Do Evangelicals Have a Porn Problem?

AddictedYes and no.  Or at least this is the argument of Oklahoma University sociologist Samuel Perry in his new book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants.

Perry argues that evangelical men who take their faith seriously and try to practice it in everyday life view porn less than non-evangelicals.  The real porn problem is the church’s perception that is has a serious problem.

Here is a taste of Jana Riess’s interview with Perry at Religion News Service:

There are several. Drawing on numerous studies, Perry finds that:

Despite the statistical finding that conservative Christians are less likely to use porn, the perception within evangelical churches is that this has become an enormous problem for the faithful. To them, the fact that only 40% of conservative Protestant men under age 40 have seen porn in the last year is not cause for rejoicing but for alarm—and the alarm itself may be creating, or at least exacerbating, psychological and marital problems for those Christian users.

Whereas many other Americans seem to be able to view porn without it causing significant mental health problems, for conservative Christians it’s different. The church’s zero-tolerance policy for porn means those who consume it only occasionally might see themselves as addicts from the first viewing. Even though conservative Christians use porn less than other Americans, they are statistically twice as likely to consider themselves “addicted” to it. Their shame can be soul-crushing.

Read the entire interview here.

My Piece on Trump and Pornography at Today’s *Washington Post*

Trump and Stormy

Here is a taste:

When I was a kid, the 7 p.m. hour on Sunday night was reserved for either “Mutual Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” or “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

Last night we all gathered around our television sets to watch a porn star talk about an adulterous affair she had with a man who would soon become the president of the United States. Times have changed.

Not since the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998 has the sex life of a president been on display in such a public manner. On Sunday it was Stormy Daniels. Last week it was former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal telling the nation, among other things, that she had unprotected sex with Donald Trump.

Walt Disney and Marlin Perkins would have blushed. Trump’s evangelical supports give him a “mulligan.”

When the country learned that Clinton had sex in the West Wing, evangelical Christian leaders responded with heavy doses of moral condemnation. In a letter to his followers, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson argued that Clinton’s escapades with Lewinsky made him unfit for office. But he also told his readers that they should have seen this coming:

“How did our beloved nation find itself in this sorry mess? I believe it began not with the Lewinsky affair, but many years earlier. There was plenty of evidence during the first Presidential election that Bill Clinton had a moral problem. His affair with Gennifer Flowers, which he now admits to having lied about, was rationalized by the American people.”

Read the rest here.

Trump, Porn, and the Coarsening of Culture

 

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive in Rihad, Saudi Arabia,

Trump and his wife.  He allegedly cheated on her with a porn star

I have spent a lot of time at this blog challenging the idea, popular among conservative evangelicals, that we should elect candidates who promise to “restore” or “return” America to its supposedly Judeo-Christian roots.  I have been critical of politicians and others who want to “reclaim” a Christian golden age that may never existed in the first place.  Trump’s phrase “Make America Great Again” is extremely problematic, both from a historical perspective and an ethical perspective.  We can’t go back.  We may not want to go back.

Yet I sometimes find myself in agreement with conservative Christian cultural warriors when they talk about the coarsening of America culture.  I am thinking, for example, about the kinds of public discourse, violence, and sex that we tolerate on our television screens.  The bar for what is acceptable behavior in public has lowered significantly in recent decades.  Our kids are exposed to unhealthy images–on television, at the theater, at school, on their computers and phones, and on their video games– at a much earlier age than I was.  I don’t think I am engaging in nostalgia here.  Anyone who has watched the culture develop over the course of the last couple of decades cannot miss this.  Even if you disagree with my use of words and phrases such as “unhealthy” or “acceptable behavior” or “coarsening” to describe these changes, you would still have to admit that things on this front have changed over time.  In my view, they have declined over time.

Let’s take pornography.  I think a lot of people, whether religious or not, would agree that porn has a negative effect on American culture.  I am guessing that one does not have to be an evangelical Christian to conclude that pornography degrades women, destroys families, teaches young people (who are watching it in increasing numbers via the Internet) an unhealthy view of sex, and leads men to throw away their money.

