Is sexting a sin?
With apps like Snapchat on the rise, religious leaders respond to the recent phenomenon of sexting with definitions, judgments, and warnings about adultery.
Human nature combined with the nearly-ubiquitous smartphone has led to a whole new way of flirting with the age old vice of sexual indiscretion. Because what’s not to love about the ability to snap a racy photo of oneself and send it to someone as a tease? Confirming the appeal of this activity, not only celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton snap suggestive pictures of themselves, but about half of smartphone users admit to sending or receiving sexually charged content.
Unfortunately, because smartphones are being given to minors, kids suddenly have access to this titillating technology, which raises lots of eyebrows when their immature decision making skills lead to revealing photos of themselves in far more places than appropriate. About 75% of 18-24 year olds are sexting.
As with all moral or ethical issues, plenty of religious leaders find they have something to say about sexting and its implications. When asked whether sexting is tantamount to adultery, several leaders in the Grand Rapids, MI area seem to agree that sexting lies on par with other forms of sexual self-gratification, although answers vary as to the how and the why.
- The Rev. Fred Wooden essentially compares it to all things that happen in dark places. If any activity needs to be hidden so as not to hurt someone else, then discovery of it would cause betrayal. This activity is no different. So the betrayal is the sin, not the act itself.
- The Rev. Doug Van Doren sees it as a matter of intention. Jesus calls more attention to the state of our hearts than to whether or not we technically obey the rules. So if the sexting is done with intent to be dangerous and adulterous, then it becomes a dangerous and adulterous activity. In that case, it should indeed be viewed as adultery.
- The Rev. Nurya Love Parish similarly would treat sexting as adultery, and recommends a couple recover from it using strategies similar to working through infidelity. Sister Mary Timothy Prokes shares this approach, on the grounds that “eyes are the doorways to the heart;” therefore viewing impure pictures leads to the sin of impure thoughts.
- According to Rabbi David Krishef, Jewish law actually rates all manner of sins and establishes punishments accordingly. Sometimes the law broadens its understanding of a sin, such as deciding that wasting someone’s time is equivalent to theft. Yet other times, when the punishment for an activity is severe, the law is careful before expanding the corresponding penalty. Adultery is a sin punishable by death; but even if sexting is presented as a form of adultery, Jewish religion stops short of treating it with the death penalty.
It is difficult to predict how history will treat sexting, whether it will settle as something like adultery or pornography, or be accepted more on a level with kissing. However, church leaders and theologians would do well to look at the pattern of history, and exercise caution before reactively condemning the new activity outright. Historically, churches–and believers–that hold an absolute moral standard end up excluding some of the very people most in need of Jesus’s message of love and restoration; then when culture shifts the perception on a moral issue, the church finds it has alienated an entire demographic from seeking God.
Christians and other God-followers need to remember to show love first. The culture is still settling on whether the expression of sexting is more like an adulterous liaison or a flirtatious kiss. Perhaps this is a time to focus more on the importance of good decision making than determining whether the sin should be punished according to physical infidelity or simply treated as an improper thought. Plenty of time will be left for judgment later, but now is a great opportunity to speak a positive message and be heard.