I love hearing the highlights of people’s lives, vacations, weekends, or even workdays. They are insights into people’s unique passions, joys, and personalities. In my two years traveling with Josh McDowell as his assistant, I experienced quite a few highlights.
But one event, in particular, still stands out to me: the Set Free Conference. There is an epidemic in the church today, and it all revolves around pornography.
Global Initiative to Expose Porn Addiction
Set Free, an initiative launched by Josh to educate, start conversation, and de-shame porn addiction, focused on a few major themes: What is pornography? What are its associated problems, consequences, and solutions? A global initiative, Set Free Conferences have been held in the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Singapore; attendees have heard from top speakers such as Dr. Donald Hilton, Jessica Harris, Ben Bennett, and Josh McDowell.
Why was Set Free the highlight of this two-year period? Because of the needed global conversation about the pornography epidemic — but also because of the response from attendees.
I’ve watched empowered pastors share excitement and become eager to teach what they’ve learned. I’ve seen moms and dads finally be able to understand their child’s struggle with porn. I’ve seen community leaders get fired up about starting recovery groups. And I’ve seen wounded, broken, humble people openly confess, through pouring tears, the porn addictions that have torn their lives apart.
The first two sections of the Set Free Conference were hard-hitters: the problem of porn, and its consequences. As attendees heard the mind-boggling stats and gut-wrenching repercussions, they were glued to the edge of their seats. As they learned that porn is the number one problem in the Church — globally — their reactions ranged from shock and anger to utter despair.
When we find the courage to talk about that which we deem to be dirty and uncomfortable, shame can be broken, movements can be started, and people can take the initial steps towards freedom.
The Problem of Porn
Our culture is so sexually saturated that porn is now included in top-selling books, advertising, and social media. We don’t even realize how many pornographic images we are exposed to daily, without our even trying to see them.
Christians are just as tempted as non-believers to view porn, which is why pastor Charles R. Swindoll has called pornography the greatest cancer in the history of the Church. As Josh adds, “It’s available, accessible, affordable, anonymous, appealing, aggressive, and addictive.” Porn is affecting the majority of families in every church around the globe. This epidemic is destroying families; it’s now the root cause of 56 percent of divorces.
So what is pornography? A general description is that it’s “that which is designed to arouse or sexually excite.” Porn is not juvenile and harmless, like too many people generally think. It is hardcore, graphic, and disgusting.
Porn addiction is biological, relational, and spiritual. Solutions must address each aspect for us to gain freedom.
Why is it an epidemic? I’ll share my personal experience. As I told readers in my last post, I have battled an addiction to porn that started well before my teens. I know how porn addiction distorts every part of a person’s life. I know the tangible consequences of the degradation of human life. I know the misery of living an isolated and disconnected life, and the hopelessness of addiction.
The reach of the porn industry is mind-boggling. One study found that porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined each month. Porn now accounts for a third of all Internet traffic! More than 91 percent of men and 60 percent of women have reported consuming pornography in the past month.
But a lot of those viewers are young people, who got exposed to porn as early as eight years old! It’s just too easy to stumble on it on both cell phones and computers. In sharing my own story of woundedness, addiction, and journey toward freedom at the Set Free Conference, I’ve seen just how many young males — and increasingly young females — are struggling with addiction to porn.
This breaks Josh’s heart; this crippling addiction is not what God intends for us. Josh has spent the past decade researching the problem, consequences, and solutions to pornography. Here are just a few startling statistics:
- 79 percent of men and 76 percent of women, ages 18-30, view pornography at least once a month.
- 64 percent of young people, ages 13-24, actively seek out pornography.
- 57 percent of pastors admit they struggle with porn.
- 60-72 percent of men and 24-30 percent of women in the Church are sex addicts.
What these stats show is that our society has normalized porn. Research shows that teens and young adults consider failing to recycle more immoral than viewing pornography!
The Consequences of Porn
There’s a reason that sexual immorality is talked about so frequently in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
The consequences that pornography yields dismantle a person’s biological, spiritual, and relational self. Biologically, it rewires our brains, creating a lack of control, chemical dependency, and desensitization. Spiritually, it disconnects us from God. Isaiah 59:2 states that our iniquities have caused separation between us and God; that our sins have hidden His face from us. Viewing pornography is rooted in our lust and sexual immorality; it is adultery. It is sin, plain and simple.
In Ephesians 4:17-19, we can read that giving ourselves over to sensuality cuts us off from the life of God. Relationally, pornography causes guilt, shame, and isolation. When we isolate, we cut ourselves off from one of God’s greatest gifts, our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the consequences of the epidemic of pornography is that it leads to a skewed perspective of how to treat others.
Pornography causes the belief that:
- It’s okay to use, abuse, or mistreat others for self-gratification.
- It’s okay to view and participate in the use, mistreatment, or abuse of a person.
- People can treat others with indifference.
- Pleasure guides principle, meaning sexual passion trumps moral objectives.
- A demonstrated lack of empathy toward others.
- Decreased interest in and/or declining performance in school and extracurricular activities.
- Sexual aggression, incest, and age-inappropriate relationships.
- Concentration problems, low motivation, depression, social anxiety, negative self-perceptions, and erectile dysfunction.
Sexual abuse is always a hot topic in the media. But it’s interesting to note how infrequently porn is cited as the source motivating that abuse. Check out the Porn Epidemic’s chapter on sexual harassment to learn more about sexual abuse and its tie to pornography.
Coming face-to-face with the reality of our sin should lead us not into isolation, but to the feet of our Heavenly Father. The weight of our sin is heavy, too heavy to bear alone. It is so easy to be caught up in the magnitude of this epidemic and lose hope. I have done so many times.
But the truth is, there is hope. 1 Peter 2:24 offers us good news: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
It is easy to become discouraged in the shadow of a giant, but we can’t forget that we know the end of the story. Christ, the Son of God, took the form of a man to take our sins upon Himself. He died, but triumphantly rose to reunite us with our Heavenly Father. He offers us forgiveness and healing, if we are willing to place our trust and faith in Him. With His help, we can conquer any sin.
Hope motivated all the Set Free attendees who confessed their addiction for the first time. And there is hope in the midst of your child’s addition, your personal addiction, or those of your friends.
Porn is currently an epidemic. But no problem is bigger than God. I have hope in the power of His healing the world. Because I’ve witnessed it and experienced it. Have hope!