What if Your Minister Uses Pornography?

How would you respond if you discovered your minister uses pornography?

Photo Credit: Liz Marion via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Liz Marion via Compfight cc

According to xxxchurch.com:

  • 12% of Internet websites are pornographic or about 24 million individual sites
  • Every second 28,258 Internet users view pornography
  • 40 million Americans are regular visitors to pornography sites
  • 70% of men aged 18-24 visit pornography sites in a typical month
  • 1 in 3 pornography viewers are women
  • 20% of men and 13% of women admit to watching pornography online at work
  • The most popular day of the week for viewing pornography is Sunday

Mobile technology seems to further enhance the pervasiveness of pornography:

  • 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
  • 24% of smartphone owners admit to having pornographic material on their mobile phone
  • 3 out of 5 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
  • 30% of all 17-year olds have received a sext

But surely – some may argue – ministers do not struggle in the same way.

In an age of pervasive pornography, ministers, ministry students and churches ought to consider four steps to pursue intelligent transparency and healthy ministerial engagement.

First, ministers need to prepare – and churches ought to expect – to proactively address the reality of pornography and other sexual issues.  While age-appropriate conversations are key, given that the average age at which a child first sees pornography online is eleven, children’s ministers and children’s workers need to carefully address with children and parents alike healthy online habits that address this issue as well as other acute online realities such as cyberbullying.

Proactive engagement is perhaps even more incumbent upon those ministering among teenagers and young adults.  Youth groups need to have pointed conversations about social media, texting, and even more broadly the use of technology.  Simply shunning technology is not an appropriate answer, though it is the one most often cited to me by college students struggling in this area.  While taking a Sabbath from smartphones and Snapchat may be necessary as a short-term initiative to break a particular habit or addiction, we cannot teach or expect individuals to simply shun technology as a means of avoiding temptation.  Otherwise, as happened to a friend several years ago, when a company or ministry issues a business smartphone it becomes an easy access point to patterns that were dormant rather than defeated.  Rather than emphasizing simple avoidance, though perhaps necessary for some as an interim step, ministers need to encourage individuals to develop a toolkit that masters technology and can navigate the workplace and ministry expectations of the twenty-first century in a healthy way.

Pastoral sermons and counseling can also play a key role. Internet pornography increasingly contributes to marital struggles and divorce.  Moreover, there are a number of corollary topics all too often neglected from the pulpit such as human trafficking and domestic violence.  A recent survey by Life Way revealed that 42% of pastors rarely or never address domestic and/or sexual violence in their sermons.

Second, every ministerial search committee ought to have an open and frank conversation during the interview process about the struggles the candidate has faced in this area.  Such a conversation is best suited towards the end of the process and perhaps with a select portion of the search committee, personnel committee or deacon body.  Though potentially uncomfortable, addressing this reality upfront:

  1. Helps foster a healthy and safe accountability relationship of trust for both the church and the minister where struggle may still occur
  2. Encourages the minister to more openly discuss the formation of healthy sexual patterns and identity drawing upon their own struggles and victories without fear of immediate retribution
  3. Establishes an expectation that the minister will in appropriate ways love and minister holistically to those within their areas of responsibility, including in the sensitive realm of sexual behavior and identity.
Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Third, every church needs to have a technology policy in place and be proactive rather than reactive.  Though dated, one 2002 survey noted that 54% of pastors reported viewing Internet pornography in the last year (http://www.covenanteyes.com/porn-free-church, pg. 113).  After recently visiting with one youth minister seeking freedom in this area, I encouraged this young minister to seek a continued and extended conversation with the pastor at the church.  The individual quickly responded that this was not possible as it would lead to immediate firing.  If a youth minister serving at a church whose desire was to seek freedom and accountability felt that the church would only offer rejection, how can we expect anyone else to turn to the church as a place of healing and restoration?

There are certainly types of clergy sexual misconduct that must be handled differently, but if a minister is involved in immoral but not illegal pornography there ought to be a guiding policy that helps the church and the minister jointly pursue a process of recovery.  Some time ago I was visiting with an individual who helps set up and maintain church networks as part of his business.  He relayed the story of how a pastor phoned him late at night because his college son who was home visiting had used a church computer to complete homework and then visited a variety of pornographic websites.  The pastor asked this network administer if he would be willing to quietly scrub the computer at the personal expense of the pastor so that the church did not know.  Whether it was in fact the son and not the pastor himself pales in comparison to the perceived need for the pastor to respond in fear and secrecy.

Churches need to be proactive in working to establish well-reasoned technology policies.  For years churches and ministers fought to place a window into the door of every office.  It is time to extend that concept.  Churches and ministers need to fight for a window into our technology.

Fourth, churches more broadly ought to work to create intentional climates of open dialogue, healthy accountability, and grace-filled recovery.  In the 1500s Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

The enemy also behaves like a false lover who wishes to remain hidden and does not want to be revealed… When the enemy tempts a just soul with his wiles and deceits, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret.  When they are revealed to a confessor or some other spiritual person who understand his deceits and evil designs, the enemy is greatly displeased for he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil design once his obvious deceits have been discovered (Movements Produced in the Soul).

