Tuesday, September 2, 2014

About All the Leaked Photos

If you have spent any time at all on the internet for the last couple of days, you're probably aware that many celebrity women just had nude photos leaked. The photos had been stored on iCloud, but someone managed to obtain the photos and released them online. If you have somehow managed to make it this far without realizing how wide spread taking and sending naked pictures of yourself has become, the fact that there were so many well known women affected by this should wake you up to the reality of things.

This was a very public instance of something that has been an issue for a while now. I don't think the Church always does a good job of addressing these sorts of things, so I wanted to put my thoughts out there.

Our attitude matters.
Before we even discuss the event itself, I think it's interesting to look at how people reacted to the event. As a Christian, I saw one attitude in particular that was really troubling. A lot of people took the moral high ground and used it as an opportunity to blast the immorality and/or ignorance of the women, sometimes taking it to the point of "She was asking for it," or "She got what she deserved."

That's a terrible attitude.

Yeah, we're called to live lives that honor God and we're called to do what is right.  More importantly, we're called to love. In Scripture, when I see an attitude of "they got what they deserved," it comes from the Pharisees, not from Jesus. In John 9, I see the Pharisees, not Jesus, wondering whether the blind man's ailment resulted from his sin or his parents' sin. In John 8, when the religious leaders drag the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask whether they should kill her, Jesus doesn't say, "Whoa...that [sexually immoral woman] was sleeping around? She totally deserves it. Go ahead!" He puts their eyes back on their own sin, saves the woman's life, and gently restores her.

The Gospel was never intended to be a club with which to bludgeon the nonbelievers. The Gospel should be a first aid kit with which to bring healing. We are called to love. We seek restoration, not condemnation.

So, sure, model what is right. Teach your kids what is right. But do so with an attitude of love, seeking to restore fallen people, not kicking sand at them because they fell down.

A lot of women were hurt this weekend. Yeah, they could have taken steps to avoid it. But, they don't need a bunch of people telling them how badly they messed up. They need love.

This is about more than taking pictures.
Let's look beyond the initial acts of the women taking pictures. We can talk about that in a minute, but let's discuss the rest of it first. First, some creeper(s) sifted through dozens of women's personal information looking for their naked bodies. And when they found what they were looking for, there were tens of thousands of creepers eager to have a look as well.

I'm not sure how we gloss over that latter part and instead focus on the girl taking the picture. Because the latter part is so disturbing. If some dude breaks into a person's house to catch a glimpse of them naked, we all find that disturbing. When someone breaks into a person's digital property to catch a glimpse of them naked, we should all find that disturbing. Yet, many people are not simply neutral about what this guy did, but they eagerly joined him in it. Dozens of women woke up the other day to the equivalent of thousands of people staring through the windows at them naked. That should disgust us. That should make us angry.

I've seen people arguing that this should be a crime on par with sexual assault. I agree. Those people need jailed and added to a list. That may happen to the hackers (although it probably won't), but the thousands who sought out the photos will face no consequences. If you were one of the ones who went looking, understand the gravity of what you did. Understand the embarrassment and shame you helped to heap on those girls.

Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust, you're an adulterer. If you force your way into seeing an unwilling woman naked, what does that make you?

We have a double standard in regards to privacy.
I saw some redditors pointing out that the internet went ballistic when we found out the NSA was watching everything we do online. We were united in our rage over the violation of our privacy. When these photos leaked, half of the internet went ballistic in the other direction. They were united with guys who were sexually harassing a group of women. To see such solidarity in such an evil act was so disheartening. We need to oppose ALL violations of privacy or stop whining when our privacy is violated.

Taking the pictures does matter, though.
This is the part that a lot of people don't like to hear, but it is important. This is also the part that needs to be said with grace, though. You really shouldn't be taking naked pictures of yourself for any reason. Yeah, I think it's immoral to show your naked body to someone you're not married to. But, regardless of the circumstances, whether you're married, or whether you think it's immoral, it's definitely unwise to take and store nude photos on anything that connects to the internet.

I've seen a lot of people argue that we should have the right to enough privacy to store whatever pictures we want on our devices or in the cloud. I agree that we should have a right to complete privacy, but I know that realistically, we don't actually have complete privacy. I should be able to put my bank information in a digital lock box somewhere without fear of someone taking it, because taking it is wrong. Realistically, I have to always be on guard with what I put in a place that is accessible by the internet. There are always going to be people who do what is wrong. We can all agree that they are wrong. Sometimes, though, we have to be wise enough not to give them an opportunity to do the wrong thing.

I am by no means excusing the people who stole the photos by saying this. I'm not trying to blame the people who took the photos. I am saying that it would be wise to prevent this situation altogether if it's possible.

We should all learn from this that we need to be careful what we put online. Don't put more online than you have to. (I'm not speaking about selfies anymore, but about security in general.) Use passwords that are actually difficult to guess. Don't use the same password for everything. Write them in a notebook that you keep near your computer if you need help remembering. Use two factor authentication when it's available. And understand that it doesn't matter how good your passwords are, it doesn't matter how secure the cloud is, there is always that chance that someone can break through. Be careful what you're putting out there.

