Churches confront an 'elephant in the pews'
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Focus on the Family has quietly spent thousands of dollars sending pastors to treatment centers. It also offers churchgoers help through its "Pure Intimacy" program on the Internet, and has set up a global referral network of Christian counselors.Skip to next paragraph
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Those most active on the issue include those who have found healing themselves and are helping others through seminars, support groups, and website communities.
Pastor Ted Roberts of East Hill Foursquare Church in Gresham, Ore., a former fighter pilot who speaks of gaining freedom from sex addiction through God's grace, has built a thriving church community around small-group ministries focused on recovery.
Paul Rasavage, an engineer, created a website as a prayer support group for Roman Catholic laity and priests, which has seen steady growth since 2002. "People are so relieved to discover they are not alone, and help is available," he says.
Simon Sheh, a psychologist of evangelical faith in Edmonton, Alberta, offers a one-day seminar designed to equip men to safeguard themselves against pornography. Pastors bring church members, fathers bring teen sons. "It's a family thing, to create a legacy of purity in the family," he says. Surveys show that the average age of first exposure to Web porn is 11. Most caught up in it say it began in their early teens.
While the seminar uses biblical strategies of taking responsibility for oneself, being honest, and learning how to be godly, Dr. Sheh explains, it also educates about the consequences of addiction and on other issues that most often underlie it.
"Pornography is not just about sex. It is a drug of pain relief," Sheh says.
Counselors say it is often emotional pain - from childhood abuse, from feeling isolated, rejected, or inadequate - compounded by not having someone to talk with about it. What some scientists call the "neurochemistry of sex" also fosters the addiction.
Recognizing those factors helps men deal with the shame of seeking help.
"They often have the perception they are perverts," Sheh says. "I tell them, 'God does not make perverts, and God is your physician. He healed me. He can heal you, too.' "
Others concur. "They think, 'If you really knew me, you wouldn't love me'; so they don't tell the truth," Weiss says. That's why showing love and support for those dealing with this problem is so important.
"The No. 1 thing for healing is honesty," adds Weiss, who conducts a "Sex, Men, and God" conference for churches that has spurred more than 100 "freedom groups" across the country. Another way to help men be honest and weather testing times is to find an accountability partner - another person with whom to be open about challenges. XXXchurch.com offers "accountability software," which will send a biweekly listing of websites one has accessed to a chosen accountability partner. X3Watch software has had 150,000 downloads, says Gross.
Some say accountability could be carried still further. Weiss recommends an annual polygraph to verify that clergy are sexually pure - no pornography, no inappropriate relationships with parishioners.
"I was a sex addict during my first year of seminary," he claims. "If I had had to take a polygraph, I would have been forced to deal with it at that age, which would have been great. Better to do that than let it grow ... and eventually destroy some large church communities - which we are seeing now."
Many pastors he has treated take polygraphs for a couple years to show progress. "It's amazing how ministries double and quadruple," he adds, "how creativity returns and their walk with God becomes freer."