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14898992-happy-young-businessman-talking-on-the-mobile-phoneAs churches, missionaries, and Christians around the world consider the trend of Monoculture, their challenge is to adapt ministry and outreach efforts for new realities.  Society’s macro trends can be sudden, or they can be a long time in the making. Pornography is one of those deeply entrenched and old problems, but today porn’s corrosive and toxic reach is dramatically expanding.  Christians are by no means immune.

Pornography is widely accessible, with nearly 90% of pornography accessed online for free.  One writer, describing the problem of children’s access to pornography, said that teens today carry free, miniature X-rated movie theaters (on their cell phones).   Twelve percent of all internet searches are for pornography… and on mobile devices, 20% of searches are for porn.

Implications for society are profound. An article in First Things magazine noted that pornography is a $10 billion industry in the US.  Pornography use is a factor in 56% of divorce cases, and is correlated with sexual assault, according to a University of Pennsylvania School of Psychiatry study:  “All types of pornography (soft core, hard core, violent, and rape) are correlated with using verbal coercion, drugs and alcohol to sexually coerce women.”

The First Things article concludes by noting that, “Lust begins with loneliness- with the pervasive detachment which has become a hallmark of modernity.” Conversely, Christian community is the context “in which the virtues of modesty, temperance, and chastity can be proposed and modeled with credibility.”  Loneliness in young men and women leads them to search for solace, and the siren song of pornographic images beckons them with a fantasy of deep human connection.  Families must be more intentional than ever about providing the security, engagement, and affirmation.  Churches must offer what they alone can provide: “the freedom of fraternity, accountability, and community that abides in the body of Christ.”

Over a half century ago, Oxford professor C.S. Lewis voiced concerns about pornography: “We have engineered a great increase in … the apparent nude (not the real nude) … It is all a fake, of course… to make them appear firmer and more slender than nature allows a full-grown woman to be.” He had no idea: the problem is infinitely more widespread and pervasive today than Lewis could have ever imagined!

 

As described in The Meeting of the Waters, Monoculture is at work when values, appetites, and behaviors spread around the world, often driven by global marketing and business practices.  The best example of Monoculture around the world today may be the sexualization of our societies. Sexual content is spread by media in developed and undeveloped countries, in cities and villages, in  western nations and in closed Islamic nations, in totalitarian states and democracies, in book form and on the internet.   Modern advertising, entertainment, and sports reek of sex.

 

In his BreakPoint column, excellent social commentator Eric Metaxas cites how pornography is devastating the next generation’s sexuality, both because it’s addictive and also wildly inaccurate.  University of Texas Professor Mark Regnerus writes about “sexual economics,” where the availability of “fake women who look perfect and are interested only in sex has created a sort of market competition that distorts both genders’ ideas of what real women are actually like.” It creates jaded, false expectations and behavior, both among men and women.

 

Metaxas introduces us to Julia Bluhm, a 14-year-old Maine girl who petitioned Seventeen Magazine and Vogue to begin using real photographs, instead of heavily doctored images of young women.  Remarkably, she collected 84,000 signatures.  In today’s globalized world, it is very difficult to avert a Global Current, and I applaud Julia for her ingenuity.  Her strategy was grass-roots, public, media-driven, and viral — the very features which characterize all Monoculture.  Julia met force with force, and my son, daughters, and future grandchildren will reap the benefits.

Recently, I read an article about foreign Muslim students studying at Catholic universities in America. Beyond the obvious “strange bedfellows” angle, this phenomenon presented an unusual example of the Global Current of Mediation.  It demonstrates the rich opportunities we now have for sharing lives with immigrants at deep faith levels, for practicing civility around religious issues, and for being relevant and hospitable witnesses for Christianity in an increasingly pluralistic society.

 

Foreign Muslims at Catholic schools say that they appreciate the Catholic schools’ high value placed on doctrine, moral codes, and religion in general.  It’s a very different environment than the “open-minded” student life scenes they observe in secular universities. Most importantly, the foreign Muslim students feel affirmed and respected on Catholic campuses, where religion is taken seriously and elevated.

 
Muslims who come to western countries are often alarmed by our permissive ways. Their Asian or African countries of origin did not prepare them for the skimpy clothing, suggestive dancing, sensual media, and casual relationships between men and women. One Muslim girl said, “I was afraid they would not like me because I am Muslim, or that they would all want me to go to church. At first, when I saw the crosses on the classroom walls, it was very strange for me.” Eventually though, the Muslim students realize that there is a commonality between religiously-minded people, even if we subscribe to different and exclusive truth claims. “I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected.”

As I’ve directed grants to mission causes over the past twelve years, I’ve been inspired to see the creative ways that followers of Christ use their varied gifts and experiences to spread the Gospel.  Some initiatives and projects are obviously spiritual, focused on Bible translation or dissemination or evangelism.  Some other projects, though, are less obviously spiritual.

