Sex, More Sex and Jesus?

Note to Christians looking for media opportunities: talk about sex.

From “Hookers for Jesus” to former evangelical preacher Ted Haggard admitting that he masturbated in front of a young man, to a young pastor encouraging his married congregants to “have free and frequent sex,” to examining the historical connections between Hugh Hefner and Pope John Paul II, ABC's “Nightline” applied the old adage “sex sells” to its recent reports on Christianity.

“Nightline” examines issues regarding spirituality and religion in its periodically aired segment, “Faith Matters.” CMI found that out of eight segments aired in the last six months on Christianity, and half of them focused on sexuality.

Fallen Preacher

An interview with Ted Haggard, by its nature, would include salacious details. He's a married man who was forced to resign from his posts as head pastor of New Life Church in Colorado and as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after admitting in 2006 to having sex with a male prostitute and using methamphetamine.

ABC correspondent Dan Harris' interview with Haggard, his first since his resignation, aired on January 28, 2009. It revealed that Haggard's indiscretions did not stop with a male prostitute but also included abusive behavior toward a young man who sought his counsel. Harris related, ,“This is a young man who had been kicked out of Bible school and he came to you and told you about his struggles with homosexuality … and he says you completely violated that trust and that in fact, you got into bed with him one night and masturbated.”

Haggard admitted that this was true and that he tried to keep the man from going public with his experience.

Harris stood up for gay rights, inquiring, “Do you do you think you owe gay people an apology?” which Haggard quickly supplied. Harris also toed the usual media line of portraying Christianity as repressive by asking Haggard, “Do you think your religion is forcing you to suppress a fundamental part of who you are?”

“It did. No question about it,” Haggard answered. But when asked why he isn't now living as a gay man, he said, “Because I love my wife. I love my intimate relationship with my wife. I don't – I'm not gay.”

By not pressing him further, Harris allowed Haggard, who now calls himself “a heterosexual, but with issues,” to have it both ways.

Joy of “Christian” Sex

Of course, it's not just fully disgraced former pastors who provide ABC's religious reporting with titillating sound bites.

Christopher West, a research fellow at the Theology of the Body Institute (which, according to its Web site, “exists to promote the revolutionary teaching of Pope John Paul II on the divine meaning of the human body and human sexuality”) discussed the Catholic view of sex with correspondent David Wright in a segment that aired on May 7, 2009.

Wright zeroed in on West's view that there are “some very profound connections historical connections between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II.” Editing made it appear that West gave more credence to Hefner than to the late Holy Father, as his only direct explanation focused on the founder of Playboy, “I love Hugh Hefner. I really do. Why? Because I think I understand his ache. I think I understand his longing because I think I feel it myself. There's this yearning, this ache, this longing we all have for love, for union, for intimacy.”

In all reality, West and the Institute take a traditional view of sexuality. The institute's name and the courses it offers are based on a series of 129 lectures Pope John Paul II gave between September 1979 and November 1984. These lectures addressed human sexuality, encouraged married couples to enjoy each other and further explained the Catholic Church's ban on contraception.

Naturally, the media sees Hefner's philosophy of unfettered sexual expression, as embodied by his business ventures, as more interesting than the Pope's view of sex. Wright noted that despite West encouraging people to enjoy each other sexually, “there is some fine print. All of this talk so far as West is concerned is meant only for straight men and women, properly married. No gay sex, no birth control.”

Wright did, in all fairness, allow West to defend the Catholic restrictions on birth control. Yet he still sensationalized the segment by characterizing Hefner as a “hero” of West's and refusing West the opportunity to explain the connection between the Playboy and the Pope. In fact, the only teaching of the Pope's that Wright allowed West to discuss himself sounded like something straight out of Cosmopolitan magazine:

John Paul II, long before he became Pope, wrote that if a man is truly to love his wife, he must learn how to contain his own climax in order to learn how to bring his wife to climax with him.

After the segment aired, a statement appeared on the Institute's Web site that clarified West's remarks:

Regarding the connection between John Paul II and Hugh Hefner, Christopher often points out the interesting historical “coincidence” of the work of these two profoundly influential men. In the early 1950s, as Hefner was founding Playboy magazine, Karol Wojtyla began to lecture and write about the need for Christians to experience a redemption of their bodies and sexuality. In their respective work, both Hefner and John Paul II responded to a puritanical/Manichean approach to sexuality, but they offered completely different solutions to the problem.

