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Could You Give Up Porn For Lent? A Pastoral Perspective On The Issue Of The Day

Yesterday, my friends at Wesleyan Accent (www.seedbed.wesleyanaccent.com) published an original piece I wrote for them on a pastoral approach to addiction to pornography.

Here it is, slightly amended:

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It happened again a few months ago.

A young man made an appointment with me at the church, came into my office at the expected time, sat down in his chair, glanced around the room, nervous as a cat, and began to speak.

What emerged over the next 15 minutes was a tale of escalating addiction that led to discovery on the part of his wife and with it the threat of expulsion from his home.

What kind of addiction?

The most common kind clergy in the 21st Century face in their role as pastors:  pornography.

You’ll note that I opened by stating that “it happened again last week.”  And the again is not accidental…as often as not, when a man makes an appointment to speak with me, the presenting issue is compulsive use of pornography that has in fact made his life unmanageable.  It impacts men of all ethnicities, nationalities, and even ages – ranging from adolescents to seasoned citizens.

It sometimes leads to trouble with the law.  It often leads to difficulty with the family.  It always results in disconnection from the self.

The rise of the internet has created a perfect storm for growing numbers of men to become addicted to looking at and masturbating to pornographic images.  It is available.  It is anonymous.  I suspect no other generation of men – or their pastors – had such a collision of forces that are the same time both irresistible and destructive.

So what is a pastor to do when faced with this kind of epidemic?

Well, through trial and error at Good Shepherd Church, we have devised a protocol for those times when porn comes into a pastor’s office.  The protocol stems not only from the frequency with which the addiction comes calling but also my familiarity with and appreciation for Twelve Step Programs.  What you will read below is a system we talk about on-staff, these are notes we distribute internally, and it is a process that we have seen God use to bring men to new places of wholeness and healing.

Specifically, our pastoral counseling protocol revolves around three elements:  spirituality, therapy, and community.

Spirituality

When a man comes to my office seeking help with his addiction to pornography, that first meeting always includes healing prayer.

While the addiction may have begun as moral failure, it most cases it has escalated to the point of uncontrollable behavior.  He no longer looks at porn because he wants to but because he is overcome with a compulsion that makes him feel he has to.

I always affirm the man’s courage in coming to me, assure him that I am not going to place another layer of guilt on him (he usually feels enough of that already), and let him know that his current impasse is, at the core, a spiritual issue.  He has substituted a false god for the true one – after all, it’s not accidental that so many excavated idols are sexualized figurines.  Internet porn is simply a modern manifestation of an ancient idolatry.

With that awareness, I will often anoint my friend with oil, lay hands on his shoulders, and pray Jesus’ healing power over his addiction.  At some point in that spoken prayer, I will have the man pray out loud for himself.  I believe it is vital for the man to own his addiction before God and to claim the healing that is available in Christ.  Whether it’s porn or alcohol or gambling or gluttony, I contend that God won’t do for you what he needs to do with you.

Community

Sadly, all too many pastors, churches, and addicts would regard the meeting described above as the end of the matter.  As in, “it’s been prayed for, I’ve been delivered, so that’s it.”

My friends in the world of Recovery call that a “spiritual bypass.”  Meaning: many addicts long for a one-stop, one-step prayer miracle – a ZAP! – that heals them without going through the difficult work of recovery.

And while deliverance from porn addiction may on occasion happen in that fashion, it is much more common for healing to occur in and through the type of community one finds in a Twelve Step Program.  So in the counseling session I’ve been describing, I will connect the struggling man with either a Sex Addicts Anonymous or a Sexaholics Anonymous group meeting in our area.

To make that connection more personal, I typically contact one of several men I know in our church who are in SAA or SA and ask them to ensure that the new person makes it to his first meeting.  Those in recovery have proven remarkably eager to help others begin working the steps.

Once in a recovery group, an addict discovers that a) he is not alone; b) he needs to be restored to sanity; and c) healing emerges from shared struggle much better than from isolated toil.  I enjoy watching church friendships flourish that I know began at SAA meetings.

Therapy

The recovery community calls sexual addiction “cunning, baffling, and dangerous.”  And so it is.

So the battle against it requires the heavy artillery of individual therapy.  We are fortunate in the Charlotte area to have a number of the nation’s leading therapeutic experts in the area of sex addiction, and so Good Shepherd keeps a ready list of referrals.

There are many, many forces at work that drive a man to sexual and pornographic addiction, and it generally takes the skill of an experienced therapist to uncover root causes and to craft coping strategies.

We firmly believe that all three elements – spirituality, community, therapy – are indispensable.

I have met men who were either too private to join a community or too proud to enter therapy, and the results was a partial attempt at recovery.  And, as the Twelve Steppers remind us, “half measures availed us nothing.”

Pastoral Follow Up

I do my best to maintain contact with the guys who have trusted me with their stories and their struggles.  So, via text message, email, or phone call, I will periodically check-in with those under my pastoral care.  How you holding up?  How much sobriety do you have?  Are you making your meetings?

Without fail, the men appreciate being remembered and known.

And then when I get an email like the one below from the same guy who I mentioned in the opening of this article, it’s all worth it:

Dear Talbot,

I just want you to know how much this journey of healing has meant to me.  I feel free for the first time in my life.  Thank you for getting me in that group, thanks for (my therapist), and thanks for the prayers.

 

 

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