As if it wasn’t already easy enough to become addicted to porn, we now have a President of the United States who is in a legal battle over an adulterous affair he had with a porn star.  Stormy Daniels is everywhere.  Last weekend CNN reporters covered her stripping at a Florida men’s club.  I imagine that her free porn videos online are going viral. I am sure Stormy has been a great boon for the industry.  Like it or not, she is now part of the political mainstream.  A porn star may have found her way onto the pages of American history textbooks.

I think there might be lessons here for two groups of people.

First, and perhaps most obvious, are the court evangelicals.  Frankly, I was appalled when Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, tweeted:

Stormy Daniels, a porn star, is “irrelevant?”  Trump’s playboy lifestyle and strong connections to the porn industry have made a porn star a household name in America.  I am sure Jeffress has counseled people who are addicted to porn.  I am sure he knows about families that have been torn apart because of porn.  I am sure he knows about men who have squandered away their savings or ran up massive credit card debt on Internet porn sites.  How could a pastor say that Stormy Daniels is irrelevant?

I ask the same question of the other court evangelicals, especially Tony Perkins, the champion of “family values” who gave Trump a “mulligan” on his affair with Stormy Daniels.  Is Perkins’s vision so narrow that he does not see the consequences of Trump’s sin on the culture at large?  I thought guys like Perkins wanted to clean-up the culture, not give a pass to a guy who brought a porn star into the center of public life.

But I also have a word here for all of my secular friends who think that evangelicals are obsessed with sex.  Many secular liberals, especially folks on college campuses, will be quick to condemn Trump’s relationship with a porn star.  I am glad to see that they have managed to find their moral footing on this issue.  But where have they been before Stormy Daniels came on the scene?  Why aren’t they working with evangelicals to curb pornography?  Is there common ground here?  It seems that only the most extreme libertarian can look the other way when they encounter the negative effects that pornography has had on our social institutions.  Rarely does one hear a college professor talk about the coarsening of our culture.  Perhaps they do not want to be labeled Puritans or Fundamentalists.

Maybe it is time to talk once again about virtue–the kind of common morality that the founding fathers believed essential to the preservation of a healthy republic.  Whatever you think about the founders, their flaws, and their failure to live-up to many of their ideals, they did believe that the survival of a nation was impossible without at least some kind of moral core.  It is hard to play the identity politics card on this one.  The negative effects of porn impact people of all races and classes and both genders.

American citizens will have robust debates over issues such as abortion or the nature of marriage, but I hope that they can find common moral ground on something like pornography.

The fight against pornography was once a Christian Right issue. But if reform is going to happen on this front it will now need to be led by religious and non-religious anti-Trumpers.  The court evangelicals have lost all moral authority to speak on this issue.  The next time I hear a pro-Trump evangelical leader condemn porn I will respond this way.

I Thought the Christian Right Opposed Pornography?

Porn

Evangelicals believe that pornography is sinful.  But many evangelicals are happy to support a POTUS who pays a porn star for sex as long as that POTUS appoints the right federal judges.  Over at The New Republic, Jeet Heer reminds us that the fight against pornography was central to the rise of the Christian Right.  What happened?

Here is a taste:

Pornography was a political hot button topic from the 1960s until the 1990s, when changes in censorship law and new technologies like video recording made erotic imagery much more pervasive. Along with opposing abortion and gay rights, being anti-porn was one of the key organizing principles of the religious right. In 1997, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell spoke for many social conservatives when he told CNN, “pornography hurts anyone who reads it, garbage in, garbage out. I think when you feed that stuff into your mind, it definitely affects your relationship with your spouse, your attitude towards life, morality.” But today, Jerry Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., is one of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters. (In 2016, he was photographed at Trump’s office in front of a framed copy of a Playboy cover featuring Trump.)

The shift from Falwell’s relentlessly anti-porn position to Falwell Jr.’s indulgence of Trump was made possible because of a wider shift away from the older anti-porn crusades, which perhaps peaked with the Reagan administration’s release of the Meese Report in 1986, which made a dubious effort to link pornography with violent crime. The religious right’s anti-porn push in the last decades of the twentieth century took place at a time when porn was mostly distributed through videotapes and magazines. It was possible to imagine that consumer boycotts could suppress porn. That became far less realistic after the rise of the internet.

Read the rest here.