Porn Harms Spiritually

The ultimate problem with pornography is its inescapable spiritual harm. The Bible paints a clear picture of healthy sexual relationships conducted within marriage as God’s ideal. Porn use compromises this. It also compromises holiness and purity, honesty, self-control, and love. Anyone who uses porn:

  • Promotes the pornographic industry
  • supports the endless chain of victims it creates
  • allows their mind and body to be altered
  • is enslaved to selfish thinking and behaviour
  • dishonours other people (mainly women)
  • is hypocritical
  • has a diminished capacity to wholeheartedly commit to the will of God.

Considering the evidence that a large percentage of habitual users are in the church (mainly men, and especially young people), it follows that the spiritual health of that church is greatly limited and our future leaders in waiting are already compromised. Without drastic attention, the general outlook for the church is very bleak.

That said, we want to affirm two powerful truths from the Bible which need to be declared clearly to porn users:

God provides grace and forgiveness

Most Christians are aware that pornography is not right, and feel deep guilt and shame about using it. There is no sexual sin that God can’t forgive. If anyone is burdened by guilt, God calls them to turn to Jesus and seek his forgiveness. His death on the cross has already paved the way for complete forgiveness, and when a person wholeheartedly repents, God will forgive them.

Ps 51; Isa 1:18; Rom 5:6-8, 8:1, 38-39; 1 Jn 1:7-9, 2:1-2

The Spirit empowers you to change

The Bible is clear that Christians have the Spirit of Christ in them, who seeks to change our minds and hearts to be like Jesus. There is real and effective change available for people enslaved to sin. We know that long term pornography use causes real damage to the brain, such that addictive behaviours are much harder to control. God doesn’t promise to instantly undo all the consequences of our past actions, nor remove future temptations from us (in this life anyway), but he does promise to walk with us in the process of change, using his Word and Spirit to recraft our hearts and minds like Christ. 

Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 6:11, 10:13; 2 Cor 4, 9:6-14; Phil 4:6-8; James 4:7-8

How does porn compromise us spiritually?

Porn compromises good sex

God designed sex. Sexual activity was designed for heterosexual marriage, and when reserved for a life-long committed and exclusive relationship, and selflessly expressed for the enjoyment of the other, will help bond the marriage, and reinforce the exclusivity of their commitments. (See Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 7:2-9; Heb 13:4; 1 Thess 4:2-6).

Pornography takes sexual gratification away from that lifelong bond, and applies it selfishly, causing:

  • reduced desires for the other partner
  • increased insecurities
  • unrealistic expectations
  • the fracturing of trust and commitment

In short, pornography is a corruption of God’s good sexuality. It promises greater enjoyment and freedom, but is counterfeit, and will inevitably reduce one’s long-term enjoyment of sex, marriage and life.

Porn compromises self-control

One core goal God has for Christians is that they live a life of self-control and discipline so they can wholeheartedly follow him. Habitual use of pornography for self-gratification means God is not first in our thoughts and actions. This puts a wedge between us and God, compromising:

  • our prayer life
  • our willingness to resist other sins
  • our determination to prioritise our time and resources for loving his people
  • our support of the mission promoting his Kingdom.

As Jesus aptly put it, you cannot serve two masters. If pornography masters us, we are not serving God (see 1 Thess 4:4; 5:6-8; 1 Cor 6:-12-20; Gal 5:23; 1 Pet 1:6; 4:7; 5:8; Tit 2:2-12).

Porn compromises purity

Self-control goes hand in hand with purity (Tit 2:5), and it is clear that God wants our self-control to lead to godliness (2 Pet 1:6). The Bible stipulates that God hates all sin, and calls us to likewise hate evil but love good (Rom 12:8; Amos 5:14-15, Phil 1:10; 4:8). Whenever sinful culture, like pornography, becomes normalised, we lose sense of God’s holiness, purity and revulsion to sin. We lose zealousness for his glory (Rom 12:11, 1 Pet 1:15).
Ultimately, pornography and sexualised culture stunt our spiritual growth. Selfish sexuality is idolatry and a rival to God. We should pay close attention to the warning given to Timothy in 1 Tim 4:16 about his own godliness.

Pornography compromises sound doctrine

At a personal level, a mind saturated with pornography physically changes. It corrupts tastes, desires and capacity for self-control, and it dramatically alters one’s life interests over time. Pornography can affect academic outcomes, including memory.

More broadly, Christian communities adapt to the trends of the day. Paul warned us about this: 

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Concerning Christian doctrine, the Bible affirms that God’s word doesn’t change (1 Pet 1:25), rather it is our minds which need to change (Rom 12:2; Col 3:16; 1 Tim 6:3-5). Pornography erodes and undermines our minds such that the clarity of God’s teaching blurs and distorts. We should never forget the Bible’s warning about changing God’s word in Gal 1:8-9 and Rev 22:18-19. Rather, we should be encouraged by Phil 4:8 and Tit 2:11-12 that dwelling on good things, especially the gospel of Christ, will reap good and godly results. 

Pornography compromises our love

God’s ultimate design for all people is that we unconditionally love (Matt 22:47-40; Jn 13:34; 1 Jn 3:11). Christian love is not about feelings, but actions that always seek the good in others before ourselves (Phil 2:3-5). Jesus exemplifies this love through dying on the cross, absorbing the punishment of human offences against God, providing unconditional forgiveness and eternal life to any who trust him (Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 4:10).

