Research on the link between religion and pornography suggests that more frequent pornography viewing can lead to declines in individuals’ religious commitment, likely stemming from the guilt, shame, and dissonance adherents experience for violating sacralized moral values. No research, however, has considered the implications of this phenomenon for religious organizations. The current study addresses this gap by examining how pornography use contributes to potential congregational problems by discouraging individuals from participating in lay leadership. Multivariate analyses of panel data from the 2006–2012 Portraits of American Life Study reveal that the more frequently respondents viewed pornography at wave 1 the less likely they were to hold a leadership position or serve on a committee in their congregation within the following 6 years. This effect was robust to controls for religious commitment, tradition, and other correlates of lay leadership participation. Interactions with religious tradition and gender suggest that participation in leadership is more negatively tied to porn use for conservative Protestants and Catholics compared to mainline Protestants and women compared to men. Findings ultimately suggest that increasingly pervasive pornography consumption among adherents could portend a potential dearth of volunteer leadership for congregations.
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Because “pornography” is both difficult to define and often freighted with moral connotations, some studies opt to use other terminology like “sexually explicit media.” Here I have retained the term “pornography” because it is used in the data for analysis. For the purposes of this study, “pornography” or “porn” refers to sexually explicit media (Internet videos, movies, magazines) that is made and consumed with the intent of arousing the viewer.
The majority of missing cases came from the household income measure. Models were tested with various imputation techniques to replace missing values, as well as without the income measure, and none changed the key findings substantively or in terms of statistical significance (results available upon request). Ultimately, the decision was made to use listwise deletion in order to make replication as straightforward as possible.
Because of the possibility that pornography use at wave 1 also influenced serving in congregational leadership at wave 1, thus causing pornography’s effect on later service in leadership to operate through their earlier service, I estimated models with and without controls for earlier service at wave 1. While the variance explained was tremendously reduced in each model, since earlier service in leadership is such a strong predictor of later service, the association between earlier pornography use and later service in religious leadership was substantively identical with or without that control.
PALS includes an “Other Protestant” category that includes other sectarian Protestants besides those originally found in Steensland et al. (2000). I made an additional modification by combining evangelical Protestants and black Protestants into the Conservative Protestant category so as to avoid collinearity problems with the race variable. Also Jewish respondents were combined with the “other religion” category because of smaller numbers. None of these modifications substantively affect the focal outcomes.
While religious service attendance and prayer frequency are correlated, their Cronbach’s alpha indicated low reliability (α = .62), and thus, they were included in models separately rather than as an index.
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The author is a current member of the Religious Research Association.
Data for this study are freely available for download from The ARDA. Coding specifications are available from the author upon request.
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Perry, S.L. How Pornography Use Reduces Participation in Congregational Leadership: A Research Note. Rev Relig Res 61, 57–74 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-018-0355-4