Why an issue on pornography?
In a startling study, researcher Ryan Burns found a direct correlation between men’s porn use and their beliefs in traditional roles for women. As the amount of pornography a man views increases, so does the likelihood that he will “describe women in sexualized and stereotypically feminine terms; approve of women in ‘traditionally female’ occupations; and value women who are more submissive and subordinate to men” (Ryan Burns, 2002, as cited on againstpornography.org). While it is impossible to conclude that pornography causes these beliefs, or vice versa, the correlation in itself is alarming, although not surprising to many egalitarians. Viewing pornography, as Gerald Ford discusses in his article that follows, makes it virtually impossible to see the full humanity of a woman. Instead she becomes a shadow of herself, whose main purpose is to fulfill the desires of a man. She is not a partner or an equal. She is an object.
Social scientists have long linked “essentialism,” or the over-emphasis of differences between men and women, ethnic groups, or classes, with a concept known as “the other.” It is a phenomenon in which we insist upon rigid distinctions between people groups and, in turn, find it easier to abuse and dehumanize those who are not like us. Slave owners in America justified their actions by convincing themselves that African Americans’ physical make-up was so unlike their own that they must be made for brutal labor. Those opposed to women’s suffrage justified their position by convincing themselves that women’s brains operated so differently from men’s that they were incapable of making rational decisions about politics. And of course there are many, many more examples.
This concept of “the other” is prevalent in our churches today, particularly when considering gender. Some Christians promote “gender essentialism,” and, rather than calling the church to a new, better way to live and relate to each other as the Bible does, we use these mistaken beliefs to justify inequality. We “reason” that women are overly emotional and therefore should be excluded from leadership roles. And while we may not outwardly condone the use of pornography, we uphold our culture’s beliefs that lead to and perpetuate porn use — beliefs that insist women are meant to be beautiful and that men are, by nature, visual and more sexual. These misguided and destructive ideas make it difficult to build empathy among believers, a vital characteristic of the healthy and intimate community God desires for his children. Interestingly, Mimi Haddad recently pointed out to me that the first thing Adam said when he saw Eve was “This is bone of my bones; flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). In other words, he looked at her and said “You are like me!”
Theology impacts the way we live. What we believe about the nature of women is reflected in how we treat them. What we believe about ourselves — whether we are male or female — is reflected in what we choose to participate in. This is the reason why we are publishing an issue of Mutuality on pornography and, specifically, why we are interested in the problem of pornography among Christians. If the most recent research is correct, at least 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography or view it regularly. (Increasingly, women are also viewing pornography, a trend author Ariel Levy attributes to our culture’s concept of “sexual liberation” that in actuality encourages women to objectify themselves.) Clearly, pornography is a rampant problem in the church. Yet we cannot hope to adequately address it without also confronting the pervasive mistreatment of women both within our own walls and throughout the world.
In this issue
I recently heard a pastor preach that he never wants to move people by pity or guilt, but by hope. I reflected upon this often as we planned and put together this issue of Mutuality. We do not want to shame or reject those who struggle with pornography. But we do want to suggest that God has a better way for us to live as men and women; that, through Christ, we can work to view and treat each other as God does. I pray this issue will be both a wake-up call and an encouragement to you, just as it has been for me. Blessings to you as you read and reflect.
Note: Pornography, by nature, is difficult to discuss. Please be aware that the following content may be sensitive material.