direction. For example Driscoll was crude and some of the stuff he said really pushed the line. Remember when he commanded women to perform oral sex on their husbands? Then there are the comments about “my smoking hot wife..” which do not help the situation.
- Because of the mixed messages I would suggest many Christian guys are confused, struggle with needless shame, and struggle to find a way forward. That is how I feel, and I would venture to suggest that is how many guys feel. The word “addiction” is thrown around so loosely that I would suggest its problematic.
There could be many other issues but please feel free to write below your observations of this topic.
What the Hell is John Piper Saying?
Its with that stated that I would like to turn attention to the following article at The Gospel Coalition. In an article that was based in part off a John Piper sermon on pornography John Piper says the following
Do you know why there are no windows on adult bookstores? Or do you know why there are no windows on certain kinds of nightclubs in the city?
I suppose your answer would be, “Well, because they don’t want people looking in and getting a free sight.”
That’s not the only reason.
You know why? Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky.
You know why? The sky is the enemy of lust.
I read that and think…what is going on through the man’s mind? The reason why pornography shops don’t have windows is because they don’t want people to look up in the sky? So it has nothing to do with city zoning ordinances John? It has nothing to do with city restrictions? I mean porn shops are zoned together in cities normally with red light districts. So that is the reason why cities like Detroit, Baltimore and Cleveland zone pornography shop windows is to keep people from looking up in the sky? And people think highly of John Piper? I don’t get him at all. I did appreciate a couple of comments which suggested this point as well.
Then there is this part of the article that also raised some eyebrows.
And then turn it around: it works this way too. We know from experience that if we give way to sexual fantasies and yield to lusts and dwelling on unwholesome things, our capacities for seeing the sky are cut in half. And then cut in half again. And then cut in half again—until you’re just a little worm on the ground as your language and your mind is nothing but smut. It can happen to anybody!
John when people give into sexual fantasies they are making a mistake yes…but is it the end of the world? I must differ…you seem to suggest that you need to be a Christian in order to comprehend the majesty of nature. I disagree…when I was an agnostic for years I comprehended the glory of nature all the time. I do believe John that nature screams out the glory of God and for me as an agnostic it posed a lot of challenges because I was left with the question…who created all this? I would venture to suggest some of this is rooted in the worm theology of Calvinism of which I strongly disagree. But here’s another question when you give into temptation is your mind nothing but smut? Can your mind be filled with other things and still be unwholesome? For example can Neo-Calvinists who have made the local church an idol and neglect the needs of those around them be engaged in something unwholesome by making the church an idol? Can people be so focused on hobbies, church, or so many things that that can become unwholesome John? John I would also suggest that when you teach and preach that your mind can become nothing but smut you deny the power of God in many cases. I’m not talking about instant sanctification, as that can be an essay for another time.
And so I just commend to you: don’t let that happen. Battle lust—among all the other weapons that you’re given in Scripture—battle it with the upward glance of the magnificent blue and the thunder and the lightning and the sunrises and the sunsets and the glory of God. And say to yourself, “If I give way in this hour to that kind of thinking, I won’t enjoy this, I won’t have a large heart, I won’t have a capacious mind, I won’t be a noble person—I’ll just be an old gutter person.” Preach to yourself like that! And then give yourself over to the ministry of the sky. And let it help you free from lust.
I read that and thought…my God. When I survey the Neo-Calvinist landscape and look at the hubris, damage and scandal pouring out of it, I think the problem is that they are not preaching to themselves enough. All these conferences, all these books, all the Desiring God podcasts, the Resurgence when that was up and running and they still couldn’t preach themselves enough. The Eagle rests his case!
I wanted to tackle this issue and get these thoughts down on cyber space. I would like to tackle the issue how should people deal with porn at a later date. My answer in a condense version is this….until evangelicalism understands, and comprehends what grace is they should refrain from tackling an issue like porn until they fully understand grace. Because the effects of a faith burnout are severe, and they last for years. Here I am writing about something that burned me out nearly 7 or 8 years ago. Any solution to pornography requires lots of grace and evangelical Christianity struggles with grace.
In closing I would like to throw up a song from LaRue called “Someday.” I remember when I was at Marquette and I heard this song and it was the rage in Christianity. It deals with sexual purity. If I remember correctly I think I saw LaRue in Lifest in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. So with that I will leave you with that to listen to. Take care guys I love you!