John Piper on Porn, Wives, & Marriage


I try not to bash pastors that I know have good intentions.  Those pastors that have demonstrated a desire to be biblically sound and pastorally sensitive, usually get the benefit of the doubt from me, even when I don’t think they are at the moment being biblically sound and pastorally sensitive.  I also know that well-known pastors probably get far more useless and inane criticism from young twenty-somethings that think they know everything (myself included, far more often than I’d like to admit).  But this went a bit too far.  Tonight, John Piper put up the following tweet:

Really?

First, the medium.  You’re really going to put up — of all means of communication — a tweet?   Not knowing how many women might have sat down at their computer after having been told of the marital infidelity of their husbands in front of a computer screen for the millionth time, you’re going to tell them that if they watched a movie recently where there was nudity in it, they shouldn’t complain?  Using 140 characters or less, with no space to add nuance or pastoral care,  you’re going to make a statement that will inevitably make many women internalize on themselves the feelings of hurt they may be feeling?  To make such a loaded statement over such a “micro” platform is the height of thoughtlessness, callousness, and insensitivity.

Second, the message itself.  The Bible is sexually charged at times.  Sexuality can be beautiful, even necessary, to push forward a narrative (as we see in the Bible).  This means that there are movies where sexuality (yes, even nudity) can be beautiful, purposeful, and not simply gratuitous acts to keep men engaged.  So just the simple act of watching of these movies is not tantamount to navigating your husband to a porn site and then telling him to have fun.  Does the same go for art?  Would Piper say “Wives, if you see art with him containing bare breasts and fondling, don’t complain when he does porn by himself”?

Also, nudity and sex scenes (that are gratuitous and unnecessary) are found in nearly every movie adults watch nowadays.  You can try and filter the bad ones out, but inevitably a few will get in.  Should the wife “not complain” if her husband does porn after that? I’m sure Piper’s not saying this.  It’s just that this is subtle legalism at work, where the problem with the sin and the struggle is something that they’re doing.  Struggling with porn? Stop doing this, doing that, and start doing this, doing that.  It’s a subtle works-based system of sin and righteousness.

He has probably counseled countless couples struggling with this very issue.  Surely he doesn’t say this in counseling sessions, does he?  There has to be better ways to say the little bit of truth in this: Perhaps, “don’t be surprised when he…”; “try and help your husband by not watching movies containing…”; “if he does porn by himself, ask if you two are watching movies with…”?  These are more helpful ways of saying the kernel of truth in there.

Ever since becoming increasingly theologically egalitarian (I’m not all the way there.  I call myself a “progressive complementarian”), I have struggled with the hardcore complementarians out there like Piper and Driscoll.  I’m quite confident that it’s bad biblical exegesis, but I have really tried to believe that it doesn’t inevitably lead to chauvinism and insensitivity toward women.  And I know Piper doesn’t advocate for that.  But this tweet scares me.  I’m angered by this and I hurt on behalf of all the women out there that should be appalled by this.  There should be no circumstance that you should not feel the freedom and right to justifiably “complain” about and hate the sin of your husband for his online marital infidelity toward you.  It is not your fault in anyway that would remove your right to do this.  I really hope Piper gets a lot of criticism over this, such that he is able to publicly apologize for this.  He’s done it before for other things he has said.  I hope this is one of those times.

What do you all think?  Was Piper off-base?  Why or why not?  How would you phrase this differently?

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15 thoughts on “John Piper on Porn, Wives, & Marriage

  1. I don’t like that he’s putting the man’s sin issue on the woman. It’s obviously HER fault that his heart is still working through sanctification. I also think the twitter platform for something like this is out of line. I usually enjoy Piper’s quotes, and am challenged by them. However, this is done insensitively. Now, this may be a bad assumption, (which we know what assuming does) but I feel like some women ALREADY blame themselves for their husband’s porn problem. This is just gasoline on the fire for more guilt and anguish, not blood-soaked, gospel-centered grace.

  2. About your last big paragraph, this is probably something Ben has regarded as most disturbing about the Acts 29 camp.

  3. Paul,

    Do you know if any qualifying statements have been put out? I agree with you on the point you raise about medium; well stated. Twitter is probably not such a great place to make such a loaded statement.

    That being said I’m on the edge. While I do think that the post was inappropriate, particularly due to the medium, I’m not sure that it is the misogyny covered in piety as some have stated. Piper clearly does not state that the wife is to blame for for her husbands actions in any way or that a husband and wife can’t watch an r rated movie together which I have also seen some write.

    My own personal interpretation is that it speaks more to the weakness of men and not women as well as the different ways men and women think about sex. What it is saying to wives is if your husband is lusting after someone on tv in your presence don’t be surprised if he does it when you are not around. To me that is far more incriminating against men then against women. In fact I think that it is helping the ladies understand how guys think.

