“Look at this sex-obsessed culture.”
Christians say something like this all of the time. They look at films, books, TV shows, and news stories and they see an overflowing of sexuality that reigns free and open.
In some cases, it’s not hard to see why. The fanfare surrounding the Fifty Shades series, though it has since abated, left little doubt as to the preoccupations with middle America. To take a more recent example, Guillermo Del Toro’s film The Shape of Water, which recently led the Academy Award nominations with 13, has been described by reviewers on the website Letterboxd as:
“What if Amelie, but fish sex?”
“A movie for everyone who thought Edward Scissorhands would’ve been a good movie if only it had had a maniacal villain, nudity, and Scissorhands/Winona sex scenes — and then announced that the only really valid interpretation of the film was the one about sex.”
“Don’t even get me started on softcore fish-porn”
Now admittedly, I have not seen the film. But this is just a recent example of a successful cultural item that, at least at face value, indulges in a liberated sexuality. But like with so many sins, we don’t actually need to look outside the church to find evidence of this. We need only look inside our own walls.
Confession = Praise?
Case in point: Andy Savage. The megachurch pastor recently confessed to “a sexual incident” that allegedly happened with a minor while he was a 22-year-old youth pastor two decades ago. At best, it was placing a teenage girl in a position where she would have felt pressured to engage in sexual activity with him, a person in a position of authority. When Savage confessed this wrongdoing to his church as “an incident,” he was met with a standing ovation.
Now, here’s the thing: I don’t know every detail of the Andy Savage story. What I do know is if his accuser’s story is true, the church Savage was working with at the time silenced her, even though he was fired for the incident, and she has since been met with no apology from him (despite his public claims to the contrary). If what Savage claims is true – that it was a consensual act when he was 22, in a position of authority, and she was 17 – it still constitutes a very serious case, and he was given a standing ovation for it.
But this article isn’t about Andy Savage; or at least, not him only. Instead, it’s about the broader problem of culture that idolizes sex, and the ways we have allowed, and continue to allow, sexual sin free reign within the church. We do this when we silence victims and empower abusers. We do this when we preach on premarital sex but not on lust, the responsibility of men to control themselves, and the incomparable value of women. And we do this when we neglect to talk about the overwhelming problem of pornography.
None of this is to say that we should turn a blind eye to sexual sin in the broader culture. But it is to say that we have problems within the church. And sometimes, lines like “Just look at this sex-obsessed culture” are smokescreens to divert us away from dealing with our own internal issues. Do not misunderstand me: we need to do both. Sin outside the church should be exposed just as much as sin inside the church. But my fear is that we just focus on exposing it outside so that we don’t have to deal with what’s inside.
So where do we start? There are three areas that I would like to suggest that the church needs to do better at combatting sexual sin within our own walls.
Stop Empowering Sexual Predators
Churches are infamously targeted by child molesters. Why? It’s simple: churches are trusting and forgiving places. It’s not unheard of for abusers to be found out, come forward the next Sunday, and then continue attending church without consequence. This is important: sexual offenders, and child predators in particular, are very, very good at faking penitence and sorrow. It’s true that Christians are to be forgiving. But it’s also true that Christians are called to protect those who can’t protect themselves, and that certainly includes our children. The same Jesus who called us to forgive also told his disciples to be “shrewd as serpents,” and we need to handle these issues with more wisdom. That means minimizing opportunities for potential abusers to get private access to kids, it means taking issues to the authorities when these situations arrive, and it means taking allegations seriously.
Start Empowering Victims
It is true that God offers forgiveness for sins of all kinds to those who answer His call. But it is also true that forgiveness of sin does not make the consequences of that sin disappear. In some cases, and especially in cases of abuse, it could be that a church leader is forgiven of his sin, yet has grossly disqualified himself for leadership. When we do not acknowledge that fact, we’re not embracing a biblical model of forgiveness. Instead, we’re placing the well-being of the abuser above the well-being of the victim. We need to create spaces where victims can feel safe and ready to heal. That certainly means that abuse needs to be brought to the police, and at minimum it means that a victim should not feel pressured to attend the same congregation as her abuser. This may be a controversial statement, but I think it’s true: someone who has committed something as terrible as sexual abuse has forfeited the right to attend the same church with his victim, even if he has repented. A friend of mine recently said that a good litmus test for how we deal with these situations is to ask “What would the victim think?” That will certainly get us moving in the right direction.
Confront the Epidemic of Pornography
The average age of exposure to pornography is dropping like a rock. It’s now about 11 years old, but some social activists suggest that this number is too high. Data from The Novus Project suggests 8-11 is more accurate. The same organization also reports that 90% of men age 18 or older have been exposed to pornography, and 60% of women. And this isn’t reserved for secular people only. The Barna Group found that almost six in 10 young adults regularly use pornography, and when viewing only men, that number increases to 67%. That number is lower for practicing Christians, but even in the church, 41% of teenage boys and young men are regular users of pornography. In short, even in religious households, kids see pornography and get hooked on it, and it lasts into adulthood. The results of this are dangerous. The anti-pornography group Fight the New Drug has a lot of good resources on the negative impacts of pornography, which include the normalizing of sexual violence and subjugation, and increasing negative attitudes towards the value of women. Because pornography is extremely addictive, it should be dealt with firmly, but also compassionately. Not unlike drug addictions, many are caught in these cycles who don’t want to be, but have failed to pull themselves out by their own strength. We need an approach that enables them to seek out help without compromising biblical morality.
All three of these items could be their own articles, and may be in the near future. But the primary point is pretty clear: while we can and should point out the declining sexual moors of the greater culture, we have very real problems that we also need to deal with that are within our own walls.
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture, as well as co-hosting the A Clear Lens Podcast. In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Cross Culture, the host of the Cross Culture Podcast, and the author of three novels. He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.