Machine Gun Misogyny – Why It’s Not Okay To Use Porn To Promote Your Ministry

Yesterday morning I was scrolling my Facebook wall when I came across this post from the pastor of a local church.

“Machine Gun Preacher story in Penthouse Magazine, May issue. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.1 Corinthians 9:22.”

I almost choked on my chai latte. Er, I beg your pardon?

For those who haven’t heard of him, the “Machine Gun Preacher” is former Pennsylvanian drug-using biker turned evangelist and philanthropist Sam Childers. Childers recently toured Australia on a church speaking tour to coincide with the DVD release of a movie based on his story of the same name. I’ve neither heard Childers speak nor rented the DVD, but many of my friends have been inspired by his story. I was not really interested, but my interest was piqued by this apparent link between the well-known evangelist with an international ministry and an orphanage in Sudan, and an equally well-known porn magazine. How does a pastor get an article into such a publication, and how is it that nobody else apparently sees this as a problem? What’s going on in my own head that I actually feel there is one?

I went in search of the Penthouse article in question, online at first. I had to remove the safe search setting on my browser to even peruse any links to Penthouse magazine in the first place. I couldn’t find the article, so I messaged the pastor who Facebooked the status in the first place, and asked if he was sure about it.

Quite sure, he said. It’s on page 63.

Oh. Okay then.

I had just one thing to clarify after that – whether I was more uncomfortable with the idea that a Christian evangelist felt it was appropriate to have his story published in a porn magazine, or that this pastor could give me the page number without even flinching.

*****

I looked online all morning for the article without success, so I went out and visited half a dozen newsagents looking for the physical magazine. “Er, I’m actually a journalist.” I explained to one woman who very discreetly fumbled on my behalf in the secret drawers where they hide such things away from public view. I picked up the June issue and a few special issues and even girl-on-girl-on-girl special edition issues looking for the article. As it turns out, I must have missed the May edition by only a couple of days. In the end I had to give up because I was feeling physically sick. I began to feel increasingly…intimidated. Not by the images of the naked women (I’ve seen plenty of boobies and fannies in my time, and have a set myself), but by the atmosphere created by them. There was something about being in the proximity of those images that made me feel kind of trapped. I felt enveloped by an invisible  gaze, like I myself was being viewed detachedly through a testosterone-fueled stupor from all directions. I felt physically and mentally vulnerable and unsafe – it’s really hard to describe, but the closest I can get is to say like I was caged in a rape dungeon and about to be breakfast. I wanted to get out of there. I described all this to my husband last night, and he concurred. “You need to try and understand the kind of feelings these magazines are designed to stir up in men,” he said. I think I do understand. They seem designed to evoke a feeling in men that womens’ bodies are prey, a thing to be consumed, over and over and over. They’re designed to reduce a body down to a piece of warm flesh useful only for stabbing another piece of warm flesh into. They’re meant to create a feeling of detachment and indifference toward the people whose bodies appear in the photographs. Pornographic photos such as those in Penthouse and magazines like it are carefully mechanised to convey an illusion of sexual consent on the part of the subject. They want it. They like it. They say yes to what I want to do. Nobody here is saying what I want to do is wrong, bad or unwanted. And amongst all of this, I was searching for a piece of text about a man of God. Feel uncomfortable?

Now you’re getting it.

*****

I took my concerns back to my Facebook community and asked if anyone else had a problem with an article about a preacher appearing in a porno magazine. Most common reply, from several men I should point out, was “But didn’t Jesus hang out with prostitutes and whores?” I think I know what they think they mean – that perhaps having an article about yourself published in a magazine equates to some kind of evangelism to the people in the industry. I can see – kind of – why those with a progressive, if not slightly overly machismo – evangelistic bent might think this could be a good idea. But I have to wonder about how the article on Childers article came to be in Penthouse magazine in the first place, and what the thinking was behind it. An enthusiastic publicist? A syndication agreement? A straight out co-promotion for the speaking tour and DVD release of the movie? A real attempt to reach people with the gospel? Which people?

WWJD? Take out a half-page in Penthouse?

