When Porn is Female

Earlier this week at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit, author and professor Heath Lambert delivered an address on the gospel and human sexuality in which he urged churches to proactively confront the issue of pornography. I’ve been married to a therapist who works with men with sexual addiction for 13 years, a man passionately committed to helping men find freedom from pornography, so I fully appreciate and agree with Lambert’s call for more attention to be drawn to this area. However, Lambert’s speech was punctuated with references to “the forbidden woman of pornography”, a hyperbolic literary personification of porn as female that is deeply problematic.

When porn is female, we obfuscate the real nature of pornography addiction, excluding a wide swath of porn abusers, discounting their experience. Women, who are more likely to act out pornographic behavior than men, constitute 28% of porn users with 9.4 million women visiting porn sites each month. Seventeen percent of women say they are “addicted”. Some estimates state that gay pornography makes up 5%-15% of all porn and several studies reveal that half of gay men use pornography for masturbation or as a prelude to sex. Child pornography is a $3 billion annual industry and over 100,000 websites offer illegal child pornography.

When porn is female, women are held responsible for the sexual failings of men. We shift the locus of blame for sexual immorality from the inner spiritual condition of a man to the outer, physical body of a woman. We turn 1 Corinthians 6:18 on its head: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” But wait, no one believes that. No one really blames women for men’s sexual problems. And yet, they do. I was raped by a pastor who said that the problem was me, not him. He didn’t feel so bad about his actions because “sex sin” is outside him, coming from woman. Au contraire. Sexual sin is concerned with and deeply affects our own bodies in ways that other sins—such as gluttony, drunkenness—do not.

When porn is female, we perpetuate a culture in which women are objects and therefore, commodities. The objectification of women has led to a burgeoning sex trafficking industry in which women are abused and exploited. The objectification of women impairs men’s ability to overcome sexual addiction. Once the habit of female objectification is imprinted on the mind, it is difficult to change.

Some might object by saying that Lambert was simply appropriating a metaphorical personification from Proverbs 9, in which Dame Folly is described as a seductress, but if so, that would be sloppy hermeneutical practice. First, the “Dame” is “Dame Folly”, set in the larger context of folly in general, not just folly in sexual matters. Second, the author of Proverbs uses female metaphorical personification in both a positive (Wisdom) and negative (Folly) sense, while Lambert exclusively uses the negative.

Words are the incarnation of our ideas and beliefs, and those ideas have consequences. What we say and how we say it matters because words are the vehicle through which we come to understand ourselves, our world, and the nature of reality. Words, the task of naming, was our first responsibility as human beings. Let us steward them well.

Breaking Down the Barriers in Taipei, Taiwan

1392072_10152314631134189_1171936017_nSpreading the gospel isn’t easy in Taipei, Taiwan. Though citizens do have religious freedom, becoming a Christian often means sacrificing your cultural identity and alienating your family. Lifting Hands Network exists to equip believers in sharing the gospel to people they love. Recently, I spoke with Jane Hsu, the executive chairman for Lifting Hands Network about her ministry.

At what point in your life did you realize you were a leader?

When you have a vision, a passionate, burning desire and you try to share it, most people’s response is, “You are crazy. That’s impossible.” Twenty years ago I had a vision and the impossible came true.

In Taiwan, children usually aren’t named either by their parents or grandparents but by fortune-tellers, because their parents believe that a good name will bring children a prosperous life. When an infant doesn’t sleep well, his mother likely will take the baby to a medium or a palm-reading psychic for a special treatment, but not to a pediatrician since most Taiwanese are either Buddhists or Taoists. More than that, many parents give their children to gods as foster sons or daughters. They do not know that “…anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (Deut. 18: 12a).

This situation made me feel sad. So I prayed for the children in Taiwan. In my prayers I began to receive a vision from the Lord. I could clearly see more than 1,500 children singing, laughing and being healed in a large building.

And later, you saw an opportunity to do this through a Christmas program held at the National Theater in Taipei and broadcast on YoYo TV…

Christmas is the best time for sharing the Gospel; even the most traditional families allow their children to go to church for Christmas. I envisioned the name “A Magical Christmas,” for the program. Live children’s Christmas programs need to be strong in concept and design. In prayer, I asked God to reveal to me just who would be the ideal person to be the program producer. Vickie Pettis, the lead teacher of the most popular English TV teaching program, come to mind. Vickie agreed and [her team] were eager to join the program even though it would require to working overtime.

