Eugene Peterson: Ecclesiastical Pornography


This is applicable to pastors, church members, and church shoppers and well, pretty much anyone who engages a church in any ways shape or form.  At our most frustrated moments in community, the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.  Eugene Peterson is awesome!

Parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography – taking photographs (skilfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that are without spot or wrinkle, the shapes that a few parishes have for a few short years.  These provocatively posed pictures are devoid of personal relationships.  The pictures excite a lust for domination, for gratification, for involved and impersonal spirituality.  My own image of the desirable congregation was shaped by just such pornography – tall steeple church with a cheesecake congregation.  It alarms and dismays me that even though I long ago quit looking at magazines and lining the walls of my vocational imagination with pictures, I am still vulnerable to such seduction.

Parish repudiation takes place more subtly, often by imagining alternate structures.  How many of us at the end of a long day dream of starting a retreat centre where only hungry and thirsty people come, or forming intentional communities where only highly motivated people are let in, or escaping into a seminary or university where complexities of sin and mysteries of grace are no longer vocational concerns, replaced by the still formidable but more manageable categories of ignorance and knowledge? All such fantasizing withdraws energy from the realities at hand and leaves them petulant. 

Eugene Peterson, “Under the Unpredictable Plant,” pg 22 – 23.

How often do you find yourself dreaming of the perfect community?  When this happens, how is it impacting your relationships within your current, and real, community?


  1. Arthur Sido · April 11, 2013

    A lot of this imagery is simply marketing what many people think they desire, the ability to “go to church” in relative anonymity where everyone is wearing their best clothes, everyone is on their best behavior and no one is going to interrupt me with their problems.

    • Chris Lenshyn · April 11, 2013

      Yes! I remember asking someone once, about 10 years ago, how they were doing… they actually answered with an honest response rather than the normative “good, you?” It shocked me enough to still remember it today.

      Thanks for your words!

  2. Pingback: Eugene Peterson: Ecclesiastical Pornography | My CMS
  3. Pingback: Some great thoughts from Chris and Eugene Peterson | glenleamennonite
  4. Cathy · April 11, 2013

    “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”
    ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    • Chris Lenshyn · April 11, 2013


      Love it! Thanks for sharing this!

      • Cathy · April 13, 2013

        Great minds think alike, eh?
        When I first read this, I had a hard time with the idea. It was a challenge. I was in the process of ‘jumping’ from Southern Baptist to Church of the Brethren.

  5. Randell Neudorf · April 11, 2013

    I’m very thankful that at The Commons we have a talented photographer that photographs our people and happenings with the eye of documentary journalist. They tell a story and help to serve as a journal of our collective experience.

    • Chris Lenshyn · April 11, 2013

      Hey there.

      I think you may have misread the title… 😉

      • Randell Neudorf · April 12, 2013

        Perhaps, but i think you can see symptoms of this on how churches present their communities on websites. Often a church website is projecting what they wish they were (or what a couple leaders wish they were) and not who they are in this present moment (warts and all).

      • Chris Lenshyn · April 12, 2013

        Ah. Sorry! Indeed I miss understood you. Point well made!! Thanks!!!!

  6. Marco Funk · April 11, 2013

    love this, Chris – I’m an ecclesiastical porn addict, I admit. I’m always talking, thinking, and dreaming of the ideal church. What does this do for my engagement with the real church in my community? good question. I’m gonna be thinking about this for a while.

    • Chris Lenshyn · April 11, 2013

      Hey friend!

      I thought the same thing when I came across the quote too! I am thinking on it still!!

  7. Pingback: Eugene Peterson: Ecclesiastical Pornography | MennoNerds

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