Pastors, Porn, and the Myth of the Moral High Ground

19 Mar
Billy Sunday (1861-1935)

Billy Sunday (1861-1935) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since leaving the Christian faith, one of the questions that has yet to be answered for me is this…

“Why is God so bad at making people good?”

I say this without malice or tongue in cheek.  I say it as someone who was drilled with the idea that a relationship with Jesus and knowledge of God’s word led to a Godly and abundant life.  But I found this to not be true.  For all the talk of morality and the need to make a stand as Christians, especially on issues of sexual purity, the Christian church is full of failure and hypocrisy on issues it proclaims as central to Godly living.

According to Ben Witherington, in a post on pastors and porn, over 50% of all pastors admitted to using internet porn.  Many of these same men (and sometimes women) are proclaiming changed lives and moral living, and yet they can not practice what they preach.  They are just as human and just as interested in human sexuality as the guy next door.

Shaming Those Who Admit It

When I managed a Christian bookstore, I saw firsthand the awkward and heavy-handed way that many Churches dealt with those who admitted to viewing porn.  In one instance, a customer of mine was fired as a worship leader when he confessed that he regularly viewed porn.  He confessed to the elders of the church, and in return for his honesty,  was fired and shamed until he left the church in humiliation.  Not to mention, the shame and embarrassment that surrounded his wife and kids once the gossip, I mean prayer chain, kicked into full swing.

In a twist of irony, about a month after he was run out of the church, I discovered that my boss was using the computers at my Christian Bookstore to view internet porn.  It was ironic, because he was one of the elders of the church that fired this guy.  When I confronted him about the porn pop-ups on the computer, he pretended not to know what I was talking about.  When I showed him the viewing history and the porn images that would upload, he still did not confess.

I went home that night and wrote him a letter, telling him that I knew he had been using the computers for porn.  I also told him if that he didn’t come clean, I would go to the elders of his church and report my concerns.  Within seconds of reading my letter, he was fearfully confessing his porn usage and practically begging me to not tell the elders at his church.

I really had no desire to put him through the ringer, considering he already had told his wife and would only face condemnation from his church.  I accepted his apology and let the whole matter pass.

The Moral Low Ground

I won’t belabor my point, but when it comes to sexual purity, as defined by Christian morals, the church in America has absolutely no moral authority.  The amount of hypocrisy concerning sex, porn, etc…is almost laughable.  But it’s not funny, because the church, while holding the average Christian to extremely high moral standards, and condemning those who fail, often times allows its leaders to wallow in the moral low ground in their own lives.

In my own life,my best friend’s wife committed adultery with a worship leader at my old SGM church.  He was soon divorced, but the worship leader convinced his wife to  get marriage counseling outside of SGM so he could maintain his “Godly” image and continue leading worship.

There was another friend who led worship and eventually became pastor in the Vineyard.  He was a regular user of internet porn and seemed to just give up at trying to overcome it.  So much for the Spirit filled life.

I could list a dozen more, but you get the point.

The hypocrisy of so many church leaders telling people to do one thing while being unable to follow their own advice is staggering.  And until the church quits condemning those who do not follow their views on sexuality, this hypocrisy will contine to erode any shred of credibility it may of had in our culture.

The myth of the moral high ground has been shown for what is, a Christian ideal that is not followed by those who supposedly are leading others  to it.

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12 Responses to “Pastors, Porn, and the Myth of the Moral High Ground”

  1. DCorpus March 19, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    I certainly respect your thoughts on this topic. However, the people who say they are Christians including pastors, or leaders of a church and are having affairs or viewing porn are not true Christians. A true Christian does not do these things the bible says. Those leaders of churches who condemn others when they are doing the same things should be ashamed. But just because so many so called leaders are not pure does not mean that anyone who wishes to follow God should abandon the faith. We make the choice to follow God because we desire that, not because we should be concerned about what others may think. I do agree with you about many church leaders who are hypocrites. However, I still do not think that one has to abandon the faith just because other people fail to live for God.

    • christianagnostic March 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      First off, for me personally, I didn’t abandon faith because of the shortcomings of Christian leaders-just to be clear.

