Thursday

Opening Pandora's Box: Clergy Porn Addiction. Is help available?

My first exposure to the problem of clergy and pornography came at a ministers and wives retreat a few years ago. After squaring with the hotel where we stayed, our denominational leader told me and my husband that the clerk made an interesting comment about other pastor groups that came to the hotel. He said that whenever a religious group came in they had several requests for adult movies. The clerk was surprised (and glad) that none of our pastors had requested any. I was a little shocked after hearing this, but the magnitude of the problem didn't really hit me until I took a course on Spirituality and Ministry in my master's program.

I decided to write about this because the subject came up again a few days ago in a conversation. It seems like these days I talk to a lot of people who don't go to church for some reason or another, but want to talk about the church. Most of these people have been hurt by the church in some way. In this conversation some of the recent clergy scandals, like Ted Haggarty, came up. This person, and other people with whom I have spoken, want to know why these things happen.

My reply? "Pastor's are human beings just like us."

"Yeah," said my friend, "but we expect them to live a little above us."

Isn't this what people expect anyway when someone announces that they are choosing to live by a certain religion? This happens especially to Christians, I've noticed. The bar is set particularly high for clergy.

The discussion continued along the same vein of Ted Haggarty's scandal and then it went to clergy pornography use in general. "That's a big problem," I said. "We just talked about in in my master's course."

My friend made a mildly sarcastic remark about it being no big deal. "All you have to do is pray for two weeks and you are healed," he dryly noted. I nodded. Oftentimes we say: "Just pray, you'll be fine."

Now I'm not knocking prayer. God's power is exercised through prayer. What I am against, however, is our impatience. Like my friend said, we often think that two weeks of prayer will do it. I'm sorry to say it, but this thinking at best is a farce. Anyone who is involved in sexual sin has some deep issues that need to be resolved. Counseling and a clear accountability system are needed. And freedom is possible, it just takes work.

I can't pretend to be an expert on the matter of clergy addiction to porn. After learning in my class that one-third of all pastors struggle with Internet pornography, I wondered if we might be dealing with Pandora's box. For more insight, I would highly recommend the book we read in class called "The Pornography Trap: Setting Pastors and Laypersons Free from Sexual Addiction" by Ralph H. Earle, Jr. and Mark R. Lasser. In it the authors write:

"The combination of birth, family, childhood trauma, and pastoral challenges may leave a mammoth vulnerability in the earthen vessel--the pastor. All of us are susceptible to such a fall. Frequently, the pastor who is most certain that he or she would never transgress God's will discovers that such thinking is a seductive trap" (23).

One of the first things I realized as a pastor's wife (I was one for eight years) was that the pressures are intense. People expect you to be perfect. And many do not want to hear that a pastor has problems. You are expected to rise above your problems and if you can't, well then maybe you should just move on. Meanwhile there are people who love their pastor and recognize that this man or woman has been given the position to lead them in the ways of Christ. These people are great, but the negative ones, in combination with the stresses of home, unresolved past conflict and low self-esteem can make the ministry a very stressful place. Unfortunately, some pastors find relief in pornography. By doing this they risk their ministry, their families and their relationship with Christ.

It is not my aim in this article to suggest that we go on a witch hunt and check histories on all of our pastor's computers. What I am suggesting, however, is to give pastors the encouragement they need. Galatians 6: 6 says: "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor." If your pastor helps you in some way, share it with him or her. Don't wait until Clergy Appreciation Month in October. If the pastor does not receive positive reinforcement during the year any recognition during this month may seem hollow and contrived. Most of all pray for your pastor and his or her family. If you have a problem with something he or she has done, talk to him or her about it. Don't participate in the gossip that runs rampant in our churches.

If you are a clergy member struggling with this issue, get help. Http://xxxchurch.com is a good place to start. Focus on the Family also offers ministry to pastors and their families. Call their pastoral care line at (877) 233-4455 for counseling, or visit their Web site at http://www.parsonage.org for more information. There is a link entitled "Internet Pornography Help." The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are people who want to help.

Source: Leadership Magazine: (http://www.ctlibrary.com/le/2001/winter/12.89.html)