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Outsourcing Moral Authority: The Internal Secularization of Evangelicals’ Anti-Pornography Narratives


  • Acknowledgments: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Las Vegas, NV. The author thanks the following persons for their helpful comments and suggestions: Dan Olson, Becka Alper, Nick Vargas, R. J. Leamaster, Jong Hyun Jung, Katherine Jones, Laura Thomas, and three anonymous reviewers; thanks also to Brian Bither for his assistance with data collection.

Correspondence should be addressed to Jeremy N. Thomas, Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminal Justice, Idaho State University, 921 S. 8th Ave., Stop 8114, Pocatello, ID 83209-8114. E-mail:


Based on content analysis of the popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today, I show that while evangelicals' outward opposition to pornography has remained steady and robust across the period 1956 to 2010, nonetheless, during this same time, evangelicals' anti-pornography narratives have become increasingly secular. Through using and expanding Chaves's notion of internal secularization, I demonstrate how these narratives have become decreasingly legitimated through religious forms of moral authority such as scriptural prohibitions and derivative ideas about God's plan for society, and increasingly legitimated through secular forms of moral authority such as humanistic conceptions of individual rights and of psychological health. I refer to this type of internal secularization as the process of outsourcing moral authority, and I discuss the theoretical significance of this process for potential investigations of a range of other moral narratives.