I feel very uncomfortable with any discussion that tries to equate the placing of the Penthouse article with the preaching activities and gender politics of Jesus Christ. More specifically, I take exception to descriptions of the women whose images appear in magazines such as Penthouse as “prostitutes and whores”. Whatever you or I may think about the industry they work in, they are in fact paid professionals, either contractors or salaried employees, executing a legitimate form of commercial enterprise. They are women, wives, mothers, daughters and tax-payers. The removal of their clothes and their posing before a camera does not make them into “whores” – only the misogynist gaze of a very stupid person is capable of accomplishing that. When a man calls a woman a “prostitute” or a “whore” , he isn’t referring to her employment or vocation. He’s telling you exactly what he thinks of her in the most derogatory terms he can think of. Jesus did in fact “hang out” with women who worked as prostitutes, but I doubt he saw them as anything other than what they were – women, who happened to have a gainful employment that was frowned upon, but widely patronised nonetheless.

Having already stated that I do not believe women photographed for porn are categorically whores, I do think that pornographic images of women are a form of abasement. As someone in possession of a female body, I feel the feminine form is diminished when depicted as an object whose primary use is for a sexual act, and which is detached from the human being inhabiting it. But having your photo taken naked is still a legal job that pays money. Where Jesus was concerned, we find various Biblical accounts of how Christ made a specific point of addressing any abasement or denigration of women as a priority in the contexts he found himself.  The woman caught in adultery is physically and morally liberated from the condemnation of her accusers. Jesus rebukes the men who try to eject Mary as she anoints him with oil. He has a dignified conversation with a Samaritan woman, and does not simply accept a cup of water from her, then dismiss her in search of some man to give his own “living water” to. In every situation that warranted it, Jesus stopped the men present in their acts of oppressing or abusing women. He actively indicates that the men see the women around them as people, and not ignore or redefine them merely as objects. They were not wallpaper. They were not accessories. To Him, they were not symbols or stereotypes, or simply “prostitutes and whores”. It strikes me that Jesus did not ever consider the women whose company he found himself to be some kind of general political or social vignette against which he might conveniently set himself. Jesus always saw the people he was with, whatever their gender or social standing.

I can’t help thinking that an evangelist who has an article published in a porn magazine may not really be hoping to actively proselytise either the readers or the industry generally. I don’t even know if Childers is aware the article appears in Penthouse. However it came to be there, it strikes me as a kind of “cred by association” grab. Perhaps his “people” are trying to sell Childers’ brand to consumers of a certain type, a certain ilk. Blokey men. Macho men. Men who like porn. Men who like to look at pictures of naked women and masturbate over them.  Childers is a pretty blokey kind of guy, by all accounts. A publicist attached to him it seems sees porn consumers as a tenable market for the Machine Gun Preacher brand. My (male) friends on Facebook magnanimously remarked that Childers message might actually turn men from their consuming of porn. By that logic, at least in their minds, the end justifies the means. Now, I haven’t seen the article yet so can’t comment on specifics, but if you think about it, publishing an article that discourages men from consuming porn would be a pretty stupid step for the editor of a porn magazine to take. The pastor who gloated on Facebook about the article said he felt the piece really spoke to men about how they can aspire to a mission greater than their own penis, and that perhaps the article might encourage readers – or are they viewers? what do you call people who consume porn magazines? –  to seek out other, healthier avenues to vent their masculinity. I wonder if the pastor considered that his evangelist friends appearance in a porn mag without any reference what his attitude might be towards it might already speak volumes to readers about what he considers to be healthy avenues to vent their masculinity.

*****

Now, I’d just like to say that I’m not condemning people who use porn, or saying it makes good people into bad people. Christians have been saying this for a very long time I know, because it’s behooved them to make people feel bad so they can have them join in their church-ordained activities they believe will make them feel like they are good again. I know full well that guys and girls of all ages, sexual orientations and dispositions like porn. Some of the nicest and most wonderful people you and I know like porn. This is not about whether people who use porn are bad people. I happen to think the world would be a better place without porn, because for me it’s not necessary, and I believe it can be unhealthy and cause all kinds of problems, kind of like smoking cigarettes. But I appreciate that an awful lot of people smoke cigarettes, and feel it is absolutely necessary. I understand, I too used to smoke. For the people who’d like to stop smoking cigarettes – or using porn – because it’s unnecessary and is causing them harm, there is help available. You might not get that help from your friendly neighbourhood Christian, at least not in a form you’d deem helpful, but there is help.

