On Porn: A Catastrophic Pastoral Failure

If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.

— C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

I do not tolerate movies with nudity. What saddens me is the number of my Christian friends who think nothing of nudity in movies. It just seems so hypocritical to me to believe that God created everyone equal, and yet they attend movies whose nudity content turn women into mere objects.

— Fia Kilbourn, in a Christianity Today Movies article.

A personal word

I have a confession to make. I had been in contact with pornographic material during a large part of my life.

It started when I was a little boy, seeing those huge centerfolds posted at the wall of that cobbler shop where I went when my shoes needed fixing. It went on for the most part of my grade school, seeing those titillating Playboy covers hanging on street newsstands.

This deepened when I entered puberty. From that time on, I went through intermittent periods of building and stacking several skin mags. This brought a lot of grief in my life, because almost invariably those mags would be discovered by Mom, who had a strong disregard for the privacy requirements of any of her children. I am the only son of my family; my other siblings are two sisters, younger than me.

In those occasions Mom would enter to my room to inspect it. She did it when I was away, and she was ruthless in her inspection. She even went through my personal notebooks, my teenage love poems, everything; and of course she ended discovering my smut collection. That was the climax; at my return I was met with some funny looking stares from my mom and my sisters. Later on, I would discover that Mom got hold of my porn and burned it all in a great pyre. She then would lecture me, telling me that I was a “degenerate”, a pervert, and a sure candidate to burn in the flames of Hell. I had to exercise mortification of the flesh if I wanted the Virgin and all the Saints to rescue me from Purgatory at the end.

My dad? never raised a finger to correct or change anything. He just told me once, “hey, try to be more discreet because your Mom is very upset over such things”; yeah, as if discretion could survive without privacy. As I grew older, I found better and safer methods for stacking my mags, so thankfully this ceased to be a problem. I loved my mags; some were highly satisfying in a sort of way.

When I was a teenager, I also went to some seedy theaters downtown. This led to some funny encounters when I found some acquaintance in the proximities, doing some work or some errand in the office buildings, and he or she stopped to greet me…

When I became an evangelical Christian twelve years ago, this predilection for pornography almost disappeared. Almost. But not totally. For some years I maintained a stash of titillating magazines, until one day I decided to do something about it. At the next early morning, a neatly-folded, carefully-wrapped package showed up at one neighbor’s garbage can, to be picked by the 8.00am garbage truck. And I am in a constant struggle to keep my purity ever since. As you might conclude, I know what pornography consumption is.

A pastoral failure

Now, Christians consuming pornography is not something uncommon. In a society full of eroticized messages and a sexual ethic damaged beyond every possibility of repair, this is something that should be expected. A cursory reading of Romans 7:15-23 should hint at that; and this is strenghtened by the doctrine set forth by questions 5, 8 and 13 of the Heidelberg Catechism. We should really adopt the School of Holy Cynicism’s motto so brilliantly conceived by my brother Ed Hurst: Mankind is fallen. Sinners will sin.

However, an examination of the usual responses at the discovery of pornography in the life of a Christian would belie that. There is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of self-righteous finger pointing, a loud hollering decrying the enormity of the sin committed. This is usually followed by a chain of destruction involving everything from divorces to firings, and the sinner becomes a leper, a pariah, a “pervert.”

Most of the responses are somewhat understandable, and please note that I do not identify them as products of hipocrisy, even though they might be. What I have to say is that any response to sin that tends to reinforce feelings of self-righteousness in persons close to the sinner, and creates a leper, a pariah, is evil in and out of itself, and is tantamount to a pastoral failure of catastrophic proportions.

As in most cases, this pastoral failure leaves casualties: men, women, children, families, and whole communities of faith. And I would like that to change, and for that reason I intend to explore in upcoming posts some connotations of the phenomenon of pornography in the life of Christians. My analysis will be, of course, totally one-sided, biased by my own experience and convictions, and perhaps I might not be completely sensitive to perspectives from other groups of people. However, I sincerely regard my concerns as pertinent, and I don’t see that the Church is addressing them properly.

My intention is to conduct this exploration engaged in full conversation with you. Such an issue requires respectful dialogue. May the LORD be glorified through all of this, and may He deliver all of us from evil.


  1. This is an excellent topic to take on. There is a lot of myth and misunderstanding in the evangelical community on this which leads to a greater chance of our leaders falling into this sin. I believe that franker discussions on the topic lead to greater understanding and ability to protect each other. We are beings created for community and pleasure in God.

    Have you run into http://xxxchurch.com? I was at a conference where one of their folks shared the principals of their ministry. I’m not sure I agree with their methods, but I think they are onto a serious need in our world and respect their desire to serve God in ministry to the porn industry and to making churches more aware of porn issues. This might be catalyst to further branch out in your discussion.

  2. Thanks for the endorsement, namesake. We have the Victorian Age to thank for so much of the hypocrisy in this. The various forces in our modern Western society do their best to draw varying lines, all artificial, and carefully avoiding the genuine biblical standards. Most Western Christians today are truly messed up on this subject. Just addressing one small part of it took quite a few words, also which Eduardo graciously linked some time ago (children and porn). Go, Eduardo!

  3. Josiah: Thanks for your kind words. Please pray for wisdom as I take on this subject.

    As for that ministry you happen to mention: Yes, I am acquainted with their webpage. In my evaluation they offer an invaluable help for persons involved in the production and consumption of pornography. However, I still have some core disagreements with them about their pastoral practices; and those stem from the fact that some of their remedial measures do not depart from traditional ways as much as I would like them to do.

    Ed: Thanks again! Indeed, most of the sorry mess we are into this regard comes from the Victorian Age; but there is a lot to be blamed on spurious Neo-Platonism, in my opinion. Keep praying for wisdom, my friend.

  4. Christian men are still only human males and naturally have an intense interest in sex. The Christian church has virtually demonized sex causing some real physiological problems in people. I don’t know but I suspect that men, single or married, that have a very healthy sex life probably don’t indulge very much in porn. You can’t fight the fact that we are sexual beings and you are not going to make those urges go away by prayer or wishful thinking.

  5. Porn is sin to be repented of like any other sin, repentance is not a tollerant term.
    Sin is to be preached against just today as Jesus and the appostles preached against it in the beginning of the church and
    especially in the church.

  6. Danny: Thanks for stopping by! Your insight is very interesting, although I would disagree. Indulgence in porn would come not only from a disinteresting sex life (in many cases it’s not, judging from what I know from personal experience). There are the inner tendencies of each person, and believe me, there is also the aesthetic appreciation of erotica. My point is, there are many, many reasons to indulge in porn and a healthy sex life could help, but by no means is a great protection against it.

    Dave: Thanks for stopping by, too! What you say is not under discussion. Your comment is one of the presuppositions behind this series.

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