Mars Hill Forum #39 with ACLU and Deeper Than Sex Itself: The Question of Pornography

John C. Rankin

In the biblical order of creation, when man and woman become one flesh, the two becoming one is a reflection of God’s trinitarian nature, where the three are one. Diversity in service to unity. Deeper than sex itself.

Just as the biblical storyline of creation, sin and redemption is the predicate for the the musical equation of equilibrium, tension and resolution; so too does the union of man and woman in covenantal marriage follow the same pattern, both before sin and after. But when the sex acts are focused on by themselves, all music and romance is lost.

Unfortunately, given the prevalence of explicit sex talk in our culture, many Christians among us are tempted to focus the debate on the sex acts themselves when dealing with the public-policy issues concerning heterosexual promiscuity or homosexuality. Reaction to reactions only deepen conflict — the biblical wisdom is to be proactive per the orders of creation and redemption.

In February of 1997, I hosted Nadine Strossen, then president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at a Mars Hill Forum at my alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Our conversation focused on homosexuality, the church and civil rights. There were several highlights I gleaned from the evening. One telling comment was during the brief intermission, when Nadine leaned over and said to me, “Your agenda really is theological, isn’t it?” She was used to seeing Christians whom she thought were more political than theological in their identities.

As an aside, Nadine brought up the issue of pornography, saying that pornographic literature is a valid First Amendment liberty, indeed, a civil right, and adding the opinion that the Bible is full of pornography in its various references to sexual escapades. I said this is untrue.

“Pornography” comes from the Greek roots: 1) porneia for “prostitution, unchastity and fornication” (translated “sexual immorality” as Jesus speaks of it in Matthew 15:19); and 2) grapho for “writings or inscriptions,” or pictures. That which incites lust, and this the Bible does not have.

In other words, pornography serves to destroy marriage – it is the opposite of a civil liberty. Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming how pornography principally leads men to reify and dehumanize woman and/or boys as sex objects. It serves of the reversal of the order of creation, advancing selfish, narcissistic, solipsistic and atomized sexual folly, then perverted choice, then disposable life, and all against God the Creator. Pornographic attitudes make an idol out of sex acts, separating them from godly context and purpose, and pornographic attitudes do not address their deleterious consequences either. Porn dehumanizes all it touches, and its aggregation pollutes the civil order and increases lawlessness and violence.

Nadine was viewing the Bible’s candor in dealing with sexual reality as being the same as the modern cultural view of pornography. But the Bible never profiles or describes any prurient interest in the intrinsic sex acts themselves, such as pornographic publications and videos do today. Rather, the biblical texts merely define natural married sexuality, as with a husband and wife lying together and conceiving a child, or various broken sexual relationships as examples of the sin nature, e.g.,Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar that brings down the whole nation (2 Samuel 13:1ff).

 

In other words, that the Bible speaks of is the candor of broken sexuality and no lust or dehumanization is ever served. And as it follows through with detailing the consequences, the Bible does the opposite of the porn industry – no mythology of consequence-free sex outside the marriage of one man and one woman. The sex acts are never described as such in the Bible, rather we are simply told what acts occurred, more importantly, why, and most importantly, what the consequences were.

The Bible seeks to secure for its readers the definitions of reality necessary for the power of informed choice. Deeper than sex and sex acts, the Bible is concerned with the ethics of our relationship with God, and with each other. Even with the description of Onan’s refusal to be a husband to Tamar, as “he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother” (Genesis 38:9), it was his failure to keep the duties of “levirate marriage” that was in focus, not the specific act itself. The only sexuality that is life-giving is that which is based on biblical ethics, and covenantal marriage is the only place where such ethics can be fully embraced.

In the Garden of Eden, nakedness was a freedom before sin entered, and as such, no prurient motives yet existed. This freedom has now become a bondage since sinful people, especially males, focus on sex acts and sex objects, instead of biblical relationships. In a sinful world, immodesty is often pornographic.

Thus, the assumption in Genesis 1-2 is for a covenantal marriage of “one man, one woman, one lifetime,” with Adam and Eve being our first parents, and thus our models. In various seminars over the years I have had some fun in posing a genuinely hypothetical situation to pastors in the audience, and then asking them to answer a question. “Let’s say God came to you and asked you to do him a favor. He wants to take you back to the Garden of Eden, and don’t worry about the dress code – come as you are. He wants you to perform a marriage ceremony for Adam and Eve. In so doing, what phrase from a standard wedding ceremony could you not use?”

I have received many delightful answers, many of which were true, but were different from the one I was fishing for. Instinctively, these pastors distinguished creation from sin and redemption. They knew that Adam and Eve at this juncture would need to have a pre-lapsarian (“before the fall”) ceremony, and thus no negatives to counter because of the assumption that the untainted order of creation was still in force. Eventually, I would either get the answer I was looking for, or supply it myself: “Til death do you part.”

In other words, there was no death to do them part. There was no divorce to do them part. They were naked, innocent and free. Now that the slavery of sin has entered the rold, and until the resurrection body, modesty is wisdom — namely, chastity outside the faithful marriage of one man and one woman, and fidelity within.

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