Saturday, June 15, 2013
Theological Reflections on Pastoral Pornography
I compiled these reflections for the work of a task force I am participating in on the topic of treating habitual pornography use in pastors, and thought perhaps they might be beneficial for others if they were also made available here:
The starting point for any question of sexuality for the Christian is always the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” This commandment not only demands that man “lead a sexually pure and decent life,” but also that “husband and wife love and honor each other,” but, as we confess in the liturgy, this decency and honor are to be carried out “in thought, word, and deed.”
Throughout the Old Testament, from Job’s making “covenant with [his] eyes not to look lustfully at a girl,” to King David’s ill-advised glance at Bathsheba, its consequent calamities, and their son’s admonition in the Song of Songs not to awaken sexual desire prematurely; from Ezekiel’s description of the Israelites’ lust after their Egyptian captors to Hosea’s divinely-mandated marriage to the prostitute Gomer, the dangers of lust are demonstrated and the relationship is established that adultery and idolatry go hand in hand.
Jesus gives this idea New Testament expression in no uncertain terms when He declares, “You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you, if a man even looks upon a woman with lustful intent, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In saying this, He gives us absolute certainty that there is not a certain plain which one may not cross or a certain base that one may not round. Instead, the moment that the desire is entertained or the intent is formed, the sin has already been committed.
The Apostle Paul warns similarly in Ephesians that there should not even be “a hint” of sexual immorality among Christians, and to Timothy that young men and women ought to treat one another like siblings outside of marriage. Although there may be differing degrees of earthly consequences, pornography, “adult” entertainment featuring live nudity, physical extra-marital affairs, and even inappropriate fantasies about other people who remain fully-clothed, are all, spiritually speaking, sinful violations of God’s intentions for human sexuality.
While our identity as Christians and as Church is not found in our morality, nor are we to consider ourselves superior to those whose immorality is of a different, less socially-acceptable, variety than our own, out of love for our neighbor, we confess the goodness of God’s design of our physical bodies and His intent for the marital union exclusively between a husband and wife. We likewise confess that any thought, word, or action which breaks or interferes in this union is contrary to His will and not to be entertained by Christians.
God institutes all of the horizontal relationships of human life (parent-child, pastor-congregation, government-citizen, etc.) to be reflections of the greater vertical relationships between God and humanity or Jesus and His Church, and whenever an alteration occurs, whether to the number or the identity of the participants (even if only in thought or fantasy) they fail to reflect the greater divine truth as he intended. Among these relationships marriage is a particular reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Church as described by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5.
There is one Christ and one Church just as there is one husband and one wife. Christ does not have many churches or fantasize over other churches, nor is He satisfied to dwell alone, apart from His Church. Likewise, the Church does not have many saviors or fantasize over other saviors, nor does she satisfy her own needs alone, apart from Christ.
As pornography allows one to achieve sexual gratification based on the image of a partner other than one’s own spouse, it certainly constitutes adultery by Scriptural definition. Furthermore, it causes the practical consequence of relational destruction between husbands and wives, parents and children, pastors and congregations. In doing so, it causes pain and division between individuals and places barriers between the earthly vocations through which God desires to bless us and illustrate His fatherly care and deliver his forgiving grace.
This affliction is particularly damaging when the man guilty of such sins is a pastor, because by causing scandal in the congregation it has the potential to become an obstacle to the reception of God’s forgiving grace which is dispensed there. A fit pastor is therefore described in Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus as being “a one-woman man.” Just as Christ is devoted to His Church, so also is a man to his wife. While this expectation is true for every Christian, a failure in this respect may disqualify a man from the office of pastor, making pornography habits a particular burden for Christian clergy and, along with the tarnished reputation to the congregation if publicized, a particular concern for their congregations.
As Christians confronted with the temptations of lust and sexual immorality, we live repentantly, acknowledging our fault for such desires which arise from within our own hearts (Mark 7:21). Although we do not resist them perfectly, we confess the goodness of God’s law and our failure to keep it; we receive His forgiveness by grace, through faith, on account of His crucified Son; and we desire to go forward in lives which reflect His character and design.
While the Lord has provided the means to forgive our sin in His Gospel and Sacraments, Confession and Absolution, we continue to struggle against sin just as Paul describes of his own experience in Romans 7. Simultaneously saint and sinner, we are forgiven yet struggle against the habits and desires of our sinful hearts. For this reason the assistance of a Christian professional skilled in the observation of human behavior and the workings of the mind is a beneficial support alongside the cure of the soul provided by one’s father confessor. The grace of God relieves the guilt of this sin and produces the desire to amend one’s ways, and the competent guidance of a Christian counselor assists in the practical struggle toward that end.