*See original article on CBE International's blog HERE*
Our character as human beings is determined by what we do when no one is watching. When no one is watching, many in the church are watching porn.
Pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” by political officials. At least a third of US men self-identify as being addicted to it. In April, Time magazine featured a front-page article exposing the harmful impact of porn on society.
Despite this, two-thirds of practicing Christians feel no guilt about their porn use. What does this extreme level of consumption (and lack of guilt about it) say about the condition of the church as a whole?
For readers unfamiliar with the state of modern porn—it looks less like sex and more like sexual assault. Unlike yesterday’s softcore porn industry, mainstream porn today is definitively hardcore—exploitative videos saturated with physical violence, bondage, verbal abuse, sadism, brutality, humiliation, and degradation.
Women’s pain is the cornerstone of porn, and the industry derives both pleasure and profit from it.
Porn delivers an endless assortment of cruelty, divided into categories based on the (mostly male) viewer’s fetish. Regardless of its diversity, porn has a common theme: women are objects.
In one genre of porn, these objects ask nothing, say nothing, and offer nothing but exist to meet the demands of men. They always smile, always obey, and always eagerly embrace their subordinate status.
The other popular genre of porn eroticizes women’s agony and makes no attempt to conceal its fascination with female suffering. Instead, the pornographer zooms in. Some sites even boast about their original content of “real sexual abuse scenes.” Just to illustrate, last week, I typed in “rape porn” on Google. There were 122,000,000 search results. That number increases daily.
Let that number sink in.
One hundred and twenty-two million search results, many of them real rape videos.
As I speak with churches, I find they are overwhelmed by the effects of porn on their congregations: sexualization of children, widespread addiction, abusive sexual practices, infidelity, broken marriages, intimacy problems, sexual violence, domestic violence, and trafficking.
In the struggle to address pornography and other forms of men’s violence against women, the church is either missing the glaringly obvious cause, or intentionally ignoring it.
I am often asked by the church, “How could this be happening?”
My question in return is always, “How could this not be happening?”
Pornography and all forms of sexist violence will continue to prevail until the church purges itself of deeply patriarchal values and practices. In identifying the root cause (patriarchy), we also find the solution. If the harm of patriarchy is acknowledged, the damage reconciled, and the system dismantled, the church can begin to heal. There is no other way.
Whether in the church, the world, or the porn industry, women are constantly reminded of their supposed “place.” The messaging of objectification is more subtle in the church, and it’s often wrapped neatly in spiritual language. But women don’t need to be naked and videotaped to be objectified.
Youth group sermons on purity tell a woman the greatest gift she can give to her husband is her untainted sexuality—a gift she is told will be the pinnacle of her existence, second only to having children. Her small group options include crafting or a Captivating study on using femininity to “entice” a husband. She is told she is beautiful, certainly, but she is told little else. At the same time, she learns that her body is dangerous and will tempt men to sin.
She hears the pastor gush at the pulpit about how “hot” his wife is, but he doesn’t mention how brilliant, talented, strong, insightful, or passionate his spouse is. A woman's voice is often only validated in relation to, or in the presence of men. She is encouraged to enthusiastically celebrate her supposed “equal dignity and value” won through Christ, yet is constantly excluded from using her gifts of leadership, pastoring, and preaching.
The examples could go on and on. She represents all of us who were/are subject to patriarchal/complementarian theology. The idea of “equality” between women and men in the church is illusory and empty when women hold no real power. If women’s purpose in the church is to support the men who are doing the “important things” women aren’t allowed to do, all claims of equality are rendered meaningless.
Many women don’t feel like human beings in the body of Christ. Many feel like objects. Some even feel like slaves, kept in chains by patriarchy.
Sociologist Robert Jensen describes pornography as “a mirror” that reflects our patriarchal culture. Porn imitates the patriarchal values we often find in the church. There is a striking overlap between pornography and patriarchy if we take a closer look in that mirror.
Both pornography and patriarchy tell us that men naturally dominate and women naturally submit. Pornography and patriarchy silence the voices of women. Pornography and patriarchy extinguish women’s gifts. Pornography and patriarchy exalt power, inequality, and control. And both pornography and patriarchy ultimately deny the humanity of both women and men.
From the start, God revealed a different narrative—the unshakeable dignity and equality of women in Genesis. It was sin that corrupted, sin that created patriarchy.
Fast forward to the New Testament. The gospel exposes the consequences of propping up worldly desires of power, control, lust, greed, and violence. Jesus’ deliberate rebellion against these patriarchal values is evident throughout his ministry. Jesus reminds us that patriarchal, power-centric values have no place in his kingdom.
His radical, counter-cultural response should be of no surprise to Christ-followers.
Jesus gives us infinitely more than what the world has to offer: love instead of lust, liberation instead of enslavement, bravery instead of fear, justice instead of oppression.
The church has a responsibility to do the same: to re-reveal the humanity of women and demonstrate their value. The church must move beyond equality in theory to equality in practice.
Only then will the church be released from the bondage of pornography, addiction, and global enslavement. Only then will people lift open hands to God instead of clinging tightly to power and hierarchy. Only then will the body of Christ truly reflect the beauty of Jesus’ mission.