Fatherhood Foundation – Getting free from addictions for the sake of your family.

Quit smoking with QuitNow (Australia)

*****

I’ve heard some things about a new church movement called XXX who are outreaching to the porn industry, and good for them.  Creating relationships and sharing the gospel is the heart of the Message, God knows. But as Dr. Phil says, we cannot change what we do not acknowledge. You will not be evangelising porn consumers or industry workers and employers by simply placing your product on their shelves. XXX apparently go to sex expos and pay for stalls so they can walk around and actually talk to people about who they are, what they do, and give out Bibles and build networks. If you say you want to preach the gospel in the porn industry, then it won’t be accomplished by simply placing an ad or piece of editorial in their publication promoting your product. That’s good marketing, but it’s not good preaching. It’s certainly not evangelising. It’s absolutely not building supportive relationships, unless you’re talking about the commercial kind. And perhaps that’s exactly what we’re talking about. I will say though that if you enter a marketplace and pretend you don’t see the human souls all around you, or just some of them, or some in preference over others because it suits you, that’s not bringing Christ. If you’re a minister, and you get your mug in a porn magazine all the while pretending you’re not surrounded by pornography, that is bloody spiritual misogyny.

*****

Those who believe that it’s okay to ignore any of the damaging, misogynistic and exploitative and implications of pornography in order to “preach” to  consumers are misguided to say the least. At worst, they are compounding these aspects, perhaps even counting on them. Women who have their pictures taken for porn mags are not “sluts and whores”, nor are they merely plebian masses to be brushed past so the more important men can be reached with the gospel, as if it could ever really be okay to treat the naked bodies of women as wallpaper, just to get a few *wankers* proselytized. Pun intended.

*****

NOTE – I have emailed the editorial department of Australian Penthouse asking for the article in question to be emailed to me so I can view the actual context and ascertain the intended message. So far I have had no response from them. Until such times as I receive the article and am convinced my perceptions regarding the intent and context are incorrect, my opinion on the subject stands.

POST SCRIPT – Penthouse emailed me a PDF of the article. It briefly outlines Childers past as a militant in Sudan, which followed his becoming a Christian in the US. The article is brief, contains no implicit or explicit references to the gospel at all, nor does Childers make any reference to the context in which this particular piece appears – ie; he doesn’t mention porn, or preach against it, as many of those who criticised my article proposed he might. In fact, true to the style of the magazine, most of the article consists of photographs: 12 in fact over two and a half pages, showing Childers either holding guns, wearing army fatigues, standing in front of military vehicles, preaching from a pulpit and posing with a Sudanese child. The actual article appears to be just a few loosely assembled paragraphs designed to fill in the spaces between the photos. It’s not evangelism, by any stretch. The article ends halfway down a page, the rest of which is taken up by a half page ad for a phone sex company, consisting of about a dozen pornographic thumbnail photographs of women. I guess it’s safe to say my original opinion is unchanged.

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17 Responses to Machine Gun Misogyny – Why It’s Not Okay To Use Porn To Promote Your Ministry

  1. Karen Spears Zacharias June 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    :”pornographic images of women are a form of abasement”

    Exactly.

    The point of Jesus hanging out with whores was to teach those women that they had value beyond what the culture around them granted.

    We have it all wrong when we think that hanging out is the whole point.

    Great post, Jo.

  2. BlackPhi June 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Um, I disagree with this post on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

    Possibly the best beginning is to point out that Childers’ background is likely as a consumer of pornography, his old peer group are likely to be consumers of pornography, and he has a film coming out on DVD which could well be of interest to those whose gender politics are not necessarily terribly liberal and ‘right-on’. Glossy up-market ‘men’s mags’ also cover movies and the like, so Penthouse is a perfectly reasonable place to promote a ‘bloke-ish’ DVD.

