Open letter to Christian leaders

First of all, you have a very difficult and often thankless job, so I want to thank you for your dedication and ministry. I know what it’s like and I can attest to the fact that it’s not easy, but it’s an important responsibility we have. To best serve those under our care as undershepherds, we need to be spiritually fed and above reproach ourselves.

You don’t need any statistics to know that pornography is a huge problem and not just outside the church. Within our congregations are many men (and some women as well) who seek out pornography to try to fill a void in their life. Knowing it’s not God-honoring, and trying to quit, they are trapped by the allure and subject to it’s bondage. Many also are addicted and feel they will never find freedom. Even church leaders are not immune. Because of their position they are scared to be open and honest about it. I know because this once described me.

Our attempts at curbing this issue while noble are weak at best. Especially if we ourselves are also struggling, how do we expect to help anyone else? Calling it “every man’s battle” is simply admitting defeat! Conventional Christian wisdom on the matter places the burden of the task on the powerlessness of man-made tactics. They perpetuate guilt and shame rather than providing a way forward to a new form of thinking which brings sustained and perpetual freedom from bondage. This is God’s work, which is done without our help or cooperation.

  • No amount of confession, accountability or software will cause a man to not look lustfully at a woman if he is intent on doing so. There are always ways to get around it. You can always fake it. 
  • No amount of promises made at an inspiring conference will stop a man from his own evil desires and impure motives. 
  • No amount of pancake breakfasts will help him resist the constant struggle of objectifying other people.
  • No amount of self-imposed modesty will help a man change his thought life. It’s prideful to think that way, as if Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough to save a man’s soul. This is the practical application of this thinking: Since Jesus isn’t powerful enough to change your animalistic behavior, we need to set an arbitrary length of skirt or “proper” coverage of shoulders or chest to help you out!

The church tries to address this issue but fails as its methods are ineffective. They are like treating a virus with a band aid and do nothing to address the root issue of the problem. In fact, one of the factors for my interest in pornography came from how youth groups talked about it. Instead of preventing me from seeking it out, it got me curious about it.

My point, coming from my own experience and that of many others, is that the heart and the mind of the individual need to change (be renewed) for a lasting transformation to occur. 

It angered me so much the other day to see a program being offered to pastors with porn problems for $199. The true and lasting solution should be and IS free! It doesn’t cost the price of internet filters and accountability software (that can always be circumvented anyway). It is not a man-made attempt to work harder or do better through will power. It does not thrive on guilt and shame. It is not confession-based to another human. It is solely a work of God, and he does it without my help.

This vice does not need to be every man’s battle. Nor do we need to bounce our eyes at the sight of anything that can become a trigger for actions that dishonor God and others. Temptation is all around us, but it doesn’t have to be temptation. James 1:14 (KJV) is quick to point out that, “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Temptation isn’t the fault of who you lust after. You and your heart are the only one to blame.

The goal of a recovering alcoholic should be to be able to go to the grocery store and walk down the liquor aisle without a single urge or desire to indulge. Likewise, someone who has been conditioned to respond in lustful ways needs to change his/her mind, with God’s help in order to have lasting freedom from bondage.

Should we hide and cover the cupcakes so as not to cause someone with a gluttony problem to sin? Do we need to ban money or close banks for those overcome by greed? Lust seems to be one of the few sins we practically label as hopeless to overcome in a fallen world. With everything else, it is assumed that we can grow, mature spiritually, and conquer with God’s help.

Let’s take this concept to an extreme. Imagine you and your wife (if you are married) are having a dinner party with your best friends. Then all of a sudden everyone’s clothes disappear and everyone is completely naked (inexplicably). Aside from the initial shock and possible embarrassment, would you be able to control yourself around your friend’s wife? Or would the animalistic urges kick in and it becomes an all out orgy? I’m thinking that after a few minutes of awkwardness, everyone may carry on as normal and no one would cross any moral lines. Why? Because you have a healthy respect for one another and a love and deep friendship. It would be wrong to act on any impure thoughts in this non-sexual setting. Why is it any different with a stranger in a picture or a video online? When it’s a person on a screen, where we don’t have that relationship built or a mutual friendship, and we act out sexually, we excuse it as a natural urge. See the problem?

Jesus said in Matthew 5 that anyone who looks lustfully at another woman had already committed adultery in his heart. He did not say seeing a woman was sin, otherwise men would be sinning all the time. This would be cruel on God’s part! He said looking with lustful (coveting) intent is the sin. 

According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc., lust means, “to have an eager, passionate, and especially an inordinate or sinful desire, as for the gratification of the sexual appetite or of covetousness.”

This is desiring that person in a way that isn’t rightfully your place to enjoy. God meant for sexual expression to be in context of a married relationship. Looking lustfully is equating a person who is not your spouse as a piece of meat, a collection of body parts that you are objectifying, selfishly for your own gratification. This can occur with full nudity, partial nudity, or a fully dressed person! You are making a fantasy relationship or escapade with your impure thoughts, as if they were true. 

Pope John Paul II is one of the few theologians in history to address the evident gap in our theology with his “theology of the body.” He has posed many great truths and one of my favorite quotes of his is this: “Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment.” (John Paul II [Karol Wojtyla]. Love and Responsibility. Rev. ed. Trans. H.T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, 1981.)

