I’ve gotten a bit of attention for calling myself an R-Rated Christian. Usually, those two phrases go together like peanut butter and barbecue sauce. I’m happy to announce that most of the reactions I’ve gotten have been good. I’ve been able to find other Christians who are proud to don their over-eighteen moniker, and if you’re one of them, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
However, many still wonder, “What is an R-Rated Christian? How does that possibly work?” Since I’ve decided to rework my tagline to include the phrase, I thought I’d explain myself before the pitchforks and excommunications come flying at my face.
The R-Rating (or M rating if you’re a gamer) has gotten a bad rep among respectable Christians. It’s come to mean goopy violence, flagrant f-bombs, drugs in every vein, and oodles of boobies. Gratuity is the word, and with films like Hostel, Boondock Saints, and A Clockwork Orange, can you really blame people?
But when I say “R-Rated,” I mean “Not for kids.” This can mean two things: gratuity, as I already said, or maturity. Maturity is the aim. An R-Rated Christian isn’t one who throws out all the rules and paints the town with blood, drugs, and buttplugs, it’s one who aims for the full maturity of the Christian walk.
Jesus said that we must come to him as a child, but this meant simple faith and trust, not the naivety that comes with childish thinking, the total ignorance of how the world really works. It’s a lovely bit of nostalgia, but Christians are instructed to walk circumspect (Ephesians 5:15), to grow from babies into adults (Hebrews 5:13-14), and to be lights in the darkness (Matthew 5:14-15). Children can’t do that.
Christians cannot remain children. We must know how to deal with the ungodly, the icky, and most of all, the mature. Maturity means not shying away from sensitive subjects, but walking into them with wisdom. Jesus was innocent in regards to the law, but not innocent in mind. He knew that woman washing his feet was a prostitute, he knew what adultery was, and he understood the hearts of men, no matter how twisted.
That’s how he saved us. By getting his hands dirty. And a servant is not greater than his master.
Countering a Quick Defense
Like I said before, I’ve met some other R-Rated Christians by talking about this, but I also encounter the other sort, the one that says Christians must be PG at most. They quote 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul said that you must bear with your weaker brother, bending to his sensitivities rather than your own. There are two problems with this argument.
1: It’s not an absolute. Did Jesus soften his blows because people had weaker faith? Sometimes, sure, like paying the temple tax even though he didn’t have to (Matthew 17:24-27). But he healed on the Sabbath no matter what anybody else’s conscience said (Mark 3:1-6), spoke harshly with priests and disciples alike (too many verses to count), and let us not forget that whole flipping-tables-and-whipping-people-with-a-home-made-cord thing (Matthew 21:12-13).
Sometimes, we must be bold regardless of sensitivities, in fact sometimes we have to defy sensitivities to show them that it’s okay, or for their own good. Sometimes you need to be sensitive, other times you need to set people free.
On top of that, if your aim as a Christian is not to offend anybody, at some point you’ll just have to stop talking, walking, and breathing. Paul’s admonition is a general rule, not an absolute.
2: This excuse is often manipulative. There’s a fine line between challenging someone to obey the Bible and guilting them into obedience. It’s like the woman who quotes, “Mind your own business” from 1 Thessalonians 4:11 when a friend tells her to leave her abusive boyfriend. It says, “My discomfort cannot possibly be a sign that I need to mature or change, no it must always, always mean that you are wrong for making me uncomfortable.” Paul’s order has a place, but not as a shut-up tactic.
The Little Three
So how is the R-Rated Christian life lived out? Well, that’s a galaxy-sized question. As I said, it’s one that views all topics with maturity and love, not forced naivety. To be super broad, the R-Rated controversy usually arises over four areas: substances, language, violence, and sex.
I don’t think I need to say much on substances like drugs, alcohol, etc. because most Christians get this right, and many churches now reach out to people trapped in substance addictions. Still, some Christians slap a big no on things without first asking, “Is it harmful?” In most cases, yes, and if it’s an addiction, it’s always harmful. However, one does not need to get drunk to enjoy alcohol. And while I don’t endorse marijuana use, I don’t see how the witch hunt is helpful either. The only thing I’d really say on the subject of substances is that Jesus offered grace, not just law. Rehabilitation and good health should come before prison time.
As for language, I’ve already written a whole series on cuss words, and you can click here to read that, and I’ll merely summarize here. Why are bad words bad? Because someone said so? Who? God? Then obey. Grandma? Then don’t say it around her. Words that condemn race/sex/status, etc. are all bad because they devalue God’s design and forget that God died for all humanity, no matter their origins. But mere insults and descriptors? Those are societal rules, driven by place and time, and as Jesus showed us, social niceties are not absolutes, not even close.
Violence is one area in which I would actually say, “Whoa, calm down.” Too many mainstream Christians are eerily comfortable with warfare, killing, and letting bad people suffer. You’re more likely to hear a Christian praise Saving Private Ryan than Closer. Christians are called to be peacemakers, and Jesus didn’t run from physical pain. True, Jesus will also return to Earth and make the biggest blood bath you’ve ever seen (Revelation 19:13), but death is God’s prerogative, not ours. I am not against military personnel, only military worship. Christians ought to be more familiar with enduring suffering than causing it.
So those three items don’t need quite as much defense for living an R-rated life. Helping drug addicts? Praised. Awareness of violence and evil? Almost too much. Language? Frowned upon, but that’s the worst of it.