      Secondly, to say that any Christians who view porn or have an affair is not a true Christian would mean that almost every Christian you meet is not a true Christian. Maybe this is how you feel, but I find this explanation to be unsatisfying.

      I could easily change my question from “Why is God so bad at making people good?” to “Why is God so bad at keeping false Christians out of church leadership?”. Either way, it’s not a very promising picture, in my opinion.

      • DCorpus March 19, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

        It is not God who is bad though. It is man who is bad. Is is the free will of man do wrong not God. Therefore it is man who has the choice of doing right or wrong. God does not force one to follow Him. He leaves that up to us. The scriptures also clearly teach that fornication will not inherit the kingdom of God. If one does not repent of their sin, the scripture teaches they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Obviously if one has an affair or is viewing porn they can be forgiven if one repents. To repent though is to not do it anymore.

        In response to your other point earlier, you can’t confidently assume that almost every christian views porn or has an affair. You may be basing this on so called christians but not genuine christians.

    • Recovering Agnostic March 19, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

      Oh wow, a No True Scotsman! I haven’t seen one of those in the wild for ages, and such a fine specimen too.

      • christianagnostic March 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

        Yes, the ever elusive true Christian argument. I’m afraid I just don’t enjoy going down the rabbit hole of debating who is and is not a “true Christian”.

        Seems to me, that every “true Christian” has a different criteria on who is and who is not such a being.

  2. ... Zoe ~ March 19, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    What a fantastic post. It is mind boggling that it has to be said, isn’t it.

  3. chad_decker March 20, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    Christian male here. Just discovered your blog.

    I strongly agree with the other respondents who said that true Christians wouldn’t be viewing porn or cheating on their spouses to begin with. The thing is, though… Although I’ve never sought out porn, my favorite TV shows are “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad” which glamorize serial killing and drug dealing respectively. I try to rationalize it but I can’t help but think a true Christian wouldn’t be watching THAT either. It’s like I’ve got this weird cognitive dissonance thing going on.

    Here are my thoughts on the porn crisis…

    There’s a Christian blogger I’ve been following for a few years. He’s a reformed guy. He has some professional and financial ties to the SGM crew but nevertheless, a lot of what he writes is Biblically solid so I’ve stuck with him for my morning reads.

    Anyway, maybe a couple of years ago, the dude starts writing blog entries about sex-related topics. Not overwhelming at first, but just enough to make me cringe. Then he gradually starts talking more and more about porn. Then he writes a book discussing porn. Even in a number of blog entries that ostensibly should have nothing to do with sex or porn, he’ll find a way to bring up the topic of pornography. He honestly seems to believe that virtually every Christian male (except him) seeks out porn. The dude is completely obsessed with it.

    My theory: He’s basically seeding the web with “sex talk” to drive more search engine traffic to his site and sell his porn-themed book (i.e. support, recovery, etc.). Sex sells. A number of reformed bloggers are playing this same game.

    It reminds me of the 1980’s when Christians were in a panic about Satanic Ritual Abuse going on in the church. There were all these polls and anecdotal evidence suggesting that this type of abuse was widespread. Turned out it was nothing. A few very isolated incidents here and there, but that’s it. But a lot of writers and speakers made good money profiting off this manufactured crisis. It’s not that these guys were fraudsters or profiteers. They believed what they were saying. But it turned out to be nothing.

    I can’t help but think that this whole “everyone is addicted to Internet porn” fad is going to follow a similar patten. Sure, there are probably some Christians out there who struggle with porn but I’ll betcha the number is closer to 1% not 50-some-odd percent. In short, I think the “porn crisis” is a fad.

    • christianagnostic March 20, 2013 at 1:54 am #

      Chad-

      I agree with you 100%…really I do. I think besides the average church goer or leader that views porn, there is also the assumption that every church going male is “addicted” to porn. I don’t believe this to be the case either.

      I think you are spot on when you make the comparison to the Satanic Ritual craze of the 80’s. Manufactured crises have been a driver of many a Christian best seller.

      you said

      I try to rationalize it but I can’t help but think a true Christian wouldn’t be watching THAT either. It’s like I’ve got this weird cognitive dissonance thing going on.

