Pastors and porn: what to do?


The latest issue of Christianity Today has an article on pastors and the struggle with pornography. Here’s a couple of pieces of data from the 770 pastors surveyed

  • Current struggle? 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors say yes
  • How frequent a struggle? 35% of both categories say “a few times per month”
  • Past struggle? 43% of both categories say yes

So, it is a problem. But here’s the data that stood out to me most of all.

  • 70% of adult Christians say that if a pastor is having this struggle, the pastor should either be fired or put on leave until the problem is resolved? While
  • Only 8% of pastors think they should leave their position if having this problem

While not surprising, it is telling. We think we should manage our own problems (or get a counselor or accountability group–that is still managing on our own) and that these problems don’t hinder our work.

What do you think?

How serious is the problem of porn use amongst pastors? Should it be cause to lose the position? Sinlessness is not a reasonable goal for pastors. But what would disqualify one from the position?

And if porn is a significant problem amongst congregants (and this study among many say so), does having a pastor with a current (even if infrequent) use of porn help or hinder care of congregants?

9 Comments

Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastors and pastoring, pornography, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Pastors and porn: what to do?

  1. I’ll have to check back for comments.

  2. Maybe the 92% of pastors who think that a pastor need not leave off being a pastor if he his having that problem would change their mind a bit if they read checked out the recent Porn Harms Kids symposium in Australia.

    http://pornharmskids.nationbuilder.com/speakers

  3. Savedbygrace

    The CT article says “The social stigma of viewing pornography is fading.” that is true… but as Christ’s representatives, we are called to be set apart ( ie sanctified) and live as citizens of God’s kingdom , of the light, not darkness.
    Personally I think we should have zero tolerance and then maybe pastors could ‘find’ the resolve to quit using pornography. We do that with other things eg what would a congregation do if a pastor was drunk in the pulpit or on a pastoral visit?? would it just be ‘ oh- we’ll let them work out their alcohol addiction themselves’ while they keep on leading the congregation??? Of course not!!! at a minimum they would be stood down until it is proven they had rehabilitated but likely they would be fired and not trusted by that congregation again!
    Just because a porn addiction can be carried on ‘in secret’ doesn’t make it less serious -on the contrary I believe we should be more alarmed because it is out of this secrecy that many forms of abuse spring ( eg domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse). Jesus clearly spoke out against lust and so should we!
    It is not wrong to expect our ministers to be people of high personal integrity. We entrust ourselves and our children and youth to these leaders- porn is not harmless.
    My marriage has been ruined by my pastor husband who had/has a porn addiction. It is a shame they did not question pastors wives in the survey to get a snapshot of the havoc wreaked on the home front. Despite other ‘ministry gifts’ I believe this addiction disqualifies my husband as a suitable person for ministry. Interestingly the ‘church’ has sanctioned me for saying ‘enough’ and separating from him.

  4. Andrew Hartslief

    This topic is a mine field of both men and women dealing with masturbation and sexual addiction in whatever form it manifests.
    I happen to be 72 years old with a dad who was a Presbyterian minister and so have lived both in the past land of sexual silence and the present one of sexual tsunamis.
    I have two marvelous adult sons and a pile of even more marvelous grandchildren , so hopefully am not too distanced from the real world .
    A deep pun says much: all men masturbate except the pope, and he is a liar. Next one up, but far more problematical: Two things father`s of the past never taught their sons: how to masturbate and how to make love…and today?
    Talking to men with masturbation addictions, but not hooked on porn, I ask ” Can you do all this without sexual fantasies? ” . “You gotta be crazy!!” is the stock standard reply. Remove fantasy from masturbation and let`s ask where now lies the habit ? Remove visual or aural content from porn and what is left? The whole thing just collapses. The sin lies in the fantasy. Dallas Willard in his book “The Divine Conspiracy” explains most profoundly that when I choose to hate , or belittle a person in my mind, then I have sinned already, be it that I may or may not verbalize that ever. To masturbate with a fantasy of any kind is sinful, irrespective of the prevailing “societal deviance or normality” , be one a porn addict or casual visitor, or one of the many famous or unknown pastors, church leaders and joe soaps, who were ousted on Ashley Madison.
    What causes all this…and here are we are all in the same boat and it`s just the height that it floats in the water that is different.
    Parental influence plays a dominate part . It may be the result of the classic absentee father or mother or its converse where the child is spoiled stupid. Next up is early peer influence, followed by authority figures in whatever guise. In all cases the first read porn magazine is only just a switch on or a switch off depending on the above.
    It is not simple either . Everyone knows both the old and new testament statements that directly or indirectly point to ejaculation and discharge, plus the holiness and impenetrable spirituality of marriage and sexuality… or the depths of what was God saying to the Israelites in Hosea , when he referring to himself , he said “”you will call me ‘my husband’ ”.
    May I dare suggest that addictions are idolatrous whatever their manifestation, which drops them smack bang into category of violating the first commandment of worshipping other gods…such is their power be it playing golf or the classics of money, sex and power. However sexual sins fall into a unique “higher’ category than the old classic seven cardinal sins, but are not easily defined other than that they are deeply woven into the fabric of love, as seen in the Trinity and worked out here on planet earth.
    Having so said all the above , it is difficult to differentiate about good pastors and bad pastors and “what to do about them” let alone to see ourselves as sinners of the same ilk , be it just a matter of degree. Dallas Willard in his “Renovation Of The Heart” clarifies that we all are aware of our “brockeness” to some degree or other, but are seldom aware of our sinfulness as a very distinct category . Ouch. He says “ To manifest such an awareness today would be psychologically sick .”
    Lastly few pastors have anyone that they can level with on their sexuality and talk about their brokenness, which is one thing , and let alone their sinfulness, which is another…and us??? ..et tu Brutus.

