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Feeling squeamish?

By David Wilson

If you’re wondering what a cover story on pornography is doing in a nice magazine like this, you’re not alone — I asked the same question when writer Erica Lenti first proposed the article this past summer.

Lenti joined us last May as our summer intern, shortly after completing a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. She’s a gifted writer who understands that good journalism is about taking readers to places they might never think of going themselves.

We give our interns plenty of freedom to ferret out stories to develop during their 12 weeks with us. All we ask is that they successfully demonstrate why their stories should appear in this magazine at this time.

Lenti is clever: she knows we like stories that at first might seem counterintuitive for a church magazine but on closer inspection address the editorial pillars we affirm every month on our front cover: faith, justice and ethical living. But pornography? That seemed to stretch even the most liberal notion of counterintuitive. I tried to let her down gently. “I’m not sure it’s a good fit for us,” I told her.

Lenti’s doggedness makes her a good reporter. It also makes her a stubborn defender. She pressed on with her case for the story, pointing out that the creation and use of pornography in the age of the Internet has exploded to the point where pornography is now a billion-dollar industry in the United States alone. Online pornography sites number in the hundreds of millions, users in the billions. An industry that too often exploits vulnerable and disadvantaged women now does so on a massive scale. The pornography explosion has also led to a surge in pornography addiction, leaving a growing trail of personal dysfunction, broken families and wrecked careers in its wake.

Lenti continued to dig, unearthing a California-based evangelical organization that sets up shop at pornography conventions in the United States and Canada, offering help to pornography addicts and advice to porn stars on how to quit the business. I asked her if she had found any mainline churches that had taken up the cause. “Not really,” she said.

Her answer did not surprise me. Mainline churches are generally pretty squeamish when it comes to anything involving sex. Some of that squeamishness had clearly found its way into this magazine’s editorial decision-making. I continued to pour cold water on the idea.

Then I started to think about the crusades the church has led against other vices — alcohol, drugs and gambling, to name three — and the countless times we’ve addressed them in the articles we publish. We engage these issues because of the harm they can cause. Yet we instinctively turn a blind eye to pornography and the damage it can wreak because talking about it makes us feel uncomfortable. It raises an elementary question: Do we have the luxury of addressing only those issues we decide are in our comfort zone?

The answer is pretty clearly no. In fact, the obligation to raise issues that push boundaries may be greater than our obligation to hammer away at topics we’ve always considered “ours.” Churches and church magazines are tasked with confronting injustice and brokenness in all its forms. Picking and choosing is not an option.

In the end, we gave Lenti the green light. I won’t get into the editing and graphics challenges this project presented. Suffice to say, our sensitivity radar was on full alert. Lenti has produced a thoughtful, courageous story on a difficult subject that affects millions of people. We’re grateful that she forced us to open our minds. I hope you read it in the same spirit. 

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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