HSR Summaries: Sections V, VI & VII Pornography
By Chad Steenwyk
The Human Sexuality Report that came to Synod 2022 has been widely debated but seldom read. Its intimidating length and broad areas of discussion mean many have heard about it but few have dug into it for themselves. The debate at Synod centered almost exclusively on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the report is far broader than any single issue. In this series we want to give you an overview of the Human Sexuality Report in bite-sized pieces and offer pastoral implications for us to live into going into the future.
Pornography is widely used and accepted in contemporary North American culture, being accessible, anonymous, and affordable. The Oxford dictionary defines pornography as the “…display of sexual organs or activity to stimulate erotic… feelings.”
Studies show most men and a growing number of women and children regularly use pornography. Although less likely, use of porn has permeated the church, including male pastors. Many Christians felt no guilt about their porn use, and few had made any attempts to stop using porn.
Porn use is not new, but contemporary internet porn is distinct as follows:
Online porn depicts actual sex between people, it does not just simulate it.
The most popular online porn involves men using women in sexual assault or torture.
Internet porn reinforces crude and degrading racist stereotypes.
Because it is lucrative, the porn industry is designed to create habitual users.
Porn shapes our culture’s sexual practices, politics, and law.
Since porn consumption has become so routine, its victims are many:
Women filmed: sexually transmitted diseases, human-trafficking, reputations, diminished job opportunities leading to drug and alcohol abuse.
Children: average first exposure is 13. Porn shapes wrong expectations of dominance and abuse.
Girls & Women: fosters a culture of rape and sadomasochism. Greater insecurity, reduced sexual satisfaction, and loneliness.
Boys & Men: misogynistic attitudes and behaviors. Experience difficulty developing healthy sexual relationships.
Marriages: leads to betrayal and regular deception. Causes anger and shame for offended spouses.
The Bible addresses the attitudes and actions fostered by online porn that harm the bodies and spirits of image bearers and destroy sexual intimacy:
Violence: God hates violence (Prov. 3:31; Ps. 11:5; Isa. 59:1; Jer. 22:3; Ezek. 8:17; John 3:8). When we use porn, we participate in this violence against those depicted – particularly vulnerable women and children. Studies show that users tend more toward violence themselves.
Exploitation of the poor: Exploitation of the poor: God especially advocates for the poor and afflicted throughout Scripture (Prov. 22:22-23; Amos 8:4ff; Ps. 82:3-4, 31:8-9). Porn exploits financially needy women.
Racism: the Bible portrays God’s design for an all-nations tapestry (Gen 11:1-9; Rev. 21-22) and opposes those who racially discriminate in the preaching of the gospel (Acts 6:1-7; 10). In Christ’s death, God reconciles hostility between peoples (Gal. 2:1-14; Eph. 2:11-22; Col. 3:11), whereas porn cultivates the worst racial stereotypes, mocking and degrading individuals based on ethnicity, dehumanizes God’s image-bearers, and promotes division and contempt.
Sexual sins: While consuming porn, we indirectly participate in the adultery and sexual immorality of those filmed. If we’re married, we destroy the exclusive oneness of our intimate physical union. Jesus says that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28) meaning even imagining a sexual act with someone to whom we are not married is sin because we have no marriage covenant with that person.
Deceit: God’s holy people are to speak and live honestly to reflect the God of light (1 John 1:7). Hiding porn use brings darkness into relationships.
Relationships redeemed: To our porn-saturated culture, which objectifies people and encourages women’s domination for men's sexual pleasure, Jesus comes to restore relationships to their creational intent: men and women were created in God’s image and sent to rule over creation together as God's representatives (Gen. 1:26-31). Jesus tells us to serve, not to dominate each other (Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45). God commands all believers to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” and live out God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman (Eph. 5:21-33).
With porn use identified as a health crisis, the church can model living in God's redemptive light by facing the ungodly realities created by a porn culture. Our porn usage may well be a personal issue, but as churches we can no longer allow it to be a private issue. The HSR provides some practical steps in living within such a culture and offering pastoral care by:
Regularly teaching children, youth, and adults the beauty of human sexuality found throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, including the Song of Songs with its beautiful depiction of a healthy sexual relationship.
In public worship, confess our porn use and intercede regularly for porn users, their families, and people who suffer abuse because of porn.
Care for people abused in porn with nonjudgmental presence and support; help with undeserved shame; model lament and seek God’s nurturing love.
Comfort spouses feeling adulterously betrayed and also give support to elders and small groups as they confront the porn user.
Give porn users hope for healing and practical help to repent of and to leave their sin.
Support parents of porn users who need help in loving their child as God loves and in enabling their child to recover from the effects of porn use.
These practical steps are fleshed out more fully in the HSR. A challenging, yet encouraging special word is provided for various groups affected by porn. This section in particular would be beneficial to read in full as situations arise and counsel is needed. Additional resources are also listed.