    Whatever else this movie covers about Jesus, one message that it does carry is that if a drug-dealing, gun-toting biker can end up following Jesus then so can all sorts of other ‘unsuitable’ people – including those who use pornography.

    “Prostitutes and whores” isn’t a phrase used in the gospels, but Jesus was criticised for eating with “tax collectors and sinners” – where ‘sinners’ covers a range of groups disapproved of by religious people (and tax-collectors were also collaborators with the Roman occupiers, of course). He said he came specifically to call such sinners, rather than those who are already righteous.

    Judging by this post you strongly disapprove of pornography and of those who consume it – fair enough, doubtless your mission field is more amongst those who already share your views. But criticising others for engaging with such sinners … I can’t help feeling it’s creeping into Mark 2:16 territory. Or am I being unfair?

    • Jo Hilder June 2, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

      Even if I were receptive to the idea that good marketing equates to “engaging sinners”, I would be unlikely to be swayed on this issue. From the amount of private emails I’ve recieved from women thanking me for speaking out against porn are any indicator, then I am perhaps as you say already amongst those whom I’m best placed to help. That would be women harmed and hurt by the consumption of porn by people they have and still do love and trust. They have asked me to stand my ground, and I’ll do so, even if it’s against other Christians who feel that the freedom Christ purchased us on the cross was merely a licence to toy with the dangers that cause others to stumble and become ensnared. I’m married to an addict and no amount of liberal minded ambivalence was able to save him from his alcoholism. Sinners who want saving will seek a savior, not a co-dependant.
      I would add that the reference to Jesus hanging out with whores and prostitutes was provided to me, as I explicitly stipulate in my post, by the men who replied to my Facebook query about people perceptions on the issue. It has been thrown to me several times today, this reference to Jesus hanging with women of ill repute, by Christians defending Childers, and this is why I refute it in my post. I do not infer this is what the Bible says, however I do indicate where the statement goes awry, as does Karen in her comment.
      I’d also like to add that I believe there is nothing – NOTHING – constructive or creative about porn or the environments where is appears. It is anti-life and anti-Christ. It is also anti-woman. If you can reconcile that environment with evangelism, you’re either a genius, or messed up in ways I can’t even imagine.

    • Rae June 12, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      Well, its being published to a narrow audience, though. It’s an audience that excludes 1/2 of God’s people and it’s reaching out to the other half while, presumably, they’re in the process of privately devaluing and dehumanizing certain specimens of the excluded population. So if it reaches 2 men, but the vehicle itself is meanwhile contributing to the destruction of 20 women …. and we’re supposed to be so overjoyed at the 2 men’s “come to Jesus” moment that we are comfortable with 100s of other men talking about it by referring to these women they’re “using” via porn as “whores” and with the women living in a world where they’re seen as (and judged by the same men as) little more than male-hormone receptacles, rather than the amazing, gifted, multi-facted humans God created them to be …. that IS problematic, don’t you think?

  3. Jennifer Harris Dault June 3, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    You already know I agree with you. My problem with connecting this sort of thing to Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus connected with actual people. As another commenter pointed out, Jesus was giving people an identity they did not already have — one of human, of equal. In a shame/honor society, his interactions were HUGE.

    Appearing in a porn magazine applies consent with the environment you described. Instead it makes that environment more palatable to some Christians, who apparently feel the need to PROMOTE that environment to friends and congregants on social media. It isn’t a case of the preacher evangelizing the porn magazine consumer, it is a case of the porn magazine industry evangelizing the Christians. “See? We aren’t bad. We are one of you.”

    Jesus spent time with people and honored them as created by God. From my perspective, this article plays into the stripping people of that God image.

    • Jo Hilder June 3, 2012 at 2:14 am #

      *Exactly*

  4. suzannah | the smitten word June 3, 2012 at 12:37 am #

    i feel conflicted. your assessment about porn’s degradation is spot-on, and it frustrates me to no end that even among anti-trafficking activists, there is a huge inability to see its connection to the rest of the sex industry.

    but…

    i’m not sure that appearing alongside equals approval, and it think it could be construed as a valid way to connect broken folks to a message of redemption. one of the best, most prophetic articles i ever read was alex haley’s interview with MLK, which appeared in playboy in 1965. there is precedence for this sort of thing.

    now, as i understand it, penthouse is no playboy, and playboy in 1965 is light years from porn today. i haven’t seen/read it, so i can’t really say how i feel, but i suspect the issue is a bit more grey for me.