      Thanks for your honest assessment of your own entertainment choices…

      Thanks again for your comment!

  4. Donald Miller March 20, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    As I am beginning my journey through the Great Books of the Western Tradition, I’m discovering just how difficult, if not impossible, it is for anyone to live up to an “ideal.” Yet, I do think we can admire those who give it their best shot. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” as one of the texts in the canon says.

    I’ll give two non-Christian teachers as examples. One is Socrates. Socrates, at least as Plato depicts him, says as he is awaiting his execution that “the true philosopher loves death.” (Despite that, I really do think I can learn a thing or two by studying these guys.) So anyway, Socrates goes on to explain how the philosopher overcomes the temptations of the body, and so forth. Ahh, but before that, we discover that Socrates’ wife is with him, and breaks down. Socrates asks someone to take her back home. She leaves—carrying their child in her arms. Now, I happen to know where babies come from. SO. It seems our hero, the seventy year old fellow who has risen above the temptations of the body, fathered a child.

    🙂

    Another example is Epictetus. He’s the one who coined the Golden Rule. He’s a remarkable and important figure in philosophy. I like him. But, again, we have the ol’ human condition raise its head. During one of his lectures, he says that it’s the duty of every philosopher to repopulate the earth. One of his students asks him, “Can I marry one of your daughters?” Well, turns out Epictetus was an ardent bachelor—and actually more inclined to follow Socrates’ admonition than Socrates was.

    🙂

  5. Jstreis July 13, 2013 at 5:08 am #

    First, I love your blog. I too was raised Presbyterian (PCA) but have since abandoned the church in a somewhat scandalous way. I’m chuckling at all the comments that say “but a true Christian wouldn’t look at porn.” Like Christians are impervious to naked women (and men). Let’s go with Romans 3:23 in this thing.

    Sex does sell. It sells books to men, to concerned wives, girlfriends, and mothers. Everyone (especially otherwise deprived, sort-of vanilla Christians) wants to read about sex. They make bestsellers. All of James Dobson’s stuff about boys and hormones and puberty goes straight to #1 in the Christian bookstore. I mean, the church’s outcry and condemnation of ’50 Shades’ only made parents go out and read parts of the book while reminding themselves that their teenage daughter will never set eyes on it (but she has an iPhone, doesn’t she?) Anyway, sex sells.

    I think the biggest problem the church has with sex is all the time they devote talking about sex. And thinking about it. And not doing it. A politician just has to say the word “sex” or “abstinence” to get a congregation’s ears to perk up.

    What the church really needs to be concerned about is poverty, homelessness, the hungry, equality (ha) – all that LIFE and DEATH stuff that goes on in the world around them. Instead, they instill fear in parents and ban sex education from classrooms. I am not very political, but even I can see that there is a strong connection between fear, the church, and politics, and sex happens to be the link between a lot of this stuff.

    I know of a church that has KNOWINGLY hired a pastor with a past porn “problem” (got him fired from his last job). He claims that he is receiving continual counseling/accountability at his new job. He has every filter invented on his computer, etc. He hasn’t had incidents thus far.

    At this point in my life, I almost expect all men to do it, and you know, I don’t judge them for it. I hate that someone is producing that and selling their body, but hey, it’s their decision (in a twisted sort of way). When I hear a pastor preach about porn, I don’t weigh it as a heavier or lighter sin than stealing or lying or coveting (I’ve always been taught that “a sin is a sin”). But when a sin is actually committed, I would judge it based on the number of people it affects (and if I especially care for those people). If a pastor watches porn in private, a couple times – that’s dandy. If it’s an addiction that takes up a ton of his time with his family or doing his actual job, then I have a problem. The same goes for everything I guess. If he had an affair and it really hurt his wife and his kids, then that pastor sucks.

    I don’t know what any of this has to do with your post, but the church really does need to stop freaking out about sex. I know it’s in the Bible, but as far as ministering to their members, they are spending a disproportionate amount of time and money on the whole thing.

    • christianagnostic July 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      Thanks for your comment….I think your take on this issue is very pragmatic. I doubt many Christians would share your perspective, but for what it’s worth, I agree that way too much time and money is spent on the issue.

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