Why Porn and Destroying a Name are the Same Thing

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NOTE: Before you read this essay, bear in mind that it was written long before any of the current American political craziness came to be. Please don’t read any political motives or sub-texts into what is written here. Because if you do, you will actually be proving my point. I don’t know what to think about allegations about Supreme Court candidates. This essay is not about that but, rather, is about something bigger — about a CULTURE and CLIMATE that rears its head whenever and wherever there are competing narratives. Our culture and climate are broken. I hope the words that follow will help nudge the needle toward something more healthy for all of us — for victims, perpetrators, slanderers, and truth-tellers alike.


New York Times writer Tim Kreider coined the term, “Outrage Porn,” to describe what he sees as our insatiable search for things to be offended by. Based on hundreds of comments and letters to the editor, Kreider says that many contemporary people feed off of feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. Outrage Porn resembles actual pornography. It aims for a cheap, orgasmic thrill at the expense of another human being, but without any personal accountability or commitment to that human being.

Outrage Porn often escalates into the public shaming of groups and persons. Labeling, caricature and exclusion occur as offended parties rally together against a common enemy.

There are several ways to shame people online. There is passive-aggressive shaming via the non-responsive ignoring of personal emails, comments and tweets. A person gets singled out via an unflattering photo shared without permission and intended to mock. Another is left out of a group selfie that says, “You are not one of us.”

Active-aggressive shaming is more direct. The angry blog, the critical tweet, the vicious trolling comment on Facebook, or whatever the method – people try to hurt people. Sometimes the shaming escalates into a mob, a faux-community that latches on to the negative verdict and piles on.  Under the pretense of righteous indignation, the mob licks its chops as it goes about demonizing, diminishing and destroying its target.

The Power of Shame

Andy Stanley once said in a sermon that it would take just five poorly chosen words, spoken in the wrong setting, to destroy him personally and professionally. This nightmare came true for Justine Sacco, a PR consultant who posted an offensive tweet – just twelve words to her 170 followers – while boarding a flight to South Africa. When her plane landed, she discovered that her tweet had gone viral. In a few short hours she had become the headline, the inhumane bigot and common enemy to tens of thousands of people. On the basis of those twelve words, she lost her career and the life she once knew. Anything good she had done prior to the infamous tweet became as a vapor. Looking back on the incident, Sacco reflected:

I had a great career, and I loved my job, and it was taken away from me, and there was a lot of glory in that. Everybody else was happy about that.

Imagine for a moment. Your entire life, all you had ever done or worked for, reduced to a single, ten-second lapse in character and judgment. And those who brought you down? They never met or heard of you before today, and will never again think of you after today. To those who brought you down, your name was never sacred. Rather, it was a pornographic product – Outrage Porn – to be consumed and evangelized as the latest cheap thrill. Your character assassins will never have to look you in the eye. Nor will they be held accountable for turning you into a nothing, or for their blatant disregard for your whole, image-bearing person.

Scripture and Shame

Outrage Porn is not new. The holier-than-thou New Testament Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and looked down on others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). It’s there in Simon the Pharisee as he shames the woman anointing Jesus with perfume and washing his feet with her tears and hair. She is “a sinner.” Not a person, but a thing. Not a woman, but an animal. Not the image of God, but sub-human trash (Luke 7:36-50). It’s also there in those who brand the woman caught in adultery with a Scarlet Letter. The mob encircles her, ready to pile on and destroy. Had Jesus not intervened, they would have destroyed her just like the Internet mob destroyed Justine Sacco for her single act, the act that she apologized for through tears.

But apologies don’t make good stories, do they?

They aren’t as tweetable.

What Shaming and Trolling Tell Us About Ourselves

The pious Pharisee’s bravado and righteous indignation is just a mask for self-justification. Forming a mob around a common enemy – around “the sinners” – was the groupthink of deeply insecure, small men looking for a way to medicate their own small egos at the expense of a scapegoat – a scapegoat who was no more shame-worthy than they.

When tempted to join the mob and to shame, perhaps we should shift our eyes from the computer screen to the mirror. Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we, too, enjoy the caricature and the labeling. Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we, too, are prone to “Like” and “Share” when someone else’s whole life is reduced to their most foolish, offensive – and profusely-apologized-for-through-tears-like-Justine-Sacco-did – public moment.

A Better Way Forward?

As a Christian who is active on social media, I often remind myself that each image-bearing name is sacred. The ninth commandment, which warns against bearing false testimony (which, by the way, happens all the time in our current climate when we offer our so-very-sure-of-ourselves misinformed testimonies, as if we had access to all sides of the story when, in fact, we do not) of any kind about one’s neighbor, must remain in the forefront. I must remove all negative caricature – the exaggeration of someone’s worst features and the censoring out of her or his best ones – from my words, both spoken and written. It is unChristian to bless God while cursing a person with a soul.

What if instead of condemnation, we became known for giving benediction? What if instead of being on the hunt to catch people doing wrong, we went on the hunt to catch people doing right? What if we offered “living eulogies” to and about people before they die, instead of waiting until after they die? What if instead of looking for someone to curse, we started looking for someone to bless? What if instead of naming and shaming people according to their worst behaviors and features, we named and blessed them according to their best and most God-reflecting ones?

