The “open letter” at right, by Chuck Swindoll, brings to the fore an issue that churches around the world have been loath to address, either privately or publicly: pornography!
An Open Letter Concerning the #1 Secret Problem in Your Church
Our churches are in significant trouble. I’m not talking about financial trouble, or having too few staff doing too many things. Comparatively, those are easy problems to solve.
This trouble concerns a severe disease that is eating away at our congregations, perhaps even some of our own leadership, from the inside out. Men and women, from adolescents to senior citizens, from all walks of life, have succumbed or are at risk, and more are becoming infected every single day.
The problem is pornography, especially Internet pornography. Without your knowing, it could be eating your church alive. And the scariest thing is… you may not realize the extensive damage it’s causing.
The most recent studies available suggest that 1 out of every 2 people—that’s 50% of the people sitting in our pews, are looking at and/or could be addicted to Internet pornography. The struggle is going on among those who volunteer in your church and mine. Chances are good that some of our full-time staff members, even some who faithfully serve on our boards, may be losing this secret battle. And while I’m listing these possibilities, let’s not overlook our young adults—married and single—who provide instruction among our junior and senior high youth. Truth be told, that statistic could be even higher.
Forget the red-light district or adult bookstore. Pornography has entered homes via the Internet more pervasively and subtly than any store or strip club ever did. The irony is that if an X-rated store was being established across the street from where you worship, you’d have a committee assembled to fight it immediately. Yet they’ve set up shop in the homes of millions of our friends in the church while we remain mute and passive.
Stop and imagine the ugly but very real possibility of some of your own elders and deacons leaving your meetings and going home to surf porn. Think about youth leaders viewing it one minute, and leading a small group with your kids thirty minutes later. It’s ruining marriages, destroying relationships, harming youth, and hurting the body of Christ. You hardly need to be reminded that fallen pastors and priests did not “suddenly” fall. More often than not, pornography played a role in their downward spiral.
My friend, it’s time to do something about it. In fact, we need to start today. Making a difference requires action.…
Our churches are in trouble. This is no time to simply wait and pray. Please join me in this battle for our young minds, our marriages, our leaders, and our churches.
This letter was originally posted at www.netaccountability.com/ver2/letter.cfm
On the rare occasions when this issue is addressed, the hearer often shrinks back. Our reaction is typically, “This is a sticky subject, best dealt with by professionals, by counselors.” Or else, “Oh, those perverts should all be locked up.”
Well, as a redeemed pornography addict, I can tell you that both of these reactions are locking millions of Christian men into a hopeless cycle of sin and remorse, never finding freedom.
How can I convince you that this situation needs to change, and change now? And change in the local church? By quoting even more statistics? No, by telling you my own story first. I wrote this testimony to help those who are struggling to break free of this terrible spiritual bondage. I wrote it for people who come to a ministry called Setting Captives Free (www.settingcaptivesfree.com).
Here’s my story:
Wow, what a great God we have. That I am alive and telling this story is evidence of His power. In a way, mine is a very ordinary story—I am just an ordinary Christian. But to me it is a story of extraordinary life. I grew up as an introvert in a typically modern dysfunctional family. Having a shyness with real girls, I gravitated to “girly magazines” to satisfy my curiosity in that area during my early teens. It became a habit very quickly. Soon I had a stash of magazines carefully hidden from prying eyes, and it was my substitute for the “real thing,” the girls that my brothers bragged about. I can recall somehow feeling self-righteously indignant at their moral infractions, feeling that my aberrant behavior somehow wasn’t as bad as theirs, though deep down I well knew it was wrong. What did frighten me was the power that my lust for these two-dimensional pictures had over me. I tried not to think about that too much, though. I was at the same time grappling with trying to understand the great Why of life and beginning to come into a primitive relationship with the Lord. Yes, a curious and contradictory situation, I know.
At the age of 19 I met a wonderful girl, fell in love, and we married 10 months later. All thoughts of and desires for pornography evaporated. I guess that’s not too unusual an experience, that the “real thing” displaces the fake substitute. At least for a time!
Over the next 20 years the battles with pornography were few and far between, having children, a loving wife, and seeking a full-fledged relationship with the Lord. However, my faith was extremely legalistic, and that was to eventually prove near fatal.
