When my grandfather was a boy, porn was something that was, for most people, hard to come by. It was the postcard passed around, the naughty story shared. While there was a sex industry—prostitutes, strip clubs, and the like—for most people this was the dark side of society, a place they never visited, rarely talked about. It was certainly not mainstream.
How things differ! Over the last century our society has changed significantly, and not always for the better. The most striking change is the sexualization of our culture. As a boy growing up in Sydney’s liberal Newtown in the 80s and 90s, porn was still fairly hard to come by. There were the ‘adult’ shops, The Hub (a XXX theatre), and of course the brothels—but these were frequented only by those on the edge of society. We knew about sexually explicit videos, and heard rumours about which classmates had managed to nick one, but I personally never came across any. Our local newsagency had a whole table devoted to porn magazines, but to more than glance at these risked being discovered by nosy neighbours (or being questioned by the owner—I know this one from personal experience!).
So, like my grandfather, as a kid my exposure to porn was fairly rare. Today, however, the sexualization of our society has brought pornography everywhere. And it’s not just the internet. The morning video hits show depicts men and women in sexually explicit poses, and apparently every TV show, beer, soap and beauty product needs an almost naked body to sell them.
Without doubt porn is killing us. It’s ruining us as lovers. It’s addictive. It’s training men and women to use each other, rather than love each other. It’s divorcing sex from love, relationships and self-sacrificial service. It’s killing healthy body image, and causing both men and women to betray those who are closest to them—their wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. It’s destroying marriages. The victims of porn are everywhere: the young men and women stripped of their dignity to be part of the industry; the husbands and wives betrayed; our children as they grow up with a distorted and evil understanding of sex. And we mustn’t forget the men and women enslaved to porn—they’re also victims. Porn is a cancer on our society. It’s everywhere, and it’s in your living room. It’s a cancer even in our churches.
According to some statistics, 50% of Christian men, and 20% of Christian women are addicted to porn.1 Another survey found 60% of church-going Christian men had looked at porn in the last year, and 25% in the last 30 days.2 The statistics are even worse for our clergy: according to one survey 30% of pastors surveyed had viewed porn in the last 30 days.3
The statistics are almost unbelievable, until you start asking the men and women in your church about their own struggles. Time and time again, as I speak to my friends, those in my church, and my colleagues, the statistics are not far wrong.
What are we going to do about it?
At Campus Bible Study4 we’ve recently partnered with Covenant Eyes to provide their accountability software to every student and staff member who would like to use it.5 Personally, I have Covenant Eyes installed on all my computers and iPhone. I’ve installed Open DNS on our work and home router, which filters out the particularly bad sites.6 These are good tools, but, quite frankly, they don’t deal with the real problem.
With this in mind, I recently read two books that offer hope: Eyes of Integrity by Craig Gross, and Captured by a better vision by Tim Chester. Neither book offers a magical solution, neither book is perfect, but both are good and helpful.
Eyes of Integrity: The Porn Pandemic and How It Affects You
Craig Gross, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2010, 192 pp.
Craig Gross is co-founder of XXXchurch.com, “a non-profit organization that exists to help people of all ages who are being assaulted by pornography”.7 This US organization wants to help men and women suffering from porn addiction, as well as those in the porn industry. One of the many ways they help people is by providing accountability software called ‘X3Watch’.8
Gross starts by giving a history of how porn culture has lead to a pornified world and a pornified church. It’s truly horrifying. Craig poses the question: “How bad is it?” The answer? It’s bad. It’s very bad. It’s so bad it makes you want to weep.
Gross then moves to answering the question: “What can be done about it?” Through helpful stories and strategies, Gross takes us through the particular issues facing both men and women, and gives helpful advice on protecting your marriage, setting up an open family dialogue about the issues, and creating a healthy work environment. Of particular help is the chapter entitled ‘Beating the Porn Pandemic’. Gross outlines ten helpful, practical steps you can do immediately to help beat the addiction. He then shows how as a Christian culture we can tackle this problem head on.
Many books that set out to help those suffering porn addiction tend to ignore women who are addicted, either framing the problem as a men-only issue, or acknowledging the fact that women also suffer but failing to offer any real help. Gross avoids this problem and has a chapter devoted to equipping women for sexual integrity.
Another interesting and helpful aspect of the book is seeing the porn industry as people who need help. It is easy to rant and rave about the evils of this industry, but Gross helpfully shows that it’s an industry full of broken sinners who are in pain, often from broken families, who Christ died for in order to save. It is good to be challenged about how to share Christ’s love with those in this industry.
However, this book has one glaring problem. It’s not Christian. Now, please hear me carefully here—the authors are Christian, and by all accounts godly men. The book is aimed at Christians, and aims to help Christians. There are Bible verses throughout the book. So if the authors are Christian, and the book is aimed at Christians, and the book uses the Bible, why would I say it’s not Christian?
I say this because the solutions the book suggests are not Christian solutions. They’re not Christ-centred, nor driven by Christ. The solutions are entirely pragmatic. Why does this matter? A Christ-centred solution helps us anchor our understanding of sexuality in God, and thus how God has given us the solution in Christ. However, this does not mean the book’s solutions are not good solutions. In fact, I found them very helpful. The great news is that God’s good grace rests on all our world, and so solutions to problems—even Christian problems—can be found outside the sphere of Christianity.