But sex? Hoo, boy…
The Big Nasty
My mother told me of a recent church service where people got up to proclaim what good things God had done in their lives. For most people, the stories were met with praise and applause. But then one woman rose and said how she’d been sexually abused, but God had picked her back up. The air chilled. Applause was obligatory, smiles forced. The church was no longer praising God, but hoping to change the subject.
Sex is perhaps the most taboo subject in Christianity, and for many reasons. The Bible talks about it more than other R-rated topics because it’s so easy for most people to err in that direction, or to get caught in bad cycles. Sex also brings up an entire host of topics like lust, cheating, pornography, prostitution, sex slavery, rape and abuse, and the world’s biggest blame game. On top of all this, the non-believing world has largely said, “It feels good, so it is good,” while Christianity promotes boundaries. Many Christians choose to put up their shields. The outside world may have anything to do with sex, but Christians should avoid the topic altogether, they think.
But again, Jesus was no fool. He knew what prostitute was, what an adulteress was, yet he loved and approached both of them. Sex didn’t scare him. Nor should it scare us. The key to undoing all the ills of our sex-obsessed culture is not zero sexuality, but healthy sexuality.
As a recovering porn addict, I know this more than most. When I tried to shut down my problems with, “Just don’t do it. Don’t think about it, don’t go near it,” the addiction grew. But when I accepted the word “addict” and dove deeper into my addiction, trying to understand my mind, pornography, and more, that’s when I started to break free. Healing doesn’t come by silence, but by someone saying, “Let’s talk about sex.”
Christians need to know about healthy sexuality. Ever notice how states that force abstinence-only education generally have more teen pregnancies? Worse, too many Christian couples don’t seem to know what to do with the sexual part of their marriage. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and icky. No one taught them how to physically love their spouse, so is it any wonder? And that’s not even touching the double standard that men are allowed to be horny, but women who like sex are whores. You think God gave women clitorises for aesthetics or something?
Yes, there are clear and healthy boundaries to Christian sexuality, but there’s a lot more freedom than most people realize. Read the Song of Solomon. Read it slowly and tell me if you don’t blush. And if you try to tell me the Song of Solomon is just a metaphor for God’s love for his people, why is God grabbing our breasts? (SOS 7:7-8)
Even outside acceptable boundaries, Christians need to treat these topics with grace, not law. When I was in college, former porn star Ron Jeremy had a debate with the head of the XXX Church, an organization that reaches out to people in the porn industry. Jeremy said, “You would be more welcome at one of my events than I would be at one of yours,” and the ministry leader sadly agreed. This attitude is far too common. I don’t know about you, but I want prostitutes to come to my church. I want gays to come to my church. I want addicts to come to my church. Why? Not because I want them to “clean up” per se, but because I want them to know Jesus.
And if they won’t come to me, then maybe I need to go to them. You know, like Jesus said (Matthew 28:16-20).
Now Calm Down
Let me wind down by saying that I’m not against G-rated Christianity. I’m calling for balance, not anarchy. I don’t cuss in front of my kids, I don’t grope my wife in front of my friends, and I watch my metaphors around certain people. We don’t need to be R-Rated all the time. Sometimes, children are present, and children by default aren’t mature yet. Sometimes, the subject matter may be frightening or even harmful, and that’s when 1 Corinthians 8 comes into play. And sometimes, you just want to have an ordinary conversation about art, sports, fashion, food, cars, music, politics, work, and more, without getting too heavy or too “grown-up.”
We should not be R-Rated all the time, but we need the freedom to be. We need the wisdom that comes with maturity, not the ignorance that sparks from childish thinking.
This goes double for art. I’ve whined about—ahem—written about this many times, but mainstream Christian media is too afraid of the dark. They want to huddle in squeaky-clean environments without the possibility of dealing with realities, much less opinions other than their own. Again, G-rated media is not wrong, only the idolatry thereof. We need to be able to show the real world, to talk about tough issues, to show maturity, not just promote escapism. And we need to understand that just because a Christian puts something in media doesn’t mean they’re promoting it. An atheist may have a Muslim character in their movie, but that doesn’t make them a Islam advocate.
And let me say one more time, because I fear I need to, maturity is not the same as gratuity, in fact it’s the opposite. It is children who constantly drop the F-bomb just because it makes people squirm. It is the immature who say, “Well, I should be allowed to do whatever I want.” With growth comes maturity, with maturity comes freedom, but with freedom comes responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is chaos. Freedom with responsibility is goodness unfettered.
A Final Word
Christianity is a religion of barbarians. It is not a haven for the civilized. We do not embrace rules for the sake of rules, but rather break through the rules to do what is right. I wrote a book about a lesbian and a sex addict because I want Christians to see these demographics as people, not topics. I write about sex addiction because I know what it’s like to be trapped and I want to see people set free. I want to see children grow up and deal with the real world, not huddle in Sunday School and refuse to seek the Lost.
God is not a G-Rated God. The Bible is not a G-Rated book. I’ll always point to Ezekiel 23:20 as the most sexually graphic line I’ve seen in most literature. Yet it’s Scripture. Do we clean it up, say that God was wrong to say such things? Then we tear apart the Bible and our faith has nothing to stand on. God is not Mr. Rogers, he’s not Barney, and he’s not some vague sunlight shining on an Amish face. He’s a fierce and mighty God.
R-Rated Christianity is not gratuitous Christianity. I will always fight gratuity. God made sex, the devil made porn. R-Rated Christianity is maturity, the refusal to be bound to church basements and lacy bonnets. It’s a willingness, even an eagerness to get your hands dirty. It’s a refusal to be shocked by adult conversation alone. It’s an extension of grace. It’s going into the dark while holding fast to the light.
It’s Christianity for grown-ups.