By Bill Perkins
The High Cost of Silence
The pervasive sin of Internet pornography is taking hold in our churches…and most leaders aren’t doing much to address it.
Several years ago I performed the marriage ceremony for a young couple. Both had grown up in Christian homes and done well professionally. She had won the state’s “Best Teacher” award, and he was a successful salesman. They completed six weeks of premarital counseling with me and also met numerous times with a professional therapist. They seemed on course to have a healthy and fulfilling marriage.
But things were not as they appeared.
Six months after their wedding I received a phone call from the bride. “Bill, I just found out Jason is addicted to porn.”
“How did you find out?” I asked.
“I pay the bills and noticed some unexpected credit card charges,” she said. “I asked about them and his explanation made sense. I mean, I wasn’t even suspicious. And then one day I was looking for something on his laptop and out of curiosity, checked his browsing history. What I saw made me sick. I then did some research on the credit card charges and discovered they were to an online company with a bogus name—it’s a porn site, and he has been paying for adult video-chats.”
“Did you ask him about it?”
“I asked,” she said. “Initially, he denied it. But when I started to power up his laptop, he came clean. He admitted he had been hooked on porn since he was a teenager.”
I wish I could tell you their story ended well, but it didn’t. Nor do most of the stories I hear from the men and women who contact me after reading one of my books or hearing me speak. I wish I could say most pastors and church leaders are aware of the extent of the problem and have a system in place to educate, counsel, and protect their parishioners from the growing influence of pornography. But as someone who travels across the United States speaking in all flavors of churches, I don’t believe that’s the case. I suspect if church leaders were more aware of the high cost of porn in the church, they would more aggressively mobilize the resources needed to combat the problem.
Hiding Creates a Greater Problem
When something is forbidden, or banned on grounds of morality, it becomes taboo. Nothing in the church is more taboo than sexual sins.Indeed, the hallmark of Christian virtue is sexual purity. The Bible repeatedly tells us to abstain from sexual immorality and pursue purity (1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:14; 2:11; 1 John 2:16). And so as believers we should set a high biblical standard of sexual purity and condemn sexual sins.
The problem is, when we hammer away on the evils of sexual sins people decide not to talk about them at all. And since it’s not talked about, everyone assumes there is no problem. Or, if there is one, it’s with other people.
Since pastors are expected to live lust-free lives, they also refuse to discuss their personal struggle to remain sexually pure. No wonder—if a pastor admits he’s got a problem with porn, regardless of how limited the problem may be, he could be fired and blackballed.
Moreover, the taboo nature of sexual sins in the church makes them more exciting to commit. While doing research for one of my books on addictive behavior, I conducted a telephone interview with a leading expert in the field of sexual addictions. He told me, “I believe evangelical Christians have a greater tendency to fall into sexual addictions than any other sub-culture in the United States.”
When I asked him why, he said, “Because sexual sins are so taboo in the church people find them more exciting. Once they commit a taboo sexual act, they refuse to tell anyone. Their belief that they have done something bad creates guilt which leads to shame. This shame generates pain which they try to medicate with more sexually taboo activity. The deeper they fall into sexually deviant behavior the more closely they must guard their secret. The longer the behavior continues, the more addictive it becomes, and the more it destroys their core being.”
While just his opinion, he told me this without knowing that I am a Christian who writes from a Christian perspective. His thoughts underline the possibility that churches, by refusing to address the problem of porn in the church, are actually creating an environment that fosters porn addictions.
The Apostle Paul addressed the power of the taboo when he said, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase” (Rom. 5:20, NIV). His statement is certainly true when it comes to sexual purity—just tell someone something is wrong and it suddenly excites the flesh (Rom. 7). And so as the church fights for purity we need to recognize the message we’re sending could be creating a bigger problem.
Does that mean we should lower the moral standard? No, it doesn’t. But it does mean we need to avoid placing sexual sins in a category in which they’re so aberrant that those who commit them are anathema. We need to create a place where all sins can be discussed and dealt with. I don’t mean we should have a weekly meeting where everyone stands and confesses their sexual sins. Rather, we need to create a setting where everyone knows someone in the church with whom they can discuss their struggle. We need to follow the admonition of James and confess our sins rather than hiding them (James 5:16).
