Speak the Unspeakable: Building Great Christian “Followship”

I recently heard a quote from Martin Luther that made me pause:

“Anyone that is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is, and what faith is in Him unless he knew where His believers are?”

This echoes a poem best sung loudly around a campfire… “and they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love”. I’ve always believed Christianity is greatest when practiced in a community that honors its historical tradition, sticks closely to the biblical text, allows for intellectual reasoning and uses discernment regarding experience of the Spirit (thanks Wesley!) Christians are the adverts of the faith they profess… when you find a church, you should, as Luther suggests, be finding Christ. Someone needs to talk about Christians and pornography. So, I guess, I will. *insert weak smile*

Vignette 1: Saturday two weeks ago was the 10th Anniversary of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women & Justice. I drove out in an SUV with my amazing Orange County girlfriends, ate Watermelon soup, was impressed by upmarket Balboa Bay Resort, and listened to a presentation by Ernie Allen, CEO and President of The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Well, it turns out not everyone in Orange County feels the sunshine as freely. Some things women and children face are simply unspeakable. Over 213 rescues occurred this year in Orange County with 60 of these minors – the work being done at Vanguard is very, very important. You can subscribe to their podcasts and find out more information here.

Vignette 2: then, on Sunday I attended a fantastic service at a prominent church in downtown Los Angeles, where I heard a great message on Matthew 23. In this passage Jesus talks about leadership (you can read it here). During the service, leaders from various industries were prayed for. Leaders in the church; education industry; and film industry. I found it a moving service, very similar to my home church in Australia. I worshiped with my arms raised high and even danced a little, meeting up with friends at the end. Perfect. Loved it.

As far as this PhD student goes, that’s a big week. The content I received was inspirational, to say the least. But there’s something about the “negative space” between these two events (to use an art term), a growing disconnect in my heart. I suspect Christian discipleship has been so heavily focused upon the formation of leadership that we’ve left followship unadressed. You see, everything expounded in that sermon was true, and should be said. I’m particularly grateful for my home church, which taught me to think of myself as a leader. But this passage does not *just* promote great leadership. It promotes a subversive type of following, that could be summarized as, “follow what these leaders teach, not what they do”. Why? well, their teaching was good, their doing was not. It’s the acts that Matthew (and God) condemned. The passage encourages Christians not to do as much as it asks Christians to do. This indicates Christians are not only leading, but following. And it also suggests that when we follow, we attribute power.

Ernie Allen in his address told stories that made me shiver. He mentioned an entrepreneurial couple in Texas who found themselves short of cash, and opened a website that became a portal for a child pornography ring. By the time authorities caught up with the couple, there were 70,000 monthly subscribers viewing the website’s content and paying $29.99 a month for explicit images of children, 10-15% of which were under 5. The customers weren’t obvious deranged psychopaths; they presented as lawyers, doctors, football coaches, teachers. The ensuing court cases required absolute proof that these victims were minors, and this led to Ernie’s conviction that a central database of images was needed, connecting victims to crimes. Last year, this organization reviewed 18 million images, seeking to find victims and ascertain their safety.

If that doesn’t make your head spin, here are more figures from The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

  • 27 million people around the world are currently held as slaves.
  • the victims of child porn are becoming younger: 19% of identified offenders had in their possession images of children younger than 3; 39% had images of children younger than 6; and 82% had images of children younger than 12.

In case you’re suspicious, this isn’t the only organization reporting starting figures of increasing usage. According to the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK:

  • there has been a 1500% increase in the number of child pornography images since 1997.

And, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the USA reports:

  • most child pornography consumers and child victims are from the West; however, the financial transactions are moving offshore.

This suggests users are smarter about how they pay for images they require in increasing numbers. Brigham Young University estimates:

  • US porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC (6.2 billion)
  • Pornographic websites number 4.2 million (12% of total websites)
  • child pornography generates $3 billion annually

It all gets much, much worse if the following information from Brigham Young University webpage is true:

  • 53% of Promise Keepers (American evangelical men’s ministry) viewed pornography in the last week.
  • 47% of Christians said pornography is a major problem in the home.

And, I find it hard to cite this statistic, from pastors.com which claims:

  • 54% of pastors said they viewed porn in the last week.

The negative space, that of which we fail to speak is who and what we’re following, but it is becoming louder and louder. The thing is, every single time you click a site with an explicit image of a child, you’re following the people creating this $3 billion industry. You’re feeding the beast, so to speak. You may be the most amazing leader, but it’s who you’re following that sets and forms your integrity.

Not only is this industry causing an entire generation of people who now have misshapen ideas about sexual intimacy, it is stealing the innocence of many, many, many children. If sexual intimacy is a gift, it is being taken by people performing for  the thousands of computer screens. Christianity does not seek to repress desire, intimacy or sex, but it does channel it away from  two dimensional images towards real, human encounters. This is not about censoring ecstasy. It is about saying that one real moment of intimacy in a lifetime is worth the loss of (an averaged) forty images viewed over the course of a day.

Our generation needs people who are willing to admit that the links they follow when nobody is watching, actually matter.

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