Craig Ross in his book The Dirty Little Secret: Uncovering the Truth Behind Porn shares stories about several people he has encountered who have seen their addiction to pornography escalate.  Sharing a story about a Christian involved in ministry who started looking at porn, then went to strip clubs, then became involved in private dances with the dancers, and then saw escorts.  It started with porn.  He wanted more and more.  He has since spent at least $20,000 on his addiction.

This man is scared of getting caught.  He says that he would stop if “I had one person to confide in, this would all stop tomorrow.  I know it because I don’t want to do this.  I have kids now.  I have a ministry.  I have people who look up to me, and I feel like they don’t know me.  Sin has controlled me and it sucks.”

Gross asks why doesn’t this man tell someone?  “Fear.  Disappointment.  Consequences.  Failure.  And it would mean he would have to stop.”

This man isn’t alone.  Unfortunately the church, by and large, hasn’t helped.  Gross goes on to write:

Christians and religious establishments send a cold message to sexual addicts.  Sexual addicts are left with the options of accepting their behaviors and facing the emptiness or dealing with being pegged as a freak.  From the point of view of a sexual addict, they only see judgment and harsh punishments when confronted with the options of confessing everything and changing.  They fear being ostracized – like once they come clean, they need to knock on their neighbors’ doors or get up in front of a congregation and admit they look at porn and be forever branded a sexual deviant.

What has happened to grace?

What HAS happened to grace?  For instance, is it appropriate to fire pastors and youth pastors when they confess to looking at pornography as some churches have done?  Does that help or hurt?  Would we treat other types of sin this way?

I’d love to read your thoughts.

32 comments
  1. “What HAS happened to grace? For instance, is it appropriate to fire pastors and youth pastors when they confess to looking at pornography as some churches have done?”

    This is the verse I think of..

    Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. -James 3:1

    ..I think that it is an act of grace to encourage a pastor to pursue another means of income while they are working on getting free from their addictive behaviors.. teaching the gospel is a privilege not a right. Unfortunately many pastors are not trained to do anything else and, like Ted Haggard, they drag their churches into their shame as they are unwilling to relinquish the spotlight.

  2. Another thing that popped out from the post..

    “I feel like they don’t know me”

    ..transparency and vulnerability are so needed.. most preachers that I have heard never let people in to their failures and present a view that they do not have problems.. big problem when they set themselves on a pedestal.

  3. I can appreciate that ministers are people, too. They are subjected to temptation just like anyone else. I know the ministers in my family aren't perfect.

    That said, allowing a minister to retain position in the church looks like tolerance to me. I don't think a person should be ostracized (unless they have victimized their congregation).

  4. The fact of the matter is, almost every male struggles with this issue to some degree, simply because of the way God designed men. When the church's primary response is to ostracize and shame those who succumb to these powerful temptations (or even to those who are honest enough to admit they want and need help resisting them), it loves poorly and sends the message that these men are on their own, that they are not willing to walk through deep waters with brothers in Christ and learn more of who God is and who He longs to be in their lives. Sadly, the entire body of Christ is diminished by this significant failure.

  5. My thoughts. This is a hard one. I think that if a person asks for help and is not treated like family, then it is a “religious institution” more than a family – and that person should go where he/she will have family in the Lord who will stand with them in their struggles. Rather than seeing grace as something that PEOPLE give to us, we must see grace as something God has ALREADY GIVEN us in Christ and will never take away. Grace is between us and God – no one can take it away. Challenging subject. I know that anyone who judges or condemns in a manner that is not of grace – is just being human. We've all done it and will continue to slip and fall into that sin of being judgmental. The best “cure” for a person struggling with any sin is probably to be honest about it, state it clearly, ask for help, gravitate away from those who are judgmental, get in a healing community. As we mature, we are able to give grace. A person should not openly share with people who are judgmental. I would say that there are healing communities, there are groups of people struggling with the same issues who will understand. Go there with those problems. And, hopefully, we can all learn and grow.

    Here is the truth of the matter. Maybe we don't all struggle with pornography. Maybe most of us have never progressed as stated in this from pornography to participation in that adult industry. But, the truth is, we have ALL sinned in this area in one form or another. It's human nature. So, remember that when people judge. The people who judge have sinned in this same area in different, or the same ways, and not one of them is without sin. Only Jesus never sinned – and He does not condemn us.

    But, the fact is, that there should be an accountability partner. A person in a sin like this must have an accountability partner to keep them honest and to partner with them to provide strength in the two where strength is lacking in the one to resist that sin. Promise Keepers might be able to help. There has to be some kind of help available even if a person decides “not to tell” their own church leaders. Still, reach out where it is safe to reach out.

    I think leaders must remember that FIRST they are people BEFORE they are leaders. Don't get caught up in the “I'm a leader” trap. Have enough grace to realize that God didn't put you in that position so that you would stop being a person. It's out of the person who you are that leadership, when it's real, comes. So remember to be a person. The whole problem may rest in no longer seeing yourself as a person first. To see yourself as some sort of superhuman leader is really, imo, a false self-image.