Sin hates exposure and recovery begins in the light.  In the end, after all, the same grace by which we are saved is the same grace by which we are to continue to live.

– EB

Darkness into Light

Warning: The following post may contain material of a sensitive nature. But please read and discuss it anyway.

I haven’t visited a Halloween costume shop in a while but my boys wanted to dress up like Star Wars characters for our church’s Trunk or Treat this year, so we paid a visit to a local Halloween store.

I have to say I was surprised and appalled by the merchandise we found there and I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination.

At least three-fourths of the Halloween costumes they sold were for women, which seemed strange to me at first. But about 90% of those women’s costumes were more appropriate for strip club attire than for public display. Every costume seemed designed to be slutty sexy, from the more obvious ones like Nurse Knock-out or Sexy Lioness, to the absurd ones like Sexy Robin (who knew Batman’s sidekick could be seductive?) and Sexy Chucky (yes, that is the murderous doll turned femme fatale–see image). These costumes were not only being purchased by adults, but by teenagers, young adults, and even pre-teens.

Whatever happened to the days when we dressed up like princesses, fairies, angels, or Little Bo Peep? When did dress-up become less about putting on a persona and more about taking off our clothes?

I have been thinking about it and researching it and I have come to the conclusion that these hyper-sexual Halloween costumes are one of many side effects of the culture of pornography that is surreptitiously invading our society.

The porn industry, which is a 15-billion dollar a year industry in America, obviously glorifies many evils–commercialized sex, lust, greed, exploitation, and self-gratification. But the subtle evils it propagates are far more dangerous than we realize.

Dr. Annette Lynch, professor of textiles and Apparel and author of Porn Chic, recognizes the insidious influence of pornography on fashion, especially costumes.  She writes this about teen and tween attire:

“When a little girl shops for a Halloween costume, she is bombarded with choices and poses that flirt with and attract sexual attention, teaching her to self-objectify and court the male gaze in advance of the blossoming of her own sexuality… what is most damaging is the normalization of this patterned response, with girls taught to shop, dress and behave while imagining the response of a male audience… this patterned response to these messages become ingrained and natural to these girls, who then carry the patterns into adulthood.”

So girls who have not even viewed pornography are “patterned” to dress for men, specifically men who are porn users, without even knowing it. The porn look is so ingrained in the media and culture of our country that it does not need to be overt to affect change in all segments of society.

Jessica Bennett, in “The Pornification of America,” wakes us up to the overwhelming impact the porn industry is making on our everyday lives.

“In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn’t take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives. Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms.”

When we weren’t looking, the subculture of pornography, which claims to affect only workers and users in that industry, became part of our mainstream culture, affecting everyone from fashion designers to pop stars (do I even have to put a link to a Miley Cyrus’ example?) to young girls shopping for Halloween costumes.

How did our society succumb so easily to such a destructive problem?

Robert Jenson, a professor of journalism who wrote a book on the porn industry in America, believes that the popularity of pornography in our country “is a reminder that, for all the progress of contemporary social movements, we still live in a world structured by patriarchy, white supremacy and a corporate capitalism that is predatory by nature. Pornography is consistently cruel and degrading to women, overtly racist and fueled by the ideology that money matters more than people.” (from an online interview)

So, it is not that pornography has corrupted our moral, just, and equality-driven society (read with sarcasm) but vice versa—the deep-seated, and often downplayed, American obsession with power, sex, and money has produced our current porn culture.

We got ourselves in this mess, but how do we get out?

We could push for more legislation against the porn industry, for more oversight and higher levels of censorship, but many Americans would cry, “First Amendment Violation!” and anyway, the porn industry has well-paid lobbyists and spin doctors to halt change on that front.

We could sit around and complain about the problem on blogs and social media, blaming Hollywood or the fashion or music industry. Oh wait, we already do that and it is certainly not working.

Or, we as the body of Christ can stand up and attack the problem at its root.

Because the root of every evil associated with pornography, from greed to lust to infidelity to exploitation, is the same. The problem is the darkness that we humans carry around inside us. The only way to fight the darkness is with the light. And when we hide the deeds of darkness, and the dismiss the effects of that darkness, we will slowly become overwhelmed by darkness instead of the light.

And the Word, the Gospel of John tells us, was not overcome by darkness but overcame darkness with light.

So we need to bring the deeds of darkness into light.

We need to talk about this uncomfortable, shameful problem in our churches and in our homes and in our schools and on our blogs.

We need to love and support those who are in bondage to all kinds of addiction, especially sexual addiction and pornography.

We need to talk to our children openly–about the gift of sex within marriage, the perils of internet pornography, and the lies society spreads about freedom and the body.

We also must ensure girls and women that they are loved for who they are and who Christ is making them to be, not for what they wear or how they look. We need to teach them to live to please God and not the opposite sex.

We need to address the issues of self-worth and self-respect and self-control. Every day. In every venue. Until people start to listen.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:8-13)