On December 22, about 3,000 children entered the theater. It was so crowded that even the aisles were full and more than 600 children were left outside. One pastor held my hand and asked if he was dreaming, since he had never seen so many children who wanted to attend an evangelistic program.

At the end of the program, 95 percent of the children raised their hands to respond to the invitation of salvation. That night my home phone rang all night long. YoYo TV broadcast “A Magical Christmas” on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Many thank-you letters and phone calls came to ORTV and YoYo TV after the program aired. People thanked us for presenting the real meaning of Christmas and they wanted to know more about Jesus.

I still remember an 80-year-old grandmother told me she accepted the salvation too. She said that she did not know God is so good; she did not know she needed not to go to the hell because Jesus dies for her sin. All her life she never experienced unconditional love, and she was so happy to be God’s daughter…

What is the ministry of Lifting Hands? What would you like people to know?

To reach the lost in places that prohibit proclaiming the gospel in an open, public manner, such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In Taiwan, Christian’s population, including Catholic, is less than 10%. People need Jesus. We teach Christians how to lead atheists, Buddhists or Taoists to Christ in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. We reach non-Christians through workshops about emotion management and dating. We plan to open grief counseling courses to help [Christians] reach out to non-Christians.

[We also aim] to Equip the Body of Christ. Christians are poorly equipped and need better resources. Many Christians are neither people of influence nor joy, and their hearts are full of doubts. They are spiritually hurt from incorrect interpretation of the Bible and oppression from dysfunctional pastors. Wrong teachings, deviations, and heresies are not unusual. So we help Christian workers become more professional by providing lectures that help them enjoy working and excel in the workplace. We provide character development courses for pastors, missionaries, and their wives. We publish better materials and hold conferences in North/Middle/South of Taiwan, inviting the authors to teach intensive courses.

What are the biggest challenges for you as a leader?

Most Christians are attracted to Charismatic Movement since they want their life problems to be solved immediately. People want success and miracles, but that’s [not in God’s Word]. Our sponsor structure is weak because Lifting Hands Network is not underwritten or sponsored by a large organization or any denomination. I have to lean on God to supply all our needs every day. Also, the publishing industry decline seriously due to the internet.

What has been your biggest blessing?

Many pastors/preachers tell us that [our ministry provides] what Taiwan needs and they feel immensely grateful that we publish these books and hold the conference. Pastors and their spouses have told us that not only is their relationship with elders/deacons [improving], their church grew, and their family relationship also improved.

When You’re Pea-Green With Envy

“Of the seven deadly sins,” wrote Joseph Epstein, “Only envy is no fun at all.” Growing up I was always envious of the taller girls—which, in my case, was about every girl. At a staggering 5’1 (and three quarters), I’m pint-sized compared to most people.  Later, in my early teens, when my family came apart at the seams, I was envious of those who seemed to come from happy families. Today, envy most often strikes in relation to my career as a writer or a professor.

Envy strikes. Like lightening, it happens quickly. The bodily experience of envy is a piercing in the heart, a bright flash in the mind. When researchers asked people to describe where in their body they experienced envy, they indicated the head and the heart. Thomas Aquinas described envy as “sorrow over another’s good.” While jealousy describes a person’s desire to keep what is rightfully theirs (such as a spouse, or God, for his people), envy is a desire for what another person has. We’re envious of another person’s house, their spouse, their kids, their car, their career success, their fame, their cash. We want another’s good for our own. There’s another side to envy, too: we feel pleasure at the pain and the sorrow of others, a reaction known as “Schadenfreude.” When researchers measured the electrical activity of cheek muscles, they discovered that envious persons smiled more when someone they envy experiences sorrow.

Social media, particularly Facebook, provides a fertile environment in which envy thrives. On social media, we present edited versions of our lives. We post about the good things—the wins, the celebrations, the exotic vacations, the perfect Instagram family moments—but we fail to present the negatives as often as we present the positives. Part of this is the American tendency to not burden others with our issues. (For example, when someone asks how we are, we give a cursory, “fine” or “great” regardless of how we actually feel. Some cultures think this dishonest and/or shallow. I think we just don’t want to burden others.) Part of it is that we really don’t want others to know how lame our life is compared tho theirs—or to the life they project.

