Winston Smith: Culture Change, Pornography, and Marriage

Pornography has become increasingly pervasive with the rise of new media.  Back in the day you would have to go out of your way to travel to rent or buy a pornographic video.  I used to have friends in high school who would go out and rent or buy a movie and actually devote one night during the week to watch a pornographic video.  Thankfully by the grace of God I never participated and the invitations stopped.  Today with the technological advancements of gadgets such as the iPhone you can have access just about anywhere you can get a wireless signal from.

As a newly-wed Jess and I actually had two different people leading our pre-marital counseling (2x/week) and both leaders gave us strong warnings of the power of pornography and the potential destruction it can cause.  I have also heard and seen enough people struggling with this sin to know the grip pornography has on an individual and all the implications that come with the slavery especially in college as I have ministered to those people.

Below is an excerpt from the latest 9Marks E-Journal. Winston Smith addresses these very things in one of the sections of the new e-journal:

9M: How do you think the culture has changed over the last fifteen or twenty years? What do you think marriages are facing now that they may not have faced twenty years ago?

WS: There are probably many cultural pressures that make marriage different than it was even 15 or 20 years ago. I will just point out one because it’s one of the most insidious. I’ve seen time and time again just how powerful and destructive pornography is in marriages. Of course, pornography is more than 20 years old, but what has changed in the last 20 years is technology. In the past there was this shame barrier that you had to be willing to cross. To really throw yourself into pornography, you had to go to a different part of town. You had to get out of your car and walk into a store and be willing to be seen. Your name and your face would be associated with the material that you were handling. Now anonymity seems almost guaranteed. It’s not just available to you, it’s invading your life. It’s promoting itself. It will pop up in your e-mails. It will show up on the movie menu in the hotel room. Probably the classier the hotel, the easier it is to view pornography and the more shamelessly it’s displayed.

Pornography is on the offensive against you. It’s coming after you. So you have to have real reasons to say no to it, not just because you are going to get caught. That’s not a good enough reason because you’ll have opportunities to secretly indulge in it. The mode of pornography has changed, and the message has become amplified. Without being graphic, anybody who’s seen pornography will probably know what I’m talking about. Pornography is ultimately about anonymous, meaningless relationships where the center of focus is personal gratification.

Sex is wonderful, but sex is intended by God to communicate meaning and purpose. It is intended to communicate God’s commitment, covenantal and sacrificial love, tenderness and care. It is not intended to communicate a freedom to do what you can get away with, focus on yourself, and engage in anonymous, meaningless relationships. You take those anti-relationship messages of pornography and pair them with a physiological high and you’ve got something really nasty on your hands. It doesn’t just enslave a person’s time and thought life. It begins to invade the rest of their relationships. Those same messages of convenience, pleasure, and self-focus leak all over your life—they don’t just stay on your computer .

9M: Do you have any wisdom for pastors and churches for taking the offensive—ways they can be proactive in the battle against pornography?

WS: I think one of the ways churches should work against this threat, very simply, is to start talking about it. And don’t just talk about it as something that’s out there in the culture, but talk about it as something that’s coming after us as individuals and families in the church. Create forums/arenas where people who are battling with it can talk about it without being shamed or treated like second class citizens. Create an open conversation where this problem is treated with the same care, concern, and tenderness as any other sins and struggle.

This is a very simple but bold step. You need to say, “We’re going to talk about it like it’s a problem in our church, because it is.” It is a given. Of course, this conversation should occur as part of the larger culture of discipling and accountability that pastors should be cultivating in their churches.

Then be really practical in giving people tools to do something about it.

  • If you have an Internet connection in your home, think of it as a portal to a XXX book store. You have a doorway in your house that leads to an adult book store if you have an internet connection, a cable TV, or satellite connection. So treat it like it’s a door that needs to be guarded and locked. It’s ok to be entertained with your computer, but you need to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You’re not just grazing on your computer.
  • Limit private access to the computer. If you have a desktop computer, put it in a family area with the screen facing the middle of the room.
  • There are all kinds of software available that are effective, but no software is foolproof. There are software options that are effective at erecting a barrier (stringing up some razor wire). If you break through, it’s because you wanted to break through – not because you were entrapped.

There are all kinds of basic things that we can do to protect ourselves, but we seem to walk around in churches with naiveté. People are assuming, “No one is talking about it so it must not be a problem.” I have seen countless examples of pastors and church administrators who’ve been ensnared by it. I have counseled people who work as cleaning staff who will log onto computers at night and look at pornography in the buildings they are cleaning. Hopefully, some of these suggestions will be helpful in battling this prevalent issue.

Winston T. Smith, M.Div., is the director of counseling at CCEF and has extensive experience as a marriage and family counselor. He is the author of many counseling articles, the booklet, Rest, and is currently writing a book on marriage.

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