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A place too dark for Christians to shine a light?

OPINION 

Thursday 26 May 2016

If Penthouse Magazine, founded by American porn baron Bob Guccione, approached you to ask you to comment on a story, would you do it?

That’s the dilemma Australia’s Centre for Public Christianity came across last week, when they were asked by a Penthouse journalist to comment on a story about bioethics.

In a post to Facebook, CPX’s founder John Dickson asked followers to offer a gut reaction to the request.

“My instinct is always to say YES, to all media, anytime. Then again, I hate the objectification of women which this mag also trades in. So this is a dilemma for us,” wrote Dickson.

The question of whether any place is too dark for Christians to shine a light is an interesting one. It extends not just to this particular situation with the Centre For Public Christianity, but to plenty of other instances where Christians find themselves.

Find out what CPX decided to do, here.

The discussion on Facebook, which ran to over 400 comments, was just as fascinating – heated at times, but mostly offering respectful interaction which was fairly evenly spread in opinion. Eternity has asked two of the commenters – one who said YES and another who said NO to expand on their thoughts here.

YES  

Simon Camilleri runs The Elephant Room, a ministry for men struggling with pornography addiction. He has shared his own struggle with pornography with Eternity in the past, here. Yet, in this discussion, he said ‘Yes’ to commenting in Penthouse Magazine. This intrigued us. Here’s his extended response.

Christians need to get out of their comfort zone first and speak into the world. And if there’s a place in the world – even a fairly dark place – that’s inviting us to speak, then that’s potentially a great opportunity.

The general principle I was responding to initially in my response to John Dickson’s question on Facebook was that our natural inclination, from a Christian perspective, when it comes to Penthouse Magazine would be not to contribute; not to be seen as “supporting” anything that supports pornography and something that objectifies women.

But another consideration is that if Christians don’t speak in dark places, then there will never be a Christian voice in those places. If it’s about whether we would feel uncomfortable in those places, that’s something that I think Christians need to challenge themselves on in order to get over.

But I think, more and more, Christians need to get out of their comfort zone first and speak into the world. And if there’s a place in the world – even a fairly dark place – that’s inviting us to speak, then that’s potentially a great opportunity.

There are a lot of things that need to be weighed up. For example, am I supporting or contributing to a group or organisation that does evil? The real challenge in this case was that the topic that CPX was asked to speak about wasn’t the topic that they had an issue with. They were asked to speak about a bioethics issue. The issue they have with Penthouse’s production of pornography is separate.

If they were asked to speak on the issue of pornography, I think that would be a clearer decision. If a pornography-producing organisation asked a Christian to speak about pornography, what a wonderful opportunity to speak to an audience that is interested about the topic!

Yet, because the issues were separate, it could potentially be viewed as CPX supporting Penthouse Magazine.

The biblical parallel that is sometimes quoted here is that Jesus spent his time with sinners and risked being guilty by association. He’s often accused of being a friend of sinners and indeed he was. But he wasn’t a friend who supported sin. He welcomed sinners who wanted to find truth and wanted to repent. I think Jesus’ example challenges us to risk being seen as guilty by association in order to go into dark places to shine a bit of light.

NO

Kylie Beach is Communications Director for Common Grace, a movement of Christians who are “passionate about Jesus and justice”. She has a particular interest in the sexualisation of women’s bodies, and here represents a popular ‘NO’ vote in the discussion that centres around the support of a publication which promotes that sexualisation.  

When I answered John Dickson’s question on Facebook regarding the Centre For Public Christianity submitting a piece to Penthouse Magazine with a Christian response to a bioethical issue, my response was guided by a principle that I often use when considering an ethical dilemma: Seek to not only do more good, but also to do less harm.

…My response was guided by a principle that I often use when considering an ethical dilemma: Seek to not only do more good, but also to do less harm.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that Penthouse’s goal is increased financial profit. Penthouse has been steadily losing readership, a result of the rise of easily accessible and often free online porn. Their print edition shut down earlier this year, migrating all readers online. They need to raise revenue by selling more issues and advertising space. Widening its readership is key to Penthouse achieving its goals. So I can understand why it would invite contributors from outside their usual circle to contribute content that engages readers outside their current pool either directly, or by turning existing customers into “brand advocates” that may share the content with potential new customers.

Can anyone doubt that the contribution of an evangelical Christian think-tank wouldn’t have achieved these goals for Penthouse? It would have been a dream situation, really, to have a bunch of Christians talking about and sharing a Penthouse piece between them. And every copy of this article would be delivered in a format that made other Penthouse content available with just the click of a mouse.

The question is whether the potential “good” of reaching non-Christians with a Christian response to a bioethical issue outweighed the potential “bad” of adding value to the Penthouse product. After all, this was certainly not an opportunity to sit down with non-Christians and share about Jesus in any personal or meaningful way.

Are there places too dark for Christians to shine the light? I’m honestly not sure that’s even the right question. We can ask whether a magazine like Penthouse should exist at all. Or, is this very type of publication harmful? And does it communicate a tacit approval by appearing in it? These are more interesting and I think valid questions to be asking.

Regardless, let’s not dehumanise one group just to potentially reach another.

How CPX responded

“Dear all, thanks for the hundreds of comments in the last 24 hours giving a view on whether the Centre for Public Christianity should accept the invitation of Penthouse Magazine to offer Christian commentary for their upcoming article on a bioethical conundrum,” wrote John Dickson on Facebook. “As I said, we had to weigh up (a) the standard CPX policy of taking every opportunity to speak of Christ in the secular media, and (b) our long stated opposition to the objectification of women through porn, which Penthouse obviously trades in. I read all of your Facebook comments. We discussed it in-house. And we consulted offline with the relevant expertise. Our decision was as follows:

  1. To write the attached press release on the bioethical issue in question, and send it out through CPX social media channels and directly to journalists / outlets (not including Penthouse).
  2. To politely decline Penthouse’s invitation for an interview or comment, explaining exactly why, wishing the journalist well, and alerting him to the press release containing our views on the bioethical question which could be found on the CPX Facebook page and Twitter account.

“Again, thanks for all the input. God bless.”

Featured image: ‘Street Light’  by Óli Jón. Licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

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