Pastors and Porn

Why many pastors suffer in silence and secrecy.

Posted Jan 30, 2020 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

Photo by Charles on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Charles on Unsplash

Pornography can be deeply problematic in the general population, so it should be no surprise that it's also impacting church communities. Yet how many pastors are willing to come forward with their struggles?

A Barna research study found most pastors (57%) and youth pastors (64%) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past. But less than 1% recommended telling their congregation.

This makes sense, because it's hard enough for people in the general population who struggle with sexual or porn-related compulsive behavior to acknowledge the problem, let alone a pastor whose job is to expound on spiritual truths and be a living example of morality above reproach.  

The Barna researchers asked 3,000 Christians what should happen if a pastor is caught using porn. Just over 40% of adult Christians believe the pastor should be fired or asked to resign. However, only 8% of the pastors agreed with termination or resignation as the appropriate protocol. With such a wide discrepancy, it's no wonder why so few pastors are willing to admit their struggles with pornography or other problematic sexual behaviors.

As a therapist specializing in sexual compulsion within faith communities, I can attest to the challenges of acknowledging the problems of pornography. First off, it's only human to believe we can stop any negative behaviors on our own. There's an utter contempt within people suffering from addiction to admit being controlled by substances or behaviors (e.g. alcohol, pornography, gambling/spending, eating disorders, etc.). It usually takes years (if done at all) for a person who has negative compulsive behaviors to recognize that the behaviors are not only maladaptive but have reached a point of habituation that they are beyond the person's individual "willpower" to stop.

In essence, the person desiring freedom finally reaches a mental or spiritual threshold of humility. They have killed the notion of rising above their drug of choice on their own and acknowledge the only way out is to share their struggle with others. This is both a humbling and courageous step in faith. It's humbling to come to the brutal reality of their own addiction and breaks the cycle of denial. It's courageous in recognizing honesty and transparency. While it puts the person on the path of recovery, it also put their jobs and relationships at risk.

Now if it's hard enough for the everyday person to break denial, you can get a sense of how a pastor or someone in a church leadership position could safely come forward. For pastors and churches, how can you diagnose if there's a problem? Well, you can ask yourself these following questions.

  • Have you intentionally accessed sexually explicit material in the past year? Yes, there's porn, but there's much more out there that can sexually arouse a person without reaching the definition of pornography. Sexually charged movies, romance novels, comic books, and magazines can arouse you.
  • What is the frequency of accessing these materials?
  • What is the frequency of masturbation (both with or without the use of pornography)? This is important because of the fact some people believe they can masturbate without the use of porn and it isn't harming them. But this is where sexual fantasy and imagery come into play, which may perpetuate a cycle of addiction. This also needs to be addressed. 
  • Have you lied or been deceitful about this to anyone?  
  • What specifically are you looking at? (For example, adult pornography would be therapeutically treated differently than child pornography.)
  • Trajectory: Is the pattern of sexually acting out improving or getting worse?  

I can not tell churches what to do with their pastors, but what I believe needs to happen is churches need to create an environment and reestablish themselves as "the safest places on Earth." Churches are meant to be places of spiritual refuge and safety where one can share their deepest wounds and break the shackles of addiction and shame. Is your church a place of redemption and freedom or one that perpetuates fear, shame, and secrecy?

References

https://www.barna.com/the-porn-phenomenon/

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/i-was-pastor-hooked-on-porn/