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Promoting Porn for the Glory of God?

Last Updated: March 1, 2022

It has happened too many times to count: professing Christians have defended the use of porn as a tool for truth and beauty. That may sound like an absurd statement, but it is not unfounded. In order to properly illuminate the problem, we need to address something that will initially seem off topic: the ways Christian film critics respond to faith-based films. (Please bear with me.)

If you’re embarrassed by heavy-handed Christian-themed movies, you’re not alone. The subtext of many faith-based films—poor acting, a mediocre script, perfunctory production values, and the like—indicates that Christians value substance (right thinking) over style (good aesthetics). This may be subversive to the filmmakers’ intent, but the message is still there.

Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet succinctly explains it this way: “Style is substance….If you change the style of something, you change what it can mean.”

Similarly, Andrew Barber winsomely critiques much of modern Christian filmmaking as a ploy to turn storytelling into an opportunity for shameless propaganda. Even if such methods lead to conversions, the truth remains that “the ends don’t justify the means….The idea that one conversion validates even the worst means can be used to justify all sorts of evils.”

Now, here’s where it starts to gets dicey. This all-important “method equals message” principle cuts more than just one way. It works for us when we (rightly) critique mediocre Christian filmmaking, but it also works against us when we try to excuse pornographic material in the films we love.

While we might condemn porn with our lips, our eyes and hearts have grown numb to how it has seeped into much of our entertainment. To quote from The Brain That Changes Itself, “[S]oftcore pictures of yesteryear…now show up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.”

Author Shellie R. Warren concurs: “…since we’re used to seeing a lot of what used to be only reserved for HBO’s Real Sex, we don’t even catch that a lot of what’s on television [or in the movies] is pornographic.”

In my research on the pornification of our culture, I’ve discovered seven striking similarities between the sex acts in porn and the sex acts in mainstream entertainment. In spite of these similarities, we defend depictions of copulation in the TV shows and movies we watch. Common justifications include a story’s positive message or the filmmakers’ good intentions. In cases like these, we end up trying to pretend that style is not substance and that the ends do justify the means—in direct contradiction to what we know to be true.

One fairly recent example of this double standard is how Christian critics responded to Fifty Shades of Grey, as opposed to how they responded to The Wolf of Wall Street a couple years earlier. The condemnation of the former and the praise of the latter revolved mostly around one simplistic element: the message of each film. Whereas Fifty Shades normalized depravity, The Wolf of Wall Street criticized it. So the arguments went.

Yet if we examine the style of The Wolf of Wall Street—with its 22 graphic sex scenes and its objectification of actress Margot Robbie (among many others)—we realize that it includes enough explicit sexuality for several adult films. Contrary to what magazines like Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture said, Martin Scorsese’s stylistic choices actually worked against his ostensibly moral message.

That’s why The Gospel Coalition’s Trevin Wax said, “I suspect most people walked out of the film remembering the way the story was told, not the underlying critique.” That’s why World Magazine’s Megan Basham explained that even those in the entertainment industry chuckled when “best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio…[said], ‘I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behavior, we’re indicting it.’” That’s why film critic Jonathan Kiefer said, “Glorification [of vice] may not be an intention [of The Wolf of Wall Street] but may be a consequence.”

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong about movies dealing with sexual topics, even sordid ones. Still, we should not promote the use of pornographic methods to communicate a redeeming message. That’s like showing a titillation flick in a church service because it includes a conversion experience at the end, or taking your family to a bullfight in order to protest cruelty to animals. In other words, it’s self-defeating.

Style is substance. The method is the message. The ends don’t justify the means. This is true for cheesy faith-based motion pictures and for artsy films that use immoral storytelling techniques. Denying this principle is dishonest. It’s no more worthy of the gospel than…well, promoting pornography for the glory of God.


cap_stewart

Cap Stewart is the author of the online curriculum Personal Purity Isn’t Enough: The Long-Forgotten Secret to Making Scriptural Entertainment Choices. As a cultural commentator, he has contributed to numerous print and online publications. He writes at Unpop Culture.

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