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Enemy in the castle

A ‘perfect storm’ of porn slams church leaders

By Michael Leahy

For years now, I’ve looked on as wary church leaders and their tech gurus waged an endless war on the growing threat that Internet pornography represents to their congregations. Like laborers digging ditches and building moats around the King’s castle, they’re dutifully committed to protect the inhabitants (their staff and congregants) from letting this powerful force intrude on their lives. So they tweak their network security settings, firm up their firewalls, and install the latest site blockers and content filters, all in the hope of keeping the enemy and his latest weapons from breaching the castle walls.

But what if the enemy is already inside the castle? What then?

In much the same way our nation has learned how to fight differently in the global war on terror, the church needs to change the way it thinks about the credible threat that pornography poses in creating a culture where sexual exploitation is the norm. One of the new realities we must face is that, more often than not, those who pose the greatest risk to our churches are already among us, and may have been for years.

Shocking example

Consider the case of Robert Tate, a respected music director for 34 years at a prominent church in Greenwich, CT. Tate created an internationally renowned music program at the church where former President George H.W. Bush attended while growing up. But two years ago, at the age of 66, he was convicted of possessing child pornography, sentenced to five and a half years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. And it didn’t stop at discovering child pornography on Mr. Tate’s laptop computer. Prosecutors said he also permitted two sexual predators to remain in the church’s choir at various times. Tate rehired one person as an assistant organist who had been dismissed earlier for sexually assaulting a choirboy. Yet, when he became aware that the organist assaulted another choirboy, he failed to tell authorities.

Stories like this are becoming ever more commonplace. They’re the product of a perfect storm I’ve been warning church and ministry leaders about for years. In short, I see three equally potent and damaging storm fronts colliding simultaneously to create the unstable environment we all now face: (1) the influence of hypersexual media in establishing and normalizing new sexual norms as portrayed through music and entertainment (including adult and so-called mainstream media); (2) enabling technologies, which accelerates content development and broadens distribution; and (3) socio-sexual pathology which takes root as long-held sexual norms and values continue to erode and give way to valueless, sexually exploitive standards.

But that’s just one example of a multi-faceted problem the church now faces. According to a recent NationalChristianPoll.com survey, more than a quarter of Christian women have experienced sexual harassment, and of those, one fourth said it happened in a church or ministry setting. And no wonder; it’s been reported that more than half of all church pastors and ministers have struggled with sexual temptation and sexual sin.

Next generation leaders in the emerging church, men and women in their twenties and thirties, consider sexual temptation and sexual sin their number one struggle, and the lure of Internet porn easily tops the list. The new reality in this area of risk management is that we’re well beyond talking about prevention. Instead, the conversation should focus on restoration and steps our people should take to reclaim their sexual integrity.

The war is not over

The war is far from over. Fortunately, church and ministry leaders can employ new tools and concrete steps today to guard and protect staffs and congregations from threats on both sides of the castle walls.

The following are a few requirements for your immediate to-do list.

1. Make an individual and organizational commitment to being totally transparent and fully accountable today.

As a church or ministry leader, you owe it to God and to those you lead and serve to be building an organization that is totally transparent and accountable to others. That starts with you leading by example. Be prepared and make sure your leaders are ready to submit themselves to the same transparency and accountability measures and procedures that you’ll be asking others on staff to follow.

2. Conduct a sexual integrity and accountability audit.

Lately, I’ve had many more in-depth and confidential conversations with senior pastors, church elders and other ministry leaders who are growing increasingly concerned about the potential litigation risks they face in the area of sexual misconduct. My response to them is always the same: Facts are friendly, so conduct a sexual integrity and accountability audit to see where things really stand. It’s simple and straight forward, and at a high level it can often be accomplished in less than a day.

3. Get everyone trained and using Internet accountability software.

In one evangelistic ministry organization with which I’ve worked, 99 percent of their male staff and 95 percent of their female staff consider sexual temptation to be their number one sin struggle. Internet porn use is increasingly being cited as the root cause of staff discipline and dismissals, as well as a major factor in disqualifying new staff applicants.

Yet that same organization hasn’t yet made it mandatory for all staff  members to use Internet accountability software to help hold themselves accountable for where they go and what they do while surfing the Web!

Personally, I’ve been using a net accountability product called Covenant Eyes for the past seven years as an integral part of my recovery from a debilitating sexual addiction that cost me everything. I know I wouldn’t have made it this far without it. Knowing now what I didn’t know then about how naive and vulnerable we can be when faced with the schemes of the enemy, I just can’t imagine anyone in full-time or part-time ministry not using an accountability tool. My life without it was a constant struggle in this area. But with platform installed on my laptop computer and even my iPhone, I live in freedom every day from my addiction and I allow myself to become more fully known to others.

4. Establish a set of benchmarks and best practices that you can use over time to measure your progress and evaluate your results.

Be sure to start with an Internet AUP (Acceptable Use Policy). Add more details to it wherever necessary, but be sure to communicate these changes clearly to your organization, including the processes and disciplinary procedures to be followed in the case of policy violations.

Without a doubt, protecting your church staff and the church’s mission is getting more complicated and becoming a far riskier proposition. With your strong leadership, clear communications, and putting the proper tools and training in place, you can expect to mitigate those risks and sleep better at night regardless of where the enemy attacks next.

Michael Leahy is an international speaker, author and founder and executive director of BraveHearts, Herndon, VA, an organization the fights global sexual exploitation. [ www.bravehearts.net ]

RESOURCES FOR BATTLING ADDICTION

Porn Nation: Conquering America’s Number One Addiction (Northfield Publishing, 2008)

Porn@Work: Exposing the Office’s Number One Addiction (Northfield Publishing, 2009)

Porn University: What College Students are Really Saying About Sex on Campus (Northfield Publishing, 2009)

Leahy has also shared his compelling personal story with more than 100,000 students on 150 college
campuses worldwide in a multimedia presentation called “Porn Nation — the Naked Truth.”

For more information visit www.bravehearts.net.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

With so many inappropriate Web sites and Internet temptations, what we do impacts our lives offline.

How does Internet accountability work? Covenant Eyes Internet monitoring service scores Web sites visited for mature content and sends a summary report to a person you choose. This friend, spouse, parent or other person you select is your Accountability Partner, and they receive your reports by email or may view them online.

Removing the secrecy changes how a person surfs the Web. Online accountability provides new strength. [ www.covenanteyes.com ]

For more information on Sexual Integrity & Accountability Audits sponsored by BraveHearts and Covenant Eyes, visit www.bravehearts.net.

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