Flood of pornography breaching the church
GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)--Divorce lawyers are noting its increasing influence.
In Great Britain, it's blamed for a 20 percent jump in sexual assaults perpetrated by kids as young as 11.
In the United States, the adult film industry sees it as a $13 billion a year business -- more money than mainstream Hollywood generates.
The numbers are staggering: up to 45 million "unique" users visited adult websites in a recent month, as tracked by Nielsen Net Ratings.
With the advent of wireless handheld devices, porn is accessible via mobile phones and similar devices.
"Certainly, this is going to make it easier to view porn in more places than ever," Pamela Paul, author of "Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families," told USA Today.
"The flood of pornography in our culture has desensitized society and has contributed to the fact that our nation is wandering aimlessly in dangerous, uncharted territory," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement e-mailed to the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
That flood has entered the church doors, leaving anecdotal and documented evidence that families and churches are being damaged, mostly by Christian men -– some of whom are ministers -- who succumb to what Land calls a cheap imitation of God-designed sex.
"Sexuality is a far bigger and more troubling issue in the church than any other moral issue," Land said.
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity reports that an estimated 2 million Internet users are addicted to pornography. Christian men are among them.
In an August 2000 survey of its readership by Christianity Today magazine, 36 percent of laymen who responded had visited a sexually explicit Internet site, of which 44 percent visited such sites "a few times" in the past year.
Additionally, the six-year-old research showed that 51 percent of pastors admitted pornography was a possible temptation, 37 percent said porn is a struggle and 33 percent had viewed Internet pornography at least once a year.
A PASTOR'S REPORT
One pastor who spoke to the TEXAN about the problem said the incidence of sexual immorality in the church, with pornography as the culprit, has increased in the last five years.
The pastor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he has counseled two fellow ministry leaders regularly over the last year who have lost their ministries because of porn and related problems. One lost his marriage and the other is fighting to keep his, the pastor said.
One was a para-church leader whose wife discovered his addiction. "He's doing treatment, he's doing counseling, he's doing accountability," the pastor said. "He's doing everything he can do."
The man did not have extramarital intercourse, but "he was doing the pornography, topless bars.... He spent thousands of dollars on this type of stuff. This guy was in ministry."
The pastor estimated that "80 percent of all young ministers have at some point struggled with this on some level. Now, that may be as simple as he got sent a naked picture and he looked at it and that was the end of it. But on some level, I would say virtually every minister under the age of 30 has had some kind of experience with it in their adult lifetime."
He added: "If you're talking about just men in general under the age of 40, I'll tell you it's well above 50 percent that at least occasionally use pornography. I'm saying Christian men. Statistics show that as well."
Henry Rogers, corporate chaplain at Dallas-based Interstate Batteries and author of the book "The Silent War: Ministering to Those Trapped in the Deception of Pornography," told the radio audience of "For Faith & Family" that porn's proliferation is "ripping the soul out of the American male."
Rogers said the problem is "within the church walls and not only in the pews but in the pulpit as well."
The mind is the battlefield, Rogers said, noting the crucial Christian discipline of taking thoughts captive.
"We have an adversary who wants to take us out," Rogers said. "He may wait 10, 15, 20 years. There is no age at which we can relax, thinking we are immune to sexual temptation."
Rogers added: "Confession is a powerful deterrent to temptation."
HOPE FOUND IN A BOOK
Stephen Lawhon, 32, a member of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, and a longtime Christian believer, said he attempted to fight the temptation of pornography for years until he found hope in the simple warnings of Scripture.
Lawhon said that even though he grew up in a Christian family, his occasional encounters with porn as a kid led to a problem that he recognized as early as age 15.
"I started seeing porn at 11 or 12 years old. There would be a dirty magazine outside somebody's house. It just escalated from there. I always had an unquenchable thirst for it."
All the while, he was a leader in his youth group. He even recalled talking to his youth minister once about it.
"He prayed with me and patted me on the back and said, 'Hey, it's going to be alright.' That was it. And that's not a slam on him. We just didn't know what to do with this back then. We just didn't talk about that stuff," Lawhon said.
In college at Texas A&M, Lawhon said he joined Central Baptist and was in college ministry leadership there, though he still battled pornography.
"I was leading this double life. I had this secret compartment tucked away. When it really took off for me was when it became available online. I would never get caught dead buying pornography. But I would download it in my room. It scares me to think where I'd be now if I had the access that kids and men have today," he said.
He once got rid of his external computer modem, then he got rid of his computer altogether. But his compulsion led him to the school computer lab, where he'd download porn on floppy disks, he said.