I’ll never forget a proposal from a husband-and-wife missionary team whose fantastic ministry provides teaching, healthcare, and church planting to Amazon River villages.  A new, lighter, more efficient ship, they told me, would allow them to go farther down the River, get there faster, carry more people,  save gas and money… and thereby significantly advance their church planting and evangelism effforts.  They sold me, and our foundation supported their ministry.  When I visited them in Brazil and took at trip downriver on their boat, I saw firsthand how important that new boat was.

I saw that, in that case, engineering enhanced evangelism, shipbuilding served soul-saving, and marketplace met ministry.

Campus ministry is increasingly taking on an international face, in a strategic and opportunistic adaptation to the Global Current of Migration.

 

Millions of students are traveling to other countries for educational purpose, in dramatic proportions.  China sent more students to America than any other country in 2011– 157,588 of them, for an amazing increase of 23% from 2010.  The number of Chinese foreign students around the world rose from 179,000 in 2008 to 284,000 in 2010. Most of the Chinese students studying abroad are now self-funded by their parents, a 180-degree shift from just a few years ago.   This reflects the dramatic growth of China’s middle class.

 

The top five countries sending students to study in the US in 2011 were China, India, South Korea, Canada, and Taiwan. Number six was Saudi Arabia, which saw an astonishing 44% jump in one year! Meanwhile, Indians studying in the US declined 1%, reflecting a general trend among Indian nationals who are choosing to return to a more robust economy in their home country. This figure shows just how fluid Migration is these days, with a constantly shifting, back-and-forth flow of people based on countries’ changing economies.  To that point, while 20% of the world’s international students are studying in the United States, in 2001 that figure was 28%. This reflects an emerging proliferation of educational hubs in other countries around the world, and also the struggling US economy.

 

There are many ministries to international students, but one on which I’m especially bullish is International Students Incorporated.  ISI’s workers have been coming alongside international students for years, helping them with transportation, apartment-hunting, home-cooked meals and friendship.  They’ve exposed their intrigued foreign guests to various aspects of American life, including church and faith communities when appropriate.  In this way the foreign students, even as they’re so focused on rigorous academics, are also finding nourishing friendships and spiritual growth.

“Black hole resorts” in exotic locales charge high rates to provide un-wired rooms. “Internet rescue camps” in South Korea and China reach out to kids addicted to the screen. “Freedom software” enables computer users to disable their internet connections for up to eight hours. The average office worker today enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.

Americans’ use of technology is staggering. The average American spends at least 8 1/2 hours a day in front of the screen.  But that creates big problems for modern souls.

Thomas Merton said “man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest.”  French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century that all of humanity’s problems come from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. If that was true in the 1600s…how much more is it true today?  Christians and churches today need to find new ways to tend to the empty, damaged souls of our technology-addled generation.  This will require the full attention and inspired ideas of pastors,  missionaries, and followers of Christ who wish to be great neighbors.  While this may be an age-old issue, the difference in degree is dramatic and potentially disastrous.

In a recent article entitled, “The Global War Against Baby Girls,” http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-global-war-against-baby-girls Nicholas Eberstadt writes about a “still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion.” In simpler words, that means that moms and dads are aborting their babies based upon the child’s gender. More specifically, parents are aborting baby girls… resulting in millions upon millions of missing baby girls.

 

Over the course of the world’s history, statistics show that 103-106 boys are born for every 100 newborn girls. This “sex ratio at birth” (SRB) is going haywire, though: some Chinese towns now report 123 boys for 100 newborn girls, for an alarming SRB of 123. Since 1979, China’s official one-chid policy has caused mass feticide of girls by parents who want a male child. These super-high SRBs are also enabled by China’s universal and unconditional abortion availability and its widespread and inexpensive obstetric ultrasonography.

 
Mass feticide is a horrible worldwide trend reflecting shared global values, an example of what I call “Monoculture.” In addition to China, East Asia’s four “Little Dragons” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) report troubling SRB increases. Other countries seeing increases are Vietnam, India (SRBs as high as 120), Albania, El Salvador, Philippines, Libya, Serbia, Austria, Cuba, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Portugal and Spain.

 

And this evil tale gets worse, because of another Global Current — Migration. Because of China’s high SRB, brides are in short supply.  Chinese men look to neighboring countries, therefore, for imported young women. A literal market for women is created, feeding a robust flow of trafficked young girls from Thailand, India, and Burma. “Brokers” in those countries are buying, coercing, and kidnapping girls with promises of jobs and economic opportunity…  only to sell them to husband-buyers.

 

The world’s population is on the move like never before.  Trafficking –whether for military, brothels, or sweatshops– is the human face of Migration.  Until this pointin history, evils and ills of one country might have stopped at the border–but no more. Now, the global economy, mass marketing, and shared values ensure that both good and bad trends spread.  And, in our age of Monoculture, America is also affected…as trafficking spreads rapidly in cities of all sizes. It’s a small world, after all

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