It needs to be discussed.
Plenty of discussion needs to happen. This has been an issue for a while. It's a shame it took a bunch of high profile women being affected for this problem to become a high profile problem. I hate that so many women were affected by this. But, now that it's such a public thing, I hope some good discussion can happen. It would be a shame if we allowed such a bad event to occur without taking the opportunity to pull something good out of it.

The vast majority of us should be opposed to this sort of behavior. It should be universally unacceptable. If we're going to heap shame on someone, it shouldn't be the victims of this crime, it should be the perpetrators. We certainly should not participate in this violation of privacy, but more than that, we should be vocally opposing it.

Our culture needs to be discussed as well. There's pretty strong evidence that the sexualization of young girls is damaging. Yet, our culture continues to teach girls to find their worth in being sexy. They continue to push an "everything is okay" attitude in regards to sex. With so many lyrics and so much media dedicated to telling our kids to make everything sexual and telling them to find as many partners as they want, do we still have a leg to stand on when it comes time to tell them not to view women as sexual objects?

More importantly, though, we need to be discussing these things with our kids.
As a youth minister, I'm astonished at how many parents don't think this will be an issue for their kids. If your child is in a public middle school or higher, they're hearing about this. Their friends are finding the pictures. They might be finding the pictures. And believe it or not, they're likely having their own struggle with sexting.

I've found mixed opinions on how many kids engage in sexting, so I'm not going to throw a solid number out there. But sending sexually explicit messages is an issue that teens are dealing with once they hit middle school. If your child has a smartphone, this is a very real issue and temptation for them.  If you choose not to discuss it, their information will come from their peers. That's not good.  Their peers are often as ignorant as they are. We need to discuss these things with our kids.

Parents need to keep an open line of communication with their kids about sex. You need to have "The Talk" often. It's not a one time thing. And when things like this happen, you have an opportunity to discuss sex. Teens are going to learn about sex from someone. Do you really want it to be someone besides you? And by the way, you had definitely better not be sending the message that sex is bad. That's not Scriptural and that's not going to make a difference.

We also need to discuss the dangers of putting such photos out there. There's a great episode of Phineas and Ferb that reminds us that "Fame is fleeting, but the internet is forever." Teens need to understand that anything they put out there is never really gone. Even apps like Snapchat that claim to delete a photo, don't really make the photos vanish forever. Taking and sending those photos may seem fun and flirty at the time, but it can come back to haunt you. There are many stories of teen girls' nude photos going viral. Sadly, several of those cases have ended in bullying and shame that resulted in the girls taking their own lives.

If you take the photos, there's not guarantee no one will ever access them. If you send them, it's even more likely that someone besides your intended recipient will receive them. Teens especially need to be reminded of this. They may be tempted to send those photos because they're "in love." But, most relationships at that age don't last. And if the relationship doesn't last, can you trust the teen boy to be mature enough to get rid of whatever photos he has? I doubt it, because sadly, there are clearly a lot of grown men who can't be trusted to do that.

In addition to teaching our girls to be modest in their relationships, it's even more important to teach our boys how to treat women. In a culture that tries to teach our boys and girls to reduce each other to sexual objects, our voices need to come through loud and clear to teach them to be better than that. If we let everyone else teach our boys about relationships and sex, we shouldn't be surprised when they're among the horde clamoring for naked pictures of celebrities. Boys need to understand that they're not entitled to anything sexual.  They don't have a right to see a girl naked, whether she took photos or not. We need to teach them to really look at people with love. They need to see so much more than sex when they look at a girl. And they need us to teach them that, because the rest of our culture isn't too concerned with those lessons.

In the midst of these discussions, your attitude really comes into play. Approach these issues with grace. Don't teach your kids to look down on people who do something wrong. And remember that if you do approach issues like this by bashing the girls, if your own kid messes up, she's received the message that you think less of her now and she may not trust you enough to come to you about the problem. And even if they don't fall to this themselves, they need to be taught to love people even when they make mistakes. The girls who have lost their lives to bullying after similar incidents might have gone a different route if someone had loved them enough to stand by them.

There's a lot that needs to be said. Hopefully, lots of important conversations are coming out of this. I worry that we'll just gloss over it as an unfortunate incident where a bunch of immoral girls did something stupid. But, parents, youth workers, anyone who works with kids, I ask you to do better. Please take the time to help kids navigate a culture that sends lots of loud, and often contradictory, messages. 

As in all things, let's seek to do what is right out of love. Don't ignore these things, but address them without joining the harassers or bashing the victims. When things need to improve, we should be pushing to help them improve. Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Parents and youth workers, check out thesource4ym.com and thesource4parents.com for lots of great resources, including many articles on topics relating to this one.


  1. Larry, Thanks for your insights just posted your article on The Youth Culture Report. http://theyouthculturereport.com/