Pornography shows up on ministry computers as well as anywhere

It’s centuries-old advice, but it’s still the best response to encountering porn — turn and run from it.

By Ronald E. Keener

Michael Leahy knows of what he speaks. He was addicted to pornography. On the first page of his introduction of his latest book, Porn @ Work: Exposing the Office’s #1 Addiction (Northfield Publishing, 2009), he notes that “70 percent of all online porn access occurs during the nine-five workday.”

Churches and pastors and Christians aren’t immune from porn. Steve Siler, director of Music for the Soul, a Nashville-based ministry, has released “Somebody’s Daughter: A Journey to Freedom from Pornography” in a DVD/CD multimedia compilation featuring a TV documentary detailing the lives of three men and one couple active in Christian ministry who struggled with and overcame addiction to pornography.

Church Executive asked Leahy to respond to some questions about porn and its pervasiveness even in the offices of pastors and church staff:

Can you cite evidence about the prevalence of porn being accessed by pastors?

The most commonly cited evidence came from an informal poll taken on that cited somewhere around 40 percent of pastors surveyed responded that they had viewed Internet porn within the past couple of months. Based on my own personal experience talking with pastors and church leaders, it’s becoming a major problem thanks to the availability, affordability and anonymity of Internet porn.

Is prayer or self-control important in avoiding porn?

It’s an important part of an overall strategy for recovery, but I have yet to meet anyone in my past 10 years of recovery from sexual addiction who’s been “delivered” from this addiction simply on the basis of prayer alone. There’s always an aspect of repentance associated with being set free from this addiction or habitual sexual sin. Prayer coming from someone without a truly repentant heart is rarely effective.

How should pastors counsel church members using porn?

“Flee sexual immorality,” plain and simple. Turn and run. For those members who they suspect might be addicted, they should definitely refer them to a certified Christian counselor who has at least a 40 percent caseload of patients with sexual addiction. I’ve heard too many stories of people getting bad counsel from pastors and counselors who aren’t familiar with the unique challenges associated with this disease of the heart.

While there are individual success stories about overcoming porn, what hope can we have for eliminating porn in our culture?

Practically no hope. Pornography and sexual sin has been around since long before the time of Jesus. So while I believe it’s hopeless to imagine a world free of porn, there is hope for those Christ followers who have the courage and determination to resist sexual temptation.

How do you counsel people who say they can walk away from porn?

Usually people who say they can just walk away from porn whenever they want to are deeply involved with the material and have no intention of giving up their habit. In other words, they’ve never really tried to give it up. To them, I just say “good luck” and tell them that more than likely we’ll be talking again some day, perhaps after they’ve lost everything and want to get well.

What are the three major trends you say are converging to create a high-risk work environment?

Our hypersexual media, emerging and enabling technologies, and the pervasive sociosexual pathologies are all coming together to create a kind of “perfect storm” where disorders like sexual addiction are flourishing, both at home and in the workplace. It’s something we need to be talking about as a society; how we’re all becoming enablers of this cancer that’s spreading across our land.

How does a man approach his wife about being addicted to porn — and still keep his marriage intact?

Very carefully. This is a perfect example of where the benefits of an experienced, professional Christian counselor are invaluable. There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to break the news to your spouse. Just unloading all your “stuff” at once so you feel better is a good example of what not to do.

Briefly, how does one recognize a sex addict at work?

It’s not easy, but there are definitely tell-tale signs that a person looking for such a thing will notice. I coach leaders and HR professionals as well as pastors to pay particular attention to an individual’s inappropriate sharing of their sexual beliefs. That’s a lot harder to pick up on in a church setting as compared to a secular business, where such sexual small talk may be more acceptable. But in both environs, there’s always a combination of symptoms that will show up as declining work performance, habitual lateness, missed meetings, large blocks of unaccounted for time, increased irritability, and the like.

What should a church do to counsel or help men overcome the porn problem?

To begin with they need to realize that it’s not just a problem that guys have. Women make up more than 40 percent of all new admissions to in-residence sexual addiction recovery programs. Of the 40 million daily visitors to pornographic Web sites, a third are women.

To offer real help, churches need to work at becoming a “safe place” for men and women to come forward and seek out help and resources. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every church should have a recovery group program or even have a counselor on staff. But they should know what churches in the area do have those resources, and they should be willing to refer their people and church attenders to those programs and individuals.

As for sermons that reach the whole church, we’ve had a lot of success by using an interview format where the pastor and I sit down together on stage before the congregation and he prompts me through the sharing of my story and the hope and help I found in Christ. We’ve used a similar style of casual but rehearsed conversation in our BraveHearts Men’s Conferences as a way to share the power of story.

Last January 10 churches in the Atlanta area promoted this one night conference as a father-son event, and we were all amazed as we noticed that among the 1,200 who attended, the group was pretty evenly split between men and boys. Several of the pastors later confided in me that while they were excited so many teens showed up, their strategy was to use this approach to reach the men who they knew needed to hear my message the most — and it worked marvelously.

How does porn change or confirm a man’s view of women?

It typically influences a man’s view of women (and a woman’s view of men) starting at a very early age — typically 12 or 13 for boys and 16 and over for girls — as they’re exposed to porn for the first time. When kids are exposed to porn they’re also exposed to a belief system that is highly sexualized and objectifying of both women and men. It’s definitely not the picture of relationships and healthy sexuality that one sees in God’s Word.

Do churches have any legal liability that comes from porn on their computers?

Absolutely, and that’s something the pastors I talk with seem to be unaware or unconcerned about: The risk of costly litigation due to claims of sexual harassment and/or harboring a hostile workplace environment. I think we’ve all seen how costly sexual sin can be when it hits the courtroom as we’ve watched the Catholic church grapple with a long history of pedophile priests. Even though they were and are an extremely small minority, its cost the church far more than the hundreds of millions of dollars we read about in the headlines. Its eroding the confidence and support of the faithful.

What do you mean in your last chapter: “Tackling the problem of sexual misbehavior at work is really about restoring respect for the individual.”

Those who willfully consume porn and commit sexual sins lack respect for themselves and others. They denigrate God and our very humanity through their disrespect and selfish consumption of that which doesn’t belong to them — the sexual essence of another. These are lessons we can start teaching our kids at a very young age.

What are we missing in this whole topic that you’d want to share?

Pornography and the issue of sexual sin is just a small part of a much larger issue, that of an enemy hell bent on doing whatever it takes to try to defraud God of the glory he deserves. While this area of sexual sin is unquestionably the biggest factor keeping men on the sidelines and out of the game God intended them to shine in, overcoming such lifelong sin habits can also equip our spiritual leaders with one of the most powerful personal testimonies a man can have. The sooner the church recognizes that fact and becomes a “safe place” for those who see their sin condition and want to get well, the sooner we’ll be able to turn the tide on this epidemic of sexual sin in the church.



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