The time has come for me to sound the alarm. Something has been bothering me for quite a while now, and all the recent attention on Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding finally provoked me to words. It seems to me that we as Christians have been tricked by the enemy into letting down our moral guard.

The Problem

None of us would wander into a “red light district” or proposition for the “services” of a prostitute. Few (hopefully, none) of us would indulge our flesh with pornographic magazines like Oui, Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse. However, likely all of us tolerate material which in the past was reserved for magazines of such ilk. I think we have become so indifferent as to barely bat an eye at photographs of women clad as only prostitutes (un)dressed in decades past.

Surely you have noticed the covers of magazines prominently displayed in grocery stores, convenience stores, and those big national chain stores. What magazines, you ask? Women’s magazines, sports magazines, automotive magazines, motorcycle magazines, modeler magazines, news magazines, fitness magazines, and even some scientific magazines.

Immorality also abounds in newspapers, catalogs and sale papers. You can also find it in product wrappings and displays. If swimwear, lingerie and such things need to be displayed, why use living models?

Why this increasing freedom of exposure? Well, facts are facts, you know. The news must be reported; stuff must be advertised and sold; anthropological discoveries must be made known; technological advances must be demonstrated. Do any or all or these explain or justify the increasing indecency? Hardly!

Is there news value in having a woman in ice skating attire flinging her leg way up toward the reader? No, the issue is not news. Did Scientific American need to use a picture of Marilyn Monroe (with her dress flying up) overlaid on a picture of President Abraham Lincoln? No, the issue is not advanced computer technology. Do bikinied women actually make a car or radio controlled airplane more attractive, or a soap more effective? No, the issue is not advertising and commerce. Do pictures of third-world, partially-nude women help us understand their cultures better than simply telling the reader they don’t cover themselves from the waist on up? No, the issue is not anthropology.

Folks, we have been snookered and taken in by a “conspiracy” of the enemy of our souls! Can you see how he is successfully wearing down our resistance to immorality? We still stand against Playboy, but will our children? If we allow in our homes what our grandparents called pornography, will our grandchildren allow in their homes what we call pornography? If we don’t bat an eye about these things which would have jolted our grandparents, will the things that still jolt us have any effect on our children’s children? Remember, what parents excuse in moderation, children justify in excess.

Changing Definitions

Pornography. Just what is it?

The 1993 Academic American Encyclopedia says “Defining pornography has from the beginning proved to be a complex legal problem because public attitudes change; materials considered pornographic in Victorian society may not be considered remarkable today.” World Book Encyclopedia weighs in with “What some people regard as obscene may not seem so to others.”

We are victims of these changing public attitudes. Even our dictionaries illustrate this slide into everyday tolerance and acceptance of pornography.

In 1909, pornography was defined as “obscene or licentious writing, painting, or the like.” In turn, obscene was defined as “offensive to chastity or modesty; expressing or presenting to the mind or view something that delicacy, purity, and decency forbid to be exposed; impure.” Licentious back then meant in part, “unrestrained by law or morality; lawless; immoral; lewd; lascivious.” And chaste was defined as “virtuous; pure in thought and act; free from lewdness and obscenity, or indecency; modest; decent.” Thus, in 1909, pornography was anything presented to the eyes or mind that was lascivious, indecent, immodest, lewd, impure; it was the exposure of that which should not be revealed to the public view.

For half a century after that, the definitions stayed pretty much the same.

A 1964 encyclopedia article informs us that “‘Obscene’ is legally defined in the courts as ‘tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure thoughts.'”

Obscene still meant “offending modesty or decency; impure” as late as 1974. That would change in 1975.

By 1966 we discover that pornography was no longer defined by content, but by intent: “writing, pictures, etc. intended to arouse sexual desire.” This is very significant because it allows for the possibility of something being obscene without being pornographic. For example, a picture of an over-exposed woman would not be considered pornographic if you could prove artistic intent! This means that it is conceivable that Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy, could claim his magazine was not pornographic because his intentions were to magnify God’s creativity by displaying one exquisite aspect of His creation. If the reader reacted sexually, that was his problem, not the magazine’s or its publisher’s!

As might be expected, the 1975 definition of pornography was no improvement–“The depiction (as in writing) of erotic behavior designed primarily to cause sexual excitement.” The defining issue became primary design. So now Hefner could conceivably admit that his purposes for Playboy are glorifying and enjoying God’s creativity, and arousing men. If he would claim that of these two designs, glorifying and enjoying God’s creativity is foremost, then his magazine sheds its pornographic label. You couldn’t even get away with calling his material obscene but not pornographic anymore; the definition of obscene had also been stretched to embrace special design–“repulsive; deeply offensive to morality or decency; especially designed to incite lust or depravity.”

A peek at a 1980 definition of pornography brings initial relief–“obscene literature or art”–because of its absence of qualifiers such as intent or design. However, the relief dries up and blows away upon checking out the meaning of obscene by then–“offensive or abhorrent to prevailing concepts of morality or decency; indecent; lewd.” With its use of prevailing, this definition looks to the conscience and sensitivity of the majority, rather to a fixed standard such as God’s Word or long-standing legal code.

In 1984 we find a definition which uses a more sensitive and less harsh-sounding expression than obscene–sexually explicit behavior. Somehow, that doesn’t sound quite so bad. Pornography by then had become “The presentation of sexually explicit behavior, as in a photograph, intended to arouse sexual excitement.” Intent to go along with accepted standards of decency. Playboy could be said to be non-pornographic if its publisher didn’t intend it to arouse sexual excitement. And this magazine could also be said to be unobscene if it didn’t offend the accepted standard of decency or modesty. Proving that Playboy offends the accepted standard of decency was made difficult by defining decency as “The quality or state of being decent; propriety; conformity to accepted standards of propriety or modesty.” There is that expression again–accepted standards! We find some refuge in the 1984 definition of modesty–“reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior.” But even here, Playboy can find a loophole by claiming reserve in comparison to other magazines. Amazing! Simply amazing! (And quite sickening, too!!)

