The statistics alone are staggering and depressing, but they tell only a small portion of the story. The recent Lilly funded study shows that men are 4 times more frequently visiting 'adult' web sites than women. This of course comports with the fact that men are enormously more likely to view pornography, including child pornography than women. Every study done of this of which I have ever been privy to, shows how overwhelmingly male- dominated this behavior is.
Then of course there is the fact that over 90% of all rapes are perpetrated by men. The statistics are about the same when it comes to other forms of sexual abuse including abuse of spouses or children. The most recent survey I saw indicated that one out of every three women in church had been abused by father, brother, husband, boyfriend, somewhere along the line. This is of course one of the main reasons why so many women, including Christian women, have a hard time dealing with men touching them. It is not because they are mostly 'frigid' as the stereotype often suggests. What all these depressing studies lead to is one conclusion-- male lust is at the root of many, many of our social problems, both inside and outside the church.
Of course, our culture is prone to see lust as something 'natural', and it has a difficult time distinguishing lust from love, but then our culture lacks a concept of the difference between human nature as God created and intended it, and fallen human nature as we now experience it. Fallenness affects all our relationships. Grace is something we not only need in the depths of our souls as individuals, its something we need in the working out of all our relationships as well. Lust can be overcome and transformed by love, self-centered and objectifying behavior can be transformed by grace into other-centered truly personal behavior. But it does not happen automatically just because a person is a Christian. It requires prayer,group reinforcement, and accountability to mention but two factors.
Just so I am being clear, lust is by definition a strong desire for sexual contact with another person which objectifies the other person and treats them like an object, (an object of desire), rather than as a person. Whenever a 'thou' is treated like an 'it' objectification has happened, and it is a terrible sin, a trivialization of another person created in God's image. Again, to be clear, I am not saying that sexual attraction isn't a God given thing. It is. But attraction is not the same thing as lust which entails the desire to use another person to satisfy a personal craving. Lust is essentially self-centered, but the love the Bible talks about, even when it involves sexual attraction is essentially other-centered, and is self-sacrificial.
Of course one could reduce this discussion to the level of chemistry, and talk about testosterone and what it does to a man, just as we could talk about estrogen and women. At the chemical level, it is perfectly clear that there are some basic differences between men and women. What is interesting about the Bible is that it does not allow either men or women off the hook because of chemistry. Indeed it holds both to the very same high standard of moral rectitude.
And it is not like we don't have plenty of warnings, both general and specific in the Bible about male lust and the havoc it causes in human relationships.
Let consider just a couple of texts, one general, one more male specific.
We could talk at some length about what James 1 says about a and perhaps the primary source of temptation, namely our own inner desire or lusts, but I want to concentrate on James. 4.1-4. The Greek concept of 'epithumia' is an interesting one. It refers to strong, sometimes even over-powering desire. Here in James 4, the author says that it is this inner desire which is the source of all sorts of strife, mayhem, wars etc. This is quite similar to what Jesus says in Mk. 7 about the human heart being the source of war, adultery and other sinful passions. Notice how both James and Jesus expect the audience to be able to control these passions. James in fact connects such control with the taming of the tongue as well, which can incite such passions. Of course our culture just pours gasoline on such flames with all the glorification of lust, sexual infidelity and related sins not only on soap operas but in prime time dramas, movies, and sadly even children's cartoons.
Such Scriptures indicate that the source of the problem is primarily laid at the door of the individual human heart, not at the door of the Devil, or one's upbringing, or a host of other possible sources.
A more specific form of this sort of critique can be found in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus deals directly with male lust, and here a proper translation is crucial. Mt. 5.28 is the text I want to focus on. Throughout this discussion Jesus has been focusing primarily on male behavior since only males could usually initiate a marriage in Jesus' world, or divorce someone, or initiate an act of sexual infidelity, including adultery. It was a very male dominated culture, and so Jesus hold's men even more responsible for their sexual behavior. He does not like the 'old double standard' when it comes to such behavior. (see my Women in the Ministry of Jesus on these texts).
There is debate about the proper translation of Mt. 5.28 but what is not under debate is that the man is the one being discussed at the outset with reference to lust-- the text can be translated two ways "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully, has already commited adultery with her in his heart" or it could be translated "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully, has already led her astray into adultery in his heart". Jesus here clearly lays the source of this problem at the door of male lust, not as was usual in that culture (and ours) at the the door of women being temptresses.
Male lust is not viewed as 'natural' it is viewed as 'sinful'. Usually commentators remark on how sin here is seen as existing not only in acts, but also even in thoughts or desires. This is correct. But there is much more to this text. Of course if this teaching goes back to Jesus it was likely first offered in Aramaic, and in that language the second translation offered above is more likely to be closer to the original.
Here the issue is with the male's responsibility not to lead women astray into adultery. This presumably includes young men as well, as various of Jesus' disciples were young. It takes seriously the fact that men are more likely to be guilty of lust, and more likely to initiate immoral sexual activities on the basis of it. Even the most recent surveys of sexual activity amongst teens show that men are much more likely to pressure their girl friends for sex, than the other way around. Apparently the problem of 'men behaving badly' in regard to matters sexual begins earlier in life than we might like to think.
So how do we deal with this enormous and too seldom discussed (in the church) problem of male lust? I would suggest, several first steps.
Firstly, we have already seen a movement of the Spirit through the Promise Keepers movement to hold men more accountable for their responsibilities to be faithful in their relationships, particularly in marriage, but not solely in that sphere. This is a good thing, and it could be pressed towards a second step-- local churches could extend this sort of accountability structure by setting up ongoing small groups to deal with this issue of lust control.
Secondly, ministers need to teach on this issue, and it would be good to have honest testimonies in church about how lust was overcome in one way or another. Recently I was in a church in Dallas where they had a very effective drama on pornography and how the desire at the root of this problem could be doused and damped down on a regular basis. This was followed by an honest testimony of a couple about how they dealt with the issue. This same sort of thing could be done in Sunday Schools and Worship services more widely to give this sin a public name and public face and unmask it. This in itself would raise consciousness and awareness.
Thirdly, I think it is mandatory, as we go into yet another new year in a culture saturated with sexual sin and its temptations, that we think hard about a public call to self-examination, confession, and repentance in these matters. Lent would be a perfect season for having more than one penitial service, times when people could come to the altar and confess.
Fourthly, the church needs to embrace sinners in their struggles and hold out a hand of support, not point fingers. It needs to be clear that that all are welcome to come to the church 'as they are' but that no one will be allowed to 'stay as they are', and this of course includes males and perhaps especially male leaders in the church when it comes to lust. There is an inherent problem too seldom recognized that in the church we blur the lines between professional and personal relationships which makes it difficult to deal with these sorts of issues. We need to be aware that sexual harassment is only one form that lust takes.
Finally, if we truly believe that God's grace is greater than the scope of our sin, we need to get real about sin in the church, not just in the world and trust that God's transforming grace can do 'exceedingly abundantly more than we could hope or ask'.