- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

—James 1:14-15

There are an estimated 300,000 pornography sites on the Internet. As many as 2 million Americans are addicted to cyber-porn, according to the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. Two years ago, Forbes magazine estimated the revenues of the porn industry as at least $2.6 billion a year, including hundreds of millions of dollars from cable pay-per-view.

Porn stars are now celebrities — one was recently a candidate for governor of California, as was porn publisher Larry Flynt. Teenage girls wear T-shirts with “Porn Star” emblazoned in glittering letters.

In a sex-saturated culture, Joshua Harris says he believes “lust may be the defining struggle for this generation.”

Wearing a sweater and jeans, the youthful 29-year-old could easily pass for a college student. But he is already a best-selling author, married father of two, and executive pastor of the 3,000-member Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg.

In his latest book, “Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust,” Mr. Harris says there are good reasons to resist temptation.

“It’s not just, say no [to sex], but say yes — to sexual pleasure within marriage. The security of sex with one’s spouse gives comfort of faithfulness,” he said in an interview in his church office.

Lust, he says, is to “want what you don’t have and weren’t meant to have … go[ing] outside God’s guidelines to find satisfaction.”

Advertisers have long used sex to sell their products, Mr. Harris says, which explains why it so permeates popular culture. “What used to be exciting and titillating is not enough now,” he said.

Other cultural critics see the same trend.

“Everything we know about pornography and sexualization of advertising and sitcoms, we can see how they play into lust,” said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, a conservative policy organization. “Lust is the antithesis of true love. Lust is all about me.”

Nor are conservatives and Christians the only ones worried about the long-term effects of pornography. Feminist author Naomi Wolf, an adviser to Democrat Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, says porn has become so ubiquitous that now “real naked women are just bad porn.”

To men accustomed to watching the extreme action of porn stars, ordinary sex may “barely register on the thrill scale,” Ms. Wolf wrote in New York magazine last month. And pornography creates new expectations of beauty for women, she says. “Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax — just like porn stars. … Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up.”

Sexual lust and materialism are part of the same problem in contemporary culture, according to Gary LaVanchy, who leads Bible studiesthroughthe chaplain’s office at Wheaton College in Illinois.

“The desire for things we don’t currently have is the foundation of our culture,” says Mr. LaVanchy, who asks whether more is better.

Mr. Harris conveys that same theme in “Not Even a Hint,” the title of which is derived from the Book of Ephesians, in its New International Version translation: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”

Lust is like a nice, little dragon which as you feed it grows, says Mr. Harris, and “then it will snack on you.” Lust is the enemy of contentment, he says, and the secret to contentment is cherishing what you have.

Among his advice is that churches should be talking about sex so people do not have to go to secular culture or struggle to find answers.

And echoing the apostle Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians — “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” — Mr. Harris writes that there are too many singles who have no good reason for delaying marriage except laziness, selfishness and “cultural, unbiblical emphasis on career and material success.” He urges them to abandon empty “hookups” for God’s gift of marriage.

Some of that advice might spark debate and criticism, but Mr. Harris is used to that. At 23, he published his first book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” which urged young Christians to abandon worldly dating practices, including premarital kissing. Heeding his own advice, he and his wife did not kiss until their wedding day.

“I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was called “the book that ignited the dating debate” by Christianity Today. It has sold close to 1 million copies and has been translated into 13 languages, including Korean, Indonesian and Ukrainian.

The book provoked strong reactions, including from young Christians who resented the advice. Mr. Harris says young men have approached him and said, “I’m sorry. I really hated you. I said you were gay, I wanted to beat you up. But I read it again and now think it’s right.”

His new book will be the subject of a lecture series, “Rescuing Sex,” starting Nov. 14 at Covenant Life Church.

Mr. Harris says fighting lust requires rules. He has made rules for himself in regard to entertainment, because he believes that God says “you can’t love me if you are gorging yourself in pop culture and media.” And he rejects the suggestion that it is “legalistic” to make such rules.

“We’re not legalistic about not starting a fire in the living room — hello! We don’t want to burn the house down. It’s about our lives,” Mr. Harris says. “You’ve got to have some rules to avoid consequences of lust, and I would not have written the book if I did not believe change is possible.”

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