I am far from alone in being stunned about the recent news regarding another batch of respected Christian leaders resigning over, or being accused of, sexual misconduct. I’ve been nothing less than heartsick.
For Christ’s sake, can’t we just build the fences we need?
We’re all weak, we’re all prone to wander, we’re all vulnerable to our libidos. Which means we must – I repeat must – build sexual fences around our lives. If you build a fence, you will inevitably bump against it and know you’ve gone too far. But at least the fence will keep you from going over the cliff. If you don’t have the fence, you will never know it is time to turn back.
So here are five fences to start constructing immediately:
First, monitor and control your thought life. That’s where sexual sin begins. Adultery, in all its forms, doesn’t just happen—it begins. You’re in bed with someone mentally and emotionally long before you are in bed with them physically. And for many of us, what sexualizes our thinking about others is our exposure and use of pornography. So build the fence! When it comes to porn, get accountability software on all your devices and some accountability partners to report to (I do this with my two sons.).
Second, don’t have “the” conversation. And I mean the conversation that is the most dangerous, most destructive, most “first foot on the slippery slope” you can have with someone of the opposite sex. Ready for it? It’s the conversation about what’s wrong or disappointing with your marriage. Never, ever, ever talk negatively or disappointingly about your spouse to another person of the opposite sex outside of an actual counseling or pastoral setting. And if you are the counselor or pastor? My goodness, that would be the most inappropriate and sin-baiting conversation imaginable. So build the fence! Swear off any such conversation—period.
Third, avoid vulnerable or compromising situations. Watch how and when you are alone with someone of the opposite sex. Watch how you interact with people. Don’t visit someone alone, at home, of the opposite sex. Watch out for that long lunch alone together, or staying late and working together on a project, finding that the conversation turns to anything but work. So build the fence! Decide such situations are off-limits for you. Make this fence particularly high when you know you are already attracted to someone because the temptation will be to take them down with you and to rationalize doing so because you desire to be with them.
Fourth, practice thinking long-term. Left to themselves, our sexual urges will press us to seek immediate gratification as if there are no long-term repercussions. If you don’t engage your brain, you will endanger your marriage, undermine your values, risk your health and trade away long-term happiness for short-term satisfaction. Remember that with sexual sin, you will lose the life you now have. Your family, your ministry, your reputation… everything. So build the fence! Practice thinking about what the consequences of your decision will be in 10 minutes, in 10 months and in 10 years. That’s the kind of thinking our sexual impulses need because, left to themselves, they will only engage the first 10 minutes. But it’s the 10 months and 10 years that matter most.
Fifth, choose humility. The most frightening thing imaginable is to say to yourself, “It could never happen to me.” When you have that kind of pride, you don’t build any fences because you don’t think you need to. “Fences are for other people. The weaker people.” And then comes the fall. So build the fence! Here’s the truth about me that I must never forget: I can fall. I can be tempted to have an affair. I can be lured into adultery. I can find myself vulnerable to… anything. And then let that reality scare you enough, and breed enough humility, to build whatever fences you should.
I hope I am never in the news for sexual misconduct. But if I am, it will be because I didn’t build a fence where I needed to or because I decided to take it down or ignore after it had been built.
Either way, it will have been my fault.
So to all of us, myself first and foremost, let’s take out the hammer and nails and build the fence!
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.