Pornography and American Protestantism -- Martin E. Marty

Author
Martin E. Marty

June 10, 2002

"Conservatives Decry Ruling on Kid Porn," read a Religion News Service headline in May 22-29 issue of  HYPERLINK "http://www.christiancentury.org/" The Christian Century identifying Christian conservative groups as main critics of the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision, 6-3, against the Child Pornography Prevention Act. Evangelicals were once again front-liners on this. Where, we get asked, are mainline Protestants? 

It would be hard to find a survey that finds such Protestants to be "pro-porn," and very, very few theological statements that go light on pornography. Still, the one-fourth of America that "prefers" the mainline does not produce many visible action groups or take many denominational actions against pornography. A friend who has written, expressing concern, mentions a 1988 study by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. But connect "Protestants" and "Pornography" in an Internet search: most of the anti-porn activity is indeed from fundamentalist and evangelical groups. 

There are exceptions. You can retrieve a fine piece by Mary Pellauer in The Christian Century, July 29-August 5, 1987. She wanted anti-pornography to be on "An Agenda for the Churches." Why let the coalition of secular feminists and fundamentalists do the opposing? You will also find that in 1989 the mainline American Baptists passed a resolution on the problem of pornography, as have a few other churches. You will also find news stories that report on Protestants, including evangelical pastors, who have problems dealing with their own fixation on Internet pornography. 

What keeps mainstream Protestants from being consistently up front on an issue that demonstrably violates the integrity of women, not so demonstrably but quite possibly leads to rape and other crimes, demeans the "user," and benefits the billions-per-year exploiter, has little to do with pornography. Instead it connects with their heavy commitment to free speech, their fear lest countering pornography in communications might erode the defenses against intrusions on precious liberties. Such Protestants are slow to promote boycotts and extremely cautious about legislation in areas so necessarily ill-defined as pornography. 

Caught between their abhorrence of pornography and their passion for liberties and rights, mainline Protestants, most Catholics, Reform Jews, and others have not found effective ways to be up front on this important front. The answer to my letter-writing friend, who asks us to identify who is alert, who is effective, in bringing forth religious critiques and proposals, has to be: we don't know. We'll watch. That is part of what Sightings is about. 

Author
Martin E. Marty