If you’re feeling envy, as every red-blooded human will, here’s what you do to conquer it:

  • Consider what envy is telling you. Envy is rooted in a dissatisfaction of self. When you feel envy, take note of who it is you envy and why. If I say, for example, I feel envy related to my career as a writer, that tells me I’m not fully satisfied with where my career is at that point in time. When you understand what the envy is about, you can start making changes in that area. Are you envious of another’s marriage? What does that say about your marriage? What do you need to change in your marriage? Envious of another’s career? What can you do to advance your own?
  • Make a plan and follow through. In Proverbs 14:30, we read, “A tranquil mind gives  health to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Envy literally eats away at our health and energy like a cancer. Once you’ve discovered the source of dissatisfaction, make a plan to change it and follow through on that plan. Rather than expending your energy in envy, you’re expending it to make things better in a given area of your life.
  • Congratulate others and mean it. In Romans 12:15, the Apostle Paul urges us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” Don’t let envy keep you from truly rejoicing with those who are rejoicing or from celebrating how God is working through their life. Celebrate. Congratulate. Pray for others the good you wish for yourself.
  • Practice gratitude. Take some time every day to consider the ways God has blessed you. Envy tends to blind us from the good God has bestowed upon us. Practicing gratitude and regularly giving thanks to the Lord for his goodness in our lives inoculates us against the destructive power of envy.
  • Run. There are situations that are better to avoid altogether or at least place limits on. Researchers found that happiness increases if a person is sharing on social media, but decreases if they are passively scrolling through tweets and status updates. If you spend a great deal of time scrolling through, stop it. Minimize your time on social media and don’t start your day with it. Starting your day passively scrolling through the newsfeed will siphon off to envy the energy you need to conquer your daily tasks.

It’s important to realize you’re not alone. At some point, all of us feel inadequate. All of us suffer from envy. Experiencing envy doesn’t make you evil. By learning from it rather than indulging in it, you can use it to find deep satisfaction. How have you handled envy? What has worked, what doesn’t?

Meet the Pope of the Wesleyan Church

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The Wesleyan Church is a Protestant, evangelical, holiness denomination with more than 5000 congregations with 370,000 members in more than 90 countries. The denomination is headquartered in Indiana and is led by the General Superintendent, who guides the vision, key message, and missional priorities for the Wesleyan Church. In 2008, Jo Anne Lyon was elected as one of three General Superintendents–the first woman ever elected for the job. In 2012, she became the sole General Superintendent–the “Pope” of the Wesleyan Church. I recently spoke with Jo Anne about her role.

Tell me how you got here, to be the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church.

Well, I founded World Hope International in 1996. Actually started it in our bedroom in a parsonage in Missouri in 1996 before we moved to D.C. in 2000. In 2008, I was elected a general superintendent—kind of like a bishop. There were three of us at the time I was elected, but then we moved to having just one. It’s the top job in all the world for the  Wesleyan church. At this point, as far as denominations are concerned, I’m the only woman in the evangelical world that’s the head of any church.

So what are your responsibilities?

A major piece is being a spiritual and administrative leader of the church. It’s not like [the role of] a CEO; I’m the spiritual leader of the church. I promote the mission and vision of the church—and that includes working in 90 countries overseas. Then we have over 1700 churches.

My biggest responsibility is keeping the church being the church in the Lord. The church does not have a mission in the world; God’s mission has a church in the world.

What’s your biggest goal this year for the Wesleyan Church?

I’m very evangelistic and we want to bring more people to Christ and people born to serve Jesus. So biggest goal would be to bring more people to Christ, and [do so in a way that] they’re not just a number but they learn what it means to be Christ person, a Christ follower in the world and live like Jesus. Our mission statement is transforming lives churches, and communities through the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ.

What were your thoughts/emotions the moment they announced your election to GS?

Well, you know, I’d been working throughout the church a lot … I was also working in Washington. Prayer was a part of this. You know, I guess I would like to say, this was another step in where God is leading me. I just kept moving.

What is your biggest leadership challenge?

Discerning what God is saying. Wisdom in decision making. Wisdom in the vision. Wisdom to know the church in this world … it makes me go back and read church history. My discernment process involves listening to God, listening to other people speaking into your life when they don’t know it. I also listen to what I’m reading.

What do you think is the number one problem facing Western Church?

How is the church going to look differently from the Western lens? The Christian Church is larger. How does the lens of the African church compared to the Western? Also, the church need to keep its focus on the principles of Jesus. What does it mean to love your enemies, to do good for these enemies? What is the power of love in this culture—the power of love and community?

We are a culture of greed. How do we live to be a culture of generosity to how do we transform a culture of greed to one of generosity? How do we live biblical lives and live on biblical foundation? For the person living in the U.S., aware of our privilege, what can they do to help besides just give money to organizations?

