Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pornography and the Church

Pornography in church is a problem we in churches don’t like talking about. When I say “we” I mean rank and file church members as well as pastors. Whenever I preach about sexual issues—whether pornography, homosexuality, sex before marriage or purity in general—people get anxious.  I do too! It’s not easy to talk publically about things that are inherently so private. At the same time, God’s Word isn’t silent about any of those things and I want always to speak in a way that’s faithful to Him.

Like all preachers (or most preachers—some of my colleagues in ministry place more value on shock tactics than I do) I’m also deeply conscious of the wide variety of people in my congregation. What I need to say to a thirty-year-old man struggling with porn, for instance, wouldn’t be appropriate for an eight-year-old girl to hear or for her mother squirming beside her wondering how she’s going to explain what the preacher just said when they get home.

But the sheer magnitude of the pornography problem is so great that we can’t ignore it. A word of caution when looking at porn statistics: they’re all over the place and finding accurate information is hard to do. The following numbers represent a conservative estimate of what I’m talking about.

·         11: Average age of exposure for a child to porn
·         12-17: Largest age grouping (male) of internet porn users
·         35: Percentage of all internet downloads that are pornographic
·         50: Percentage of Christian men who view internet porn on at least an occasional basis
·         30,000:  Number of people viewing porn on the internet every second
·         3,000,000,000: Dollars made by the internet porn business each year in America

The numbers don’t tell half the story. The real story lies in the broken hearts, the broken futures, the broken marriages, the eroded minds and the enslave spirits that pornography is leaving in its wake as it moves through our culture, our churches and our families.

I’ve dealt with so many men struggling with porn that I can bring a report back from the front lines to those of you who are wondering about it all. There is a brokenness and bondage out there that so many people just don’t know about.

I’ve got to tell you how much of a challenge this is in our churches. And it’s not simple. Just memorizing a few Scriptures or repenting or confessing doesn’t usually change this kind of behavior. It’s so deeply ingrained and the temptations to it so widely available that shallow approaches don’t offer freedom to many of those who are addicted.

Here’s one man’s experience with finding sexual purity. He’s able to speak into the complexities of porn addiction with an authentic voice:
But I’ve known many people who have broken the cycle of porn addiction and moved into a purity of life that is a great testimony to God’s grace. In the end, as with all bondages, this one will in fact yield to grace.

This is what I’ve learned about dealing with porn in the local church:
·         Porn is much more prevalent in our churches than most people realize.
·         More men (and women to a lesser degree) are held in bondage to porn than we realize.
·         Escaping porn is difficult. With the internet making porn immediately available to almost anyone with a few clicks of a mouse, and with sexuality everywhere visible, figuring out a way to stay pure is a challenge.
·         Porn addiction isn’t just a matter of saying no. The addiction itself has roots in spiritual, emotional and biological dynamics. Early experiences also play a role. In the end, the porn addict must discover that the pleasures of purity and holiness are greater than the pleasures of porn. That transaction sometimes takes a long time.
·         The personal encouragement of a group of trusted friends plays a large role in escaping porn’s addictive control but is no guarantee of freedom. Like all addictions, escaping from porn requires a daily measure of grace. One day at a time.
·         Sexual purity is worth the effort. Those who come out of porn addiction will universally testify that whatever it took to break free was well worth the price.
·         I’m the accountability partner of a dear friend, a man in my church. I get a weekly report from Covenant Eyes (a cool ministry you can find at on his internet activity that tells me all the sites he’s visited during the previous week. It gives him some defense against his addiction. Is it a failsafe system? Of course not. But it helps. For the addict, everyone they can get on their side helps their chance of success.
·         Preaching on porn has some impact. Creating a church culture where broken people can acknowledge their brokenness has more impact. The more our churches can get to the place where brokenness and failure are accepted and not condemned makes our ministries so much more authentic. The fact is—which everybody knows but many are uncomfortable admitting—that everybody is broken and the gospel alone can makes us whole.

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