They just keep coming. Now it’s rabbi-counselor Shmuley Boteach and actress-model Pamela Anderson joining the growing outcry against pornography. Their joint Wall Street Journal article, “Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn”, arrives like an amateur medic rushing into a graveyard to inform the deceased that death is dangerous for us. The article is generally laudable. The timing is simply laughable.
What they’re not saying and what they are saying are equally clear. They’re not saying that pornography is bad. They are saying that pornography is bad for us. And because it’s bad for us, we should stop doing it.
We must, they say, “alloy sex with love, physicality with personality, bodily mechanics with mental imagination, and orgasmic release with binding relationships.” Or, to dial back the poetics: “porn is for losers.”
I’m grateful for any warning, theological or otherwise, against indulging in pornography — whether from a university psychologist, Jewish rabbi, ex-Playboy model, or anyone else with a pulse and a conscience. But the gathering storm of voices freshly turned against pornography are a bit like Paul Revere riding the Massachusetts countryside warning New Englanders about the British . . . in 1825 instead of 1775. You’re a bit late, Paul.
And so it is that the cult of scientism will always trail the prophets. The longitudinal studies that take 10 years will continue proving what God told us in 10 words. We’ll be told that pornography alters the brain, that pornography splinters families, that pornography damages women’s self-perceptions, that pornography distorts our standards of beauty, that pornography tends toward addiction, and that pornography lowers sexual satisfaction. We’ll be told that pornography is, in short, dangerous for us. We’ll spend billions on research and counseling and school programs and reverse marketing trying to show people what we could’ve known from the ancient sages of Israel, not to mention Jesus of Nazareth.
If God is indeed Creator and Lord, and if his commands for us match his designs for us, then both his warnings and his wooings are the wisdom of the ages. He speaks to us — every jot and tittle — for our flourishing. So when he speaks through the patriarchs and prophets and apostles, we should listen. When he roars from Sinai, we should tremble. And when he comes in human flesh, “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
But we’re a people always demanding, “Did God really say?” until the day when what God really said comes really, really true. Sight, we do pretty well; faith, not so much. Somehow we must suffer the pervasive effects of our own sin before we’ll agree with what Scripture was telling us all along: death is always embedded deep within sin’s double helix.
All these secular or scientific or even religious articles coming out about the dangers of pornography remind me that the church as a new creation community should always be far ahead of pagan culture when warning about moral issues. The prophets should always be ahead of the people, raising the siren about the covenantal and consequential dangers of our moral wanderings.
It’s good, in its own way, that the virtue scientists and research psychologists are catching up with the ancient wisdom of God’s Word. That Word, forever settled in the heavens (Psalm 119:89), has testified relentlessly to the corrosive and corrupting power of sexual lust. And that Word, when he walked on earth, warned men especially of the captivating power and eternal consequences of its enslavement (Matthew 5:27-30).
But the delayed reactions of the culture show us once again that the church ought never be concerned about ending up on “the wrong side of history.” The church’s concern is being on the right side of eschatology. When the closing act exits and the curtain falls and the living and dead are raised, the plumb-line aside the Great White Throne will not be the accepted sexual mores of the sexual revolution but the clear standards of sacred Scripture, represented by the fiery eyes of the royal Son seated on his throne.
Until then, it does look like the tables are slowly turning as our culture finally locks eyes with a beast it’s been feeding for decades. But that beast and his handlers will not go quietly into the night. That’s just not how Babylon rolls. The system is strong, and it’s not in the power of The Atlantic or The Wall Street Journal or a few Stanford psychologists to tame it. Just read the tortured logic of those trying to tone down the warnings.
Nevertheless, when walking wisely in the light of God’s Word, the church is enlightened and emboldened to raise a prophetic voice speaking not just into the wasteland of the sexual revolution but also exposing the fresh seductions of its next frontier. We can’t just raise this voice later, when even more landscape is charred and yet more families lie scarred in the ruins of our own moral napalm. We can’t just speak up when the longitudinal studies have caught up with the ancient text. We have to speak about these kinds of issues — as the church’s faithful leaders have been speaking and preaching and writing and warning and counseling against digital pornography for decades — long before the angel of death arrives and the deathly warning proves true.
The serpent will keep whispering his questions and temptations, in every generation, because that’s what he does. But the church must see behind and beneath and beyond his whisperings, trusting the God who knows the far horizon and speaking the grace and truth that points all the way home. We must speak the way of life and bar the path of death, keeping the weight of the Word firmly over the serpent’s head, and keeping the voice of the prophets far ahead of the fire.