I say the battles with pornography were few and far between. In fact, often only fleeting. Accidentally finding Playboy magazines in a circumstance of privacy, for instance, and not being able to resist the temptation to peruse. That worried me, that I could never resist the temptation, but the times were infrequent and I found it better to try to forget, and to resolve to do better in future.
About nine years ago, during a time of great personal stress for both my wife and myself, we succumbed to the temptation together, rationalizing that “a little bit of voyeurism spiced up the sex life.” For her, there was no great moral problem, for she was still not a Christian, and anyway her interest soon waned. The turmoil for me, though, was horrendous. On one side, the utter condemnation of a vengeful and wrathful God (my legalistic church life!) and on the other the exhilaration and new heights of sexual pleasure after our relations had become stale with neglect over the years (I had not realized this neglect at the time, though, or indeed the fullness of joy God intended in sexual union between a husband and wife).
After several attempts to rid my bedroom and my mind of this material that was holding me in bondage, I soon became desperate. Each time I simply found the desire for this filth too much. I can remember the last year of this trial falling to such depths that on a trip to a church convention I took a detour of several hours specifically to pick up some more videos, and spent half the time at the convention praising God and the other half shaming Him and His beloved Son. The condemnation I felt both at my weakness and my hypocrisy, going to church, preaching even (in a very minor capacity), and yet falling back into sin again at night (no, I should be honest and say, diving headlong back into sin) was becoming too much. I had been taught by my church that obedience was the key, but it simply didn’t work, and, oh how miserable a creature I was.
Those last six months were a bitter period of my life. Every night as I tried to find sleep, the same image came clearly into my mind, the image of a gun at my temple, and the final blast, and silence. Oh, how I wanted to die. Thankfully, guns of any kind are rare in our country, let alone handguns. But thoughts of suicide as the only way out consumed my mind, when it wasn’t consumed by the pornography. I was even creating my own filthy images and stories in my mind, I was so obsessed. I realize now how deep the scars are that we carve into our minds with sin as it becomes an addiction. Soon thoughts of actually ending it all were taking clear shape.
Thankfully our little church was at the same time going through a mighty change, from legalism into grace. I think that this is was what saved me, for in the few rational moments left, I was studying these issues with our Bible study group and gradually absorbing some of this new knowledge.
But my misery was deepening. I had just a few weeks earlier been through the cycle of ridding my home of the porn, and then a few days later restocking, and I was feeling incredibly shattered at my total inability to control myself.
One evening I told my wife I was going back to work for a few hours to catch up. But I had a rope on the floor behind the driver’s seat, and I knew just where to tie it up out in the detailing shed at work, on a beam next to a high workbench. I realize in hindsight that I had not quite reached the bitter end that night, as I did not take the rope out of the car as I went in to work. But I went out to the back paddock, and just stood there and cried. After a bit I looked up into the crystal clear sky and cried out, “Lord, I can’t do it!” in desperation. And then it was that I heard, so gentle, so still and so small, His voice: “Yes, Rob, but I can.”
That was a revelation. It was like a divine awareness flooded through me. Of course I couldn’t overcome. That was impossible, me trying to overcome, even with His help. It was all back to front. I looked up and said, “OK, Lord, you do it.” The most powerful thing was the realization that He really loved me, even right there in the midst of my putrid sin. He loved me, tenderly, affectionately. Those five words were full of love. Wow, that was incredible. I had been struggling so much because I had always thought God hates me and detests me, and this locked me into the cycle of sin. Sin, self-condemnation, sin, self-condemnation….
I went home and rid myself of the disgusting material I had bought just a few weeks earlier. I had done this several times before, but always before with a feeling of regret at losing the objects of my lust. I had done it out of obedience to God, not desire for Him. This time it was out of desire and thirst for more of this divine awareness and joy! It was for Him alone. As soon as this all happened, I began to focus on Him, His glory, His Holiness, His purity. What a joy. And what freedom, freedom from evil desire, because He had given me desire for Him.
