Christianity 201

September 21, 2021

Christians and “Failure Porn”

A recent popular Christian podcast series was accused of creating “failure porn.” The term is a reference to those reports and stories of people who experienced failure in ministry — for whatever reason — and the resultant charge or excitement that others seem to get in hearing or reading such accounts.

It’s been compared to the “thrill” — and I hate having used that word — that someone might get in seeing a train wreck. It does seem to be a trait of human nature that people slow down when there has been a bad accident on the freeway. Is that mere curiosity or something else?

A Washington Post headline called it the “celebration of failure.”

Such reaction is antithetical to Christian living.

Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Or, other translations: weep with those who weep.)

We’re told that Job’s friends didn’t just drive by and later relay the details of Job’s tragedy to their friends and family, but rather they entered in to his suffering. We read that, “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” (2:11)

This can also include entering into the suffering of those who, rather than have external circumstances befall them, have brought about their condition by their own doing. The writer of Hebrews tells us, Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (13:3)

Paul echoes this in Romans: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (15:1)

“Bearing with” or “taking on” the consequences and circumstances of those who have fallen, as though it befell or happened to us will help us see these situations in a different light. Again, Paul writing to the Corinthians this time says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I-12:27-28)

He’s speaking about what it means to be part of a body. Even when someone with a high profile experiences catastrophic, headline-making failure, our response should be, “That’s my brother,” or “That’s my sister you’re talking about.”

…The thing I like about the podcast against which the charge of producing “failure porn” has been leveled against is that they are going out of their way to find the redemptive value in us hearing the stories and learning from them. The host has said many times he wants to do this in order to benefit the church, and I personally trust that this is indeed his genuine motive.

Furthermore, many of the Old Testament narratives — and a few in the New Testament as well — are accounts of colossal failures; stories of people who perhaps failed to listen to God (or the prophets) and committed grave errors and made huge mistakes.

Paul in Romans says that, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us…” We’re not to look at Noah’s weak moments, or David’s failure, or Samson’s character flaws and experience some type of endorphin rush, or what the Washington Post called celebration.

But even there in Romans, Paul is thankfully focused on the more positive things that are written for our benefit. The full text reads,

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:4-6)

all scriptures today, NIV