    I don't think I'm in any position to say what should or should not be done relative to leaders in specific situations or generally. I do know that I watched many people act like Todd Bentley was just the absolute worst thing ever because he divorced, etc., then remarried. I thought it was way out of range how he was treated and how people judged him. I think people put way too high expectations on leaders, the more I thought about him over time. It's like they stopped letting him be human in their eyes. To me, if people were not idolatrous, if people did not exalt leaders – and if leaders did not see themselves as “superhuman” and no longer just real people who God is working through… probably we wouldn't have such issues and our churches would be more Christlike all along. There should be no pedestals near pulpits.

    Grace.

  6. Well, if the guy REALLY really REALLY wants someone to confide in– there's no demand that you gotta be Catholic to go to confession, and the buck stops there.

  7. Tough subject to counter – but something has to be said – plus I think we need some guidlelines when dealing with sexual addictions.

    (a) Ideally, this man should of been loving his wife and showering that attention on her – and I know this can be hard to do after many years – but this was his initial mistake (went to outsides sources for fulfillment).

    (b) Porn was the gateway to bigger and worse things – not that porn in and of itself is very destructive (it can be – as is in this case) – but this was something to be shared (if anything) between the couple – not to exclude one or the other from any form of sexual intimiacy…mistake number 2

    (c) The graduation from the watching porn to actually get 'hands on' and seeing escorts and going to strip clubs is where I think the movement into 'action that effects other' started to truly occur. Lives start to get ruined at this point – from his wife/family to the people he's messing around with. It's very irresponsible to think watching porn and getting lap dances are the same thing (as he likely thought – all sin is equal)…well they aren't – getting into lap dances and escorts is more along the line of actual sexual deviancy the bible outright forbids (fornication or adultery). Mistake #3 – not understanding the severity of certain actions.

    (d) He kept this hidden – he knew this was wrong to be fooling around in (shame I am guessing). No accountability means no one is going to help you measure this out correctly and let you know limits and problems involved (or about to happen). Mistake #4.

    Does it mean he should lose his position as a leader in the church? Yes. The actions part of this deplorable – were talking taking advantage of people in industries they truly hate (stripping and escort) and he put this shame on his family…if anything he should be happy his wife doesn't leave him – nevermind his job.

    I am all for grace – I am not saying he leave the community – but he needs to know he needs to make the things right he also made wrong…including what happened in those strip clubs and with escorts (even saying 'sorry' might be a nice start). I believe in the process of repentance and nothing less – repentance is 'grace' as far as I am concerned (the chance to change is what he is being given by the community – in which we support him).

  8. WIth all the publicity about sexual abuse by priests and sexual dalliances of pastors over the past few years, the apparent lack of “grace” on the part of churches which required that their ministers meet high ethical standards is understandable. The path to grace in this instance is just as Kansas Bob described – “to encourage a pastor to pursue another means of income while they are working on getting free from their addictive behaviors”.

  9. I think it really depends, now in the case of the guy who dropped $20K absolutely. A pastor who got caught up looking at porn for the first time who desires accountability, I think that is too harsh and actually will be counterproductive in promoting transparency.

  10. The guy who dropped $20K and it had progressed to actual physical contact I completely agree with you.

    We need to see a difference between a guy who gets caught up looking at porn for the first time, and Ted Haggard who obviously progressed beyond that.

  11. Agreed Cathy, there is a time and place where leaders would need to step down from ministry. Like the example of the guy who dropped $20K and was beyond just looking at porn. I think as well as a repeat offender who is not repentant.

    The problem I have is that some churches just fire a pastor without any though of restoration, and forgetting that this church he served is his spiritual home as well.

  12. Accountability is essential, and I'm not saying that pastors should never be dismissed. Being harsh though kills accountability and the transparency that most churches would desire in their leadership.

  13. I wasn't really addressing the guy who dropped $20K – he definitely would need to step out of his position for recovery/restoration sake and focus on his marriage.

    There have been churches that have dismissed over first-time offenses of looking at pornography, and that I think lacks grace.

    There obviously needs to be repentance and accountability as well.

  14. I think it needs to be measured – we shouldn't treat the pastor who admits to looking at pornography, especially a first time offense, the same we'd treat a guy who solicits a prostitute.

    How are we to encourage pastors (and other men for that matter) to confess and seek help when we levy harsh discipline right away.

    Church discipline is supposed to be restorative, and that goes for the pastor as well.

  15. What kind of sin would not influence a congregation negatively? Even though all sin turns away God's eyes from us, does one sin hurt a people more than another? Two former pastors had affairs and were asked to leave. If they had stayed, would it have hurt our congregation, helped our congregation? Can we learn more from the present pastor who has been faithful in his marriage of 25 years or from the one who failed and either remarried or healed his broken relationship?

