These days, Playboy is playing defense.
NPR recently interviewed Shane Michael Singh, the magazine’s executive editor, about why Playboy’s blatant objectification of women is justifiable in the #MeToo era. Singh outlined Playboy’s latest strategies for improving its image: hire women photographers instead of men, interview social pioneers of LGBTQ rights instead of flashy A-list celebrities, put “intimacy coaches” at photoshoots to make models more comfortable, increase male nudity to level the playing field, and the list went on.
Predictably, there was no mention of the destructive nature of pornography itself. Or the fact that, regardless of how well models are treated on set, their naked images are then peddled for profit.
As believers in Jesus, how should we respond? Our reflexes to cultural conversations like this reveal what we really believe about God, his posture toward sinners, and his mandate for the church. Too often we’re quick to rant—Bible verses and all—but slow to pray. In light of Playboy’s rebrand, and things like it facing us daily, here are five things to pray for that will help to align our responses to the gospel.
1. Lord, save us from ourselves.
Playboy’s rebrand reminds us that humans rarely diagnose the real source of our problems correctly. Our solutions are as fractured as we are.
For example, when asked how Playboy justifies degrading women, Singh points to the production process and branding as the problem, not the pornographic product and the market hunger for it.
The faultiness of Playboy’s solutions are also seen in their appeal to the #MeToo movement. The positives of this movement are evident—exposing sexual abuse, pursuing justice, empowering victims to break their silence. Yet, like all human movements, #MeToo is a dull blade, powerless to cut to the core of our culture’s sickness. What the movement gains by defending women, it demeans by celebrating sexual autonomy.
Human-made reform is always polluted. Our best efforts at justice and truth are marred by the fall. As Cornelius Plantinga observes, “Evil contaminates every scalpel designed to remove it.” Only the regenerating power of the Spirit produces lasting change in us or through us. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is our only hope for subverting the hollow philosophies and deceptions of our time.
2. How long, O Lord?
Playboy’s latest PR gymnastics naturally produce in us anger and lament.
It’s right to be angry. Pawning off people’s bodies for money, under the guise of art and social justice, is wrong. It’s also right to lament. Playboy is promising sexual freedom but delivering sexual slavery. We weep for those wasting away as they chase pornography’s false promises. We cry out for those working in the industry, especially those mistreated and robbed of their dignity as God’s image-bearers.
With the Old Testament prophet (Hab. 1:2) and psalmist (Ps. 35:17), we pray, How long, O Lord? Sometimes the world is so dark, our exhausted souls can do nothing but utter these words. We long for the reckoning, when perfect justice reigns and the fullness of the kingdom invades every last crevice on earth.
3. Lord, have mercy.
Praying for Playboy might sound like an oxymoron. But should it? Perhaps we’ve become numb to Jesus’s command in the Sermon on the Mount, to pray for our enemies. In the same passage Jesus also says to love them—maybe because we often end up loving those we pray for (Matt. 5:43–44).
Jesus also says: blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matt. 5:7). Which do we desire more for our enemies: mercy or judgment? When we adopt anger and indignation as our primary response, compassion for the lost is choked out. If Jesus can both critique and love, so must we.
While it may be helpful to call someone out on Twitter using your thumbs, it’s probably far more helpful to cry out to God for them on your knees. It’s easy to signal you’re on the right team, but it takes humility to pray for the other team.
While it may be helpful to call someone out on Twitter using your thumbs, it’s probably far more helpful to cry out to God for them on your knees.
It’s not easy to juggle anger, lament, and compassion, but it’s a skill the gospel demands. The same Paul who called the Galatians fools, and told the Judaizers to emasculate themselves (Gal. 3:1; 5:12), couldn’t talk about the lost without tears (Phil. 3:18–19).
It’s inappropriate that the church, comprising undeserving recipients of extravagant grace, would hoard compassion from those perishing. In The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer writes about our posture toward the lost:
Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously . . . these men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.
Rather than flippancy toward the lost, let’s be defined by compassionate intercession on their behalf.
4. Lord, where is my sin hiding in this mess?
In our polarized culture, it’s instinctive for Christians to want to defend themselves. There’s certainly a time to speak against the false narratives surrounding us (see below). But our quest to defend truth can quickly become petty and self-righteous.
David Brooks calls this the “siege mentality.” He thoughtfully observes:
It gives its proponents a straightforward way to interpret the world—the noble us versus the powerful them. . . . Most of all, it gives people a narrative to express their own superiority: we may be losing, but at least we are the holy remnant. We have the innocence of victimhood. We are martyrs in a spiteful world.
This sort of superiority is unfitting for the church, because the more we embrace Christ, the more we realize our ongoing need for grace, forgiveness, and reform. If we take this seriously, every morbid headline is a reminder, not only of the world’s waywardness, but our own. Were it not for God’s intervention, we’d still be children of wrath (Eph 2:1–3).
Resurrected hearts beat with thankfulness, not superiority. Our past doesn’t define us—it perpetually humbles us. As we critique Playboy, then, let’s ask God to show us how we perpetrate the same sins we oppose. Let’s pray for the humility to repent of our share in the mess.
Let’s ask God to show us how we perpetrate the same sins we oppose. Let’s pray for the humility to repent of our share in the mess.
5. Lord, give me the right words.
Words demand the sort of intentionality that 280 characters rarely provide. Given that the tongue is powerful (James 3:3–5), potentially destructive (James 3:5–12), and has a lasting effect on nonbelievers (Col. 4:5–6), here are a few ways we can ask God to help form our speech:
Direct words: At times God prompts us to make direct, unapologetic statements critiquing our culture. Pray for wisdom and accountability when crafting such remarks.
Winsome words: Since the Bible calls us to be ready to explain the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15), let’s pray for winsomeness in cultural conversations. As a good chef focuses not just on ingredients but also on presentation, let’s present the gospel’s sweetness thoughtfully, not clumsily.
Localized words: At a time when communication is increasingly impersonal and less face-to-face, a recovery of incarnational conversation is desperately needed. Our job isn’t just to text or tweet; it’s to show up in person. It takes courage; pray God will grant it to you.
In our responses to Playboy’s latest strategies, let’s refuse to be pigeonholed into anger without compassion, critique without repentance, or bluntness without winsomeness. Let’s run after Jesus, who opposed the wicked work of his enemies, yet prayed for them while suffocating on the cross.