Samaritan SafeChurch – Internet Pornography and Shaping Youth Culture: A Theological Problem

December 29th, 2015 by admin

Internet Pornography and Shaping Youth Culture: A Theological Problem
Blog Post #6: December 17, 2015

lindacby Linda Crockett, Director of Education & Consultation

In Samaritan’s SafeChurch work to build a national social movement to end child sexual abuse, I have the great privilege of drawing upon the wisdom of leaders in the field that bring a variety of perspectives and expertise to one of the most complex social issues of our time. Shifting culture in church settings so that adults are proactive about preventing CSA is a core goal of SafeChurch, and more than 50 local congregations have stepped up to the plate to participate. And while church culture is indeed shifting in many of these congregations, we still face an uphill battle in protecting children because we live within what Cordelia Anderson terms a “toxic and pornified society” much of it being shaped by the kind of internet porn that makes older publications like Playboy seem nearly benign. Cordelia is a colleague in the movement to end child sexual abuse, and a major focus of her work has been the impact of pornography on culture. Learn more at http://www.cordeliaanderson.com.

As director of Samaritan’s Clergy & Congregation Care program, I have fielded calls from clergy concerned about congregants – and sometimes themselves – with what seemed to be an addiction to internet porn to the extent it was impacting their marriages, careers, and parenting. And while agreeing that viewing child pornography is a crime and can land one in prison, as well as a sin, many people in the church brush off adults viewing adult pornography as a private matter, believing excessive consumption the problem of only a few. Rarely have I heard this issue addressed as a theological problem and one which hampers our capacity as people of faith to be agents of cultural change to promote healthy and respectful relationships in our communities, schools, sports clubs and other venues.

It’s time the conversation around this changed, because the nature of porn, how it is delivered, who is accessing it, and how it is impacting viewers has changed drastically over the last decade. Provocative nudity has given way to rough sex linked with violence, body punishing and altering, revenge porn sites for posting nude photos to humiliate/expose others, pickup artist sites for tips on how to manipulate and coerce sex, sextortion sites where someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them with images of a sexual nature or sexual favors.

Although some in the field have held for years that addiction to porn is as real as addiction to drugs or alcohol, new studies in neuroscience are now widely available to confirm that this is indeed the case. Certain areas of the brain in regular consumers of internet porn “light up” in brain scans that show a significant difference between them and non-consumers when shown a mildly provocative image. Porn seems to put the brain on steroids and the user becomes hyper sexualized and caught in the same neural circuitry loop as a person addicted to drugs, requiring more and more of the substance to relieve anxiety. Learn more at www.yourbrainonporn.com.

And perhaps most heartbreaking is that addiction to internet porn is no longer primarily a problem for adults; research is now clear that young teens are becoming addicted. “Free porn” links on sites popular with kids are the internet version of standing outside a convenience store and offering kids free cigarettes so that by the time they can buy them legally, they are already addicted.

A new web-based program to help teens and adults with internet porn addictions received over 16,000 youth applicants over the 18 month period ending July 2015, with the average age of 11.9 years. 5,000 adults applied during the same period. Highly interactive, the FORTIFY program uses the latest technology to engage and support those caught up in a harmful technology aided addiction to porn. Get help at www.fortifyprogram.org.

The highly lucrative porn industry is monetizing images of children being molested and soliciting viewers while at the same time, enticing children to consume hard-core porn.  Beyond the problem of addiction, research on internet porn consumption indicates it alters conception of what constitutes harmful sexual behavior, and has a negative impact on relational intimacy. On a young developing brain, this is a recipe for disaster. The individual and social problems generated have led the Centers for Disease Control to name porn consumption as a public health issue.

We may not be public health experts or neuroscientists. But we can certainly get the theological conversation started! We can begin by asking these, and other questions:
• What contribution does our perfectly legal adult consumption of adult internet porn make to the sexually toxic culture we are creating for our children?
• How do our “clicks” on computer links that lead to porn reflect our religious values?
• Can we teach our youth about the sacred and spiritual aspects of healthy sexual expression if we participate in driving demand for production of exploitive pornographic material with those “clicks”?
• How is God’s call to end child sexual abuse impacted by the ubiquitous consumption of porn? By our silence around it?

These are challenging questions but ones that people of faith who believe in a “lived” theology can no longer avoid. We only need look at the issue of child sexual abuse to affirm that silence protects no one. Let’s talk.

4 Responses to “Samaritan SafeChurch – Internet Pornography and Shaping Youth Culture: A Theological Problem”

  1. January 22, 2016 at 2:24 pm, Linda Crockett said:

    Elizabeth, Thank you for the comment! Making the connections between the larger culture we participate in and contribute to, and what is happening to the most vulnerable among us, is critical for church leaders to begin to articulate as a theological problem we need to deal with. Leaders such as you are a great hope for me, and for many others…

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  2. January 11, 2016 at 8:24 pm, Linda Crockett said:

    Barbra, YES! I no longer believe we can exclude talking about porn from the conversation about ending child sexual abuse. I am getting the same kind of cases you describe. The conversations around porn have been mostly centered around sexual violence against women; and child porn – both of which are critically important to continue working on. Yet we need to broader this to include the intersection with CSA and the drive to create child porn consumers…. with all of the horrific consequences that can flow from this.

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  3. January 08, 2016 at 4:36 pm, Barbra Graber said:

    Thank you for this important post, Linda. Two cases have come across my desk, unrelated, of twelve year old boys who watched porn online and were then caught acting out on 4-5 year olds in their personal sphere. This just this past year and both from Mennonite families. This is an urgent issue. It’s definitely time to talk . Barbra Graber, Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP, mennonite@SNAPnetwork.org and http://www.OurStoriesUntold.com.

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  4. January 06, 2016 at 7:57 pm, Elizabeth Soto said:

    Thank you Linda for sharing with us your educational piece and challenging us church leaders to make connections and see the larger picture. I believe that the normalization of pornography dumb us to feel the sinful nature of it all. How can the fruit of the Spirit of “temperance” be manifested and our self-will be strength as communities of faith that proclaim the Good News? The Good News is about saying No to these sinful ways, and Yes to healthier sexual expressions. Education is our best preventive tool and teaching Kin-dom values could be an effective way forward.

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