Now seven years later, I look back and see that every year has been one of growing strength and freedom in the Lord. Every now and then (but rarely now) the images flash back into my mind. But the chains are broken. At those moments I quickly flee to Him, to thoughts of my Savior, who saved my physical life that starry night, and who has saved me for eternity. And in Him I am still growing in grace and knowledge and strength. I have been set free! Praise our tender and merciful God.
May He be your salvation and freedom, too. This is my prayer for all who struggle as I did.
Rob Robertson Mentor Coordinator Ministerial Coordinator, Australian Division, www.settingcaptivesfree.com
Following that time in 1995, there was a period of growth, privately at first, but as the months and years went by, I grew bolder and began to talk to Christian brothers about my own struggles, helping them open up about theirs. However, the burning desire inside me was to be of some use to those many thousands of Christian men around the world in bondage to pornography.
In 1999, a stranger on a Christian newsgroup asked if anyone could share a testimony of freedom in this area. I offered mine and also asked what he wanted to use it for.
Mike Cleveland was a fellow traveler down this very bitter road. Having been an addict for 15 years, losing his first wife due to pornography, and being on the verge of losing his second, he finally agreed to counseling with his wife and pastor. Freedom, glorious freedom in Christ was the result of the sudden radical accountability, the radical amputation of the sources in his home and work, and above all the guidance into radical appropriation of Christ into his life.
Mike’s new passion was to take the battle back onto the very arena where the church was losing so badly, the internet. He had this crazy idea to create an interactive web-based Bible study course that would enable others to come to it daily and find encouragement, biblical truth, and a mentor—him! If only he could get this message of grace out to one or two other sufferers, that would be reward enough. Mike asked me to join him in this venture. At first I declined, thinking, “Nope, this is a bit flaky, Mike, but bless you brother, use my testimony, and go for it!”
Next thing I knew it was 12 months later and Mike had 15 men who, having found freedom in Christ through guidance from Mike and the course, have joined him in mentoring other men who were now flocking to the site in the hundreds every month. Mike called out yet again, and I realized that this is what God had been calling me to all along.
I have now been mentoring those seeking release for three years, being privileged to personally walk beside dozens of men as they stepped out of their chains and into blessed freedom, men who were on the verge of losing marriages, even men who were secretly living homosexual double lives, men who were near to suicide, just as I was nine years ago.
The testimony is always the same—Jesus does save! All that is needed is for the message to go out!
This passage from Romans 10:10-15 (ASV) sums it all up:
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things!
Verse 14 particularly strikes me here: how indeed will those in secret bondage to their lusts be able to believe that freedom is possible unless they are told this from the pulpit, unless the issue is dealt with boldly and yet gracefully?
Since I came clean to my own congregation and neighboring congregations about my former struggles, this issue is no longer taboo, and men who formerly struggled privately are now experiencing victory, knowing they are not alone in this. So often, and so predictably, men think it is “just them,” that no one else in the world is this perverted. Oh, how the cover of shame deceives and locks the prisoner away so effectively, seals him off from any hope of freedom (1 John 1:5-10). And how the shedding of light so effectively shatters this deception, and brings hope and freedom so swiftly.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have the means of bringing release to precious men and women (yes, women, too, though not as often). Setting Captives Free now has courses for those struggling with pornography addiction (Pure Freedom), teen strugglers (Purity Force Challenge), homosexuality (Door of Hope), support for spouses of those in the other courses (United Front), as well as courses already developed dealing with alcoholism and smoking. All these are offered free of charge, enabled by the fact that all the mentors (now over 400 worldwide) offer their services free of charge, compelled by the grace they themselves have been overwhelmed with, Jesus, the Living Water. There are books available both on the web site and also in your local Christian book store.
In almost every congregation, people are suffering in silence. Will embarrassment prevent us from addressing this issue that has crippled the witness of the Christian church over the past two decades? Or will we step into the fray and reach out with grace and power into the lives of these precious men and women, desperately but silently crying out for freedom? Help for the sufferers (and resources for you, the helpers) is freely available.
- Secret Sins of the Heart, David A. Wagner (Essence Publishing)
- The Exemplary Husband, Stuart Scott (Focus Publishing)
By Rob Robertson, elder in Bendigo, Australia, 2003 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Rob Robertson