Things We Don't Talk About In Church Part 1 - Porn
During a recent LifeSupport podcast Pastor Paul Johnson was joined by Amber Fuller of Fuller Living Counseling. Amber shared her personal and professional expertise on the topic of sexual addiction and the church. Much of the content in this article is a reflection of Amber’s podcast episode.
If We Don't Talk About It...
The list of things we avoid talking about in the church (in most places really) is long. Porn is at or near the top of the list for most of us. Most of us avoid talking about porn at all costs. It turns out those costs are pretty high. The challenges of porn are a part of our world and sadly a part of our church communities. The church has an opportunity to make a real difference in this widespread struggle.
The bottom line is that people in your church are hurting as a result of porn. It may feel impossible to talk about porn from the pulpit, in the lobby, or in our groups, but your church may be the only place that hurting person can find help. If the church won’t talk about porn, who do we think will?
All LifeSupport Resources
Are FREE For Ministry Use
More Common Than We Think
According to Amber Fuller, a licensed family and marriage therapist, more than 50% of the people in your church struggle with sexual addiction. In a study in the Journal of Sex Research, roughly 55 to 70 percent of men and 30 to 40 percent of women under age 40 reported viewing pornography in a given year*
We all like to think that our church is different, that we are somehow “better than that” The evidence says otherwise. Every church needs to face the reality that porn is a part of the lives of the people who attend their church and very likely the staff of the church as well.
Why People Turn To Porn
To over-simplify, porn is used by people to feel good. The deeper question to be answered is, why do they desire to feel better. Like any addiction, porn is often an attempt to fill a perceived hole in life. Porn may provide an emotional distraction, stress reduction, or it may simply be used to alleviate boredom. If a person believes that something is missing from their lives, the church is ideally placed to provide simple, authentic connections, and opportunities to fill those missing needs through community, care groups, teaching, activities, prayer, and bible study.
Why We Hide It
We live in a world that judges others by what we can see from the outside. Most people under the age of 60 have been conditioned to find approval through what they present to the world on social media. The result is a reality with very little reality at all.
Each of us holds onto some specific beliefs (often wrong) about our value. Those beliefs and the things we hear from culture, and the church lead us to conclude that if we were to disclose a personal struggle with porn, that our value would decrease. One of those beliefs is that they are defined by their porn use. This leads to the biggest fear of all, “If I tell you who I really am, I might not be loved. If I tell you this one thing, I might not be loved.”
People who live with struggles that have been labelled as unacceptable live with a fear of being found out. That fear tends to make them isolate themselves and resist deep relationships where vulnerability might be expected.
The Shame Cycle
When we hide away the things that convict us, we feed a cycle of shame that keeps us isolated. When a person uses porn (or engages in some other shameful activity), they tend to trigger an inner voice that says “I’ve done a terrible thing”. The cycle of shame then leads to “I’m such a terrible person”. Seeking relief, the person then engages in the activity again starting the cycle all over. The cycle of shame not only perpetuates (and may accelerate) unwanted behavior, it leads to increased isolation.
The damage caused by the use of porn (or other sex addictions) comes in many forms; damage to marriage and family, trauma suffered by spouses, emotional separation, increased infidelity, separation and divorce, job and financial loss, damaged friendships, and suicide are all possible consequences. Often the pain is widespread and massive. It’s pretty obvious why people are afraid to confess their struggles with porn.
It’s so human for us to focus on the pain and damage inflicted. Injured people often ask why God allows such things to happen. A better question might be; I wonder what God will do through this pain? Consequences sometimes need to happen in order for change to occur. The pain of exposure is often the key element that allows healing to start, although that healing may take a very long time.
The Power Of Vulnerability
As stated earlier, it’s pretty easy to see why people hide their struggles with porn use. Many of us believe that talking publicly about any personal problem will make others uncomfortable. Sharing the things we see as problems can make us feel a loss of power or position. So why take the risk of sharing your struggles? Why be vulnerable?
