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Treading lightly…or Not

Written by: on March 7, 2019

As a strong, independent, outspoken, woman I’ve tried to approach Jonathan Grant’s text, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, with an open mind.  We can all acknowledge that many (dare I say most?) religious traditions have “subjugated” women. Religious restrictions and prohibitions on women have ranged from the openly oppressive and inhumane, to subtle limitations. Women have been blocked from leadership roles, banned from religious learning – and even secular education – forbidden to hold power, denied fair inheritance and land ownership, denigrated, physically dominated, and sometimes even forbidden to speak.[1]  For all of these reasons – and because I was unsure of the sexuality spin he would take towards women – I approached Grant’s book cautiously.

Turns out, Grant’s text is one of those books that I wish I had more time to fully read cover to cover.  Instead I’m having to critique this text solely by reading “around it” including multiple reviews and lay person feedback.  What is evident in every review is that Grant fully acknowledges the role of culture and sexuality and embraces the disciplines of sociology and psychology’s understandings of desire, sexuality, and relationship.   “The question isn’t whether our view of sex, sexuality, marriage, and relationships have been shaped by our culture, but how much.” [2]

Thank you to Jonathan Grant for this important and glaring acknowledgement “The yawning gap between how much time humans spend being affected by sex and sexuality, and how much time the church spends addressing it, is astounding.”[3]  Do I dare say that I believe the modern Christian church ignores sex and sexuality conversations because the struggle is real?  The Christian church is knee deep in persecution of specific “sins”, such as homosexuality and gender identity issues, but rarely broaches the even more damaging issues of lust, pornography, and adultery.  Have you read the statistics?  Are you aware that the rate of pornography use among married, Christian men is FAR HIGHER than secular men?  How hypocritical and how convenient that Christian churches, primarily dominated by male leadership, conveniently and intentionally avoid and ignore these topics.  And why?  Because their male constituents are made to feel more uncomfortable by discussing sexuality issues than discussing money and tithing.  And that is saying something!  Don’t get me wrong, women use pornography.  Children (both male and female) use pornography.  But as a general rule, adult men are the largest consumer.  As a therapist, who happens to be a woman, and has spent 26 years in social work practice, I can tell you that anecdotally the breakdown of the family is not about women working, or women having rights, or feminism, or gay marriage, or single parents.  The breakdown of the family is the lack of emotional connection in relationships often fueled by pornography.

Consider this excerpt written by Archibald D. Hart in 2002 for his article The Christian man’s battle with his sexuality.  Keep in mind that in 2002 online pornography was fairly new.  Fast forward seventeen years with easier and more access, social media accounts, and snapchat…

Pornography and cybersex. There is no greater threat to a healthy, let alone sanctified, male sexuality than pornography. It is devastating our Christian sons and creating an epidemic of addiction to sexually stimulating images. Through pornography and the related means of communication that it exploits, many men have developed or exacerbated what can only be described as “an obsessive/compulsive sexuality.” That is, men are engrossed in the physical aspects of human sexuality and they have come to obsessively act these out compulsively.

The average male growing up in today’s world is so bombarded by sexual stimulation (mainly through the sex-crazed media who have discovered that everything sexual sells better than anything else), that few men escape its influence.

Pornography also feeds unrealistic expectations for gratification, changes how men view women in that they are only seen as sexual objects, and fosters a nonrelational sexuality. This means that many men who have used pornography for a long time do not know how to relate to real women, and have great difficulty breaking the way they do it.

Pornography is only the tip of the iceberg. Cybersex is rapidly becoming the primary source of pornography. There are now literally thousands of Web sites that offer extremely explicit pornography that can be indulged in total privacy without anyone else knowing about it.

This has already become a significant temptation for Christian men—including pastors. Besides this, just around the corner there is an even more frightening prospect that will turret the current level of pornography into “virtual sex,” where computers connected to high speed Internet sites will be able to offer sex-hungry men a variety of sexual experiences in real time with “virtual” partners. This promises to be so addicting that it is bound to put substance abuse down on the list of social concerns.[4]

This writing may feel very “in your face”, but it’s not intended to humiliate, harm, or degrade humanity, specifically men.  Instead, I’m taking the Brené Brown approach to difficult and vulnerable conversation.  Church, moral panic and judgement doesn’t work (history has told us that again and again and yet we still think it will work…?).    “However, culture-warring ‘moral panic’ has done almost nothing to curb the use of porn or change people’s perceptions of it…” [5] There is shame and guilt connected to pornography use and there’s also addiction.  Sexuality is a complex and intimate need, desire, and part of our personhood.  Churches need to adopt a social posture of transparency, accountability and vulnerability sprinkled with joy, grace, and hope.  It’s a perfect opportunity to lean in to the gospel and the restorative power of Christ, rather than leaning out in avoidance or denial.