Pornography shows unloving disregard to a number of people, most importantly:

  • The people involved in pornographic production – people who are vulnerable, and made in the image of God.
  • Our marriage partners, present or future, who rightly feel the weight of broken trust upon discovering pornography use. Our marriage vows declare ‘forsaking all others’, and anything contributing to our spouse’s insecurities, objectification or physical and emotional safety is simply unloving. 
  • Society. God loved this world in Jesus (Jn 3:16-17). The Bible teaches us that God is a God of order (1 Cor 14:33), and that he ordains civil authorities to maintain justice (Rom 13:1-7) and peace (1 Tim 2:2). Loving Christians are to uphold civil order (1 Pet 2:13) and contribute positively to society (2 Thess 3:11-12). We call this the Common Good.
    Pornography, however, deteriorates society—as can be seen in movies, music, advertising, education, and general attitudes and behaviours. The widespread consequences of sexualisation and objectification, narcissism and insecurities are clearly visible, as well as a reduced empathy for those who fall victim to porn culture (from those in the ‘industry’ through to broader sexual exploitations like child-sexual abuse, prostitution, and trafficking). Any Christian who consumes pornography contributes to its market which ultimately deteriorates the common good.
  • God. As Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 6:19-20, Christians are God’s possession. But when we use ourselves contrary to his will, for our own gratification, we reject him.

Pornography compromises Christian community

When pornography effects multiple people in a given community, it follows that the individual consequences are amplified. There are no formally published statistics for pornography use in Sydney Anglican Churches, but there is no reason to suppose our numbers differ from the Western society, including the Barna Group findings [1]. It is highly likely that there is a high proportion of spiritually incapacitated members in your local congregation.

Churches affected by pornography will struggle to move forward in:

  • mission
  • commitment to volunteering
  • prayerfulness and godliness

A church community with unaddressed porn use faces risks of:

  • less secure families
  • hypocrisy
  • Congregation members abandoned at their time of need
  • sexual misconduct
  • Compromised leadership

What the numbers say about pornography and the church:

  • 77% of pastors feel guilty for using porn [1]. Active church attendees who use pornography do suffer higher levels of guilt and unhappiness than the general population [2].
  • Porn reduces a Christian’s spiritual coping, especially their ‘connectedness’ to God. Additionally, Christian porn users are less likely to seek help, opting for spiritual isolation.[3]
  • Perceived addiction to pornography negatively affects a Christian user’s self-esteem, and contributes to more anger, including anger at God [4], as well as their general religious and spiritual health [5].
  • Conversely, and unsurprisingly, people with a more active spirituality were less likely to watch pornography.[3]
  • 75% of youth pastors and 64% of senior pastors say that porn has negatively impacted their ministry at some time.[1] Christians in general are more likely to perceive their pornography use as addictive, and negative, compared to the general population.[6]
  • Interestingly, someone’s religious identity does not change the amount of pornography used.[6]
  • A Christian parent’s porn use does affect their child’s faith. Research suggests it is fathers who are the primary agents of various negative outcomes.[7, 8] including:
    • less time spent with children discussing and reading religious materials
    • less time spent religiously socialising the child
    • a reduced passing down of religious heritage
  • Pornography use negatively affects the spiritual health of Christian marriages. On average, marriages with (at least) one pornography user pray together less often. More disturbingly, marriages where one partner has excessively high use of pornography have higher rates of prayer than unaffected couples – suggesting a fundamental dissonance between the personal conduct and public identity [9].

Credits

1. https://www.barna.org/blog/culture-media/barna-group/porn-press-conference#.VrS9OrSJndl., J.M.M., The Porn Phenomenon: A Comprehensive New Survey on Americans, the Church, and Pornography. 2016, Barna Group: Ventura, California.

2. Patterson, R. and J. Price, Pornography, Religion, and the Happiness Gap: Does Pornography Impact the Actively Religious Differently? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 2012. 51(1): p. 79-89.

3. Picone, D.E., The Relationship of Shame, Guilt, and Religiousness to Pornography Use. 2016, Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology: Ann Arbor. p. 73.

4. Wilt, J.A., et al., Associations of Perceived Addiction to Internet Pornography with Religious/Spiritual and Psychological Functioning. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 2016. 23(2-3): p. 260-278.

5. Grubbs, J.B., et al., Internet Pornography Use, Perceived Addiction, and Religious/Spiritual Struggles. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2017. 46(6): p. 1733-1745.

6. Grubbs, J.B., et al., Perceived addiction to Internet pornography and psychological distress: Examining relationships concurrently and over time. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2015. 29(4): p. 1056.

7. Perry, S.L. and K.J. Snawder, Pornography, Religion, and Parent–Child Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2017. 46(6): p. 1747-1761.

8. Perry, S.L., Pornography Consumption as a Threat to Religious Socialization. Sociology of Religion, 2015. 76(4): p. 436-458.

9. Perry, S.L., Pornography Use and Religious Bonding Among Heterosexually Married Americans: A Longitudinal Examination. Review of Religious Research, 2017. 59(1): p. 81-98.

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