On this latest Mailbag installment of the For the Church Podcast, Jared Wilson and Ross Ferguson answer your submitted questions and topics. This episode features discussion of: pastoral priorities, church first impressions, thoughts on church “vision,” planting vs. revitalization, tailoring worship songs for generational attraction, how to know if you’re called to ministry, and what “threat” Christian nationalism might pose to the church.
Pornography is not often talked about in the church, but pornography is often on the minds of many church members. Pornography is a growing pandemic, and it is only getting worse. It is reported that 93% of pastors see it as a much bigger problem than it was in the past. As the Church, we need to ask ourselves, “What are we going to do about it?” It isn’t an “out there” issue, it is an “in here” problem that needs to be confronted with truth and grace for both the addict and the fallout victims it leaves in its wake.
Roughly 200,000 Americans meet the classification of a pornography addict, which equates to roughly 40 million people visiting pornographic sites regularly. With statistics like that, it is easy to see this as a cultural issue. But before we merely label it as a cultural problem, we need to acknowledge that this is also a problem that exists in the Church. It touches our church members. It even touches the leaders of our churches. Barna reports that 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors currently struggle with pornography—and those are just the ones admitting to it. As a side note, it isn’t just a male problem, either. One in three pornography users are women. Pornography doesn’t discriminate.
Pornography is unrelenting in its pursuit. Not only does it come for the addict, but the repercussions of this addiction also leave victims in its wake. As a pastor’s wife, I have had more than my fair share of conversations about pornography. My conversations have less to do with the addiction and more to do with the fallout on the other side of the addiction—the spouse of the addict. The spouse feels betrayed and broken by an addiction that isn’t her own, yet she deeply feels the repercussions of it.
Sexual desire and the act of sex was created by God for His glory and without shame within the marriage relationship. Pornography, in contrast, lives in the shadows surrounded by shame, guilt, doubt, and powerlessness. It feeds off anonymity provided by the internet and easy access, with the push of a button. It rewires the brain and short-circuits normal hormonal responses. With repeated exposure, the brain shrinks. There is no drug to push, smoke, drink, or snort, but rather pornography exploits the normal natural functions of the body. The “Father of Lies” entices us to use what God calls good in a way that it was never intended to be used (John 8:44). The truth is that pornography is a lie, and it uses your own body against you.
Pornography is pervasive and as the Church, we must address it, discuss it, and speak truth to the addict and victims. How do we do this? No one article can answer this question, but I seek to suggest a starting point. There are three truths that must be a part of the conversation about pornography.
1. God is bigger than pornography.
If you are an addict, it is difficult to believe that God is bigger than this addiction. It surely doesn’t feel that way if you are a wife, who for the second or third time has caught her husband using pornography. The Bible tells us that we have truth on our side. In Christ, we have overcome this world. Because of our faith in Him, He gives us victory and the desire to do His commandments (1 John 5:1–5). We are more than conquerors, and nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37–39). God has also given us His perfect Holy Spirit who promises to help us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). This Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us completely (1 John 1:9). There is nothing in this world that God can’t overcome. God is bigger than pornography.
2. Pornography is a sinful addiction—treat it like one.
When it comes to pornography, we use words like “issue” or “problem” rather than calling pornography a sin, a highly addictive sin. In February 2023, Covenant Eyes wrote an article on how pornography impacts the brain. The author stated, “The cravings experienced by someone hooked on porn can be like the cravings of a drug addict. The chemical pathways of the brain designed for sexual pleasure are rewired to seek out porn instead of real sex.” Pornography is a natural addiction, which means that although there is no drug to put into your body, the chemical responses of the brain change because of it. We have an enemy whose goal is to keep us addicted and in bondage. Acknowledging this enemy and his lies is the first step to freedom.
3. Community is necessary to overcome this addiction.
The community plays two roles in this addiction-redemption process. The first role is for the addict. Pornography causes shame and regret and causes you to feel powerless. The addiction grows in isolation and multiples when left alone. Your brain may be tattooed with pornography but there is no visual sign that you are a pornography addict. Barna reported that 55% of pastors who struggle with this addiction live in “constant fear of being discovered.” The fear of being found out pushes you deeper into the addiction cycle. Shedding light comes as you invite a safe community into your struggles. If the power that drives pornography is secrecy, then the power that removes it is exposure. The secrets that shackle you are blown up in the light of the Gospel and a community focused on the Gospel! We need discipleship and accountability to move forward.
The second role community plays is support. I have observed the power of the community to embrace those impacted by pornography. Those who are connected to addicts may also feel shame. They need the light of a safe community to understand, embrace, and bear their burdens. It is important to remember, those you invite into the trenches need to be believers. You need people who will point you to Christ. This may include a Christian counselor who is trained in trauma and addiction recovery. When you are hurt and broken, you need people who will speak the truth in love and keep redirecting you.
These three truths are a starting point. There is so much more to say about this addiction. One article won’t solve the problem, but it can at least start the conversation. Sexual sin is not new to Christendom. It has been a part of the story since the Fall. The question that we must ask today is, “How are we going to confront it?” As a Church, we must meet the addict where they are and call them out with a compassionate desire for their repentance and redemption. For the fallout victims, we must see them, recognize their hurt, love them well, and bear their burdens. No one is immune and the only vaccine to this pandemic is the truth of the Gospel.