On Culture, Sex, Influence, and Why Personal Responsibility Matters
Before we start the Porn in Church series, I wanted to take a minute and talk about the importance of personal responsibility. We talk a lot about “accountability” in Christian circles. It’s the idea that we answer to other people and if you’re on a journey of recovery from porn use, then you’ve for sure heard it. In fact I’ve written several posts about it. But personal responsibility is probably equally, if not more, important than the idea of accountability.
Accountability, the way we use it, says “others can check in on me and I answer to them.” It’s the motive behind things like accountability software, like Covenant Eyes, or even some recovery groups. If you know someone’s watching, or going to find out, maybe you’ll be less likely to pursue negative behavior. It says, “Somebody is watching.” Personal responsibility says, “I take responsibility for what I do, think, believe, and teach.”
They should work hand-in-hand, but often they do not. We may welcome accountability but we shirk responsibility when confronted, blaming our actions on something other than ourselves.
For example, let’s say I struggle with anger and I lash out at someone. A friend witnesses this and confronts me on it. This is technically accountability. Even if I haven’t asked her to keep me accountable, she still can. Accountability isn’t a business relationship that we establish. It’s part of being in community with other people and especially a part of being in the body of Christ.
In response to her confrontation, I say, “Well, you don’t understand. They did such and such and I’ve had a bad day. Besides, I didn’t mean it that way and they’re fine.” When I have done that, even though there is a level of accountability, I have shirked my personal responsibility. If I tell her to butt out and mind her own business and then take measures to make sure there are no witnesses next time I blow up, then I am evading both accountability and personal responsibility.
Why bring up the idea of personal responsibility?
I bring this up because it is important, especially as we get ready to dive into a series about how we discuss porn and sex in church. As those who sit in the pews, we are guilty of shirking a lot of our personal responsibility when it comes to what we believe. I saw it as I watched discussions about Ravi Zacharias and I saw it again as I read through The Great Sex Rescue.
You- not your pastor, your parents, your favorite author, your husband, your bff- you alone are the gatekeeper to your heart and mind. You alone are responsible for your actions and the beliefs that influence them.
This is something we really struggle with when it comes to sexual issues. It’s a human issue and an age-old one. When God confronted Adam in the Garden of Eden, what was Adam’s response? Essentially, “God, this isn’t my fault. She did it and let me remind you that you‘re the one who gave her to me!” Basically, “It’s everyone else’s fault.”
This is a trap we can easily fall into. A woman might struggle with pornography and blame everyone else. In fact, she may even blame her accountability partner. “If you had texted me when you were supposed to… if you had been available. You know this is a struggle for me. You should have known better.”
If my parents had just talked to me about sex.
If my dad hadn’t left.
If my pastor hadn’t raped me.
Are we wounded by trauma? Absolutely. Does sin wreak havoc in our lives? Yes. Is there very real pain that needs very real healing? Yes. Can other people hurt us? Yes. And it is wrong when they do. And it is ok for us to acknowledge that. As Jay Stringer points out in his book Unwanted, we can and should be honest about other people and the pain they have caused, regardless of our relationship to them.
Wrong things can happen to us, but that does not excuse the wrong we do.
This was one of the most painful parts of my journey. For years, I blamed my broken, dysfunctional family for my porn use. If my dad hadn’t been abusive. If he had never left. If my mom had talked to me about sex. If all of these other people had done the right thing, I wouldn’t be in this mess.
And it’s true. My life would have been different if my family wasn’t tattered by adultery, abuse, and divorce.
But I am the one who chose to escape to pornography. I am the one who chose to lie about my struggle. My dad wasn’t dragging me to the computer. My mom wasn’t pulling up the websites.
To be clear, there are still pains and patterns rooted in my childhood and “family of origin” that I am uncovering and working through even decades later. What we experience has to shape us. It can’t not. Sometimes it’s more subtle, like water gently eroding a river bed. Other times it’s more like a sledge hammer to a wall in a home remodel. Either way, we are shaped by our life experiences. They may set us on a path that is less than ideal, but the steps we take on that path are ours.
That was one of the most painful truths I had to realize in my freedom journey. It was also one of the most freeing. Because if this was my fault. If my struggle was ultimately about my response to pain and the stress of life, then I had the power to change it. Freedom didn’t depend on my dad apologizing or my family being less dysfunctional. If my struggle didn’t depend on others, getting out of it didn’t either.
As we step into the Porn in Church series, I want to remind you, your pastor may be wrong.
In fact, I may be wrong.
How does that tie in to freedom? What does your pastor (or favorite author/book/speaker) have to do with personal responsibility?
When’s the last time you fact checked your pastor?
When’s the last time you fact checked me?
And by “fact check” I don’t mean looking up studies and checking cited sources. I mean when is the last time you took what was said and brought it right back to the word of God and asked, “Is this what this means?”
This is an area where I see so many Christians abdicating their personal responsibility.
Truth has to be your standard, and truth comes from one source. Authors, speakers, pastors, leaders– they all may have great ideas, but ultimately those ideas must align with the Truth. They are not their own truth.