After meeting his future wife, he told her he had struggled with pornography, but he said she underestimated the problem. He thought that once he was married he would no longer desire pornography, but he was wrong.
"The pastor who married us told us whatever problems we bring into our marriage would be magnified in the marriage. He was right, and I nearly lost my marriage over it."
Lawhon said he bought book after book on the subject, but, "It wasn't until I picked up the Bible that [God] really showed me He wrote the book thousands of years ago on this subject. It wasn't until I was truly broken that I started climbing out of it."
Lawhon said he has found hope and strength from his church family, his wife and, more than any other resource, the Bible, particularly Proverbs 7 and the warning about the harlot who lurks on every corner.
He said King David was in the wrong place when he lusted after Bathsheba and committed adultery with her, while Joseph faced his temptation with Potiphar's wife while tending to his responsibilities. Lawhon said that through the lens of Proverbs 7, one can see that Joseph had an advantage because he was where he was supposed to be while David, who should have been at war, wasn't.
"The Bible talks about how we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to endure, and when we're tempted God will provide a way out. What does that mean? What does that look like in real life? The Holy Spirit is huge in overcoming this. The Holy Spirit will bring accountability in my life. When I feel temptation coming on, I start to drift where I'm not supposed to drift ... and the phone will ring and it's a friend from church," Lawhon said.
"My point is, the Holy Spirit brings accountability into our lives. And when that way out presents itself, I have to make a choice to walk that way out."
Instead of offering "burnt offerings" by going to Promise Keepers or reading a book or attending another conference, Lawhon said he realized "I was choosing pornography over what God had for my life. I wasn't living in the grace of Jesus Christ."
Lawhon spends much of his time working with college students, many of whom are struggling through many of the battles he went through. He advises them to continually renew their minds by memorizing Scripture and dealing with only one day at a time, because overcoming sexual temptation is fought one battle at a time.
"I used to rationalize my discouragement by saying, 'I'm gonna mess up tomorrow. I might as well mess up today.' The Lord told me, 'No, you deal with today, Stephen. I'll deal with tomorrow.'"
Also, the stigma of pornography is greater than alcohol or drug abuse, Lawhon said, which makes coming forward more difficult.
The SBC's Land said in a 2002 radio interview: "You can go to your Sunday School class and say you have a real problem with alcohol and ask the class to pray for you, but if you go to your Sunday School class and say you need prayer for a problem with pornography, it would be like you set off a stink bomb in the room."
RIPPLES IN THE KINGDOM
The pastor the TEXAN interviewed said one of the ministers he is counseling is "going to do everything he can to recover. He turned himself in [to his ministry], started the counseling process, started the accountability, did a contract with his wife and with me and with some other guys."
But even with accountability, vital as it is, "both you and I know that people can lie," the pastor said. "In fact, one of these guys I used to meet with, he did lie to me for a while. When all this started, when he actually was doing some of this stuff, he was lying to me."
The man later initiated a meeting and confessed that he had lied.
"There's no guarantee that goes with accountability. And we're naïve to think that just because somebody sits down and asks the questions that we are always getting the truth. But at the same time, I think it's something important. I think it's something you need to do. It's a process you need to be experiencing, though it's certainly no guarantee."
The pastor said it is crucial that a minister allows friends, staff and fellow church members to inspect the cache of his computer anytime to see what sites he has visited.
The ravages of pornography and sexual sin among believers has a ripple effect, the pastor said.
"Particularly when it's someone in ministry. It affects that pastor. It affects his spouse, his family, his children if he has any. It affects his children's friends. It affects his congregation. It affects his immediate family, cousins. It affects his neighbors. It degrades the image of Christ for those who are lost and those in the community who look to that church and those who are considering the claims of the Gospel, those who have just come to know Christ.
"It's enormous when you stop and think about the negative consequences of falling into the trap. Quite frankly, at least half the time they end up losing their family. And nobody thinks that way. Nobody thinks when they first start looking at porn that 'I'm going to lose my family, I'm going to lose my job.'
"Both of the guys I'm dealing with right now, here's what they've lost: They've lost their marriage. They've lost their job. They lost a lot of friends in the sense it will never be the same. They've lost custody of their children and now they are both doing something that they don't really want to do or feel called to do, and they're just trying to get by."
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. TEXAN correspondent Bonnie Pritchett & Dwayne Hastings of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission contributed to this report. Click here to see an earlier Baptist Press story with counsel for women who learn their husbands have a pornography addiction.