Porn

Pornography: “porn”–literally meaning
prostitute, implying distorted
or exploitive; “graphy”–writing,
pictures.

For a long time, pornography seemed
more of a tawdry embarrassment, an
ugly rash on the underbelly of society.
With the rise of the internet, two lethal
ingredients were added: easy access and
privacy. Pornography has exploded.

Pornography is a symptom of a larger
illness. Not just a general
coarsening of morality or
a desensitization of sexuality,
where we are bombarded
by sexual images
and innuendo everywhere,
all the time, although that
is true. The larger illness
is our human tendency to
view people as things, objects,
stuff, rather than
amazing, beautiful mysteries
created by God. Porn is
distortion, exploitation, the commodification
of people.

A group of Christian college boys decided
to hire a prostitute, not for sex, but just
to “talk with her,” perhaps even to share
Christ. Wacky idea? Probably. Inspired
as much by hormones as the Holy Spirit?
I would guess so. Nonetheless, when the
prostitute asked the young men, “What do
you want?” they responded, “Nothing really.
Just to talk and get to know you as a
person.” The woman flared up with anger
and replied, “You paid for my body, but no
one has access to my soul.” Intuitively she
understood that while her body was for
sale, her whole self was not on the market.
Wanting part of someone, but not all
of them–distortion, porn.

A recent retiree tells me that she is
obsessed by TV news. Raised to be civicminded,
taught to “read the Bible with
one hand and the New York Times with
the other,” she now is riveted to yet repulsed
by cable news. The same stories
repeated every 15 minutes. Voyeurism
masquerading as journalism. Molehills
made into mountains to feed the beast of
24-hour news. It drives her to despair,
but she can’t turn away. Pornography?

Economics as if People
Mattered
is the subtitle of
E.F. Schumacher’s classic
book Small is Beautiful.
Viewing people as production
units, cogs in the machine,
GNP enhancers–porno-economics. Economics
is complicated, but this
might be a good, simple
test for porno-economics:
do you, as a manager or supervisor,
know the name of
the person who empties your waste paper
basket at work?

Recently I heard a speaker say,
“Churches need a new scorecard. For too
long we’ve kept score at church according
to the M & M’s–membership and money.”
M & M’s–membership and money:
distorted, manipulative church. Pornochurch?

Athletes pressured to play when injured,
even at the risk of life-long damage,
who feel the need to use performance-enhancing
drugs or be replaced. Youth
teams that practice at 5 am. Family routines,
church schedules must bow before
the great and mighty athletics. Pornoathletics.

And what about the Song of Solomon,
that shamelessly erotic poem that somehow snuck into the Old Testament? “Your
two breasts are like two fawns.” Decades
in ministry does not prepare you to stand
in the pulpit and read this aloud to your
congregation. Is not this pornography
too?

Not at all. Song of Solomon is anything
but prudish. Lovers rhapsodize in
praise of their partner’s body. But the
startling descriptions it contains are
terms of endearment. Ellen Davis suggests
we are privy here to the couple’s
pillow talk, their intimate conversations.
Porn/distortion is when we describe people
we do not love by their body parts.
“Check out his….” “I’d like to get my
hands on her…” But in Song of Solomon
we have delightful poetry rooted in a relationship,
pet names whispered between
lovers, not lust from afar.

A few years back, my congregation
developed its “mission and values statement”–a tedious and trendy task. But
we stumbled on this helpful phrase: “We
value face-to-face interaction.” I don’t
think we just thought that up in a flash
of creativity. Rather I believe it is deeply
engraved on our souls because we know
that in Jesus Christ this is how God
comes to us–face to face. In the flesh.
Face to face is the antidote to porn/distortion
in all its forms.

Stephen Mathonnet-VanderWell is co-pastor of Second
Reformed Church, Pella, Iowa.