The Number One Secret Problem In Your Church – by Ed Bryant

t1larg.christianporn.cnnThe following essay was written by Ed Bryant for his Personal Foundations for Spiritual Formation class on December 18, 2014.

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Introduction

With the invention of the internet and the subsequent digital technology to instantly transfer an image and distribute it to millions came a blessing and a curse.  The internet opened a new venue for the porn industry to sell sex on a world wide scale to men and women.

Statistics show that countless numbers of people are daily consumers of internet pornography, and the trend continues to grow as more and more people get hooked.  Porn addiction is a wild fire burning out of control.

The sad reality is that this hidden addiction is an epidemic in the Christian community as well.  A recent survey, conducted by the Barna Group, has revealed shocking information about how prevalent porn addiction is in the church.[1]  Way back in 2003, Chuck Swindoll wrote an open letter to the church concerning “the #1 secret problem in your church” and warned that “without knowing it, it could be eating your church alive.”[2]  The attraction is not confined to the pew either.  A staggering percentage of clergy (pastors and priests) and lay leaders have admitted to a pornography problem.

This paper will discuss porn addiction under the following heads: The anatomy of addiction; addiction and gender; facilitation of addiction; the fall out of addiction; and help for the addict.

The Anatomy of Addiction

Simply stated, addiction is the end result of repetitive behavior involving the gratification of disordered desires or lusts.  It follows the path and progress of sin delineated in Scripture:

“Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.  These desires give birth to sinful actions.  And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

What begins as a curious attraction snowballs out of control and takes over a person’s life.  An addict has surrendered his will to lust and become obsessed with something that preoccupies his thoughts and time.  The Bible accurately depicts the nature of this addiction:

“They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity” (Eph.4:19).

“They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied” (II Pet.2:14).

The path to porn addiction begins with making a wrong choice based on a distorted desire fueled by temptation.  Entertainment of the temptation to view sexually stimulating images quickly becomes an irresistible desire that “boils over into action.”[3]  With the appeal come promises of pleasure that seduce the will until it caves in and yields.  Once the temptation process has taken hold a person’s judgment is temporarily clouded and impaired.  He cannot think straight while his thoughts are dominated by the powerful desire for sexual gratification.  The only thing which the addict cares about at that moment is satisfying his lust.  If he is a Christian, he forgets God his Savior (Psa.106:21) and that sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph.4:30).   He cannot think clearly enough to resist the temptation (James 4:7) nor has the will to flee (II Tim.2:22; Gen.39:12).  His desires overpower his devotion to Christ (I Tim.5:11).  Afterwards, the realization of what he has done sets in.  A sense of shame, guilt, and self-loathing follows in the aftermath of yielding to temptation.[4]  The promise of pleasure was momentary (Heb.11:25) compared to the painful aftermath.   The self-defeating cycle of lust, temptation, yielding, and remorse is repeated over and over as the addiction develops.

Why does one become a porn addict or any other sort of addict for that matter?  It has been said that some individuals just have an addictive personality or predisposed bent toward addiction.  Their genes and family history has prewired them for becoming an addict.  While this maybe true, addiction tendencies have also been linked to how a person was nurtured and cared for very early in life.  Unmet needs from insensitive parenting, neglect and abuse, the lack of unconditional love, warmth, and touch play out later in negative behavior.  Addiction is one way people cope with the painful wounds from their childhood.   They turn to their desires to try and fill what was lacking in their early lives.  In their quest for comfort and fulfillment they turn from God to look for “intimacy substitutes.”[5]   Addiction is actually “anything that repeatedly replaces our need for an intimate relationship to God.”[6]   Whatever a person becomes addicted to (gambling, food, alcohol, drugs or sex) takes the place of God in their life.  It is no coincidence that Sunday is the most popular day of the week for watching pornography.[7]  Millions have decided to sacrifice a relationship with God for the pursuit of pleasure (II Tim.3:4).