    Lets face it. It isn’t for everybody but I would wager for a large group of men seeing bare breasts and fondling on the tv would be at least a minor stumbling block. I would say that this isn’t a legalistic statement but just a practical one born out of reality. For women it might not be as much of a stumbling block. This actually seems to give the women the higher moral ground rather than the lower and helps them understand the weaker sex in an issue like this. By weaker sex I’m referring to men. When you look at how a guy becomes addicted to porn it often begins with a forbidden image, or a few images, and then they, in their depravity, seek out more. It is important for a wife to understand her husbands weakness.

    Unless you are trying to put forward the argument that men and women approach an issue like sex exactly the same way I’m having a hard time seeing how complementarism comes into play here. Rather the tweet seems to much more aimed at how men and women view sex. It seems to be established, both inside the church and out, that men and women can have a little different take on it at times.

    Is this tweet going to be misunderstood? Probably and that is why it was irresponsible. Does it communicate a hatred of women? No. Does it legalistically say that John Piper says you can’t watch R rated movies with your spouse? No. Does it say that women need to condescend and be aware of how their husbands are wired sexually? Yes.

  4. Just to tack on to my post I would say the other side of the “women need to condescend and be aware of how their husbands are wired sexually” coin is that husbands need to also understand how their wives are wired sexually as well. I would bet a lot of money that JP would agree that the second side of the coin is equally as important as the first.

    Peace.

  5. Since I am a wife…let me respond. No, I wouldn’t excuse my husband for looking at porn on his computer just because we happened to go see a movie TOGETHER AS A COUPLE that contained some nudity. There is a huge difference between seeing that stuff with your spouse and watching alone for your own pleasure…first we don’t watch porn together, I think it is degrading and just stupid. But we have seen movies with nudity, and honestly it doesn’t even thrill me then to have my husband looking at another womans stuff! But, it’s a movie, we chose together and are at together and the movie moment passes and we move on. Nor do I enjoy it when I watch movies containing infidelity in it, but we do see movies with that portrayed in the movie. Does that give my husband a pass to go have an affair??? I don’t think so. If we watch a movie that portrays a murder can either of us go out and kill someone? NO. We do try to see movies that are fairly free of nude stuff just cuz I don’t think it is always necessary to have that in movies. But, does it give him the right or permission to look at porn? Does it give me permission to look at porn? NO WAY! If he wants to look at a nude woman in the privacy of our home…or whatever….he can look at me! Just my humble opinion!

  6. Very interesting response, lwayswright. I totally get what you are saying but I wonder a little bit. Is Piper really saying that if you watch a movie with nudity in it it gives your spouse a free pass to have an affair or permission to look at porn? I think that almost everyone will agree with you on those points. I’m having a hard time seeing how you came to that conclusion from the tweet posted above.

    As I stated above, I think that the tweet really drives at the different ways that men and women look at sex. I think that women need to understand that men just don’t wake up one day with an addiction to porn. It starts with one image and a thought and grows from there. For some guys it is going to be that r rated movie with the bare breasts and fondling. Just because he is sitting beside you is not going to stop him from thinking, “Wow! She is hot!” That image could be burned in his head and desire starts growing. That desire eventually leads to action, perhaps looking for the pictures of the actress online, and it can really snowball from there. For some men that is the sad reality. For the woman she sees the bare breasts and fondling, is not particularly happy about it, and moves on. For men it doesn’t always work this way and women need to be aware of that. The image doesn’t always disappear but remains in the man’s mind and will eventually manifest itself.

  7. Thanks for the post, however I think you may have read way to far into a tweet, or projected a bit to come to these conclusions. The two becoming one flesh means fighting for the purity of that flesh, maybe like scrapping the fat off a steak so your spouses cholesterol doesn’t sky rocket, helping them out a bit. Or shoveling the snow off the walk so they don’t fall on their way out the door. So why not fight to keep other topless women (who are not their wives) from en-grafting on their brains?

  8. @Pastor Mark –
    I don’t have too much problem with the basic idea that Piper’s trying to get at. I fully understand what he’s saying, and I think it has valid foundations.

    I just think that for such a public figure, it was an irresponsible thing to say, an irresponsible way to say it, and an irresponsible medium to broadcast it.

    The rest of my conclusions were drawn from trying to reconcile how a man such as Piper, who is SO careful to say EXACTLY what he means and not be careless with his words could POSSIBLY have thought this was helpful, encouraging or pastoral in any way.

    I know for a fact Piper does his morning devotional time, then uses a program to schedule three or so tweets to appear at different times during the day. So this was a very premeditated tweet and not just some careless off hand comment said in the moment. I just can’t imagine why he said it.

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