I could quote to you statistics about what percentage of surveyed evangelical pastors have visited an Internet porn site in the last month. Or I could quote a statistic which declares how many pastors are porn addicts. But frankly, I haven’t seen a legitimate survey with such information. The ones I’ve seen didn’t provide a large enough sampling to convince me they are reliable.
But I don’t need stats, because I’ve talked with enough pastors to know plenty of them are tainting their souls with Internet porn, as are many lay-leaders. This creates a problem, not just for the pastor and leaders, but for the church as well.
Last year, I received an e-mail from a church leader asking for my advice. He told me someone had spotted porn on the pastor’s computer which resulted in his resignation. The pastor claimed he had visited a site just once. And even though an investigation of the computer by an expert had uncovered only a single image with no evidence of Internet porn surfing, the man had to quit his job.
The church was devastated and serious questions were raised about the sexual morality of the remaining staff members. The pastor couldn’t get another job and may end up stepping away from vocational ministry. In addition to his losses, the reputation of the church was tarnished.
Of course, for a pastor to maintain sexual purity, he needs a band of brothers with whom he can be open and honest. A man who is cultivating those kinds of friendships sets an example for the staff and church to follow. And a pastor who isolates himself and refuses to deal with his struggles with sexual lust, builds a church that does the same thing. In other words, churches follow the example of their leaders.
Porn is an enemy that will infiltrate and destroy churches from the top down, and it will do so without a blink of remorse.
Addicted Women and Teens
According to a May 18, 2010, survey conducted by Today’s Christian Women Online, 34% of their readers admit to intentionally accessing porn. The results of this are staggering. More women are getting involved in cybersex, more women than men convert online conversations into real-life affairs, and more women are accessing porn while at work.
If those stats didn’t get your attention this next one will. According to Family Safe Media, the largest group of viewers of Internet porn is children between ages 12 and 17. In spite of this staggering statistic, most of the Christian parents I speak with deny their kids have or would check out a porn site.
Several years ago I had a speaking engagement at a city-wide men’s breakfast on the East Coast. The point man for the event picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel. On the way, he mentioned that an image of a dancing naked woman had appeared on the home page of his desktop computer at home and he didn’t know where it came from or how to get rid of it. I told him somebody probably visited a porn site and it followed them home and decided to stay.
“It wasn’t me,” he said.
“Then it must have been your wife,” I said.
“No way!” he insisted.
“Then it was probably one of your teenage sons.”
At this point he became indignant and assured me his sons never visit porn sites. “They’re Christians who go to a Christian school and attend a strong church,” he said.
Later that night, I had dinner with the man, his wife and another couple. The topic came up and the other couple insisted their three teenagers have never visited an Internet porn site either.
Did these parents know for sure their kids hadn’t visited a porn site? No, they didn’t know for sure. They based their conclusion on the fact that they were all good Christian kids. These two couples are like a lot of believers who think a Christian school and good church serve as a spiritual prophylactic guarding their children from the evils of the world. Unfortunately, by making sexual sins taboo and refusing to talk openly about them, those institutions often have the opposite effect on kids. Those two sets of parents may have been right about their kids. I hope they were. But it’s more likely their children know they’ll be severely punished if they admit such behavior and so they hide it and pretend sexual lust isn’t an issue for them. That keeps everyone happy.
Such misguided thinking is fed by the refusal of most churches to talk openly about the issue of Internet porn. People conclude since nobody else at church has kids or moms who dabble in porn, then it must not be a problem for their family either.
Churches Making a Difference
Fortunately, there are churches in which the pastor and leaders openly admit their struggles with sin. These are the churches that provide counseling and support groups for people to safely discuss and deal with their struggles. They talk about sexual sins just like they do other sins, depriving them of the power they have when they are considered taboo. They offer resources that enable everyone in the church to filter what they can access on the Internet while also providing accountability.
Our strategy to achieve sexual purity has to be like a laser-guided missile. These weapons constantly adapt to the changing terrain as they zero in on their target. Because the moral terrain is constantly changing, we must be adept in adapting as we pursue our target: sexual purity.