Abby Johnson is a popular pro-life speaker who came to prominence in the pro-life community several years ago after writing a book which detailed her conversion after working for eight years in the abortion industry. Her story is a powerful statement for Life, and her book and talks have helped thousands of people better define their pro-life stance, and inspired them to live their convictions.
A few weeks ago Johnson gave a talk at the semi-annual SEEK conference (a Roman Catholic discipleship outreach). In the talk, Johnson explained how she was trained as a POC (products of conception) technician. Her job was to count up all the post-abortion dead baby body parts and put them back together to make sure that the abortionist didn’t leave any body parts inside the woman.
Abby said she is often asked how she could have done this with a clear conscience. How could she – a girl who had been raised in a Christian home – end up in that place, doing that job, for eight years?
“How could you go to work each day feeling good about your job?” “How did that not bug you?”
Her answer is very insightful. She answers honestly. She says first: “I don’t know. I don’t have a silver bullet.” … but then she goes on to describe how it was a result of sin, and it started small, and grew little by little. “It happened a little bit at a time. Because that’s the way sin works in your life: little sins here and there. …Then you wake up and you don’t know who you are.”
I commend Abby Johnson for her honesty in regards to past sin. Clearly, this is a woman who has herself come face to face with the shame and guilt that gross past sin engenders. This is a woman who cannot but be blunt about her past, cannot but be blunt about sin – knowing that it’s the only way to help others from committing the same sins. This is what it’s like to have come out of a life of sin by God’s grace.
It’s exactly the same way with past pornography use, dear reader. People will often wonder how could someone (who came from a Christian background even) get to a point where they are looking at such perverse images? How can that happen? How can someone get to have such a perverted lifestyle?
The answer to that question is the same as Abby Johnson’s answer. It happens little by little. It’s how sin works. And it’s just as insidious… and in the case of pornography use, it’s far more common an occurrence. There are maybe a few thousand people who work in the same position as did Abby (as POC technicians), but there are hundreds of millions upon millions of people stuck in the pornography trap. Little by little, pornography has become an epidemic in this nation. And just as Abby Johnson went to work each day reassembling dead baby bodies without thinking much about it, so too billions of people view pornography each day, tens of millions viewing even the most disturbing of images.
By God’s grace, just as Abby Johnson’s life was turned around, so too are many porn users; they are turned away from their sin and turned back to God. What then is the Christian response to those who have turned from lives of gross sin to renewed faith in Christ?
A Forgiveness Double Standard?
It seems easy for the audience to forgive Abby Johnson for not only having had two abortions herself, but for years of working in the abortion industry, putting dead babies’ bodies back together for inspection. It seems that Abby Johnson has been forgiven by Christians, as should be the case when any Christian relents of their sinful life and returns to Christ.
But I have a question for you, dear reader.
Where is the forgiveness for those who have struggled with addiction to pornography? Where is the forgiveness for those who have used pornography for years, once viewing despicable, shameful images but who have now turned away from that sin in repentance and had their lives changed by God, not unlike Abby Johnson? Why are some Christians less willing to concede that God can change lives when the past habitual lifestyle was pornography instead of working in an abortion mill?
Many men and women who sometimes spent years viewing pornography (just like Abby spent years working in an abortion clinic) have also (just like Abby) had their lives changed by God – have had the Light of God come and deliver them from the chains of pornography. Where is the forgiveness for those who have had their own lives destroyed by pornography, and have as a result come crawling back to our Heavenly Father, just like the Prodigal son? Why are Christians less willing to offer them forgiveness?
The audience has rightly forgiven Abby Johnson her past sins. What’s keeping some Christians from forgiving those who have pasts stained by porn?
To offer an answer to this question let’s first look at our own role in all this.
A helpful practice in the Christian life is to look for what virtue we can develop in all the different situations we face in life. What virtues can be applied here, in what ways can we grow in this current situation (whatever that situation may be)?
For former pornography users, the experience of rejection, condemnation, or unforgiveness from the Christian community certainly provides an opportunity to grow in humility, forbearance, and patience. Humility in admitting the sins of the past, forbearance in holding fast to a life of Christian faith despite the doubt and distrust expressed by those around them, and patience in awaiting the day that those Christians will welcome the repentant sinner with compassion, forgiveness, and the love of Christ.
The Christians who encounter those that have turned away from pornography have the perfect opportunity to live in faith, hope, and love, as well as grow in forgiveness and humility. They can have faith that God changes lives and brings about repentance from even the darkest sins, hope in the freedom and salvation that Christ offers all of us, and show His love by welcoming, encouraging, and supporting those who by God’s grace, no matter what their past, are now striving to follow Him.
Members of the church can also find humility by acknowledging that we are all sinners, and that just like former abortion clinic workers or pornography users, we all need God’s forgiveness to cleanse us from the stain of sin. We know that God casts our sin as far as the east is from the west, that when we come to Him with a repentant and contrite heart He washes us and makes us new, as though we’ve never sinned. Some Christians may want to protest that those sinners don’t deserve forgiveness, or have fallen too far to be accepted back into the church. Yet we know that no sin is too great for Him to forgive, no stain is too terrible for Him to renew and restore us from.
None of us deserve God’s love and forgiveness, but He gives love and forgiveness to us freely, and so we’re called to give them to others (perhaps not freely, but surely). To see all of our Christian brothers and sisters as God does, as new creations, and to treat them as He treats us. For we are all His children, simply doing all we can to serve and follow Him, and traveling on the path toward salvation together.