Let’s discuss something bluntly.  You probably know about this summer’s “celebrity hacking” scandal:  naked selfies of several famous actresses were stolen from their online accounts, and these images spread quickly across the internet.

This is a massive ethical and moral problem on many different levels.  We could point fingers at many people:  the thieves who stole these private photographs, the young women who took these selfies, the many strangers who viewed these pictures for their own pleasure.  For quite a while, I have been bothered by this entire situation.  But today I gained some clarity on the issue.

I subscribe to a news magazine called The Week.  In its current issue, this magazine quotes a Vanity Fair interview with Jennifer Lawrence, the 24-year-old actress most famous for playing the role of Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” movies.  Jennifer is one of the victims of the aforementioned hacking scandal.

Let’s put aside Jennifer’s claim that the theft of her pictures is a “sex crime.”  Let’s put aside questions of whether or not she “deserved” this unwelcome attention.  I want to focus on one extremely illuminating detail from her interview with Vanity Fair.  Jennifer explains why she sent naked selfies to her boyfriend by saying this:

“I was in a loving relationship.  It was long-distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or look at you.”

Read the last phrase of that quote again.  What kind of sexual culture do we tolerate that brings young women to believe such a statement?

The true evil revealed by the celebrity hacking scandal is that our culture believes men must satisfy their sexual desires in any way possible.  Since they must, they will.  And since they will, they may as well find that satisfaction in “appropriate” ways.  This perspective absolves men of any responsibility for their own behavior, and it cheapens human sexuality, which God intends for higher purposes than satisfaction of impulses.

Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or look at you?  Why do we assume that he has to look at all?  Is there no other way?  Is there no better way?

It is time for us to stop believing the lie that “boys will be boys.”  It is time for us to reject the ideas that viewing pornography is natural, that the female body is meant to be seen indiscriminately, and that women must do whatever it takes to satisfy their boyfriends’ sexual desires.  It is time for us to call men (and women) to exercise self-control.

I understand where Jennifer Lawrence and her boyfriend are coming from.  I am a 34-year-old man who has been married for nine years.  Tara and I did the long-distance dating thing for two years before our wedding.  We know that self-control is possible.  And self-control has led us into a healthy and safe relationship that will last our entire lives.

Women, keep your clothes on.  Put your cameras down.  If you believe that your boyfriends must choose between pornography and you, then both you and your boyfriends need to mature.

Men, stop viewing pornography.  Stop the online image searches.  Stop “reading” swimsuit magazines.  Stop asking your girlfriend to send naked selfies to you.  Stop supporting the many ways that our culture misuses the female body.  Learn the art of self-control.

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.  For what is our lot from God above, our heritage from the Almighty on high?  Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong?  Does he not see my ways and count my every step? (Job 31:1-4 NIV)

Hobby Lobby.  Contraception.  Health care reform.  Abortion.  The death penalty.  Welfare.  Wars.  Drones.  Prayer in schools.  Gun control.  Gay marriage.

Do I have your attention yet?

Chances are, you have strong opinions about the above topics, which have been at the forefront of public conversation in recent days and months.  Is there a “correct” Christian perspective on these issues?  Is it possible that well-meaning followers of Jesus can have differing opinions?  How should we vote, speak out, or defend our beliefs?

We live in a time of increased polarization within our country and around the world.  Republicans and Democrats in the US are being pulled toward their ideological extremes.  Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East are engaging in bloody conflicts against each other.  Conservative and liberal Christians are separating from each other in congregational life, public discussion, and even geographical location.

When it comes to any of the issues that divide us, I too have my own opinions.  I believe some stances are morally appropriate, and others aren’t.  But I also believe in a more important truth, one that guides my conversations with people about these issues:

It’s complicated.

Should Hobby Lobby be required to provide its employees with full insurance coverage for contraceptives?  Regardless of whether you say “yes” or “no,” the truth is that it’s complicated.

Should our nation legalize same-sex marriage, or use drones to eliminate enemies in other nations, or pass tighter gun control laws?  It’s complicated.

These issues are complicated because they impact different people in different ways.  They are complicated because my opinions, wisdom, and experiences on any given topic do not equal the sum total of all people’s opinions, wisdom, and experiences on that topic.  They are complicated because life is complicated.  The world is not black and white (there are many different shades!); Christianity cannot be boiled down to heaven or hell (there’s so much more to faith than that!); ethical questions do not always have nice, clean answers.

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap [Jesus] in his words.  They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians.  “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion?  Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”  But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax.”  They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this?  And whose inscription?”  “Caesar’s,” they replied.  Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  When they heard this, they were amazed.  So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22 NIV)

Should the ancient Jews pay their required taxes to Caesar, whose Roman Empire occupied their God-given inheritance?  Or should they revolt against Rome and trust God for the victory?  (Historical note: the Jews tried the latter, and their revolt ended in Rome’s utter destruction of the capital city Jerusalem in AD 70.)

In this passage, Jesus proclaims an astounding truth:  the kingdom of God is not the kingdom of this world.  And we are to be citizens of God’s kingdom – even while we live as citizens of this world.

In short, life is supposed to be complicated.

So build your opinions about Hobby Lobby and gay marriage and gun control, and be sure your opinions are founded in the truth of scripture.  But listen carefully to the opinions of those who disagree with you, especially when their opinions are founded in scripture as well.  Listen to the stories of those affected by major current events, and tell your story faithfully also.

And always give to God what is God’s – even your very life – as complicated as that is to do.

Matthew Henry, an English Presbyterian minister who died 300 years ago, is well-known for writing lengthy commentaries on every chapter of the Old and New Testaments. His thoughts are often very helpful to Bible students; he provides background information and insights on any passage of scripture you might choose. His commentaries are in the public domain and are free to read electronically; I have downloaded them as part of the Bible study software that I use on a regular basis. Occasionally, but not often, I have read Henry’s thoughts while studying a particular passage.

I’m going to have a much harder time doing that now.

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