Driving home from another ministry excursion, I pass billboard after billboard saying there are sex shops nearby. With each sighting, my stomach turns with sickness, my face falls into a frown. I am tempted to ignore the anguish, to shield my thoughts, to avoid that which feels judgmental and ugly within me.
Instead, I take a deep breath and offer a prayer for healing and conversion: may all people revere every other human as sacred and holy. I wonder, though, what else does Christ need me to do with the frequent reminder that our culture has an unhealthy obsession with sex?
My haunted mind wanders as I continue to drive toward home. I remember when I was first introduced to what sex was made to be about, while huddled into a tiny rectory living room with other college students. Crowded together, a bunch of us awkwardly stared into…
[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for The Mudroom. Continue reading here.]
Right now, at this Internet-saturated time in history, screams for help are coming out from the shadows.
As Christians, we can choose to ignore the serious pleas for help and deny the existence of problems. Or, we can we do as Jesus instructs and heed the call coming from the wilderness. Let us study the brightly glaring sign of this time and respond with courageous compassion and advocacy for systemic changes.
There are 27 million people in slavery today, which is more than any other time in human history. Ninety percent of people are trafficked because of the sex industry.
Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises worldwide. U.S. porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of television broadcasting companies ABC, CBS, & NBC ($6.2 billion). Child pornography generates $3 billion annually.
One million children are forced to work in the sex industry every year. Between 100,000 and 300,000 children in America are at risk for sex trafficking annually.
In the past week, I was blessed to hear Matt Fradd speak at the high school where I minister. He was entertaining and enlightening for the youth about the tough topics of sex and pornography (and made my job of teaching the theology of the body much, much easier. ) I was haunted to learn more facts about this issue that has been disturbing me for several years. For example, I learned that recent scientific study shows that people who are addicted to pornography have significantly smaller brains than those who aren’t. (The scientists aren’t sure if the smaller brains are a result of the addiction or more that those with smaller brains are likely to use porn.) Thanks be to God, Matt has an excellent ministry of sharing God’s healing love and mercy. Plus, his website is full of the support and facts that people need to heal and recover.
His presentation was mainly focused on promoting St. Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, or helping Catholics connect their theology and faith with their sexual attitudes and behaviors. He was effective at critiquing this sexualized culture and promoting chastity. Plus, my students and colleagues alike were marveling at how gifted he was at talking about uncomfortable topics in an accessible way.
Although Matt’s presentation was a thorough and informative introduction, I left thinking about how the picture he painted was incomplete; our wired society’s increasing addiction to pornography connects to many other systemic problems that he didn’t even mention. Here are some indicators that I’m aware of: I have felt increasingly disturbed to notice more sex shops creeping up at rural exits along major highways and worried about how their presence harms rural communities and families, not to mention the children that see the billboards and shops. I recently watched this documentary online and felt heartbroken for the young teens who were manipulated and then tattooed with the names of the pimps that they are forced to work for.
I became convicted that all children who run away from abusive homes and then end up in the sex industry are everyone’s child; we all have a responsibility to help them. I grieve the many ways that people are objectified and abused when others fail to recognize their sacredness and dignity. I mourn the violations to human dignity that occur on every level.
For certain, the statistics are terrifying. The Church—the Body of Christ, the people of God—is broken and in severe pain. It is time for us to unite and open clinics and heal the wounded, hurting body of humanity. Let us pray and discern and act so that we can be instruments of mercy and redemption.
I am concerned, though, that we aren’t doing enough. And, I beg you to pray with me that we will discern how the Spirit is calling us to respond, pray that we have the graces and courage to act and that we then act with great love and compassion.
As I pray, I think of Mary. I think of her poverty and how she was able to offer her body to God as an instrument for freedom and salvation. I see in her a beautiful sign of hope that we can all partner with God in ways that honor our dignity and worth and build up God’s reign. Let us have hope, from Mary, that these sins and crimes will come to end, that’s God’s victory of peace and justice will be triumphant. Let us live boldly our belief that one day soon all children of God will deeply understand that they are no one’s property.
For every woman, man, or child who has ever been abused and has experienced the darkness of fear and pain, there is a human sign of hope.
Jesus, please care for all victims and perpetrators of violence. May they know healing and strength and may the violence come to an end!
For every person who has ever been bought, branded, and sold as a slave there is hope. In Mary there is proof that you don’t have to suffer in this way for your body is precious and has value and worth. You deserve to be honored as holy, because you are—you are a child of God made in God’s image and likeness.
Mary, pray for us sinners who permit the sex industry and human trafficking to continue today. Guide us, Holy Mother, as we aim to advocate and change the systems that trap people in slavery. Help us protect all children!
Last weekend I went to a retreat with other Catholic sisters younger than 40. I met a sister who ministers as a hospital chaplain in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to providing presence to all the suffering and miracles in the hospital, she listens to the prostitutes who come in for care. Apparently, pimps buy McDonald’s value meals for poor women as a way to lure them into prostitution. When the women work for the men the name of their pimp is tattooed near their private area. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to the other young sister dream about a ministry of tattoo removal and spiritual and mental healing for the women who desire to leave prostitution.
The two things that I despise most about our human sinfulness are the sins of the sex and military industries. Violence and destruction destroy experiences of holiness and dignity. We take the gift of our God-given creative power and misuse it in attempts to prove ourselves. We misuse our bodies while we live lies.
Really, though, we can give God great glory with our bodies and our lives. Alternatives are abundant. Although we are small and powerless, we can unite with Christ to do great things in Love. In chastity and service humanity is healed.
Brothers and sisters: The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. –1 Cor. 6:13-15, 17-20
When I was a kid I was just as confused as everyone seems to be about what is right and wrong. I was persuaded by our dualistic society and its messages. Older Christians showed me that the New Testament taught me that we should live according to the spirit and not the sinful flesh. Did that mean my body was not good?
Soon, my students and I will study sexual ethics. I’ll emphasize that our bodies are really good and sex is very holy. We’ll examine how sexual desires can become destructive and dangerous when they’re not controlled: when we fail to use our bodies to glorify God. Rooted in Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and I’ll use this book and this website. The holy power of our sexuality is alive in everyone’s bodies. As we seek union, we are capable of creating new life. As we love chastely, we can truly give God glory through our bodies.
Our bodies are holy and alive with the spirit of God’s goodness, which is why they are built for the morality of the reign of God. We are children of God. We are free. As we give God our powerlessness, God converts us into temples of blessing. When we say “yes” to God’s love our bodies are made powerful for humble service. As we serve, we build God’s reign of healing and justice now. God is glorified.
The problem is that not everyone gets this. Sins explode and people are seriously misused because of our desire to be powerful and great. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls this the drum major’s instinct:
And the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. Criminologists tell us that some people are driven to crime because of this drum major instinct. They don’t feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior, and so they turn to anti-social behavior in order to get attention, in order to feel important. And so they get that gun, and before they know it they robbed a bank in a quest for recognition, in a quest for importance. . . Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. . . You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.-The Drum Major’s Instinct By Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We can be the servants, who with Christ, show the world alternative ways to live. As we serve, God heals, loves, redeems. As we place our powerlessness in the hands of God’s we are set free to be temples of God’s goodness. In our bodies God is glorified. We unite together in great love and become God’s colorful, healing, chaste body of Christ- the true living God.