I like this book. This book is a helpful book. I recommend you read this book. Gross is a wise man who has spent many years helping people addicted to porn. It would be foolish not to listen to his advice. But bear in mind, the helpful solutions the book offers will help the Christian, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Jew, and the atheist equally. They may be dressed up in Christian clothes and language, but they aren’t distinctively Christian.
Captured by a better vision: Living porn-free
Tim Chester, Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2010, 176 pp.
Tim Chester is a leader of ‘The Crowded House’, an international church planting network based in the UK. In Captured by a better vision, Chester exposes the lies and deceptions of porn, inviting us to be fully free, and showing positively and practically how this can be possible in daily life.
After setting out the pervasiveness of porn in his introduction, Chester sets out to tackle the problem in five steps. They are:
1. Abhorrence of Porn: Chester gives us twelve thoroughly Biblical reasons to hate porn for the destructive evil that it is—and they’re good reasons! The book is worth the price for this chapter alone, but it gets even better.
2. Adoration of God: After pointing out how horrid porn is, Chester focuses our attention on God—porn addiction is a false idol, and God offers so much more.
3. Assurance of Grace: One of the beautiful parts of this book is how Chester keeps pointing us back to the love of God. Our loving Father not only loves us and wants us home, but has sent Jesus Christ to make us right with God. The great strength of this book is how Chester works hard to motivate his readers by God’s grace in Jesus, not by guilt.
4. Avoidance of Temptation: Having set-up the biblical framework to understand porn, Chester now moves to some very practical ways of dealing with the problem. He urges us to flee temptation, break the cycle of masturbation, and gives us ten weapons to deploy in this battle.
5. Accountability to Others: The final step is to create a community of Christians who are holding each other accountable and supporting each other. Chester helps us think through how to tell our spouses about our struggles, how to challenge each other, and how to create a community of grace, where people feel confident to confess their sins, knowing that sin is serious and unacceptable, but dealt with through Jesus Christ on the cross.
Chester finishes the book with his strongest chapter, ‘Freed for the glory of God’. In this chapter he sets out a Biblical framework for understanding human sexuality. He sets out to help us long for the endless joy of God’s good gifts to us. He is not content to see only the ugliness of porn, but wants us to see God’s vision of beauty, sex, marriage, singleness, and above all the glory of God.9 It’s a brilliant chapter. It lifts our eyes to the glory of God, and how wonderful his framework for sexuality is. It leaves us longing to live God’s vision, and seeing the perversion of God’s sexual vision that our sexualization of our society has created. In fact, I feel like this final chapter should have been his first. It was great to finish the book on God’s great vision for our sexuality, but shouldn’t it have been the framework that the rest of the book rests on?
Whilst many of the things Chester deals with apply equally to both men and women, unlike Gross’ book this one is addressed almost solely towards men. Chester himself acknowledges the large number of women who suffer porn addiction, yet admits that most of his examples are of men.10
There is one question I feel both books failed to cover, and that’s the place of professional counselling to help deal with porn addiction. There is no doubt that porn addiction is a complex topic, with complex causes, and though both books offer helpful solutions, there is not much of a discussion of the place of professional counselling. Simple solutions are good as far as they go, but often the root cause for such addiction runs much deeper. I would have liked to have seen this topic discussed more thoroughly.
Both books deal with the same subject, and are similar in many respects. Both deal honestly and openly with the cancer of porn, and aim to help people suffering from it. But both books are also quite different. Tim Chester gives us a thoroughly Christ-centred framework for approaching and dealing with the problem, whilst Craig Gross gives us very down-to-earth and helpful advice on dealing with the problems as individuals, families, communities, and workplaces.
We need to fight porn. We need to acknowledge its pervasiveness in our culture and church. We need all the help we can get to deal with this immense problem, and both these books help. They are easy to read, short, and helpful. They deal with the problem in different ways, and this is also a good thing. Gross’ book lacks a solid grounding in Christ, but the pragmatic solutions provided are excellent when read in conjunction with Captured by a better vision. Put these books in your arsenal and join the fight.
- Tim Chester, Captured by a better vision, Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2010, p. 11. ↩
- Ibid., p. 12. ↩
- Ibid., p. 13. ↩
- Campus Bible Study is a ministry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. It’s a ministry to students and staff at the university, with several thousand people who are involved. It’s also where I work. ↩
- Covenant Eyes is available for Mac, PC, and iOS devices. It is not available for Android, Windows or Blackberry phones. The PC version offers accountability and filtering. The Mac version offers accountability only. The price works out to be about $100 a year, however if your church signs up as a partner, you can get it from as little as $25 a year. ↩
- OpenDNS is a company that offers filtering at the Domain Name Server level. You ‘install’ it by setting up an account and pointing your DNS settings towards the OpenDNS servers. It would normally be set up on an entire network, such as your home wireless network, or office network. It does take a little bit of tech knowledge, but OpenDNS has very good help pages. OpenDNS offer a basic free service which is all you need. ↩
- ‘Why Porn’, Fireproof Ministries. ↩
- X3Watch is available for Mac, PC, iPhone, iTouch, iPad, and Android phones. It is not available for Windows or Blackberry phones. The free version is available from http://www.x3watch.com/x3watchfree.html. The ‘Pro’ version (highly recommended) is available from http://www.x3watch.com/. ↩
- Chester, p. 134. ↩
- Ibid., p. 14. ↩