  16. Please hear me that I'm not saying pastors or church leadership should never be dismissed due to conduct. I would fully expect pastors who have affairs to be dismissed, but I would also expect the church to continue to provide care for him and his family. Discipline should eventually lead to restoration of those who repent – if not in that particular church, then somewhere.

    I'm mainly wanting to address the type of environment where somebody can't confess a problem with pornography before it leads to something like this. I guarantee you that there were gateways to those affairs where if addressed earlier they wouldn't have happened.

    Not always, but often times that is the case.

  17. Yes, it's a challenging subject. David had an affair, had the husband murdered so he could marry Bathsheba, and God brought the prophet to discipline David – yet did not remove David from being king. David repented. David did not continue having affairs and having husbands killed. Samson had affair after affair. For a period of time, God allowed His anointing to stay upon Samson. But as Samson continued, the anointing was taken from him. What can we learn from those examples??

    I have a decision to make as a person who attends churches. I can always decide to leave if I do not agree with how leaders handle a situation with a leader. But those who are in leadership working with leaders have a weighty responsibility towards the people. We go to church to be fed – not necessarily to be there to carry the person who falls when they are in a position that requires them to feed others. Those in leadership dealing with the sin have responsibility to make certain that the people are being fed. So, it's a complex subject and varies case by case. I won't weigh in on specific cases because it's not my responsibility. But you raise good points – and you ask us to think things through. It's positive to think them through. Grace to you.

  18. You have mentioned this idea of “first time offense” several times Shane.. seems a bit of trivializing the effects of pornography.. but maybe I am not really hearing what you are saying.

    I really thought you were talking about someone addicted to porn. Seems like addictive behavior is the issue.. but maybe I am missing something? Of course addictive behavior can be identified the first time it is detected (i.e. check out their computer).

  19. Chicken and egg thing here Shane.. pastors (an others) who are vulnerable and transparent protect themselves from getting entangled in sin.

  20. I was talking about two different people in this post. The first guy mentioned was someone who was a sex addict and his dismissal would be appropriate.

    The questions and the quote from the book was dealing with how we handle the problem from the get go – had this person early on before it became such a problem had a safe environment to seek help would that have made a difference?

    I think so. I don't mean to trivialize it, and I'm not saying don't provide accountability but if the knee jerk reaction is to fire a person who is looking at pornography w/o it progressing to soliciting sex online or going to strip clubs, etc – pastors who are struggling will be less apt to come clean.

    There, of course, are all sorts of variables – is the person repentant, etc. Did they confess or did they lie and then caught later on? Etc. There are ways to provide discipline & accountability without resorting to dismissal (accountability groups, required counseling, elders check history on computer in church, install software on all computers, etc.).

    There needs to be grace shown, and to treat somebody who has looked at porn and confessed the same way we'd treat a pastor who committed adultery would be inappropriate.

    Even if that pastor ends up being dismissed – discipline should still be restorative. How are they seeking to care for that pastor or has he and his family been shunned by the church? Are they helping him find gainful employment so that he can provide for his family?

  21. Thx Shane.. I agree with your perspective.. thx for giving more detail. There are great stories out there.. know of one where the porn-viewing offending youth pastor was demoted to janitor and spent a few years being restored. He was a great example of humility and was restored to full pastoral ministry.

  22. Bob, you are implying, albeit unintentionally I'm sure, that somebody who has looked at pornography is automatically a potential pedophile.

    That person shouldn't be treated any differently than a pastor who doesn't. Unless they are looking at child pornography, and that is a whole different deal since it is a criminal offense, and obviously would lead to pedophilia.

    Minus the above, if they are repentant – counseling, accountability partner, a program like Covenant Eyes on their home and work computers, submit to random history check (especially on mobile device if they have them).

    If they can't agree to that, then I would doubt true repentance and I think they then open themselves up to dismissal.

  23. By young people I meant teens.. and I was thinking about 2 youth pastors who got involved with young girls.. I met one of them as I ministered at a prison.. he was an inmate doing 5 years for the relationship with that teen girl. The other pastor lost his job after a year of probation.. it broke my heart to see him lose his job.

  24. I figured that is what you meant. There's more going on there than just porn – like improper boundaries with opposite sex students.

    I was just saying because a youth pastor looks at porn doesn't mean he's going to have an improper relationship with a girl in his youth group. So at the front end of discovering a youth pastor has looked at porn he shouldn't be treated as though he's a sex offender.

    If he crossed that line, well being fired from his position is the least of his problems.

  25. I just did an interview with a pastor who confessed his struggle to his whole church. They were very receptive to him and showed a lot of grace. Granted, he also confess to his wife and close accountability partners first, and they helped him gain a measure of victory over the underlying sins that fed his addiction. But I found the whole story very inspiring altogether – http://www.covenanteyes.com/blog/2009/04/17/cov

    I also have a 5-part interview with a worship pastor and his wife about his porn addiction and case of adultery. Very interesting story: http://www.covenanteyes.com/blog/2009/05/26/pod

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