Will missions solve your porn problem? No.
Pornography makes another human less like a person and more like a snack. And yet, so often our recent reminders on the internet about the dangers of, well, the internet and other peddlers of this smut focus on that young man alone in his bedroom late at night. However, the grip of pornography reaches into more than teenage bedrooms. Today, pornography reaches as far as the curse is found. It reaches to the very ends of the earth.
Overseas missions isn't an escape from pornography.
The false promise of escape
I'm no stranger to awkward conversations, staring across the table, as a student or church member confesses to an ongoing struggle and hearing of their hope that missionary service might provide freedom. Ensnared is the right word for pornography.
Christian men (and many women) ensnared in an addiction to pornography feel trapped. Caged animals instinctively look for an escape, and so it is with Christians caught in the trap of pornography. Subtly, the Enemy's tactic turns a person's gaze away from the things that provide real freedom toward other avenues of escape.
Christian missions overseas can be seen as just such an escape.
For some, the thought of some mistakenly "extra Christian" service begins to look like a doorway to a new life, a new chapter without the shackles of pornography (or any other gripping moral compromise). Perhaps it's the change in vocation. They are convinced that a focus on missions, evangelism, and church planting -- all holy pursuits -- will drown out the siren song of pornography.
For others, it's the change in location that makes missions so compelling as a means of escape. Surely secluding oneself in a remote corner of the earth will remove the temptation of ever-present internet access.
Finally, there is the assumption that such a radical adjustment, selling one's possessions and giving over to a life of sacrifice, provides the hope of escape. After all, such devotion to Christ and his Gospel must result in a life free of these temptations.
Vocation, location, and the heart
But the draw to pornography isn't a vocation issue, and it isn't a location issue. It is an issue of the heart. Like any idol, pornography asks for your love. The affections don't merely change with new scenery or a new purpose in life, even if that purpose seems "extra Christian." If viewing pornography is a problem on this side of that commitment, it'll board the airplane and arrive with that person, just like all of the other baggage.
A common mistake concerning the allure of pornography is assuming the problem is ease of access. Ease of access is bad, but it isn't the problem. The problem lies deeper. Viewing pornography is merely the symptom, the fruit not the root. The heart will seek out its loves, even when they are hard to find. Heart issues always find a way to manifest.
If one is considering the mission field as an escape from pornography (or any number of struggles), I would urge that person to reconsider. If they have somehow found themselves on the field of service already, shackled to a love for pornography (a love that you hate), freedom is only found through rightly ordered affections.
Dealing with pornography on the field
There is no silver bullet, no radical commitment of sacrifice that curbs the appetite of lust. If the root is not pulled and replaced, it'll continue to bear fruit. The exhortations given to those seeking freedom from this bondage in the States are just as true on the field. As with any affection, we must remove it from our whole person -- head, heart, and hands. We must establish barriers to access. Yes, this does apply, even in remote jungles. One would be amazed at the ways this temptation is satisfied overseas.
We must seek community, transparency, and accountability. I mean real accountability, too. For the missionary, there are added layers of complexity concerning community and accountability. Community is often hard to find on the field.
Cross-cultural relationships, while sweet and often deep, create barriers to communication and meaning. Missionaries are often tempted to remain silent concerning their own heart issues because of the challenges presented by cross-cultural relationships.
Even more so, confessing sexual sin to one's team may be even harder to do. In the field setting, often a missionary's team is the closest thing they have to a church community. In this setting, a person can feel like their shepherd and boss are the same person. Confessing may mean the end of their time overseas.
As difficult as these realities are, remaining silent will not do. The person who refuses to depend on brothers and sisters makes too much of his or her own will and too little of sin. It is easy, in the grip of ongoing sin, to reorder our priorities in an unhealthy way. Staying on the field becomes more important than a heart rightly directed toward God. Ironically, such misshapen priorities may allow a missionary to remain in place, but he or she stays at the cost of the spiritual vitality necessary to succeed in the mission.
Two centuries ago, Thomas Chalmers addressed the issue of our affections in a sermon entitled, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. Chalmers wisely questions, "The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world's worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself?"
In other words, the loves of the heart -- those idols that claim our allegiance -- can't merely be removed. They must be replaced with an even more powerful affection. And so it is with the love that leads one to submit to pornography. Pornography is a hateful master who doesn't love in return.
The heart needs a better master. This is why Christ pleads with us, "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:28–30, HCSB).
This article first appeared at imb.org.