We’ve watched news coverage of tsunamis hitting Indonesia, Thailand, and most recently, Japan. A tsunami is a metaphor we can apply to the effects pornography has on each of us. Tsunamis cause wholesale and nationwide wreckage that will take years to overcome.
The statistics of the impact of pornography on our cultures and selves are too depressing to quote at length. Suffice it to say that, at least in the U.S., seventy to eighty percent of Christian men rate “more than attracted” to “addicted at some level.” The numbers of women expressing this same tendency is rising as well. Even among our children, most are exposed and using by the age of 14.1 What should our response to this be?
In one sense, by the time people are entering their young adult years, it is too late to focus development on any planning strategies, because the wave has already arrived. We need to recognize this reality. While I cannot go into detail in this article, what is needed is a set of responsive strategies which encourage us to holiness and personal purity.
Reacting to Pornography in the Church
If we accept the percentages quoted above, we can accept the assumption that the majority of our church and culture has been impacted to some degree by pornography. If that is the case, then many of us are in recovery from pornography. If this does apply to us, then we are bringing this secret out of the darkness and into the light. “Into the light” means acknowledging to others that we are struggling with, or growing through, the effects of this problem. In our weakness we, through “He,” will become strong.
How would moving from pornography as something we avoid to something we need to break free from change our conversations, trainings, and caring? First Thessalonians 4:3-5 says: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen.”
Certainly we are called to avoid it, but that is only part of the story; the rest of the story is to learn to control our bodies and desires. For people who enter the church with pornography in their backgrounds, teaching them to avoid it to begin with comes too late. Our approach needs to be embodied in confession and accountability with support.
Recovery from the effects of pornography is not a one-time treatment. It is not a pill we take, a book we read, or therapy we undergo just once, and then is finished.
It is a lifelong call to holiness, seeking to replace the memories, images, and lusts of inappropriate sexual content with holy thoughts and images of biblical truth. Is this possible? Of course. But it requires a constant commitment to personal purity and accountability to someone other than ourselves.
Waiting until people have fallen or discovered to have fallen usually means they are put into a therapeutic program. These programs are good and needed, but we should be focusing our efforts on intervention earlier in this process. This is where accountability and purity enter. Certainly, people who have fallen need accountability groups and processes and need to re-establish commitments to personal purity. But we, as leaders ourselves, need to seek personal purity as part of our regular lifelong spiritual journey.
Pursuing Personal Purity as Leaders
So where do we, as leaders, start?
- We need to make a commitment to our own personal purity, no matter the cost. The reality is that some of us are deep in sin, which is compromising our ministry and witness. “Coming clean” may have a significant impact on our marriages and families, not to mention our ministries and ourselves—but it is something we must do.
- We need to find a few people who will walk alongside us. These must be people to whom we can be accountable, and who will keep asking the hard questions. They become our confidantes, confronters, and encouragers.
- We need to begin a lifelong journey of following Jesus with all of our thoughts and feelings. What we watch comes out of our thoughts, by which I mean that our thinking usually serves to drive us toward activities. If we are thinking impure thoughts, we will be drawn to impure actions. Maybe not in a one-to-one relationship, but it can sure pave the way to perdition!
Acceptance and Accountability
Sexual sin is an abomination to God, whether it is in our thoughts or our actions. As long as we keep so many of our sexual thoughts, desires, and urges to ourselves, we are leaving the door open for the evil one to create lies and distortion. Sexual sin has been around a long time, and we need to see the whole of biblical history as the arena where people dealt with sexual sin and got on with life.
Can we accept each other as sexually sinful people—people who struggle with attraction to Internet pornography, and fail, and then get up to pursue personal purity again? And again? Certainly there may be consequences for leaders who are dealing with personal sin. Some leaders will be removed, and probably should be.
But we need to keep our work in proper perspective. It isn’t what we have achieved or what we have done that will count for eternity. What matters is our personal relationship with Christ and how we tried to live and for whom we are striving to live. As leaders, our hardest struggle may be choosing to be accountable in regards to personal purity.
But freedom from sexual bondage brings freedom from oppressed feelings, a life of integrity, and a connection with our divine Lord in a new and glorious way. May God bless your journey to personal purity.
1. Statistics from a presentation by Tim Davis, executive director of Pureheart Ministries, given at the Care Connexions conference in Portland, Oregon, USA, on 2 April 2011.