People need to read and understand what is going on in other parts of the world. How many people read The Economist? Foreign Affairs? The newspapers don’t have sections for this—they’re very focused on football. Part of [the answer] is educating yourself. Get to know other people outside your culture. In America, we’re drowning in our own prosperity. I once heard someone say to North Koreans, “We’re praying for you.” They said, “No, we’re praying for you.”

As I lead the Wesleyan Church [in such a way] so that we don’t drown in our own prosperity. The church most effective in exile. And so, I’m praying that I can help people see they are the Church in this time. Be the force. My vision would be that we would lead a church as effective as John Wesleyan because of the transformation of people.

What To Do When … You Don’t Know How to Change

My family bought a piece of land in the Piney Woods of East Texas back in 1987.  Since it was a fully wooded property, they set about the difficult and dangerous work of clearing the land to make a place for our home. We never did lay a permanent driveway, so we just drove on the same patch of land at the edge of the property until two ruts formed.

Whenever I think of habits, I think of those two ruts, those ruts that grew so deep in the spring rains. Habits are the ruts of the mind. For good or bad, we do something over and over again and it becomes almost involuntary and impossible to break. To break a habit, you have to get out of the rut–a task that varies in degrees of difficulty according to how deep, how engrained the habit.

Over time, I’ve made changes of varying intensity. Like getting sober on my 21st birthday. Quitting smoking. Quitting dating. Becoming Christian. Becoming vegetarian. Becoming a runner. It’s the process of changing habits that first drew me to the discipline of spiritual formation. Our habits, among other things, make us who we are, and changing our habits means changing who we are.

I know how hard it is to change. I know how deep those ruts get. I know how hopeless it feels when you keep going down those same tracks, doing the same thing, over and over again. You’re stuck and there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

But changing habits isn’t impossible. It’s difficult, but not impossible. That’s a distinction that’s important to make. You have to believe that change is possible. You have to know it’s possible to change. Psychologists define hope as a combination of agency and pathway. “Agency” is your ability to act and “pathway” is the way to get where you’re going. Find your agency, then follow this pathway:

Admit you have issues. The first step is admitting you have issues. Admit there’s a problem with the way you’re conducting your life. If you don’t do this, you’ve given yourself no reason to change. Are you depending a little too much on that 5 ‘o clock glass of wine? Visiting websites that have a negative impact on your marriage? Maybe bad habits aren’t your problem–just lack of good ones. Are you overweight and inactive? Missing church too often? Not practicing the spiritual disciplines? What? What’s wrong and what needs to change?

Stop blaming others. Sometimes we excuse our bad behavior by blaming it on others. “If only my husband would get on board with eating better, I’d lose weight.” When you have an external locus of control, you believe that external forces–like other people, our circumstances, luck, chance, or fate–control your life and your decisions. To change, you need to move that locus of control inward by realizing that ultimately, you have a choice on how to live and how to respond to your circumstances.

Find the root. Bad habits are often a wrong response to a right desire. We drink to much to dull our senses, to cope with life’s uncertainties and difficulties. Life is hard. It’s painful, and substances remove us from that pain. It’s not wrong to desire a life free from pain, but the answer isn’t smothering the pain in substance, but working through it and bringing it to God. When you find the root desire, you’ll find a better way to answer that desire.

Get community. Nobody can do change alone. Get a mentor, a support group, or a friend to walk with you or behind you. Getting a community behind you will give you strength in weak moments, reminding you of why you’re making the change in the first place. It provides accountability to keep on the right track. My husband, the therapist, has been working with groups of men struggling with sexual integrity. Every week, they meet to talk through their struggle to walk with sexual integrity. Some of these groups have met for years.

Make a plan–set goals. This year I’ve been working on my next book–a book on the classical virtues. Among other things, I’m giving the virtues a “practice run”, and for the virtue of diligence, I’ve decided to run every day for a year. I’ve wanted to become a better runner for awhile, so this provided a perfect opportunity. I set daily goals, weekly goals, and the goals for the year–usually centered on pace or distance. When I quit smoking, I quit gradually. I first stopped smoking in my college apartment, then in front of others, then in the car, until finally I was hardly smoking at all. Plans make change manageable by helping us stay on track and goals keep us motivated.

Get your mind right. Habits are part of who we are, and changing those habits means changing who we are. I often tell people struggling with bad habits to think like a person who doesn’t have that habit. Think more like the kind of person you want to become. If you’re trying to develop more patience, how would a more patient person respond to the situations that currently make you so frustrated and impatient?

Be resilient. Change is hard, but not impossible. If you fail, mess up, fall back, don’t give up. Don’t go back. Fortify your resolve.