No one in Christian leadership, regardless of platform, years in service, how many TV shows or TikTok followers they have, is infallible. No one. Doesn’t matter how many letters they have after their name or how many best selling books they’ve published.
And while he or she is responsible and will be held accountable for what they teach, you are also responsible for what you believe. If you read a best-selling book on sex, marriage, or whatever else, compare its teaching to Truth. Don’t just take the one verse they quote out of context and assume they got it right.
For my brother’s wedding, I was responsible for making the slideshow and the projected welcome screen. At their rehearsal, I put up a slide that had a cute picture of them, their names, the date, and this verse:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
It’s right there, in the King James Bible. You can look it up: 1 Corinthians 7:1b. I thought the joke was absolutely hilarious and would cut the tension that seems to be present at every single wedding rehearsal I have ever attended (yes, even my own was tense). The fundamental, ultra conservative pastor officiating the day’s events was not as amused, so after a few hushed chuckles, I took it down.
The point is, that’s what the words say, but it’s not what they mean. The Bible is not telling men not to touch women. We need context. We need the whole of Scripture.
Either we’re filtering our influences through the Truth, or we’re filtering them through what we want to hear.
Your pastor may be the most dynamic and convincing speaker ever. Because they are dynamic and convincing and “changed your life” you feel no need to check what is said. After all, they went to school for this and have spent hours, you assume, studying. Who are you to question?
You go on Sunday morning and sit in that pew and drink it all in. Then when they start going out of line and off script, instead of scratching your head, you find yourself amazed and shouting “amen.”
Used car salesmen can be dynamic and convincing and can also “change your life.” Inspirational speakers make a living off being dynamic, convincing, and changing lives.
The question is not whether the person delivering the message is likable. The question is whether or not they are telling the truth. And you don’t determine that based on how many letters they have after their name or how many followers they have on social media. That’s how culture determines who gets to influence. After all, social media “stars” are aptly named “influencers.”
As Christians, we’re called to a different standard.
Recently, I saw a prayer Nadia Bolz-Weber (don’t freak out- stay with me) spoke over Joshua Harris at the end of an interview.
I hope you and everyone else hurt by purity culture have passionately consensual, unselfconsciously joyous, deeply transformative sex.
And, at first glance, even I am tempted to shout “Amen!” It’s a powerful statement, full of grace, and freedom and beauty. And when you look at Nadia’s site, you see that’s her brand. She’s this edgy, rocker-chic, Lutheran minister who seems to champion grace, mercy, and compassion. Plus, she has cool hair. What’s not to love?
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, you have Christian authors who present sex as something obligatory and stale. They share that husbands need it and if a wife fails to give it, she’s violating God’s word. They back this by quoting this verse here, which also happens to be in 1 Corinthians 7 (verse 4)
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.
Along with verse 5:
Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
I could totally see why people desperate to see sex the way God intended would flock to someone like Nadia. We want freedom. We crave grace. We’re tired of something so beautiful being so shrouded in shame. Reading that may feel like a breath of much-needed fresh air.
On the other hand, I could see some flocking to and drinking in these so-called Christian teachings that say men have control over their wives and that their wives owe them sex.
The problem is you have to dig deeper into both.
Nadia’s message of freedom goes beyond the freedom God calls us to. While that specific prayer is powerful and one I would happily pray for any married woman I know, when you look at the rest of her teachings, there is danger there. There is a “reckless freedom” so to speak. When she’s talking about sex, she’s talking about no holds barred, nothing off the table- in marriage, out of marriage, “have it your way” sex. The freedom she’s promoting isn’t out of the abundance that God promises but instead out of a desire to rid ourselves of shame in our own strength. You simply can’t pray for God to bless something that is wrong. He is light and can’t bless darkness.
On the other side, all of these pastors and authors promoting “the man gets to have sex whenever he wants and she owes it him” have conveniently left out the second half of verse 4 (as well as basically the rest of the Bible):
Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Unquestioned authority and influence is a poison.
It’s a poison in the church. It’s a poison in families. It’s a poison in marriages.
As I said in my review of The Great Sex Rescue, toxic teachings don’t exist in vacuums. They exist in cultures. And we live in a culture that is easily influenced, not by truth or the desire for it, but by platform and popularity. How many followers do you have? How cool are you?
This causes us to build up people in our hearts and minds. We put people on pedestals. We turn to people as our source of truth and we shoot down or ignore anyone who dares question the people we believe.
In 2 Timothy 4:3 we have this solemn warning:
For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine and accurate instruction [that challenges them with God’s truth]; but wanting to have their ears tickled [with something pleasing], they will accumulate for themselves [many] teachers [one after another, chosen] to satisfy their own desires and to support the errors they hold,
Forget statistics. Forget studies. Forget the surveys and what the audience says. Forget all the letters that come after someone’s name, or how many people they’ve peddled their wares to.
What does God say? That’s the question we all, individually, have the responsibility to ask. When we fail to ask it that’s on us.
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