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Sex, porn, marriage & divorce

I was trying to think of a snappy title and I couldn’t so I just put all the key words in the headline. But it also captures a simple fact that all four are a feature of modern life whether we like it or not and they are all increasingly tangled up.

Let’s start with pornography which is freely available in vast quantities to anyone who wants to look at it. Here are a few reasons why (without referring to the Bible) that we should be wary of porn.

The first reason stems from massive self-interest. Watching porn will change how you have sex and not in a good way. The article I linked to here expresses approval of porn in some ways, which I don’t, but it points out a few key things. Real sex becomes less satisfying, women become objectified and less important in sex, porn does unhelpful things to your brain and may get you addicted. For a better articulation of the same issue from a Christian perspective read: The future of sex.

The second reason is that the pornography industry is essentially built on the exploitation and often abuse of women. It also leads to the increased exploitation and abuse of children. Let’s boil it down to its ugliest form – rich men who consume child pornography are often exploiting the poorest. Those men will hope to get a millstone from Jesus come judgement day except that would be better (Matthew 18:6).

I’d urge you to read this powerful essay ‘What Jeffrey Epstein Got Right’ which argues that men exploiting children is an age-old problem and only one thing in world history has ever fought against it.

It is only in biblical monogamy that one can find a standard that protects women and children from predators. It is only if law requires and social custom adheres to Christian monogamy can one have a society that upholds the dignity of men and women created as God’s image and likeness.

We’ve jettisoned this heritage. Now everything goes.

The most likely response (if any) to these type of articles in our current prevailing moral climate would be to try and create more ‘ethical porn’ rather than seek to abolish it. If they did there are already Christians willing to defend that.

Bolz-Weber claims (with some justification) that “There are people who say it’s sexual immorality, but if you take Liberals and Conservatives who show outrage and made a Venn diagram of those who consume pornography, you’d see a huge overlap.”

But that’s not entirely true. Sociological data suggests that churchgoing men engage pornography at a vastly lower rate than others. It would be great to say that we don’t engage at all but that sadly isn’t true. In fact the article goes as far to say that:

Protestant men today who attend church regularly are basically the only men in America still resisting the cultural norm of regularized pornography use.

Let’s keep resisting. Also if you want a resource to help you talk to your kids about pornography this one comes recommended.

But our resistance is, in the West, at least a weak and patchy affair. This is where attitudes about porn cross over into practices about sex and marriage. Take this example that David Ayers offers from some new research into the habits of young American Christians.

For example, when one of five evangelical Protestant females between the ages of 18 and 22 admit to allowing young men to have anal sex with them, and even more evangelical males of that age group say they have done so with women, this is disturbing and something I do not believe most older folk even imagine is happening.

Aside from the apparent habit these young Christians seem to have of adopting the Bill Clinton definition of what sex is it shows that the traditional Christian ethic of no sex outside of marriage is under severe strain. Trevin Wax argues this is because we’ve bought into some key assumptions from the world.

The problem is that we increasingly view our obedience or disobedience to this moral code within a larger framework of assumptions about sexuality that, ironically, line up with sexual-revolution ideology.

So, yes. Christians are right to resist the sexual revolution’s casting off of moral restraint and our society’s redefinition of marriage. But our resistance is futile if the fortress of Christian thought has been hollowed out from the inside—still standing but with thin and fragile walls—as we hold fast to biblical sexual restrictions that seem increasingly arbitrary and will eventually crumble under the new plausibility structures we already share with the world.

This confusion about the proper place for sex shows itself up in confusion about what marriage is. Wax argues that Evangelicals maybe More Revisionist on Marriage Than We Think and we need to make sure we understand marriage.

Marriage in western societies undergoing some seismic shifts. For example we all know that marriage used to be between a man and a woman but is no longer. But we used to think marriage was monogamous but that too is being challenged. Polyamory will increasingly been seen in public debate and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if sooner or later voices start questioning why polygamy is off the table.

Marriage is also increasingly something that only educated and generally financially secure people do. Those less well educated and less well-off opt for more unstable co-habiting relationships believing that to be just as good and perhaps put off by the ever escalating cost of weddings. Divorce has decreased but only because marriage has declined. Break-up rates are probably as high if not higher than ever before. Here in Sweden almost half of all marriages end up in divorce and the average length of a marriage ending in divorce is just 11 years. If it ends by death then it’s 47.

So how should Christians respond to all this? A few thoughts. One we should make the case for marriage not over singleness but over other forms of relationships forcefully, enthusiastically and energetically. A good marriage is good for your mental & physical health. And of course we should prepare properly those couples who are planning on marrying. This university has some good ideas.

But just talking about marriage is only a part of the picture or at least talking about marriage in a certain way. As Trevin Wax says,

Holding the line on same-sex marriage while succumbing to other aberrant views of sexuality is not Christian faithfulness and is not “courageous.” We must open our ears to the critique of our ancestors in order to reclaim the full inheritance of our counter-cultural vision of humanity and sexuality.

We must help single people see how to they can be Living a full life without sex (see also this book by Sam Allberry) and we must Celebrate Sexual Ethics Not Apologize for Them. Historic orthodox Christian sexual ethics are nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. We need to be confident in their vision for human relationships. As Andrea Palpant Dilley says and with which I agree wholeheartedly:

In the midst of this tumult, we risk losing sight of what the church has to offer: not just a critique of false teaching (although that’s needed) but an alternative model, a bold vision of how orthodoxy enables deep, well-ordered love. As we encourage others to “stay on the bank,” we have the privilege of pointing them toward a picture that reveals God’s purpose for human sexuality.

But we have nothing to apologize for. On the contrary, the orthodox vision of human sexuality is abundantly good, true, and beautiful and points toward health and healing. It’s key to discipleship inside the church. It also applies to evangelism outside the church as we think about how to extend Christ to our unbelieving friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues. God’s love is revealed in sexual ethics as much as it is revealed in any other facet of Christian witness—whether giving to the poor or providing hospitality for the stranger.

With great pride and joy, then, we can hold high an orthodox image of sexuality and champion what it has to offer. It protects the young, who are vulnerable to visions of disordered love. It liberates those caught in disordered relationships. It affirms the body as God made it. And it pictures the Holy Trinity in the union of male and female. We can, in effect, join with Christian history and nearly the entire global church in celebrating sexual ethics in their most enduring form, not to win a publicity battle but to enable the wholeness of everyone around us—ourselves included.

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