Even When The Shameful Story Is True

And when the damning narrative is true? When the horrible account about a person is more reality than caricature? Even when this is the case, humble restraint and self-reflection should be the starting point. We ought to think to ourselves:

What if my most hidden secrets, my most embarrassing moments, the very worst things I have ever done, were at risk of being put on display for friends, family, and complete strangers to see? How would I want that information to be handled by those who know the truth about my history?

When Ham exposed Noah for his drunkenness and nakedness, Shem and Japheth did not join in the exposing. Instead, they reversed it. Zealous to keep the nakedness of their drunk Dad discreet, they respectfully covered him. In covering his nakedness, the two brothers also covered and restored Noah’s good name. For this, the two received a blessing. Ham received a curse.

And we all tremble at the thought of receiving a curse for tearing down a name and doing violence to a soul.

Or do we?


This is an adapted excerpt from Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation and Fear. Used by permission of Tyndale House.


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21 responses to “Why Porn and Destroying a Name are the Same Thing”

  1. Deborah Mayhew says:

    So wish/pray this article makes a difference for at least one person! The world has gone crazy.

    (The definition of the word “pornography” is only sexually related and, for me, distracts from the message.)

    • scottsauls says:

      Not sure there’s a better comparison to online mob culture than porn. Sorry for the offense/distraction, but I’ve got to maintain that the shoe fits.

  2. Kurt Merlin Wintersteiner says:

    Dear Scott,
    Your article touched me … as it shows, that there is still a long way to go for mankind to becom human.
    And yes, we have to start at ourselves … love ourselves to be able to love our neighbour, unconditional.
    And yes, there is hope … to accept the unconditional love by God (or however you name HIM / HER) and spread this love around.
    You can’t fight against darkness … but simply switch on the light = love.

  3. Rochelle Raimao says:

    A conversation well framed, and way overdue. Thank you for taking this one up.
    I agree that a different title may help this navigate to a different audience than those who will click because of how provocative and pertinent to them this existing title is.

  4. Bev says:

    Kurt (above) is right – Porn and what you are talking about are nowhere near the same thing. Why do you use sexual innuendo or explicit sexual comment such as “orgasmic thrill” (really??!!) to communicate on this or any topic..too many preachers are trying to be “cool” by incorporating the language of the world…. some kind of a runoff for a desire to be considered “relevant” – I guess??? Contradicts Christianity that is pure, etc ..maybe it’s part of the trend of the “Submergent Church”, as I have coined it.

    • scottsauls says:

      Actually, I have no interest in being cool or relevant. Curious if you have ever read the Song of Solomon? Additionally, “porn” is a direct derivative from “porneia,” which is the New Testament Greek word used for immorality.

      • Mary Jane Sobel says:

        Well said, Scott. Standing beside you regarding your title. May it well attract all sorts of people needing grace. The message was healing for me, and am passing on to another hurting person. God heal us!

  5. Heather says:

    Setting aside the debate about the word “porn,” I love this! The “I’m offended” culture has gotten way out of hand. I, too, have written about how disheartening it is to see everyone offended about everything all the time and shaming everyone and destroying people’s reputations and lives. We are causing so much damage to each other on social media. For a society that’s all about tolerance, no one seems to be able to tolerate anything they don’t like anymore. They go on the attack about everything. And everyone else jumps on board to throw a few punches, too. Just for fun. It’s almost maniacal, an addiction (like porn). We all need to learn to be offended a little better, to handle it a little more maturely … because there will always be something that offends us and we will always offend someone else. And true tolerance would be learning to let it roll off and to get on with our lives, learning to live alongside others peacefully even if we don’t agree with them or like what they are doing. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, things we should take a stand for. But our country has gotten out of hand with this, reacting to everything (not individually, but as vicious mobs), instead of responding maturely. Thanks for bringing this issue out in the open.

  6. - Stephen says:

    Thanks for posting these. In a way you’re putting yourself in harms way yet, you do it anyway. It’s becoming harder to find truthful, uplifting content that’s real. I may not even agree with how you confront an issue or your view on certain things but that’s okay. It’s the truth that’s told that matters. Thanks again.

  7. Sean says:

    My favorite thing is the comments of people being offended by the word “Porn” and then accusing you of being a Pastor who is trying to be cool. Kind of missed the point of the article, but then again maybe I did also by making this comment about them…

  8. Judy says:

    Excellent article. Needs to be circulated widely. How sad to me, how unkind and unforgiving our culture has become, all in the name of ” tolerance”?

  9. Stephanie Homburg says:

    I will be honest in saying I struggled reading this, and will have to pray about it. While I completely appreciate this, “What if instead of condemnation, we became known for giving benediction? What if instead of being on the hunt to catch people doing wrong, we went on the hunt to catch people doing right? What if we offered “living eulogies” to and about people before they die, instead of waiting until after they die? What if instead of looking for someone to curse, we started looking for someone to bless? What if instead of naming and shaming people according to their worst behaviors and features, we named and blessed them according to their best and most God-reflecting ones?” I also struggle with the thought that this mentality could make survivors of abuse feel like they cannot speak up because the person that hurt them was otherwise a “good person?” There is so much shame in being a victim. It takes so much courage to speak up. While I hate what is happening in our culture and political climate these days, I am proud of those who have stood up to say they have been hurt.

