Porn and the Law of Love

Last week I got embroiled in a discussion on Patheos, that an evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) had written, concerning the growing belief among Americans that pornography was morally acceptable (43%). Among his findings was that Democrats are “strongly pro-porn” (53%), while Republicans, God bless ‘em, are only 27% approving. As well as the 22% of people for whom religion is “very important” who also find pornography morally acceptable. (1) Lutherans, as a whole, are a fairly diverse group, ranging from fundamentalist to liberal in their views. This particular author was pretty moderate and evangelical.

But while I shared his concern that the growing acceptance of pornography is not a positive sign, I found the overall take away from his article unpersuasive. It seemed to me to be more of the same evangelical hand wringing over sexual impurities, while the vast majority of white evangelicals seem to ignore more important social injustices. I tend to think it is far easier to point out what’s wrong with people’s sex lives than to take personal responsibility for injustices in our society. And the irony of evangelicals pointing out the evils of pornography in light of the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump affair underscores the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

What I found particularly confusing was the way he jumped back and forth between the Law of scripture and the gospel:

“But God’s moral standards are objective and absolute, and we will be judged by them.  The only cure for a seared conscience is a strong, undiluted, 100 proof, dose of God’s Law.  If that can burn through the seared conscience and break through the hardness of the heart, so can the Gospel.” (2)

He seemed to be saying the Law (God’s moral standards) and the Gospel were one in the same. I took exception to this and sought clarification. What followed ended up muddying the water further and I was finally accused of being antinomian, rejecting the Law. Accusing non evangelicals of heresy seems to be a popular trend lately, the marcionite accusation leveled at popular preacher Andy Stanley is a good example.

What I think evangelicals miss in their understanding and explanation of God’s moral law and the gospel is that the gospel is not primarily a legal transaction. It is a love transaction. While the Decalogue and the Laws of Moses do indeed spell out some particulars, both Jesus and the apostle Paul anchor God’s attitude towards us, and our response to him, as one of love. As I tried to explain, the Law as legal contract, does not go far enough and is helpless to change us. So a “100 proof, dose of God’s Law” will not change our hearts. It is the love of God, administered by the Holy Spirit that brings change. This is technically known as sanctification.

Every time I bring this up with evangelicals, they get upset. Having clear cut rules seems very important to them. And it is about the rules, and keeping them, and more importantly, pointing out when others are not keeping them. And again, one of the reasons conservatives are so adamant about legalism, is that it is far easier than practicing love. It is black and white, clear cut. You’re either sinning or your not. It is why ultra conservative evangelicals like the Southern Baptists can be so legalistic while withholding love from people of color, women and gays. Godly love is far messier. It requires love of even our enemies. Love the LGBTQ community, check. Love foreigners among us, check. Love people of color, check. Love refugees, check. Love their children, check.

True, cruciform love is far more demanding than a list of sins can ever be, and that is why Jesus and Paul put such an emphasis on it. It is why Jesus broke with Sabbath tradition and came in conflict with the keepers of the Law. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” tells us all we need to know about keeping the Law of Moses…it’s not enough.

But my main concern with Dr. Veith’s article was that it was impractical. Evangelicals can no longer claim moral high ground in society. People want to see your faith in action. Moral platitudes are worthless if not backed by those who “walk the walk.” Society is no longer motivated by threats of hell and damnation. Sin, as breaking what many see as anachronistic sexual mores, carries little weight. The conservative church is giving answers to questions society is no longer asking, nor cares about. Unconditional, extravagant Godly love, though…that would be a game changer for the church and society. It is odd that so many evangelicals I talk to find that objectionable. After all, wasn’t that the summation that Jesus gave to the Law in the first place? “Love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself?”

“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

― Thomas Merton

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