Porn Addiction and Gender

Traditionally, women have not shown as much interest in pornography as men.  Women felt exploited, objectified, and degraded by porn images.  There has been a change, however, in the consumers of pornography since the internet came along.  Porn addiction is no longer a problem only for men, but statistics show that women are also being sucked into this swirling vortex of sensuality.  The 2014 Barna survey revealed that 42% of women between the ages of 18-30 view pornography are least monthly.[8]  Statistics in 2012 showed almost one-third of all internet porn users were female.[9]  To meet the challenge of reaching even a greater segment of the female population, purveyors of pornography are creating a new genre of “female friendly” porn that appeals more to a woman’s tastes with more emphasis on relationships and emotional intimacy.[10]  Interestingly, the findings of modern science are validated by the porn industry which recognizes the “gender gap.”  No matter what the culture says, women are different from men in other ways than just physically.  A woman is psychologically different from a man because her brain is wired differently.[11]  Female British author, E. L. James, understood this when she wrote the best and fastest selling erotic romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey that has sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

Facilitation of Porn Addiction

Children who grew up in the 1960’s during the sexual revolution were generally protected from exposure to pornography.  If a kid wanted to sneak a peek of a naked lady he would have to shame and embarrass himself before the store personnel and customers to pick up a Playboy from the magazine rack of the local drug store.  The fact is that most kids during that generation were outside playing and having fun all day with virtually no opportunity to get sexualized at an early age with pornographic material.  The last thing they wanted to do was stay inside their home.   Being sent to one’s bedroom was considered a punishment.  Today, however, the opposite is true.  Young people spend much of their time indoors looking at screens- TV, phone, or computer and frequently alone in their rooms unsupervised.  The average age for a first time exposure to porn on the internet is 11 years old.[12]  The danger of pornography lies in its ease of accessibility which can be done quickly and in secret.  The same applies to cable TV which offers porn under the guise of “adult” programming.  Anyone can access pornography nowadays in the privacy of their own home that can operate a remote or keyboard.  Add to this that internet pornography is affordable and anonymous, and that the trend of the culture is to condone rather than condemn porn,[13] and society has a recipe for disaster.

The Fall Out of Porn Addiction

The destructive consequences of porn addiction are well known and documented.  Space does not permit a comprehensive treatment of this aspect of pornography, but rather a brief overview of a few facts will be presented.

  1. Devastation for the individual- Everyone knows that a pornography addiction escalates from bad to worse with time. A person addicted to porn eventually becomes desensitized and bored with “normal” pornographic images and must have more and more “hard core” or deviant forms to maintain the level of excitement.  Therefore, as the addiction escalates to this depth of corruption so does the hidden thought life of the individual.  For example, a man who has been making a steady diet of pornography cannot look at a woman without mentally undressing her and making her feel that she is a “sexual consumable.”[14]

The compulsive use of pornography produces biological changes in the brain.  “Repetitive, high-emotion, high-frequency experience” changes the neural circuitry in the brain to “perpetuate the behavior.”[15]  The brain adapts neurologically which further fosters the addiction.   Neuroscience reveals that “all addictions create, in addition to chemical changes in the brain, anatomical and pathological changes which result in various manifestations of cerebral dysfunction . . . reduced to its simplest description, is damage to the ‘braking system’ of the brain.”[16]  Brain loss occurs in the frontal lobes responsible for judgment and control.  A porn addict exhibits impaired judgment and lack of inhibition due to the changes in his brain.  Here is why an addict will risk losing his job to view porn at work.

  1. Devastation for marriage and the family- Porn addiction corrupts the ability for true intimacy and leaves a husband less emotionally attached to his wife and less sexually responsive.[17] The more men use pornography the more discontent they become in their marriage, leading to real-life adultery, separation, and divorce.  Pornography has destroyed an untold number of marriages.  Wives who have been married to a porn addict report the feelings of betrayal, mistrust, and anger toward their unfaithful spouses.  They require counseling and therapy just to handle their overwhelming emotional devastation and deep psychological wounds as victims of their spouse’s cybersex addiction.

The damage done to the family by porn addiction is tragic.   When this behavior takes over in a home environment 40% of marriages end in divorce and 58% suffer financially because of job loss or other sin related set backs.[18]  The fall out for children is especially sad.  They silently suffer, looking on while the relationship of their parents disintegrates, and their home life turns into a living hell, all because of porn addiction.

  1. Societal devastation- The impact of pornography on society is alarming with rampant sexual permissiveness, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexually violent crimes.  Children are not safe anymore even in their own neighborhoods because of a rise in the number of pedophiles prowling the streets, looking for their next victim to molest.  Whenever a child has disappeared and is later found murdered, it is certain to have been committed by a person addicted to internet child pornography.  The police always seize the computer when the perpetrator is arrested and without fail child porn images are discovered.  Porn ignites lust which explodes into despicable actions difficult to conceive.  The unprecedented rise in crimes against kids is one of the horrific outcomes of porn addiction.