  5. Anneliese Knop

    Since sinlessness is an unattainable goal, even for the most devout Christian, perhaps the questions we ought to ask ourselves in the case of pastors and porn are not about pornography at all, or pornography alone, but rather how we determine which persistent sin habits are acceptable in pastors, and which are not. To which sins are spiritual leaders more prone, and from which sins are congregants more likely to suffer? Which sins most compromise a pastor’s ability to shepherd his flock? Can we orgnise sins into groups and categories based on predisposition, just as injuries are often classified based on what age, gender, and activity groups are most likely to experience them? THese are, of course, generalised questions with rooms for exceptions because we humans simply can’t seem to stay in neat little cause-and-effect boxes, but I do think if we’re to discuss pastors and porn, we ought to widen the discussion first before coming to any specific and situational conclusions. How can we determine exceptional circumstances without knowing the rules to which these circumstances are exceptional?

  6. DG

    I’ve been in a pastor for about 10 years and, for the record, I do not use porn. But these questions reveal a deeper problem writhin the church: talking about sin scares us to death and so, as a result, we don’t talk about it at all. From a pastor’s perspective, the church, God’s family, can be the loneliest place on earth and this isolation leaves pastors exposed to spiritual attack. Unfortunately this is true for many Chrisitians as well. Herein comes the toxic torments of shame and guilt.
    Yes I believe porn is a serious issue. For married men, it’s on the level of adultery in my opinion. Yes I believe it hinders a pastor in his or her call because their porn addiction drives them to hide in shame. It’s difficult to call others to lives of openness and vulnerability if you, as the pastor, aren’t willing to do the same.
    The church needs to talk about sexuality together before the “shamining sins” rear their ugly heads. We need to explore God’s purpose and delight in our sexuality. Read Song of Songs sometime and see the joy of God ordained intimacy.

    • CR

      I agree with you, DG, that sexual sins need to be talked about and addressed within the Church. My pastor recently did a series from the pulpit on sexual sin of all kinds including homosexuality. He presented it from a balanced perspective of “we all sin and come short of the glory of God” so we are not to judge one another, but love one another instead. On the other hand, the church needed to be “counter-cultural” in that it was not to affirm sexual sin either. He even admitted to having struggled in this area himself and was open and transparent about it. Struggling with an area should not define us because our identity is in Christ and it is only through his strength and empowerment can we resist temptation and not give into sexual sin no matter what area they fall into.
      I found the series to be refreshing, but perhaps too focused on same-sex attraction and not enough on pornography which seems to be what more congregants struggle with than sex-same attraction. I agree with you also that porn should be viewed as a form of adultery and if a congregation knew that their pastor was having an affair, wouldn’t they also think that this is means for discipline of some kind including potential dismissal? I would hope so.
      I’m sorry that the Church does seem to be a lonely place for pastors and they feel like they must suffer in silence and not talk about their struggles. I’m not sure my pastor would say the same thing though. Could it be that pastors don’t feel like they can be transparent out of fear of what congregants might think or do? I pray that pastors and congregants can begin to see pastors as regular people that have struggles and that need to talk about them just like we all do. I know we place higher standards on our pastors, but they still need to be realistic standards, not ones that exclude a pastor from being able to share his struggles with someone thinking that he is has to be perfect. We all need to find someone that is understanding and compassionate that we feel safe enough with to share what we go through and to share our humanity knowing that this person will not judge but will direct us back to the source of all help, Jesus Christ. That’s what I pray the Church will be for all people.

  7. Porn-addicted pastors sexually exploit women, men and (sometimes) children to feed their erotic fantasies. When their on-line appetites are no longer contained, they move on-site, sexually exploiting people under their care. It’s a good bet that 92 percent of their colleagues normalize the abuse of congregants (often counselees) in the same way they normalize pastoral use of porn. “He had an affair,” they whisper. “It could happen to any of us.”

  8. I’m fairly discouraged by some of these comments. I understand if you’ve been “burned” by your husband’s or pastor’s use of pornography. This topic can stir up lots of emotions.
    These comments are often the sentiments that drive addiction cycles, and many pastors into depression because they can’t be “normal” sinners, and sadly this sin is so prevalent and so many men are exposed to pornography at such a young age (which would be a form of covert sexual abuse- so many of these men are also victims of abuse). As the writer of Hebrews notes, sin so easily entangles. Those who are repentant need our help in untangling themselves from this and other sins. Prior to ministry is ideal, but the pressures of ministry can lead to the temptation to look there instead of Jesus for relief.
    There seems to be a false equivocation between “adultery of the heart” and adultery. Both are sin, but not the identical sin. One is clearly grounds for divorce and dismissal from ministry. The other requires more discernment since I’m guessing 99% of ministers, and men in general (and a high percentage of women) have lusted in their heart (like with romance novels), not just those who use pornography. Trust me, I’ve seen the hardened porn addict who was rightfully removed from ministry and was rightfully refused in his request for returning.
    From the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
    Question 82: Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
    Answer: No mere men, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.

    Question 83: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
    Answer: Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

    And the Heidelberg Catechism:
    114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

    A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

    So, confessionally we believe that all Christians (including pastors) sin daily in thought, word and deed. That some of these sins are worse than others. And that even the holiest of us make only a small beginning in obedience. Humbling. I suspect we need to think more about how this confessional theology needs to be worked out practically so our pastors & people are growing in holiness, are restoring those caught in sin gently, and guarding the honor of Christ and the Church. We have to hold all these, not exalt one at the expense of the others.

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