Health and Fitness

Opposing Porn Isn’t as Lonely as It Once Was for UK Evangelicals

Opposing Porn Isn’t as Lonely as It Once Was for UK Evangelicals


Ask Ian Henderson what he does for a living, and he has to decide whether to respond with the quick version—that he runs a charity—or the potentially awkward version—that he works in pornography education and recovery.

“Sometimes it’ll really open a conversation,” said Henderson, the CEO of Visible Ministries and the Naked Truth Project, which helps over 10,000 people a year in the United Kingdom through training, support groups, and counseling.

Facing a porn epidemic can feel like being dropped into the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, Henderson said, up close with filth and pain while God shows him “how bad things have gotten.” As pornography has proliferated online, however, more of his fellow Brits are open to talking about its dark side too.

For ministries such as Naked Truth and Christian advocacy groups such as CARE (Christian Action Research and Education), opposing pornography is no longer the lonely position it was for British evangelicals back in the 1970s and 1980s, when they were maligned as prudish killjoys.

Now, websites face legal challenges for hosting abusive content; research is revealing more about how porn affects the mind; and parents of faith and no faith share concerns about kids’ early exposure to sexual material online.

“For a while, there’s been a clear divide of [pornography] being unacceptable in Christian circles and socially acceptable if you’re not a Christian,” said Hannah Lodge, an administrator at Naked Truth. “I think that gap is closing.”

When pastor Ioannis Dekas learned that his teenage son had searched for porn on a school device last year, “It was a wake-up call,” he said. “I had preached on addiction to pornography and how to find your identity in Christ. What I hadn’t preached on is what you do as a parent.”

Dekas, the campus pastor of Doxa Deo Church in London, went on to launch a legal challenge against the government for failing to implement a provision requiring commercial porn sites to ensure users are over 18.

“How could I teach my church about the transformation of our city and, when the opportunity leveled in front of me, walk away from that?” he said.

Following ongoing lobbying efforts by CARE and Dekas’s case rallying further parental support, the government in February committed to requiring age verification in a new set of online safety rules.

In the UK, at least half of kids between ages 11 and 13 and two-thirds of those 14 and 15 have accessed porn, according to research by the British Board of Film Classification, responsible for the national rating system. Even accidental exposure can have a lasting effect on kids, making them feel scared, curious, or ashamed over what they saw.

Christian advocates see the verification requirements as a significant first step toward protecting children, putting an extra barrier between them and the explicit images and clips just a tap away. It’s up to companies to decide how to verify users’ ages, and it may be years before the requirement goes into effect.

British evangelicals speaking up about porn see it as a sexual sin issue and a justice issue, with implications for how society cares for the vulnerable.

“For me it’s both/and. It’s how porn destroys individual lives and harms others,” said Ross Hendry, CEO of CARE, the origins of which date back to a grassroots evangelical movement against pornography 50 years ago. “I think the Bible is remarkably good at addressing that balance; it cares equally about the people of God and individuals.”

It’s been an interesting moment for evangelicals in the public square. With the topic of age verification, they have had a chance to uphold a traditional Christian position on sexuality and marriage while falling in line with the cultural conscience on the issue.

“There is widespread public concern. Regardless of what you believe for adults, very few people think it’s a healthy way for young people to learn about sex,” said Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at The Christian Institute in England, which also supported the new measure.

Besides lobbying efforts and regulation, the British church has a unique role to play as more people reckon with the damage done by online porn.

Like in a lot of places, it’s still taboo to speak up in the church about struggling with masturbation and pornography. Even when people do confess they have a problem, there’s only so much most pastors can do. And there are real concerns about getting it wrong.

“I didn’t realize how much potential harm the church has had around this issue,” Henderson said.

One woman recounted how, as soon as her church learned about her husband’s addiction, instead of addressing her pain and sense of betrayal, people made suggestions about the way she dressed or asked about her sexual availability to him. The couple eventually found a path to recovery and healing through Naked Truth.

“These were people who’ve experienced the same range of emotions—rage, anger, hurt,” said the woman, who asked to remain unnamed for her husband’s privacy. “Having people who can validate your feelings when people in your church cannot is really invaluable.”

Naked Truth puts on an event every two years—the P-Word Conference—and conducts training to equip churches to help individuals as well as partners and parents affected by porn.

Currently, around 2,000 people participate in weekly support groups offered online, and the team hears more stories like the woman’s—some of the staff themselves have found freedom from porn use, come to faith in Christ, and want to help others do the same.

But the scope of the problem is growing. Surveys found that a fifth of the United Kingdom reported using porn more often during lockdowns, with a bump in traffic to Pornhub, the most popular porn site in the UK, and the user-generated subscription platform OnlyFans, which is based in London.

With the proliferation of pornography online, it’s become more violent and abusive, and more harmful to both the people involved and—advocates worry—younger viewers.

Calls to abuse hotlines were also up. More teens are engaging in behaviors like choking in early sexual experiences. The high-profile murder case of Sarah Everard in England last year raised questions over the link between her killer’s penchant for “brutal sexual pornography,” as described in court, and his violent sexual crime.

Hendry took leadership of CARE last year after working in children’s charities in the UK, where he saw porn use affect children vulnerable to trafficking, neglect, and abuse.

“The reality and darkness of the world is too brutal for most people to comprehend,” Hendry said. “It’s my faith that gets me through. If I didn’t have a framework for understanding sin in this world and Christ’s return and redemption, I’d be crushed.”

In Henderson’s comparison to the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel, he thinks about how God involves his prophet in the process. The Lord brings him to the valley and asks him to prophesy that the bones come to life. When he does so, the bones come together and form bodies around him. But it’s not until God breathes into them that they are alive.

“The ministry has grown and continues to grow, and it’s like every day God’s asking, ‘Can these bones live?’ ” he said. “We need the breath of God. If we just do therapy or education, we can help, but only Jesus can heal.”

Kate Shellnutt is senior news editor for Christianity Today.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.





Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.