Pornography is linked to increased crimes against women as well.  A perverse form of internet porn involves sexual violence.  A video game popular with teenagers depicts a man beating a prostitute with a golf club.[19]  Women have been sexually assaulted and raped in broad daylight by men who just got off the internet.  Many men have been conditioned by pornography to imagine that a woman wants to be raped.   Their aggressive sexual behavior and perverse thinking can only be attributed to the corrupting effect of porn.

  1. Spiritual devastation- Porn addiction is a hidden moral cancer that is slowly metastasizing within the body of Christ with serious long term consequences on the spiritual health of its members, to say nothing of the impact on ministry. Porn addiction is the new leaven secretly permeating the church (I Cor.5:6).

Christians who are habitual consumers of porn have a weak impoverished spiritual life at best.  They cannot be in fellowship with God at the same time they are viewing pornography.  Their disconnect from God leaves them empty and depressed if they belong to Christ.   The sin cycle before discussed plays out each time they succumb to the temptation.  No one is more miserable than a Christian who is addicted to pornography.  Languishing under a guilty conscience and sense of shame in the wake of falling again into this cycle of sin leaves the Christian feeling worthless and unlovable before God.  He has been robbed of his peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:8-12).   He cannot accept that God accepts him when he has an appetite for porn.  These are the issues a porn addict struggles with who also professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  The spiritual turmoil, unrest, and pain that possess the Christian who is in bondage to porn are generally different from the experience of a non-Christian porn addict.  Although he may experience some smiting of conscience, the unbeliever does not experience the intense internal civil war that marks the Christian who has the Holy Spirit within (Gal.5:17).  The sinning Christian descends into the depths of spiritual darkness because he does belong to Christ.  This is the Holy Spirit’s way of bringing a Christian to his spiritual senses and producing repentance.  No Christian who uses porn will ever be coddled by the Holy Spirit while indulging in sin.  Can a porn addict hope for change or is the condition impossible?

Help for the Porn Addict

The final discussion of this paper is the most important section, because here is where hope is extended to brothers and sisters in Christ who have been caught in the web of internet porn and have not been able to extricate themselves.   Their addiction calls for outside intervention and help from above.

There is hope of breaking the sin cycle for a porn addict because nothing is impossible with God.  The same grace that has transformed sinners into saints throughout history is still operative today.  Although the Christian porn addict does not need to be born again, he does need the work of the Holy Spirit to move in his life to enable him to become what Christ designed him for.  Change is not only possible but probable if the addict is willing to take certain steps toward recovery.

First and foremost, he must cut off the temptation to view pornography by eliminating the source of temptation.  Paul speaks about putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:13).  Killing sin will be painful.  A cherished lust does not easily die and appears at times to be galvanized with immortality.  Jesus put it best when He talked about gouging out an eyeball in order to avoid lust (Matt.5:29).  He is to be understood as saying that a person should go to any extremes necessary to shun sin no matter how painful or costly.  Applying this principle to the porn addict, one may have to get rid of the computer altogether or turn off the Wi-Fi.  Whatever it takes to defeat this temptation must be done without hesitation.  How serious is the defeated Christian in getting control of his feelings and desires?  Is he willing to go to any lengths to break free?

The next thing he must do is align himself with a community of believers and get involved in being a part of “God’s family” (Eph.2:19).  Church involvement “means the development of intimate, healthy, long-lasting relationships with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ.”[20]  The church as a family implies a close knit community of people who take care of one another and experience the love of God in tangible ways.  Within the church family there is a mutual sharing of burdens and needs.  The family of God is a refuge for God’s children, a place of safety and healing.  Christ has equipped members to minister to those who are weak and broken by sin.  The best place to be as a porn addict is in the church.  Rather than leaving the church out of shame and retiring into isolation, he needs to put himself where there is an outpouring of God’s grace. In the church family he can find both the unconditional love of God and encouragement to deal ruthlessly with his sin.   There is help in the friendship of a few close brothers that he can confide in and regularly meet with for accountability purposes, but he must be willing to humble himself and become vulnerable.  The brethren will stand with him and travel with him down this road with love and support.

