*Warning – sensitive material included below. Reader discretion is advised.
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4
- No one knows for sure what has taken place over the past several years among those in the entertainment industry as it relates to sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc. People are still innocent until proven guilty.
- No one is truly shocked by the allegations being brought forward: it is clear that our culture has been one improperly using sexuality for some.
- No victim should be blamed for their abuse. No one that was harassed, raped, or forced into making a choice between career and the advances of a perpetrator is at fault. Those who have truly been victims should be able to find help and support by those around them.
- Those guilty of sexual crimes, especially those involving violence and/or children, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Pop-Culture’s “Old, But New” Problem
Pop-culture in America has an old, but new problem. The old problem is that “sex sells.” Given that prostitution has been dubbed as “the world’s oldest profession,” this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. You want to make an eye-catching Super-Bowl commercial? Put some scantily clad men or women in it. Do you want to become an “Internet star?” Make “workout videos” and post them to any manner of social media. There are countless “stars” that exist today that are known for little more than their sex-appeal, as defined by the current culture.
While men can (and do) take advantage of the “sex sells” mindset, it is predominantly expressed in pop-culture by female entertainers. Entire articles are written today about “the glory of yoga pants and the women who wear them,” which actresses have the best “feminine assets,” or “how amazing” some woman from a previous generation still looks today. Not too long ago, the feminist movement attempted to convince the world that women were more than just their curves. That a human being, male or female, brought value and worth to the world because of their mental contributions to society. The original feminist movement attempted to elevate women above the status of sexualized objects (which, by the way, is one of the things I believe that movement got right). Somewhere along the way, the “modern independent woman” has reverted back to the “sex sells” mindset.
If we are being honest, however, there really hasn’t been a reversion to anything. The “sex sells” worldview has never left. It transcends time, place, and culture. Modern American pop-culture has embraced it hook, line, and sinker. But there is a “new” problem for American pop-culture – one that may very well be unique to our day and time. For one of the first times in recorded human history, we have a worldview that is at odds with itself. Let me explain.
The “New Problem” of Pop-Culture’s Abuse of Sexuality
Pop-culture has attempted for the past several decades to hold up two opposing worldviews at the same time. On the one hand, pop-culture has declared that people are much more than their sexuality. Women, in particular, shouldn’t be sexualized, nor feel the need to sexualize themselves, to have value and worth in society. And to that, I say a hearty “Amen.” Yet, at the same time, our culture is one that glories in sexuality. Many Instagram stars are known only for their “attractiveness.” Modern television and movies are filled to the brink with implied and explicit sexuality. Many modern hits include scenes and depictions of all manner of sexuality: one night stands, sexual assault, straight sex, gay sex, group sex…nothing seems out of bounds. The only things that actually seems taboo is monogamous, heterosexual, married sex. You almost never see that depicted in pop-culture. (But I digress)…
The abuse of sexuality isn’t limited to movies and television. It is sung about with gusto in most successful pop songs. Scroll through the Billboard Hot 100 and check just the top 10 songs. On any given week, half (or more) will have aggressively, sexually explicit lyrics. Many of these lyrics are actually quite degrading and objectifying against women. Yet, our culture buys these albums, watches these movies and shows, and finds nothing wrong with it.
The problem with holding up two contradictory worldviews is that eventually one or both of them is going to topple. It is the Kevin Spacey problem. You can’t give him an Academy Award for Best Actor in American Beauty (a film in which he fantasizes about an underage girl) and simultaneously be angry about allegations of his approaching a minor in real life. We can’t glory in the sexual violence of Game of Thrones and 50 Shades of Grey while finding the same deplorable when it touches the real world. We can’t be a culture that thrives on people being sexualized (by themselves or by others) and find such sexualization grotesque. Our moral compass must not point toward “Righteous” only when it is convenient or socio-politically beneficial. If we find the sexualizing of other human beings deplorable, we should always find it so. If we find the sexual abuse, assault, or degradation of other humans off-putting and immoral, then we should not award depictions of the same with either our money or our greatest accolades. We can’t be a culture that has pornography producing more revenue than all the professional sports in our country combined and somehow decrying the continued objectification of other humans, most often women. We can’t sell sex and be mad that people are buying it. It doesn’t work that way. Ideas and actions have consequences.
A Christian Response
The church, from early in its history, has done a pretty bad job of tackling the issue of human sexuality in a meaningful way. It is true that sex is intended for a “one man-one woman relationship.” It is true that a chief part of sexuality is the production of human life. But sex, from a Christian perspective, is about so much more than that. So, how can a Christian respond to the “split personality” of pop culture regarding sex? How can we respond to the “scandals” that have both shocked and come as no surprise? Here are a few things:
- Christians can stop objectifying other humans. If there is any group of people that should never objectify any other human being, it should be Christians. We believe as a point of uncompromising doctrine that all humans are made in the image of God. We have all been placed here with the God-exalting purpose of reflecting the splendor of the Creator to one another the rest of the created order. Those who have repented and believed in Jesus are being re-made, by the Spirit, into the Image of God. Other people have not been made and placed in this world to serve our ends and meet our needs.
- Christians can embrace the “others first” reality of the gospel. If I am following the example of Jesus, my chief end in human relationships is to serve the other. I am here to live a life of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and giving service. I render this service as an act of worship to God, but I perform this service to the benefit of other human beings. Obviously this is not limited to sexuality, but for the sake of our current conversation, it certainly includes it.
- Christians can embrace the slightly uncomfortable truth that the gift of sex is a reflection of the gospel. Let’s walk through the checklist: one-flesh union (both); a giving and receiving (both); brings about life (both); only one right context (both); brings joy, delight, closeness, security, and intimacy (both). We could expound more, but you get the idea.
- Christians can stop supporting anything that feeds the false pop-culture narrative about sex. I certainly don’t want to come off as a legalist in this, but Paul declared that while all things are permissible, not all things are beneficial. Perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions regarding our consumption of pop-culture’s version of sexuality. “Am I loving the other by watching this, listening to this, or participating in this?” “Is this to my benefit as a Christian?” “Does this bring glory to the Image of Jesus in my life?” Am I making much of the gospel with this?” Just a few to start with.
- Christians can turn the pop-culture worldview back on itself. What better way to make much of the gospel than to use its principles of self-denial and love of the other as a way to demonstrate the bankruptcy of pop-culture’s view of sex.
- Finally, Christians can obey the command given in Hebrews 13:4 (see the start of this article). Marriage should be held in honor and the marriage bed undefiled. The Bible is full of helpful and good things to say about sex in the proper context of marriage. It adds security, safety, emotional closeness, physical pleasure, psychological stability, etc. Christians can stand against the train-wreck that is pop-culture’s view on sexuality by properly honoring God’s good gift of sexuality. Marriage is a good thing. Marital intimacy is a good thing. All other expressions of human sexuality are imposters and promoters of an empty bill-of-goods.
The scandals we are hearing about in the news are terrible. Every one of them. Real lives have been impacted. Real pain has been experienced. Let us, as Christians, not continue to feed the cultural sorrow. Let us show, in word and in deed, that there is a better way. Let Christians show that God is redeeming everything that has been broken, even our ruined notions of sex.