    • Chandler says:

      In reading this I in no way heard that hurt people shouldn’t speak. What I did hear was that we need to be wise with our words and not broadcast things that are not ours to share. Also, for those of us who have been hurt, social media is not the place to air that. There are so many better ways to address being hurt than by posting it on your Facebook page.

  10. Howard F Freeman says:

    You always bring a fresh perspective, Scott. Thank you.

    As someone who has had to take a long look inside himself — and believe me, it takes more than a trail of breadcrumbs to venture out and return safely…more like a rope, carabiners and crampons, and a really good sherpa — there’s this side of Sacco: her *pattern* of tweets probably started before that trip to South Africa. So, yes, there is a mob that brings her down. That’s tragic. But if she’s honest, if any of us is honest with ourselves, there are hidden evils inside each of us waiting for the right audience to notice them. Unless we deal with those hidden evils on a daily basis, they will inevitably come out when we least expect it. Even on a flatbed to South Africa.

  11. Damien says:

    This is probably the fourth source of this line of thought I’ve seen this week. Although not aimed at the events of last week, it is telling that it is within the zeitgeist of our people that outrage is our newest security blanket.

    Great insight and follow on conversation.

  12. Sue says:

    Thank you for this article. Lord help us to look for the best in people and love as Jesus. Let us be reminded, there, but for the love of God, go I.

  13. greg rogers says:

    I think you are on the right tract with some of this. I understand your comparison of a festering sinful desire to put someone down to the ideas embodied in “porn” as well. Not perfect but I understood what you were getting at. The odd paradigm our country is in right now of demanding tolerance but acting maliciously intolerant is so indicative of humanity’s sin problem and our inability apart from God to understand how to deal with it. The Christian worldview has the only answers.

    Where I would slightly disagree with ideas here are how we should administer blessings and admonitions to people. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not to just bless people with positive uplifting words. This means that when a person errs, we are not called to just bless them and say it will be alright. Rather we are called to get to know people, and learn how they tick and perhaps reasons why their words were spoken-even when spoken on a dime. Sometimes these words are just a stupid error. And sometimes such words are indicators of what was truly written on their hearts. The Christian has solution for both of these: Jesus! With Jesus in the picture, repentance can happen, we can forgive and forget and move on. Without Jesus, adding verbal blessing of statements like, “it’ll be ok, hang in there” towards a person potentially not in Christ may cause them to go on further away from Him and His forgiveness and not towards. This is not to say that I think a woman’s career should be ended over a tweet. It is to say that essence in this example is not perfectly fitting about how we as Christians should relate to a lost world either.

    Just yesterday, I have a friend who is probably not a believer who drove her car to pick up her husband who works for me. She is highly political with a liberal, pro abortion bend and has demonstrated a desire to castrate Kavanaugh over what Ford’s perception of what he (or somebody) did to her when she was in high school. When she arrived at the jobsite, she immediately made it clear to me that she was upset with me (I will spare the details) for my stance as one very pro-“me too” movement, but concerned about how it has gotten politicized in forms of violent protest that could easily result in forms of misguided accusation and judgement. Literally, as I was standing there kindly listening to this woman speak, I offered her praise for her communications on a small time radio station I had heard her on about a new song she had written and sung, and while we were doing this, I noticed how a blend of what appeared to be a mix of oil and coolant began spewing from the engine in the car she was sitting in.

    Long story short, upon word that the damage caused by this blown head gasket did indeed total the car that occurred right in front of me while speaking to her and her husband, I found myself busily helping this couple a few hours later, who don’t have a lot of money, find a reliable but inexpensive car. But a still small voice seemed to be of God say, “Be careful about how you offer your blessings to people because sometimes you will be involved in interrupting a process which I have started in them to help them find true joy in Me which comes when they see their sinful reflection in the mirror for the grace of Jesus to make sense.” If my life is at all a testimony of how God works, it was trial that helped me come face to face with my sin problem that has its only solution in Jesus! Eliminating or giving the trial a positive spin could have altered me away from Christ forever. Chilling.

    So the wisdom seemingly from above as principled in Scripture in response to wanting to help a friend was an “aha” moment. And the “aha” moment comes on the cusp of a friend and I speaking logic to how “social justice” and the gospel can coexist just this past week. I want to be a blessing to this family. It may come down to I find a car for them and perhaps even help them buy it. But I want to follow the precepts of Scripture of wisely coming to understanding the real life applications of blessing and gentle forms of admonishment for understanding gospel forgiveness towards a person in a trial but who is still just a person in sin like us all who sometimes displays a hefty amount of sinful demeanors and behaviors unbecoming of knowing Christ. True blessing sometimes takes its form not similar to the world’s standard. We are called to disciple people to the blessing of knowing Christ. We are not called to always bless in forms of worldly defined optimistic praise. “There is a time and season for everything under the sun.” Solomon in Ecc

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