To renew his mind and rewire his brain, the Christian must spend time in the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse away the accumulation of filth and set him on a new course of obedience to Christ.  The hope for change is to be found in the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Christian must take steps to do his part but the victory over this sin will come through the work of the Spirit, renewing the mind, inclining the will toward obedience, and changing the desires of the heart.

Satan will suggest to the defeated Christian that he cannot be forgiven nor could God love a wretch like him.  This is the typical modus operandi of the enemy.  He delights in bringing on doubts that cast God the Father in a negative light.  Unfortunately, the Evil One more often than not succeeds in convincing God’s children that they are no longer loved, accepted or forgiven.  The answer to all of the Devil’s wicked insinuations is to go back to Scripture and remind oneself of what God has said.  Porn addiction is not the unpardonable sin.  Jesus said that “every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven” (Matt.12:31).  Nothing in all creation, including the sin of addiction to pornography, can separate a believer from God’s love in Christ (Rom.8:39).  God’s love is the most unconditional reality in the universe.  Man can neither attract nor repel God’s love by anything he does (Hosea 14:4).  The despairing Christian must remind himself and the Devil the truth of Romans chapter eight and verse one: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  Sin was paid in full when Christ died.  The debt has been cancelled forever.  Jesus endured the condemnation of sin in His own Person when He gave Himself to suffer and die for sinners.  God cannot punish sin twice.  If Christ has already endured the penalty of sin then there remains nothing more to fear for those who are His.  Christians must never allow Satan to get into their thoughts with falsehoods that dishonor the Savior.  Any suggestion that detracts from the perfection of Christ’s work is devilish and should be met with the Word of God.

The Christian struggling with porn or any other besetting sin that trips him up in his journey toward the heavenly city should recall that his temptation is no different from what others experience (I Cor.10:13); that he is more than a conqueror in Christ (Rom.8:37); that God is for him, so who can be against him (Rom.8:31); that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Phil.4:13); that this battle belongs to the Lord, and He will fight for you (I Sam.17:47; Exo.14:14); that the godly may trip seven times, but he will get up again (Prov.24:16).

A Christian porn addict can quit sinning because the Word of God says that he no longer has to obey the dictates of sin but can choose to obey righteousness instead (Rom.6:6,12-14).  He can say no to sin and yes to righteousness.  Believing this to be true is absolutely crucial to victory.  There is hope for change because of the finished work of Christ and the present work of the Holy Spirit.  Satan, on the other hand, wants the addict to think that his condition is hopeless so he will remain a slave.  The mental health community offers little help or hope to a porn addict, but Jesus Christ sets people free from sin (John 8:31-36), including the sin of pornography addiction.  His mission to save His people from their sins (Matt.1:21) includes breaking sin’s power and setting the prisoners free.  Jesus gives hope to anyone and everyone bound by a sinful practice that has become an addiction nightmare.  “In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles” (Psalm 34:6).

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Works Cited

  1. 2014 ProvenMen.org Pornography Addiction Survey (conducted by Barna Group).
  2. Charles Swindoll, “An Open Letter to the Church,” 2003.
    www.blazinggrace.org/open-letter-from-chuck-swindoll (accessed December 12, 2014).
  3. Class lecture, October 23, 2014.
  4. Class lecture, November 6, 2014.
  5. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy, Attachments (Brentwood, TN: Integrity, 2002), 72.
  6. Clinton and Sibcy, 163.
  7. Robert Weiss, “The Prevalence of Porn,” 2013.
    http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/05/the-prevalence-of-porn (accessed December 10, 2014).
  8. http://www.provenmen.org/2014pornsurvey/pornography-use-and-addiction (accessed December 8, 2014).
  9. Weiss.
  10. Weiss.
  11. Robert L. Saucy and Judith K.TenElshof, eds., Women and Men in Ministry (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 234-36.
  12. Weiss.
  13. Class lecture, November 6, 2014.
  14. Class lecture, November 6, 2014.
  15. Donald L. Hilton, Jr. and Clark Watts, “Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective,” 2011.
    http://www.surgicalneurologyint.com/text.asp?2011/2/1/19/76977 (accessed December 10, 1014).
  16. Hilton and Watts.
  17. Class lecture, November 6, 2014.
  18. Pat Fagan, “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community.”
    http://www.frc.org/onepagers/the-effects-of-pornography-on-individuals-marriage-family-and-community
    (accessed December 10, 2014).
  19. Grand Theft Auto
  20. Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009), 223.
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