Denny Burk teaches at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He writes and blogs about current events and cultural trends from an evangelical perspective and has a lot of good things to say. His piece earlier this week about pornography really caught my attention because of its application for our churches. The fact is pornography is the great undercurrent pulling at many men (and some women) and students in our churches. I’m approached by men wrestling with pornography on a regular basis and have walked with many of them through their personal bondage into freedom. Our Student ministry continuously deals with it as well—teens today are immersed in a porn culture from an early age and it has a devastating impact on them.
Earlier this week Burk published a blog reacting to the cover story in the newest edition of Time magazine called Porn and the Threat to Virility. The story is for subscribers only so I can’t link directly to it; besides, it’s too explicit for me to quote at length. But Burk pulls out a few important points from it then gives some insight into the research behind the article as well as the cultural shift it represents. What I mean by that is when a major—and secular—news magazine recognizes the subtle but devastating impact pornography is having on our nation, that’s a huge change. Up until recently, while evangelicals have recognized the moral danger of pornography, the nation as a whole has generally tolerated it. Time’s story makes it clear how that perspective is changing:
A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic—more prone to permanent change—than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.
In his blog Burk brings additional insight to Time’s article:
Pornography has been a ubiquitous fixture in their [American young men] lives for the better part of a decade. Two dates are important to remember in this discussion. In 2007, broadband internet reaches over 50% of American households. In 2013, smartphone ownership exceeds 50% of the population. That means that at some point around 2007, more Americans than not had access not simply to still images but to free video images of people engaged in sex acts. By 2013, more Americans than not had access to video porn at any time and at any place through their smartphone. The average age that a young man first encounters pornography is 11-13 years old. That means that countless young men have spent the better part of the last decade with access to moving porn. For many of them, everything they have learned about sex has come from pornography. Their sexual preferences have been shaped by this content.
All of us in local church ministry see the damage pornography is doing to men of all ages but especially younger men. It robs them of the capacity to relate to their wives in mature ways. It erodes their ability to exercise spiritual leadership in their homes. It keeps them from appreciating the beauty and grace of marriage. It corrodes their sense of moral conviction in other areas of their lives. All this is in the biblical framework of how sin holds people in bondage and keeps them from the fullness of God’s blessing.
I can’t help but to believe that the well documented decline in male church involvement in modern American churches is in some measure caused by the widespread use of pornography. A Christian man whose imagination is captured by images of sex acts on a computer screen or a smartphone will sooner or later be seduced from his higher calling to follow Jesus.
For these reasons Burk calls pornography a civilizational calamity:
I am not being hyperbolic when I call porn use a civilizational calamity. The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood.
The response of evangelical churches to pornography has been more direct and effective than many people realize. While the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to Sunday morning sermons, it is a topic of Student group Bible studies, men’s meetings and lots of one-on-one conversations. But we need to do more. If even the secular press is beginning to wake up to the mortal dangers pornography poses to our society, the church can’t afford to be silent.