Pastors and Pornography
Paul Kendall more from this author »
During World War II, Nazi Germany dropped pornographic pamphlets from the sky over enemy territory. The reason: to distract the soldiers minds with fascinations causing them to ignore the front line. This has been the strategy of porn from its inception; while we fight the diversionary tactic of pornography, the enemy rolls in behind our backs and destroys our homes. It is time to change our battle plan.
Imagine conquering an entire nation in less than sixty years by simply planting a destructive seed in the minds of a few men and watching it spread to the masses. That is what Satan did through the likes of Hugh Heffner and Bob Guccione in the 50s when Playboy and Penthouse became nationally distributed magazines. Over the years, images of nude women and men engaged in sexual acts have jumped from the pages of embarrassing to purchase magazines to the privacy of our own personal computer screens. Today, US porn revenue exceeds the revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC combined and contrary to its previous consumer group of mostly adult males; its largest consumer demographic today is 12 – 17 year old males and females.
Jesus knew that something as small as gazing at the bait would lead to total entrapment (Matthew 5:27-28), and studies of pastors and porn certainly prove this to be true for many. Statistics indicate that nearly half of America’s clergy admit to viewing porn (Barna Research). Some ministers have admitted to viewing porn during breaks from their sermon preparation. Studies show pastors can be particularly vulnerable to porn addiction, in part because of the nature of their work. Running a church can be lonely, high-demand, and deeply personal work with little tangible reward, and pastors are notoriously without close friends. In today’s world especially, pastors spend more and more isolated time in front of a computer—certainly for research and sermon composition. But because the computer is easily accessible and typically isolated from others, a pastor could begin to turn there for entertainment and diversion. Pastors who then allow any unresolved anger, boredom, loneliness or other issue to fester unabated within them can feel a strong need to “anesthetize” themselves, and porn offers a quickly available, secret solution. In short, porn can offer an effective—albeit very sinful—response to a truly legitimate need within the pastor for companionship, excitement and connection with something outside their daily grind.*
Churches can even enable addicted pastors with what William White calls “organizational incest.” The term is defined in an article published in the July/Aug ’07 edition of Rev! magazine:
Churches prone to this dynamic often place intense stress upon their clergy staff with nearly impossible expectations. Generally, they provide minimal personal support. There are strong no-talk rules about sexuality while other boundaries are breached. The more tightly the system contracts upon itself, the more depleted and suffocated the participants become and more likely sexual boundaries will be violated. The final step for the isolated, depleted, rigidified clergy person in such a system is a sexual violation of church boundaries. Even if professional boundaries are not violated, the dual relationship catalytically disrupts the organization by focusing and concentrating simmering feelings of resentment, alienation, and deprivation among other staff members. Ultimately, the incestuous church institution collapses in upon itself and implodes.*
Like anesthesia, pornography seems to deaden its victims’ sense of reason, replacing wisdom with justification. Excuses for viewing online porn vary almost as much as the methods used to cover it up. For a single person, it may be “something to hold me over until marriage,” not realizing that it is subtly destroying his or her ability to maintain proper intimacy. For the married user, the excuses vary from “My spouse doesn’t meet my needs” to “My sex-drive is much higher than my spouses’, and porn provides a balance.” Pastors may use a variety of excuses such as “Surely God will allow me to view porn in order to stay married; certainly my marriage is more important,” to “I think God understands my predicament, and His grace is sufficient to cover it.” Some pastors will even say, “I know it’s wrong, but I’m not supporting or spreading pornography because I don’t purchase adult content—I only view what is free on the Internet.” (However, most online porn now operates under an advertisement-based model, i.e., merchants pay website owners for traffic derived from their sites via banner and text ads. Basically, every single time a user opens a pornographic website, he/she makes a contribution to Satan’s war fund.) In any case, pornography is a long-term distraction, keeping its users from dealing with the real issues at hand. Without it, they may be forced to find proper solutions, but with it, they risk spending the rest of their lives in dysfunctional relationships and the tyranny of isolation.
Ministers who find themselves involved in porn usage rarely preach on the subject, obviously because they feel like hypocrites. How clever for the enemy—capture the pastor, and you just may get the whole church. Think about it: If the statistics are true; at least half of the churches in America hear little to nothing at all about the dangers of pornography. No wonder it is spreading like wildfire. Indeed, ministers go to great lengths to hide their problems with porn, hoping to make it to their graves without exposure. But here’s a sobering fact: Every moment spent in porn use has consequences that will require a reckoning—either in this life by embarrassing exposure, or at the laying open of all things when we give an account to Christ. Will you allow this to happen?
Let’s settle something once and for all: Viewing porn is a sin, and a pastor’s use of porn is the pastor’s ultimate responsibility to address and rectify. But there is a better option than earthly exposure or ultimate judgment: deliverance. It is absolutely possible to be delivered from the grips of pornography and sexual sin.
Unfortunately, a single, simple prayer typically won’t be enough, and neither will an “accountability buddy” or an Internet filter. Anyone smart enough to hide their porn habit from the world is tech-savvy enough to fool his buddy or a filtering system. There are two effective steps to deliverance, and both are absolutely necessary for success:
1. Realize the fullness of your sin and the damage it is doing to you, your family and your church. Admit that you are powerless over a sin that has gripped your life. Make a solemn commitment never return to it, and immediately distance yourself from anything that enables your use (including late nights alone with your computer or mobile device, inappropriate chat and, if you’ve gone that far, visits to the wrong side of town).
2. Find a porn recovery program that works for you. If porn addiction was something a pastor could easily end on his/her own, there wouldn’t be a need for studies that produce those staggering usage statistics. Although certainly a spiritual issue in part, we’ve shown porn addiction is often the result of a pastor’s poor choice to cope with their much deeper, personal issues. There are now several online recovery programs specifically for pastors that allow them to remain anonymous if absolutely necessary. A pastor simply needs to type the words “porn recovery program for pastors” into a search engine to find one of these programs. An appropriate program should include counseling options for both the addict and the addict’s spouse. Your real-life spouse cannot (and shouldn’t have to) compete with a fantasy.
As you fight the good fight, remember the strategy of porn. Satan doesn’t want your fantasy life—he wants your home and the homes of your parishioners. Begin a counter assault on your enemy and use every means at your disposal. Refuse to be destroyed. Pastors who address their porn usage with desperate honesty, bravely forging ahead to accountability, can experience the “good” God intends for these circumstances (Genesis 50:20). And going the distance to full recovery and healing can transform the problem into a God-given rebirth of a pastor’s heart, health and marriage.
Resources and Support Ministries
Celebrate Recovery, a nationwide, Scripture-based 12-step ministry of Saddleback Church and author John Baker.
New Life Ministries, an online and nationwide counseling ministry dealing with addiction issues, started by Steve Arterburn, author of the Every Man book series.
Clergy Recovery Network, a porn recovery ministry specifically for clergy.
Sexaholics Anonymous, A 12-step program for those who struggle with pornography and sexual addiction.
Sex Addicts Anonymous, Another 12-step program for those who struggle with pornography and sexual addiction.
* Earle & Wells, “Pastors and Porn,” Rev! magazine, July/Aug 2007