Within moments, there will be an online screening for “The Heart of the Matter,” the documentary I was asked to interview for back in May 2012. It was released while I was away on hiatus, and I have yet to see the finished product, but I came across a scathing review of it.
The review, from a self-proclaimed “porn loving feminist,” detailed the shame in the film. So much shame, from the gray backgrounds to the single chair in the middle of a barren room. Our interviews talked about shame. She honed in on mine in particular and said that if I could just get rid of my shame, I could join her and her progressive feminist friends (apparently progressive feminist is synonymous for “women who like watching porn”). Her point was that the film simply showcases a toxic culture of shame in the church.
That was exactly the point.
When this documentary was first created, it went under the title “Shamed.” Why? Because it was targeted at the shame. The shame was the entire purpose of this whole thing. When Jessica, the producer, got in touch with me, her approach is what sold me on joining with this film (and dragging Amy with me). Jessica wanted to talk about the toxic shame that surrounds this in our churches.
We function in this space that says, “Sex is bad. Being sexual is bad. If you struggle with pornography, you should be ashamed of yourself. You are unworthy. You are less than. You are despicable. Fix yourself.” That’s the culture that, unfortunately, is mainstream in our churches.
And this culture of mixing sex and shame is killing us.
It’s not just pornography. Pornography is one piece in a larger puzzle. We see the same scenario with victims of rape- they are now “damaged goods.” We see the same approach with women who have premarital sex- they chose the “greasy cheeseburger” and “lost” something they can never get back. There is this model of the perfect Christian woman (and who says guys don’t believe in fairy tales) and she wears white so radiant it would blind snow because she is just that
This is blowing up in our faces big time when it comes to abstinence too. We have a generation of women who are ashamed of sex, and feel they cannot be sexual and spiritual. They feel they have to choose, and the louder they cry for freedom to be both, the more the church seems to rail against anything sexual.
Here’s the problem: you cannot shame people into grace. It doesn’t work that way.
Grace is freedom, and there is no shame in freedom. You don’t get to have greasy cheeseburger arguments in an environment of grace. You don’t get to be appalled in an environment of grace. You don’t get to shun. You don’t get to ban. You don’t get to ostracize. You don’t get to judge. You don’t get to look down your nose. You don’t get to label. There are no “damaged goods” and nothing is lost… except shame. Grace and shame do not and cannot co-exist.
Bottom line is our churches are so full of sexual shame there is no room for sexual grace.
And it needs to be the other way around. We need to fix that, but you cannot fix a problem if you don’t see a problem. As a church, we are great at saying the problem is “out there” somewhere- out in “the world” we call it. “The world” struggles with porn. “The world” celebrates inappropriate desires. “The world” does all sorts of evil stuff and it is our job to change “the world.”
No. People watch porn- man, woman, boy, girl, old, young, Greek, Roman, slave, gentile, red, brown, yellow, black, and white. People have sexual desires. People do all sorts of evil stuff. And our churches, which are made up of said people, are called to love said people and let God do the work of changing said people. We are never instructed to convert through condemnation. God is not an ultimatum.
That is why I am so passionate about this and why I let my face be on camera and let people know that I am “that girl.” It’s not easy, because the shame is still there. It’s like breaking free from your chains only to have people start chasing you with them.
If I had stopped smoking, it would be the equivalent of someone saying, “Well, no, here, you need to carry this pack of cigarettes just so people know you were a smoker.” Instead of helping others find freedom, we label them. The culture of shame we have doesn’t even allow for freedom. We’re merciless.
This documentary is all about changing that. We are real people, with real stories, with real scars and wounds inflicted not only by the choices we have made but by people who chased us around with chains and scarlet letters.
In one of my side interviews for “Shamed” someone asked me why I offered to be part of the film, and I answered, “Because it’s all about starting a conversation.” It’s about making it real. The fact is that sexual beings make our churches, and the sooner we stop shaming that sexuality and all of the temptations it brings, the sooner we will be the grace we are called to be. It doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye to what we know does not honor God, but it certainly means that we care more for the healing and restoration of a person than we do the reputation of our church/marriage/family.