san diego—The approximately 1,200 Christian pastors who attended the National Pastors Convention came to San Diego to renew and revitalize, but not, apparently, to talk about potential porn addicts in their congregations. Only forty people, four of them women, turned up for the seminar called The Dirty Little Secret: Understanding and Fighting Pornography. Perhaps they didn’t like the statistic from Christianity Today magazine that seminar leader Craig Gross often cites: one-third of pastors struggle with their own involvement with porn.
The thirty-year-old porn-fighting pastor with shaggy hair and earrings, wearing a tight zipped top and baggy jeans, is undeterred. He opens with video clips documenting the success of the “Christian porn site” he operates from his hometown of Corona, California, along with another pastor, Mike Foster—their appearances on Good Morning America, on local news shows. He mentions Missionary Positions, a documentary film about their crusade.
For a porn addict to change, they argue, he—unsurprisingly, most addicts are men—has to look in the eye of someone he’s disappointed. The site offers X3watch, a free program that allows you to designate two people to receive reports containing your web-browsing history, automatically busting porn-site visitors. More than 150,000 people have downloaded the program, which isn’t a lot considering about 71,000 visit the site daily, but the pastors are familiar with the David and Goliath story. “We’re the 72,000th most popular site on the web,” says Gross. “My wife thinks that’s crap and we should be in the top ten, but I think it’s pretty good.”
Church basements are filled with alcoholics and drug addicts seeking help, and ministers spend hours helping adulterous parishioners, but few church leaders want to talk about pornography. Foster, a thirty-five-year-old with short hair and big glasses, says the call to fight porn came to him when he was in the shower, praying. Neither he nor Gross had a history of addiction or knew much about cyber-porn, but they saw that churches were ignoring the issue. “Porn is a huge issue that millions are dealing with,” Foster says, “and the church is talking about making better PowerPoint presentations.” The original strategy behind xxxchurch.com was to draw in porn fans. Instead of finding a theologically themed porn site, they would find probing questions about their habit and offers of support to help break it. There was a prayer wall, stories, statistics. Gross and Foster eventually realized that waiting for people to stumble onto your site was a lame strategy.
Instead, they started pulling media stunts. They went to the biggest porn expo in the US, in Los Angeles, and handed out out Jesus Loves Porn Stars postcards. They bickered with the fundamentalist Christians who were protesting the expo by promising eternal damnation for all who participated. The strategy worked. Local news gave them coverage, as did the powerful 700 Club Christian TV channel. (When host Pat Robertson heard Foster suggest that if Jesus were around today he’d be at porn shows, the proposed piece on their work was pulled. It eventually ran on Robertson’s day off.)
The emails posted to the pastors’ website tell a disturbing tale. One woman saw porn as a gateway to other evils: “Videos turned into 900 numbers, Intranet—[sic] porn, and eventually, adultery…. I dressed up for him. He was always happy because we had sex every day. It was the only thing that made him happy, but I was dying.” From addicts, there were familiar-sounding tales of sadness: “Let me tell my story of slavery.”
If you didn’t grow up with computers, Gross argues, you don’t understand the pervasive, addictive, and ultimately corrosive nature of modern porn. Most people’s understanding of porn is twenty years out of date. “It’s not just nudie shots. It poisons your ability to connect with a woman,” Gross says. “This is the first generation brought up on cyber-porn.” In their work with youth groups, the pair found that kids were eager to talk about the problem because it was part of their lives in one way or another. It had become the new issue teens couldn’t discuss with their parents.
Foster and Gross realize that two pastors aren’t going to bring down a $13-billion (US) industry. But, they argue, if you can’t go to God for help, where else can you go?