We must recognize, once and for all, that there is a cost to benching half the church. There is a cost to consuming porn. There is a cost to marginalizing women. There is a cost to the betraying silence of the church. And ultimately, the cost is women’s lives.
Combatting patriarchy within the church is not optional—it is an emergency.
 Gary Wilson, Your Brain On Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction (UK: Commonweath Press, 2014), 73.
 Josh McDowell, “Porn in the Digital Age: New Research Reveals 10 Trends” Barna, April 6, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2016. https://www.barna.org/research/culture-media/research-release/porn-in-the-digital-age-new-research-reveals-10-trends#.V5uEzfmAOko
 Robert Jensen, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (Brooklyn: South End Press, 2007), 16.
*See original article on CBE International's blog HERE*
Before I met my husband, I was adamantly opposed to marriage. Much of my aversion to marriage stemmed from the lack of positive earthly examples of it. Because of the brokenness around me, marriage simply did not appeal to me.
As a college student, I was indoctrinated with complementarian theology and surrounded by relationships that reflected it. In my Christian community, men were eager to enforce their so-called God-ordained leadership, and women filled their patriarchal (but ambiguously defined) “biblical role.”
I saw power struggles, manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, gender jokes, and abuse in the relationships around me and that skewed my perception of marriage. I thought to myself—if what I have been taught is true, and if this is what marriage is supposed to look like, I’m not interested.
It took me some time to realize that what I saw (and experienced) was not what God intended for marriage. I decided to trust in Jesus’ model of love, not the ideas perpetuated by modern Christian culture. I would date people that loved me like Jesus, or I would not date at all.
The love I see in my husband's eyes every day reminds me how radical the love of God truly is.
Before I met my husband, I had a lot of anxiety about relationships. I told everyone I knew that I would never get married. Well, the joke was on me when a dreamy classmate asked me out on a date.
I knew I couldn’t invest in a relationship where my values would be compromised. I’m a very passionate and opinionated woman, so I figured the easiest way to weed out someone I wasn’t compatible with was to ask about his views on the most controversial questions I could think of (gender roles, feminism, politics, religion, etc.).
I remember asking him what he thought about a husband being the “spiritual leader” of his wife.
His response was: “A woman I date would be a person of strong faith already. I don’t really understand the logic in gender-based ‘spiritual leadership.’ She’s clearly been doing great all on her own before meeting me. Why is it that once she’s in a relationship with me, that now as a man, I somehow have more spiritual authority over her or can hear from God better than she can when she’s been hearing from God her whole life?”
I married him two years later.
But it wasn’t just his words. I knew he loved me because he showed me day after day by treating me as his equal.
That is what it means to have a true partner in Christ.
In a world where women and men are continually pitted against each other, God’s original intention was for women and men to form a mutual partnership as co-heirs to the kingdom of God.
The Word tells us that “two is better than one.” Two cannot possibly be better than one if a husband tries to form his wife in his own image. Two cannot possibly be better than one when a wife has no voice or authority and instead conforms to whatever her husband says and wants. In these situations, there can be no growth. A partner in Christ is a partner who challenges and sharpens us—speaking truth to us even when it’s not easy to hear.
Because all human beings are sinful, there is always a temptation to abuse the unearned power and privilege patriarchy grants men. My husband is aware of his privilege, but he remains uninterested in reaping the benefits. He recognizes that there can be no intimacy where there is a quest for control.
My husband is an advocate for gender, racial, economic, and environmental justice. His values and character flow into all areas of his life. He is not a person who simply talks or shares a Facebook post about equality. He lives equality.
My husband works at a domestic violence program where he facilitates groups for boys and young men. He works on violence prevention—speaking on healthy relationships, dating abuse, and gender/masculinity issues. He is able to be a much-needed role model for high-risk youth, a position in which he shines. He spends much of his time sharing egalitarian principles with the boys, emphasizing that the best relationships are relationships where men and women share power equally.
My husband supports my crazy schedule, my time-consuming passions, my fervor, and my boldness. We grow together daily as feminists and egalitarians. Rather than feeling held back, I’ve become even more brave and outspoken since meeting my husband.
Within our relationship, we allow each other to be fully human, making way for safe intimacy. No constraining boxes. No limits on who God calls us to be. No spiritual manipulation. No easy-way-out where husbands make the “final decision.” No treating women as inferior, unstable, emotional, and deceptive. No treating men like bumbling, incapable infants.
An egalitarian marriage is simple: We share responsibility. We deny selfishness. We challenge each other. We both follow our callings. And we work where we thrive (individually and collectively).
Relationships that imitate the love described in the gospel are not “too good to be true.” This is one of the most powerful, destructive lies the enemy throws at us. Mutual respect, honor, love, passion, support, equality, faith, service, and sacrifice are not unattainable.
Jesus came to redeem relationships. We have an entire gospel that demonstrates what it means to love passionately, purposefully, intentionally, and honorably.
Jesus came to restore broken relationships and make them new again. He came to break the chains of sin, selfishness, oppression, and abuse.
I once feared marriage, but now I am a passionate marriage advocate, because I know the fruit of an egalitarian marriage. I am living it—and what a joy it is!