Grant’s last half of his text focuses on flourishing in sexuality.  The caveat is that it’s not just about sex and sexuality.  It’s about relationship, emotional intimacy, and community in today’s culture.  And don’t be fooled, not everything in cultural is intrinsically opposed to Christian values. For instance, the people who constitute “secular” culture often care more for the poor and oppose racism with more vigor than Christians do.[6] Grant affirms C. S. Lewis in noting “that it is not the taming of desire that will set us free but rather the unleashing and enlarging of true desire”. “And, of course, that “true desire” is found only in the One who truly satisfies every longing of the human soul. Discipleship and formation toward that end is the ultimate vision for human flourishing.”[7]

[1] http://www.humanreligions.info/women_as_objects.html

[2]  https://www.prestonsprinkle.com/blog/2016/12/2/divine-sex-a-review-part-1

[3]        Jonathan Grant. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015. 249.

[4] https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2002/07/the-christian-mans-battle-with-his-sexuality.html

[5] https://www.barna.com/research/porn-in-the-digital-age-new-research-reveals-10-trends/

[6]  Grant. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision. 249.

[7] Grant. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision. 249.

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

10 responses to “Treading lightly…or Not”

  1. Great post, Jean. And you are so right, pornography is so destructive to families. But thank you also for your hopeful, grace-filled response. I know that brining this into the light is the only way for people to know God’s victory over it. And getting to the root issue behind it–the longing for and fear of intimacy.

    How woud you advise church leaders to respond to this epidemic?

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jenn! I’m just baffled that the church avoids this topic so. And I’m convinced that it has to do with personal conviction. So many people (especially men) are using porn and it’s the dirty little secret. It will take courage and vulnerability to open up this “wound” but we must do it. Our flourishing is dependent upon it.

  2. Great post Jean! I’m so glad you highlighted the incredible epidemic and tragedy pornography has become in this country and around the world. You hit the nail on the head when you said…”The caveat is that it’s not just about sex and sexuality. It’s about relationship, emotional intimacy, and community in today’s culture.” We need to teach people how to attach to one another and find true intimacy instead of the false intimacy most are experiencing. Although I did not like some of the author’s subtle bias that came out against women (read mine & Jenn’s post), I think it is good that he is highlighting the need to teach and mentor our young people a different way to navigate our hypersexualized culture. Hope all is well with you and Ron 🙂

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Thanks Jake! We were on similar paths while writing our blogs. There were definitely biases in the text towards women. I just didn’t have the time or energy to take it all on!

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jean,

    I believe that you are correct that Grant’s perspective is far broader than simply human sexuality. He recognizes that ‘sex’ is one small, albeit important, aspect of human relations. What has happened, as much in the church as anywhere, is that we have myopically focused on physical intimacy to the detriment of human sexuality. And, where the Church should have been leading it has largely been shielding its eyes from arguably the most critical issue for human flourishing. How do you hope to open up the ‘floodgates’ so to speak in your own context to help Christians be more open about this subject?

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Dan, you pose the million dollar question!! If I only knew the answer…part of it is courage/vulnerability and there needs to be some strong Christian leaders who stand up and share their own struggles while calling on others to stand up and be authentic. As with all topics in the church, women don’t feel the freedom to share their hurts and struggles in marriage either…

  4. Hi Jean,

    Thank you for your insights and emphasis on the destruction porn creates in our lives.

    What has cultivated this voracious appetite that is satisfied in isolation and anonymity? As you indicate, “relationship, emotional intimacy, and community” are missing for many men and women. We need to take the risk of entering into real relationships and learn vulnerability.

    There are Christian responses to porn such as the xxxchurch.com site. But these are technical responses to the problem. I think cultivating real community is a more holistic and redemptive model.

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Thanks Mark! I agree completely…monitoring “behavior” is very different than fostering emotional intimacy. And the mask of pornography is really just a feel good addiction in the moment. Emotional intimacy (just like intimacy in relationship with God) is what is truly satisfying.

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, I am going to admit that I was tempted to skip responding to your post; not because of the pornography topic, but because I did not want to sound defensive regarding our difference of opinion regarding your first paragraph. However, though we have a few varying points, you did an excellent job of further demonstrating just one of the many challenges facing our modern church in regard to the topic of sex and pornography. About 12 years ago, there was a young man in our youth group that had participated in a week long sex-series I taught; who, at the end of the week, waited for everyone else to leave. I could tell he was bothered by something; however, before I could ask, he handed me his $200 hand-held gaming device that I knew he had bought only about a month earlier. He simply asked me to “remove the temptation.” It was when I realized that these devices had full internet access…as well as full pornography access. It was eating him alive to not be able to pass up the temptation.

    The struggle is real…and so is the danger. Thanks for a great post!

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great job Jean. It is astounding how much problems this issue gives us yet and yet churches only talk aobut this sporadically. Great ending tie in!

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