World Book Encyclopedia (1978, 1985) says “obscenity and pornography are terms used to designate written, recorded, or pictorial material–including motion pictures–that many people consider indecent and thus find offensive. The term obscenity can also refer to language or behavior believed to corrupt public morals. Some people consider violence and war obscene. Pornography refers chiefly to printed or pictorial material intended primarily to cause sexual stimulation.”

The Academic American Encyclopedia (1993) informs us that “Pornography, or obscenity (which is the legal term), is any material, pictures, films, printed matter, or devices dealing with sexual poses or acts considered indecent by the public.”

The Supreme Court has naturally found itself in this moral and legal morass. In 1973 it tried to give some direction. The upshot of its ruling was that material can be considered obscene (1) if the average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds that the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient (sexually arousing) interest; (2) if the material shows, in a clearly offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined as obscene by law; and (3) if the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Court, too, was going by majority opinion, using such words as average and contemporary.

What About You?

Dictionaries and encyclopedias aside, who defines your morality? If you were your age now back in the days your grandparents were your age, how would you rate the exposure you see in our time? I think we have allowed the world to lull us to sleep on this one.

Who used revealing clothing years ago? Whores and adulterous women. Why? To attract the thoughts and bodies of men to themselves. High heels and red lips were originally intended (and according to some sociologists, still are intended) for the same purposes. Even heathen books on body language will tell you that.

That’s where the use of these things began. Then the more daring used it. Then “everybody.” Now it has become acceptable in nominal Christian circles! As immorality gets worse, we tend to accept what is no longer abnormal and shocking by the world’s recent standards. We have let down our guard! Wake up! God’s Word ought to define our morality, not contemporary societal ethics!

Who should be able to exclaim over the contours of a woman’s legs? If she is single, no man. If she is married, only her husband. (See Song of Solomon 7:1-10.) But this heathen scourge of bareness and exposure is sweeping our land and has begun the process of engulfing our homes.

Protecting Ourselves

What can we do to protect our children AND OURSELVES? To what extent shall we censor the material that comes into our homes? These are difficult questions and I believe the exposure around us requires some “radical” measures.

The gradual collapse of chastity and modesty has left us and our children exposed too frequently to women “with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart” (Proverbs 7:10).

Parents, and fathers in particular, have been charged by God with the spiritual and moral protection of their children. Have we grown lax in this area? I say yes.

Since men tend to have more problems with this than women do (that’s obvious, isn’t it?!), I have made Ruby the censor in our home. I instructed her to “take care” of any indecent and immoral sale papers and catalogs before I get home. I don’t want them around where the devil and my flesh can tempt me with them. And I don’t want them to further deaden the moral sensitivity of my children.

I don’t want my boys to grow up with this kind of garbage in their memories. I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking this is the normal way to dress. I don’t want them to be desensitized to moral shame. I do not wish to be responsible for whetting their appetites for the wrong things. I want my girls (and my boys) to have that Biblical appreciation and respect for the female body which calls for discretion and the fear of the Lord:

“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion” (Proverbs 11:22).

“Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

Let me put this into a little different perspective. What value do these pictures put on a woman? Strictly a physical value. Woman thus portrayed ceases to be anything more than a toy for the fantasies of man. I want me and my boys to value woman for her character and soul; I want them and me to remember that “the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13). Recently I was asked, “What are little girls made of?” If you recognize that old nursery rhyme line, you would know the answer includes “sugar and spice”– content-related things. Well, these pictures I am “fussing” about the answer the question “What are big girls made of?” with a simple, crude “breasts, legs and lips.” (I hope that still offends our sensitivities.) Is that what you want your boys to think girls are made of? Is that how you want your girls to think they must appear in order to be attractive to and valued by men of Christian character? By allowing this stuff unimpeded in our homes, that is exactly how we are training our children.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). This talks about imprinting a child for life. This refers to giving a child a life-long “taste” for something. This imprinting works for evil as well as good. I believe we run the risk of giving our children the wrong “taste” in the area of loose moral standards.

What Else Does God Have To Say?

On the issue of woman’s attitude and appearance, Titus 2:5 calls for discretion and chastity. First Peter 3:2 refers to a feminine chaste manner of living.

On the issue of fleshly desires, Colossians 3:5 clearly tells us to reject and avoid “fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” And 1 Thessalonians 4:5 lets us know that “the lust of concupiscence” is not a characteristic of God’s people, but of those who do not know Him.

If we as parents don’t take these issues seriously enough, how will 1 Timothy 2:9 and Titus 2:3-5 ever be true in the lives of our daughters?

“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”

“The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”

And how will our sons learn to treat and respect “elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2)? How will they learn to appreciate verses like the following?

“I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1).

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

“Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids” (Proverbs 6:25).

“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?” (Proverbs 5:15-20).

It seems to me that those who are “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19) and are not “vexed with the filthy conversation [life style] of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7) will think that I am blowing a little thing way out of proportion. Friends, these pictures that so concern me manifest “the works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19). To allow them unchecked into our homes makes us “partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:3-11). If we do not rise up to guard our children (and ourselves), how will they and we be able to . . .

“Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)?

“Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22)?

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8)?

–Mark Roth

(Modified principal’s message originally written in 1994 to parents of Elliott Prairie Christian School)


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