  5. Tamara @MockingbirdDont June 3, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    As you may know, I believe strongly that the modern church is all but apostate. And that being the case, it doesn’t surprise me that so many feel this form of “evangelism” is okay. But let’s be clear about something: at NO point was Jesus sharing parables in brothels. When He was “hanging out” with “sinners” it was in open places where He himself was NOT tempted to falter, or cause his disciples to falter. We seem to forget that at least one of His Disciples was with Him at all times. Unless specifically mentioned that He was alone, it’s safe to assume He wasn’t. Now, the Disciples were normal men. He knew that. He wouldn’t bring them into situations where they would be overly tempted to sin. He loved them, and us, that much! Furthermore, we are called to do all we can to help others not fall. We’re told not to be a stumbling block. By the local FB preacher talking about this exert from Penthouse he sent you, and countless others likely, on a wild goose chase, exposing themselves to pornography all the while. That’s like saying you can quit drinking, but first you have to have a week long binge. Or saying you can get to Heaven, but first you have to live like a bat out of Hell. It’s garbage and backwards! This is watered-down Christianity at its finest. An article encouraging readers not to partake in porn that is nestled in amongst pictures of naked women is most definitely not what Jesus would do. This isn’t about evangelizing: it’s about taking the easy way out for the sake of your watererd-down ministry.

    • Rae June 12, 2012 at 10:04 am #

      I don’t disagree with the heart of your stance, but would like to point out that what we *today* consider clean and clear in terms of male-female interaction would *definitely* be considered questionable and “setting ones self up for sin” in the culture where Jesus lived (and even in many similar cultures today). He had women following him and his disciples. He encouraged a woman to prioritize learning over serving the men, and taught her – not separately – but WITH the men. He spoke with the woman at the well directly, and not patronizingly or with a father/husband to run interference. Jesus’ interactions with women were definitely enough to cause rumors and gossip in his day, to solicit judgment from others, and perhaps to cause other men – should they choose to imitate Him – to fall to temptation. But He sets himself apart by still prioritizing the women, as people, over men: judging men, weak men, men who might be tempted. A woman’s heart, her mind, her learning, and her personhood were all so important to Him that, male lust and suspicion be dagnabit-ed, He was going to focus on his mission and it included – includes! – women.

  6. Jack June 3, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    “NOTE – I have emailed the editorial department of Australian Penthouse asking for the article in question to be emailed to me so I can view the actual context and ascertain the intended message. So far I have had no response from them. Until such times as I receive the article and am convinced my perceptions regarding the intent and context are incorrect, my opinion on the subject stands.”

    Until you actually read the article, you’ll just assume the worst? That’s uncharitable, to put it mildly.

    • Jo Hilder June 3, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      When it comes to porn, I find I am under no compunction either according to my conscience or my common sense to be charitable.

      • Mark Smith Curtis June 12, 2012 at 7:23 am #

        Absolutely !

    • Tamara @MockingbirdDont June 4, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      Jack, the downside of choosing to be of this world AND in it, instead of being in it and not OF it, is you sacrifice your ability to claim innocence and demand the charity of others. That kind of “charity” is akin to seeing a child on a chair, propped up against the fridge, with his hand in the cookie jar, demanding you, his parent, not assume he’s actually trying to get a cookie. Sometimes it looks like, talks like, and walks like a duck, because it is one. Common Sense need not be bound by the “charity” of mediocre Believers.

  7. Bert Montgomery June 5, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    no one will ever accuse you of being lazy in your reporting! Great stuff – as always – Jo!

  8. Anna June 6, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Good article Jo – great investigation and excellent writing.

  9. Rae June 12, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    All other debate aside, your description of how it felt – like being trapped – just being the “environment” of the porn mind set is EXACTLY how it feels for most women!!!

    Thanks for being so fearless, not just here, but in all of your posts!

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