Reverend Miller is a leader in the local Methodist community. As such, he serves as a role model and someone who is responsible for embodying the teachings of Christ as best he can. Yet Reverend Miller is also human, and therefore fallible. No church leader can be expected to be saint-like, removed from sin, or perfect. Yet all should ideally aim for high standards, for personal spiritual progress, and for ethical behavioral comportment. One of the main problem dynamics in this case is the conflict between Reverendâ€™s obvious guilt evidenced in his need to confess to a friend, versus his seeming lack of remorse evidence by his admission that â€œover time, it didnâ€™t feel so wrong anymore.â€ The Reverend also does not say that he plans on changing his behavior, even though it can be assumed that he would prefer not to be a pornography addict because of the way it conflicts with his identity as a religious man and a church leader.
His choice to come to me as a friend to confess his consumption of pornography demonstrates a remarkable willingness to be honest and take responsibility for his actionsâ€”even though right now it appears that he is not taking responsibility at all. The Reverend knows that he â€œshouldnâ€™tâ€ be looking at pornography given that church teachings remain firmly against it, and yet right now, he does not indicate any desire to change his behavior. His conflicted mental state is understandable; he gets pleasure from looking at pornography, and receives few if any punishments. Viewed from a simple cost-benefits analysis or from the perspective of basic behaviorism, the Reverendâ€™s behavior makes sense. Unless he does experience negative consequences from consuming pornography, it is unlikely that he will cease his behaviors. Yet I am in no position to punish the Reverend or to expose his secret. Exposing him would constitute a worse ethical violation than his private consumption of pornography, which technically harms no one but himself.
His willingness to confide entrusts me with a tremendous responsibility. At his friend, I am in no position to offer any sort of advice that would preclude the Reverend from again trusting me with his secret or any others he may have. Keeping the dialogue open is essential because I may be able to help the Reverend understand why he has become addicted to pornography and to prevent his addiction from getting worse, preventing it from affecting his relationships with others, and preventing his addiction from harming his position in the church. I am also placed in the unique position of keeping the Reverendâ€™s secret from the congregation: not an ideal position but one that must be considered in light of the Reverendâ€™s overall comportment in the community.
The Reverend also trusts in my ability to keep his confession private and confidential, respecting that his use of pornography has no bearing on how he treats his wife or any other woman. It would be a gross violation of my ethical duties to report the Reverend, or to pass judgment upon him. At the same time, the Reverend does have a moral obligation to his congregation and would be well advised to at least cultivate the willingness to consider the ramifications of his behavior. Ultimately, the Reverendâ€™s confession may reveal some problem dynamics in core church teachings about what pornography is and the role it plays in normal sexual and psychological functioning. Not all pornography â€œportrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of arousal,â€ as official church literature suggests (â€œBook of Resolutions,â€ n.d.). In fact, the Methodist Church recognizes that â€œsexual images can celebrate the goodness of human sexuality through positive depiction in art, literature, and education,â€ and simply differentiates between healthy representations of sexuality and those that are potentially harmful (â€œSocial Principles: The Nurturing Community,â€ n.d.). In light of the multiple issues presented by this complex case, the following action plan can be implemented in accordance with Methodist ideology.
Action Plan and Methodist Ideology
First, I would establish further trust by suggesting more regular meetings with the Reverend to discuss this and any other issues in the context of our friendship. The Reverend did approach me as a friend: deliberately going outside of Methodist clergy to confess to someone he knew would not pass judgment or take any action that would jeopardize his reputation or standing in the community. Even if I do not like the Reverendâ€™s approach now, I must also see that this is the first step that he was willing to take towards healing. I also must recognize the meaning of friendship, and to see that my primary duty is to the Reverend as a friend and not as a parishioner. Therefore, I would need to cultivate the open-mindedness necessary to continue the conversation with the Reverend on his terms. If I were uncomfortable doing so, or felt it compromised my values, then I could have to be honest with the Reverend and suggest that he confess elsewhere while also assuring him that his secret will remain safe.
Second, I would continue the dialogue by asking the Reverend some specific questions that might help him to consider the ramifications of his actions and to possibly shift his attitude and behaviors. I would ask him whether he needs to improve his sex life and whether he might consider talking more openly with his wife about his need for visual stimulation. It is possible his wife also likes to view pornography and has been afraid to tell him, too. Starting this dialogue would strengthen their relationship via the establishment of trust and could unearth the core underlying reasons for his pornography habit. In fact, if the Reverend and his wife were honest with each other about their sexual needs and urges, they may both be able to channel their interests and energies into activities that are viewed with less consternation than pornography. Ultimately, though, the community must come to terms with the fact that pornography is one of the worldâ€™s most consistently lucrative businesses for a reason. The interest in pornography does not necessarily need to be vilified as long as the material is non-violent and non-exploitative in nature. It is even possible that the Methodist community could play a more active role in promoting healthy pornography created by studios that are committed to the ethical treatment of their actors and staff, and to the creation of ethical pornographic material. If the Reverend remains resistant to confiding in his wife or taking more ownership of his actions, I would consider suggesting that he seek professional counseling that may help him work out his complex emotions and thoughts more systematically, using evidence-based methods.
Methodist ideology condemns pornography but not necessarily on judicious grounds. The reflexive condemnation of pornography reflects absolutist thinking that classifies all forms of sexually explicit material into the same category. In fact, pornography is not necessarily violent or exploitative. Far more important would be a frank discussion of what really matters in the pornography debate: the role and status of women in society. A good deal of pornographic material is produced by females, who take control of the imagery and narratives presented on screen to root out problematic portrayals of violence and preclude the exploitation of vulnerable populations like minors and victims of sex trafficking. Instead of condemning pornography, the Methodist church would better fulfill its ideological goals by engaging female producers in the pornography industry in dialogue.
Therefore, part of the action plan may eventually include the welcoming of female pornography producers to the church to give guest lectures and lead discussions about how to make the sex industry safer and more empowering for women. The Reverend is likely to be resistant to such ideas now. However, I could start putting together a formal proposal based on research showing why such an approach might help to reduce the harms that are associated with pornography. The church cannot hope to eliminate pornography or the desire to consume it, even from the most pious members of the church. On the other hand, the church can certainly play a role in cleaning up the pornography industry and making it so that the natural urges of human beings for sexually explicit material does not conflict with the more important and overarching ideological objectives like social justice and ethics. The â€œgrace and healingâ€ approach advocated by the Methodist Church can be more visionary and global in scope than it currently is (â€œSocial Principles: The Nurturing Community,â€ n.d.). The Methodist Church already advocates a multifaceted and compassionate approach to pornography that includes public policy analysis, education, rehabilitation, and participation in the legislative process (â€œBook of Resolutions: Pornography and Sexual Violence,â€ n.d.). Building on these core principles, I would urge the Reverend to use his current experiences and possible addiction to pornography as a springboard for taking action.
Taking action on pornography within the rubric of Methodist ethics and ideology requires compassion and pragmatism. The Methodist Church must recognize that not all pornography is exploitative, and become more willing to lend support for pro-social members of the sex trade who are willing and interested in becoming partners in eradicating problems like child pornography and human trafficking. By working together with researchers and industry leaders, the Church can interject the tenets of Christian faith more solidly into the community.
â€œBook of Resolutions: Pornography and Sexual Violence,â€ (n.d.). United Methodist Church. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/pornography-and-sexual-violence
â€œSocial Principles: The Nurturing Community,â€ (n.d.). United Methodist Church. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-nurturing-community
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