[A]s Catholics, we agree with Hugh Hefner's diagnosis of the disease (i.e., a puritanical rejection of the body and sexuality is utterly contrary to Catholic faith), but we radically disagree with his cure. Christopher told the Nightline correspondent that the Theology of the Body is the true cure for the disease that Hefner diagnosed.

Sex and Salvation

Really, all a person has to do is simply proclaim to be a Christian who likes sex to receive some air time on “Nightline.” Just ask Pastor Mark Driscoll.

“Nightline” host Martin Bashir introduced his colleague Neal Karlinsky's January 27, 2009, segment on Driscoll with these words, “Mark Driscoll believes that the Jesus of the Bible is less meek and mild, more rebellious and radical. And Driscoll's teaching is just as likely to discuss the importance of sex as it is the sanctity of the soul.”

Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hills Church in Seattle. Karlinsky noted in his report that Seattle is “one of the least religious cities in America” and that Mars Hill is a growing church with nearly 8,000 members. That in and of itself should make a compelling story.

Karlinsky instead devoted much of his report to Driscoll's beliefs about sex. He included a clip of Driscoll saying, “On the subject of masturbation I will say this. The Bible doesn't say anything. I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might and he tried to used that verse.”

In the following exchange, Karlinsky appears to not understand how a person can like both sex and Jesus:

NEAL KARLINSKY, ABC NEWS: There seems to be two lightning rod topics when people talk about Mark Driscoll, sex and Jesus. Is that fair?

            MARK DRISCOLL: Yeah, I like both.

            KARLINSKY: You like both?


            DRISCOLL: Yeah, for the record.

            KARLINSKY: Sex and Jesus?

            DRISCOLL: Sex with my wife and I dig Jesus. Absolutely.

Later Karlinsky asks Driscoll's wife, Grace, about Driscoll's teachings about sex, “Did you say to him at some point, Mark, what are you doing, this is our private life?”

Grace said yes, they had “some discussions,” but that “if it can be a help to people, that's great. Otherwise, you know, we don't need to talk about it.”

Karlinsky also included a sound bite from Driscoll, “I think that married people should have free and frequent sex. That's what I think. And we encourage our people to get married and enjoy one another.” Another clip aired, in which Driscoll said, “Are there positions that are off? No.”

Yet, it was Karlinsky who stated, that Driscoll “is adamant though that premarital sex is a sin.”

In today's sexualized culture, that could be considered the most radical statement Driscoll himself could have said. Instead, Karlinsky focused on Driscoll's suggestive comments.

Hookers for Jesus?

Even when a story is a positive portrayal of Christianity, ABC couldn't resist teasing viewers.

“Nightline's” March 12 report, headlined “Hookers for Jesus,” sounds particularly gratuitous, but as previously reported by the Culture and Media Institute, it in fact gave former prostitute Annie Lobert an unchallenged platform to speak about her faith in God and her ministry, “Hookers for Jesus.” Lobert founded “Hookers for Jesus” with help from The Church of South Las Vegas and Pastor Benny Perez after overdosing on cocaine.

Karlinsky briefly reported Lobert's background, “Before she was a so called 'hooker for Jesus,' Lobert was to put it delicately, a hooker. Starting as a teenager, she sold her body through escort services, websites and on the streets of Las Vegas for 11 years.”

Lobert explained the circumstances that led to her conversion:

I didn't mean to try to commit suicide, but it just kind of happened and I had a heart attack. And I just remember everything turning black, just completely fading to black. And just this total emptiness and there was nobody there and I said, Jesus, please help me. I'm alone, please help me. And my heart was just beating out of my chest.

Karlinsky also included footage in his report of Lobert telling a group of women, “The world throws us away and so we have nowhere to go. There's nothing like the peace that you get knowing that you had a creator and knowing that because of what you've done, it doesn't define the rest of your life.”

Yes, ABC. Christians Do Have Sex

While the Haggard interview and the “Hookers for Jesus” segments included scandalous material due to the very nature of topics discussed, ABC's reports on Driscoll and the Theology of the Body Institute showed the network's preoccupation with sex.

Reporters cheapened the messages of West and Driscoll by focusing on their most sensational comments. What could have been a thoughtful examination of why Christians view sex as something so important that it should remain only between married couples is instead a sophomoric exercise to hear a Catholic educator express fondness for Hugh Hefner and an otherwise conservative preacher to say “masturbate” on national television.