Women & Pornography

Porn in Church: Creating a Safe Space for Grace

In this series, where we’re tackling how to address porn in church, I would be remiss if I didn’t address this fundamental reality: our churches need to be safe spaces for grace.

In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about how to change the conversation and help women find healing, but the fact is that if the culture of your church chokes out grace, you can talk until you’re blue in the face and it isn’t going to matter.

There’s a parable in the Bible (Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, Luke 8:4–15) that is commonly referred to as the parable of the sower. The short version is this: a sower went out and scattered some seed. The seeds fell on different types of soil and that soil affected the seed’s ability to take root and to grow. The parable is explained that the different soils represent the different hearts of those who hear the truth (the seed).

Pastor, when is the last time you viewed yourself as a gardener?

The church you pastor isn’t there to boost your ego. You aren’t in that role so you can exert some sort of control. Your job and calling is not to parent or police the people in your church. Your job is to tend to them, to care for them, like a shepherd tends his flock, or like a gardener tends his garden.

Growing up, I used to help my Grampa with his garden. He always grew a variety of fruits and vegetables. Every year, before we planted seeds, we would help tend to the soil. In spring, the ground, hardened by winter, needed to be broken up and turned over. Stones and other obstructions were removed by hand. As summer pressed on, weeds needed to be pulled so they wouldn’t choke out the plants. With the harvest, dead and dying plants would be turned back into the soil to help nourish it for next year’s crops.

The most important part of gardening is the soil. Without it, the most quality of seeds will fail to flourish.

Too many pastors are standing in pulpits, tossing out seeds, without tending to the soil.

You can preach the most honest, truthful, and grace-filled messages, but if your pews are filled with hearts littered with rocks and weeds, that truth will be choked out. 

You may preach grace but if your church culture is filled with judgement and condemnation. If people with struggles are silenced, that message of grace will not affect the change you are hoping for.

It’s like they say, “Actions speak louder than words.”

I’ve shared often about the church culture I experienced growing up. It was a very conservative Baptist church and while we sang about grace and talked about grace, the actions of the church were far less than gracious. When a woman at our church got pregnant outside of marriage, she was ostracized. Years later, when she sang on the stage with the daughter she had before marriage, she was accused of “flaunting her sin.” There was no space for grace for her.

While I wish that was a unique perspective, I attended a similar church years later. A friend went through a divorce initiated by the husband. Her ex-husband stayed in his position as youth leader while she was removed from her position in the youth group and the choir. A few months later, she became pregnant with another man’s child and was even further ostracized. At one point she said to me, “I grew up in this church and they’ve turned their back on me.”

If this is the environment we’re creating in our churches, then there isn’t room for grace. We may preach it and we may sing it, but we need to practice it.

What’s the soil like in your church?

Before you can address any shame-inducing issue like pornography, grace has to be the soil. Will there be rocks? Yes. Will there be occasional weeds? Yes. But are you helping to cultivate a soil rich in grace, that welcomes those who struggle and points them to Jesus?

So many pastors seem to approach church like a (toxic) parent. These are their children to discipline and control, to issue commands and expect obedience. When a child wanders off, the pastor takes it personally, as a mark on their record, as a stain on the church and an offense against the name of Jesus. I even heard it taught several times growing up that a shepherd would break the legs of sheep that wandered off as a way of keeping them from wandering off any more.

It wasn’t until years later that I read an article from an actual shepherd who said this is ludicrous. First, sheep are not the smartest animal on the planet. They wander off all the time and get themselves stuck in stupid situations. Sound familiar?

If you haven’t seen the video of a sheep… being a sheep, click here to see the video on YouTube. A shepherd would be breaking lots of legs but could only carry one sheep at a time. This is a problem.

Second, one of a shepherd’s jobs is to protect the flock. If a predator is stalking the flock of sheep and happens upon a lame one, guess who just became lunch. The shepherd’s job is to protect the sheep. A shepherd would be failing his flock if he just started busting legs, maiming his sheep, leaving them vulnerable to attack. That’s exactly the opposite of what he’s supposed to do.

And yet, isn’t that the environment we’re seeing in so many Christian circles? Instead of protecting from predators, we leave people vulnerable to attack. We isolate and alienate. We “break their legs” to teach them a lesson in Jesus’ name when absolutely nowhere in Scripture is that how Jesus handles people. Jesus, friend of sinners. Jesus, who lets those of ill-repute worship Him.

If that isn’t the Jesus you are preaching, don’t expect your people to experience any kind of growth, freedom, or healing. 

If the soil of your church is marked by hearts hardened to the “scandal” of grace, you can have the most up-to-date graphics, and the coolest website, and the best programs, and a top rate video team, and small groups, and recovery meetings, and it won’t matter one bit. It’s high quality seed in poor soil.

My husband and I recently bought a bunch of flowers for our flower beds. One was a gorgeous tropical hibiscus. We don’t live anywhere near the tropics, but if it can grow in a bucket at Home Depot, I thought, surely it can handle my front yard.

What I didn’t consider is that our front flower bed was full of clay soil. I had grabbed one bag of gardening topsoil, but we felt that was better used on the raspberry and blueberry bushes I bought. So, we planted our tropical hibiscus in the clay out front. Unsurprisingly, our hibiscus isn’t fairing well. No matter how much sun it gets or how much we water it, the leaves are continuing to wilt, shrivel up, and fall off. Why? Because the soil is horrible. I can water it all I want, but what it really needs is different soil.

If you want the truth to take root and transform the hearts of people in your care, you have to tend the soil. You have to start tilling grace down below the surface. It’s not enough to sing about it in a couple worship songs. You have to be willing to dig and get it down in there. You have to be willing to confront the lies, the weeds, the rocks. Until you do, no message of grace and redemption can fully take root.

So let me ask you this:

How are you creating a safe space for grace in your church?

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