Pornography, your name is Woman?

During a live broadcast of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission today, Heath Lambert spoke about the grave problem of pornography in our churches. I applaud him for shining light into a dark, dark secret within our churches. I became aware of this event through the #ERLCsummit hashtag on Twitter.

However, I question some of how he relayed his message. What people will generally take away is that which the speaker states most often. The refrain throughout his speech (spoken over and over and over and…) was:

“The Forbidden Woman of Pornography”

in Proverbs 7. It’s true that Proverbs 7 in the English Standard Translation refers to “the forbidden woman” … once.

Proverbs 7

Warning Against the Adulteress

1 My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
2 keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
3 bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
5 to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.
6 For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
7 and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.
10 And behold, the woman meets him,
dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
11 She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the market,
and at every corner she lies in wait.
13 She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
14 “I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
15 so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
16 I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.
19 For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey;
20 he took a bag of money with him;
at full moon he will come home.”
21 With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
22 All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
23 till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.
24 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
26 for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.

Heath Lambert spoke the phrase “the forbidden woman of pornography” at least twenty times in his talk. I didn’t count; it may have been more. But when he came to the remedy for avoiding that woman he quoted verse four — “Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister, and call insight your intimate friend,’” — once. He did at least once more refer to keeping Wisdom as close as a sister, but that was it for Woman Wisdom of Proverbs. He rushed past her to say that Jesus is the personification of wisdom. Jesus the personification? Um, no. Jesus is wisdom. In the Scriptures, Wisdom is personified as a woman. And she’s introduced long before The Forbidden Woman:

Proverbs 1:20-23

The Call of Wisdom

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.

The cautions against The Forbidden Woman in Proverbs 7 are bounded fore and aft by Woman Wisdom. Not only is the cautionary tale prefaced with Sister Wisdom in verse 4, the entire next chapter is given over to the merits of Woman Wisdom:

Proverbs 8

The Blessings of Wisdom

1 Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
5 O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
6 Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
7 for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8 All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9 They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly.
17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
18 Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and righteousness.
19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
21 granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.
32 “And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.”

Heath Lambert’s intents and purposes in his speech were excellent. Men seeking to satisfy their lust with pornography is a major problem in our churches. I applaud his work to remedy an often ignored problem.

What muddies his message from being clearly communicated is that his metaphor turns the entire industry into The Forbidden Woman of Pornography and he then repeats that metaphor ad nauseam. Any Advertising 101 class will tell you that the most oft repeated phrase is what the listener will remember.

We humans have a tendency to want to blame others for our own failings. Men throughout the ages have blamed their lusts on women as temptresses. How easily can Mr. Lambert’s metaphor of “the forbidden woman of pornography” become twisted into “women are temptresses” which can easily — and historically has — become “women are the problem”? This personification of the pornography industry as a Woman is poorly chosen, since women are abused by the this industry, which Mr. Lambert briefly states toward the end of his speech. To personify an industry that destroys men, women, children, marriages, and families as a Woman is yet another insult to women — especially when that industry is actually run by men. Okay, I’m assuming on this last point; do correct me if I’m wrong.

Words and how we use them are important. Mr. Lambert willingly uses one metaphoric phrase of scripture (over and over and over again) to personify the pornography industry. But when he speaks of Wisdom, he turns away from metaphor to speak concretely of the need to be redeemed from sin through Jesus. He quickly skims past the Sister Wisdom reference of Proverbs 7 to state that Jesus is “the personification of wisdom.” He rightly states that only through Jesus we can we hope to be delivered from sin.

In turning away from Biblical metaphor when discussing solutions to the problem, he turns away from all the rich metaphor attributed to his solution: seeking Godly Wisdom. He discusses in detail the Temptress of Proverbs 7, but completely ignores all the details of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 8. In my opinion, it is unfair to women to focus so much time on a negative, feminine metaphor and then virtually ignore a beautiful, positive, feminine metaphor. Mr. Lambert, I agree with your message that pornography destroys people and relationships. Please don’t insult women by personifying this industry as fellow woman.