This year, more than any in recent memory, has seemed like one steady stream of bad news. We’ve been pummeled, day after day, by a year that refuses to relent long enough to let us come up for one measly gulp of air. Along with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, there was another burst of good news that hit the wires recently.
On Dec. 4, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof helped expose how Pornhub, one of the world’s largest pornography websites, hosted countless user-generated videos of sexual assault, rape, and other criminal acts. In response to this reporting, major credit card companies including Discover, Visa, and Mastercard announced they were cutting ties with Pornhub and would no longer provide credit card processing for the site because of the illegal content. This move prompted Pornhub to remove “unverified uploads,” a move that effectively flags and eliminates upward of two-thirds of its content which amounted to the removal of over 10 million pornographic videos from the site’s library. In the fight against sexual assult, rape, abuse, and other criminal acts, this is a positive development and one that significantly cuts down on the amount of pornographic content online.
And yet, it seems there remains an endless amount of work yet to be done in the fight against pornography. For Christians, how are we to respond to this encouraging development and, moreover, how are we to engage in the broader battle against the scourge of pornography?
There is a lot that can be done to stymie the advance of pornography and its increasing cultural ubiquity, and it all begins with awareness. And, while awareness in no way means apprising oneself of actual pornographic content, it does require educating yourself on its widespread use (even among Christians) and the detriment that pornography imposes on its actors, its users, its users’ relationships, and entire societies—morally, psychologically, and physically.
Practically speaking, this looks like developing a relative fluency around the prevalence of pornography and its use (resources like Finally Free by Heath Lambert and this article by Justin Holcomb are good places to start) and, prayerfully, acquiring a sensitivity to it through these exposures. Though pornography is often spun as a liberty to be enjoyed by the masses, it is a menacing and ruinous captor, enslaving its users in nearly every conceivable way, down to the neurological level. So, before we jump into this monumental fight, we must first know what we’re up against and, just as important, for whom we’re fighting.
Becoming more aware of pornography’s scope and influence inevitably keys you in on the reality that it isn’t merely a habit or an act in which one chooses to participate. It is, rather, a sort of worldview with its own attending “metaphysical and ethical implications” that projects its own “specific vision of the world” and of other persons, as Carl Trueman argues in his new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.
For this reason and others, building on the momentum that seems to have accrued in this most recent fight against illegal content on Pornhub will require doing battle not just in view of reforming the habits of our collective society—and our churches—but by piercing what Charles Taylor calls our culture’s social imaginary. In other words, it is a battle not just of will but of worldview. So, as you consider planting your feet on the field of battle against pornography, these are the three primary categories where you can engage.
1. Broad engagement: To fight the fight against pornography in the broad sense is the least costly measure to take. In fact, it will cost you almost nothing. In a lot of ways, this broad level of engagement is somewhat synonymous with simply making yourself and others aware of the epidemic affect of pornography. More than anything, it is an effort to join your voice with the chorus of others who are decrying the normativity of this debasing worldview that prizes sexuality as its sacred indicative.
It is here, winsomely and patiently, where the church can begin to pierce our pornified culture’s social imaginary with a new narrative. And though it may involve advocating for more stringent legislative action and supporting investigations and reporting like Kristof’s, it’s not yet likely to chafe against your relationships or against your own carnal impulses at this level. Broad engagement is needed, and yields broad impact, but the church must go further. We must intentionally narrow our scope of engagement.
2. Focused engagement: The level of narrow engagement introduces us to some of the real consequences of our own involvement in this fight. Here, in our immediate spheres of influence, we have conversations with spouses, children, parents, extended family members, friends, and those we’re discipling. It’s also where vulnerabilities are spilled.
If the statistic that more than 28,000 users are watching pornography every second is accurate—not excluding church members (64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month)—then we have an unseemly amount of brothers and sisters being held captive to the woes of our culture’s pornographic worldview. Our focus here involves aspirations toward personal victories among those closest to us, either preemptively (ideally) or in waging war against an ongoing struggle. Focused engagement is the willingness to fight, tooth and nail, for the heart of a brother or sister.
3. Personal engagement: Finally, our scope of engagement should ultimately narrow to the extent that the crosshairs of our battle weapons rest squarely upon ourselves. Pornography use is plaguing church pews across America and the developed world, and to assume immunity for oneself is either the height of naivete or willful negligence. Personal engagement, then, is a call—a scriptural command—to engage in a battle for your soul and to disengage from the world of pornography in all its forms.
This means that we abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3), even in our internet browsing, streaming subscriptions, and other comparable activities. It also means that our discipleship should not neglect to address the issue of pornography directly, even if we don’t deem it a threat. Personal engagement on this matter is a Spirit-driven fight to resist, even “to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4), the pornographic pull so endemic in our day.
We are God’s set-apart people, called by the Spirit to engage in a to-the-death duel against our flesh and its deeds (Rom. 8:13-14). Scripture is clear: there is only one left standing once the dust from this fight settles. Either we align ourselves with the Spirit and live or we yield to the carnal whims of the flesh and perish. The stakes could not be higher, for our souls and for the dignity of those entrenched in the pornography industry. We would do well to act like it.
Fight the good fight
By all credible estimates, the pornography industry is a multibillion dollar operation, a figure that doesn’t even account for the forms and content not considered explicit enough to “earn” a pornographic rating. We live in a sexualized culture becoming more pornified by the day. But developments like we’ve witnessed in the case against Pornhub provide strategic jolts of hope that should spur us on to continue the good fight against this Goliath-like foe. The call for Christians, then, is to join this cosmic, spiritual battle, loading our metaphoric sling with stones and flinging them until the pornographic giant is finally felled. And, because we know that a life lived according to the flesh is an enslaved life leading to death, this battle is nothing less than a mission to set captives free, to introduce God’s image-bearers to life—abundant life. The stakes are high, but “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47).