- You need help – The simple answer is that if you have a struggle that you can’t change on your own, you are going to need to start being open and honest with someone in order to find help. Some of us have a hard time asking for help in part because it requires us to be vulnerable.
- Vulnerability brings freedom – There is nothing that will help an addict more than finally sharing the truth about their struggle. Often, the biggest burden an addict carries is the need to constantly hide. Once the secrets are disclosed in an appropriate way, the addict will find a new ability to take practical steps forward for recovery.
- Vulnerability grows connections – Think about the last time someone was vulnerable with you. How did that make you feel? When someone trusts us with an important part of who they are, we feel special and our connection with that person grows.
- Vulnerability is contagious – When we share with someone else we are communicating that it’s safe for them to do so as well. If you are a leader who is vulnerable, the people you lead will know that you trust them, and will feel safe bring their struggles into the open rather than hiding them away where they can damage your organization.
- Start talking about it – We’re not suggesting that you start a counseling service or that you preach about it once a month. But, when and where appropriate, don’t be afraid to “go there”.
- Be seen as a safe place – People who are caught in a shame cycle need a safe place where they can safely talk (confess) about the things that are convicting them.
- Prepare the support system – People who are seeking relief from their struggle need Christian community that is equipped and willing to be present as loving, prayerful supporters.
- Identify your lead helpers – There are people in your church who have navigated these struggles in the past. Seek them out to help you understand what it felt like to walk through this struggle and enlist them as part of your community of support for others who face similar challenges.
- Partner with other churches – There are probably other churches who are dealing with these same issues. Perhaps there are opportunities for your people (staff and/or congregants) to participate in support groups at a location other than their “home church”.
- Start formal support groups – There are a number of options to help you start support groups in the area of sexual addiction (see references and resources below).
- Seek professional guidance – when you don’t know what to do. The church has created a lot of unintentional pain in the past because those in authority have given inaccurate or incomplete counsel. Mental health professionals can share much of the load in responding to people in crisis, and can free the church up to concentrate on spiritual care and community support.
- Educate yourself and your team – Study what the bible has to say about this topic and how it can inform your activities. There are excellent resources available to help you learn how to respond to people who need support in the area of sexual addiction (see references and resources below).
- Prepare for the storm – There is a real possibility that porn will become a problem for one of your church staff members. We’d all like to think that our people know how to defend against being human but it’s simply not possible. You and your church board would be well served by having a support plan in place for the day when a staff member brings forward a personal struggle. It would also be wise to create safe opportunities for staff to share their personal struggles.
References and Resources
- *Regnerus, Mark, David Gordon, and Joseph Price, “Documenting Pornography Use in America: A Comparative Analysis of Methodological Approaches,” The Journal of Sex Research 53, no. 7 (2016): 873-881.
- Living In The Shadows LifeSupport Podcast with Amber Fuller
- Fuller Living and Associates – counseling offices throughout Minnesota and via telehealth.
- Recovery From Sexual Addiction – an interview by the National Association For Christian Recovery – with Dr. Mark Laaser, author of Faithful & True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World
- The Conquer Series – video-based series for men addressing sexual addiction and purity, containing Biblical teaching and proven principles to help men conquer porn and walk in freedom. For groups or individual study.
- Pure Desire Ministries – Support groups. Freedom from unwanted sexual behavior
- Faithful and True – Individual counselling, group sessions and workshops. Located in the Minneapolis area but with an international reach. The Faithful and True website includes an online resource store where you can find The Pornography Trap a book written for pastors and Christian leaders by Dr. Mark Laaser and Dr. Ralph Earle. It addresses the problem of pornography addiction, especially on the internet, and other sexual addictions.
- Per Amber Fuller – “There is a SIGNIFICANTLY strong correlation between Narcissism and men that struggle with porn addiction. A FANTASTIC resource for pastors when it comes to this is Marriage Recovery Center. They actually have a training specifically for pastors on how to help people in this kind of relationship.