This can be illustrated with David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was bathing on the rooftop like many people did in those days. It was commonplace. David, with the highest point in the city could see many people bathing, but with this one, he had to have her in a sexual conquest, even committing murder to cover it up. David was the guilty man according to the prophet Nathan. Bathsheba was the innocent lamb. So why do we place the blame on the ladies, saying they should not tempt men with how they dress? It’s not logical or right.

Jesus also said in Mark 7 that nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. He continues saying for it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, adultery, lewdness, envy and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.

This also indicates that the mere sight of someone is not the sin, but rather thinking improperly about that person, is the sin. We need to worry less about what visual stimuli we receive and more about how we think about it!

I write passionately about this because of my own story of failure after failure. I won’t go into all of it suffice to say that I battled the ongoing mystique and pull of pornography for over two decades. I tried everything with varying degrees of success, but never finding full freedom and a clear conscience before God and my wife. I thought I’d never grow out of it and it would always be a constant struggle. 

“That’s someone’s daughter” which you often hear as advice against this type of behavior didn’t ever stop me even though I have a daughter of my own. My mind was messed up and not renewed. My view of the body was skewed and distorted, as it is with so many today. As Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” This was me, WAS, being the operative word.

There needed to be a renewal of the mind in terms of how I viewed the body (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24). For too long, I allowed the way the world views people and their bodies to influence my own view. The worldly view is not God-honoring or holy. It agrees with the pornographers in its shallow view of what is and isn’t attractive and how sexualized we are today. The religious notion is to agree with pornographers (yes, you read that right) that “nude is lewd” and react to the opposite extreme of puritanical prudery. This body=bad, spirit=good is a dualism that the Bible does not teach. Rather it is gnostic heresy, and it damages our cause to maintain purity. As Colossians 2:23 (ESV) points out, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Pornography and prudery feed off each other in a vicious cycle, giving the other what it is missing- a godly view that honors, both the body and the someBODY who dwells in it.

Our enemy, the ancient serpent, has been crafty since the beginning. He hates the image of God (Imago Dei) reflected in humankind as much as he hates the God they represent. He adamantly attacks this whole concept and seems to be winning! What God crafted as his most precious masterpiece, Satan has twisted and distorted to the point that it no longer is seen in the same way. Like a priceless work of art, crumbled up, it needs to be rediscovered for its natural and pure beauty. It can, however, be restored as Jesus’ wounds heal our wounds and he makes all things new again (Isaiah 53:5; Revelation 21:5).

The enemy is deceiving the whole world as he has from the beginning. We’ve been conditioned in many ways by society and by evil itself. For me, I agreed with several lies:

  1. When I see a woman I find attractive (nude, scantily clad, or fully clothed), because I’m wired as a visual person, I can’t help myself but respond with a sort of sexual fantasy and lustful thoughts. (Like Pavlov’s dogs or something!)
  2. This is bad, but it’s the way everyone is and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I’ll never be free.

I’m sure there were many more agreements made, but the point is the lies took precedent over the truth. I lived as though the lies were true. Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

True repentance according to the meaning of the greek word refers to a changing of the mind. I changed my mind about all of this, which seemed counterintuitive at the time, because I was so depraved in my thinking (Romans 1:18-32). I started to see humankind as the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His own image. I saw the body, not as lewd, dirty or obscene, but as beautiful and holy, worthy of respect and honor. I also saw other people for who they are, all fearfully and wonderfully made. I appreciated the diversity of God’s design of people as the crowning glory of his awesome creation, more grand than the most magnificent sunset. I no longer “worshipped” created things rather than the Creator as does an idolater (Romans 1:25; Ephesians 5:5). I focused on the whole person, not just certain parts (that in our society get extra attention). Arousal took its rightful place as belonging only to my wife based on our deep relationship.

Once I made the switch in my mind, it was smooth sailing. I was amazed. What I never thought possible was not only possible, but easy. As stated, I rejected the lies, and God did the rest. This constant issue of 20 years simply vanished. I felt different. It wasn’t like moments of “victory” before where there was still a struggle and then I inevitably would fall off the wagon with a binge. This is true freedom, and it’s incredible! I then came across the “My Chains are Gone” website which confirmed everything I had experienced. If you have tried everything and nothing works to rid yourself of these thoughts and habits, read through www.mychainsaregone.org.

This nagging, but ever-present problem was affecting me in many ways. Without it, I’m a better minister, but more importantly a better husband. And being the father of sons, I’m no longer impotent to help them with these issues. The cycle is broken, praise God!

What am I asking of you? First of all, if you yourself are struggling, take another hard look at my testimony and ask yourself if you are believing some of the same lies. Where are you missing God’s truth that’s been staring us in the face ever since the beginning? Secondly, maybe you are blessed to not be affected by this vice, but think about how you teach on this subject and what message you are sending, especially to young people? Does it agree with society’s view or worse our true enemy’s view of human beings and their bodies? Are you relying on man-made methods that fall short of true and full redemption as it relates to lustful attitudes and actions?

My hope and prayer is that this blesses you, and you experience the joy and closeness to God and others that I have found since embracing this more healthy, natural, and godly way of thinking.

Respectfully,

A co-laborer in the Lord, Phil O.

P.S. For a printable pdf of this letter click here.

Image credit: V0034184 In the Garden of Eden, while the serpent curls around the tr Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org In the Garden of Eden, while the serpent curls around the tree of knowledge, Eve is about to taste the apple. Coloured etching. Published: [n.d.] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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