Why the Church Must Be a No-Shame Zone

When I found out about Craig’s porn addiction, the last place I thought of calling for help was our church.

First of all, I wasn’t prepared to ask anyone for help. If anything, I thought Craig should be the one asking. That is, if he couldn’t kick it on his own. When I was 23 years old, I didn’t realize that porn was an addiction. I thought that since I had caught him and he had felt my wrath, that would be enough motivation to just stop the thing.

I was wrong.

Three years later, after the birth of our first child, I realized this was bigger than a bad habit. Though Craig ended up going to a counselor for a bit, we were still drowning in this addiction. Shame kept us from expanding our circle of help. Even though pastors are like counselors in that they keep your confidence, the pastor still knows. And what will he think when he sees you at church on Sunday?

When no one you know is confessing this stuff, when the church doesn’t even utter the “p” word, when there aren’t any groups you can just show up and attend at the Wednesday night service, you pretty much think you must be the only couple struggling.

Somehow Satan deludes you. The thinking sounds like:

  • I’m a Christian. But good Christians don’t look at porn.
  • I just should be able to pray more and trust Jesus. I try this, but it doesn’t work. I must not be strong enough.
  • I’m supposed to be everything for my husband. I must not be enough to keep him happy and satisfied.
  • I better keep this a secret. If no one knows, it will eventually go away. Right? Please God, just let it go away.

Silencing Shame

Satan is behind all of those thoughts, stoking the fire of shame. He has such a field day with the sins that are sexual in nature. In most churches, we don’t talk much about sex, let alone sexual sins. We mention the story of Rahab (see Joshua 7) the prostitute and extoll her good works and her coming to faith, but we don’t use it as a launching pad to discuss our own struggles with sex and identity. Rahab shows us redemption is possible and while the Bible doesn’t show us exactly how she worked out all her issues, this is key—everyone knew her past. Her sin was out in the open and she was accepted despite it. It wasn’t stuffed in the closet, obscured from view as she lived among the Israelites. And when her story is recounted in the New Testament, her past was still made known, not for reasons of shame, but to affirm the incredible power of God to heal.

Even though any sin, by definition, is separation from God, our church culture seems to put sins on a hierarchical scale. How many of you would put gossiping on the same level as adultery? Is using food as an emotional outlet better that using porn? Is it more okay to covet your neighbor’s new car than his new wife?

If the church, the body of Christ, continues to adhere to this ideology that some sins are worse than others, we will simply continue to provide fertile ground for Satan to keep sowing rows and rows of shame in our pews. Shame shuts us up. The results? Catastrophic. The Bible speaks out about this in the book of James:

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” –James 2:10-12

Sin is sin. If you want mercy for your sin, have mercy for someone else’s.

And there are many who need to be shown mercy when it comes to porn.

According to the most recent research by the Barna Group:

  • Teenage girls and young women are significantly more likely to actively seek out porn than women over age 25, which is similar to men.
  • However, more than half of women 25 and under ever seek out porn (56% versus 27% among women 25-plus) and one-third seek it out at least monthly (33% versus just 12% among older men).
  • In contrast, among teen and young adult men, 81% ever seek it out and 67% at least monthly. Among men ages 25-plus, the comps are 65% and 47%.

Our pastors aren’t immune. According to the same study, “Most pastors (57%) and youth pastors (64%) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past.” And because 41% of Christians say they should lose their jobs over this, most of them never seek help for it out of fear.

Church, Answer the Call for Help

What can we do as the Church, as the living and breathing Body of Christ, to create an environment where people don’t suffer in silence and shame, where they can seek help, find hope, and experience freedom from pornography?

1. Understand our own depravity. Own up to your own sin. Whether you think it’s big or small, it doesn’t matter. Thought patterns such as “Well, at least my sin isn’t as bad as so-and-so’s” only feed your own pride and widen the gulf between you and God. God calls us to have mercy and compassion for all, to forgive as we have all been forgiven by the One who was without sin, Jesus.

2. Address pornography from the pulpit. The masses need to hear that porn is a problem, not just for a few, but for many. Being a Christian doesn’t protect us from the lures of the world. Satan throws everything he has at us to try to trip us up. Unfortunately, many men and women stumble over this particular problem. But the more we expose darkness to the light, the less power it has over us. The more we talk about something that has been continually hidden, the more comfortable people are to share. The more we share, the more we understand we are not alone in our sin or our struggles.

3. Create space for healing for all affected by addiction. With any addiction, those addicted need support. They need space to explore why they were drawn to porn and to uncover what holes in their lives they’ve been using it to fill. They need guidance on how to allow God to heal, on what true intimacy with God and others really is, and how they can engage in real, connected relationships. And please, Church, do not forget to provide space for those who have been affected by their loved ones’ addiction. When one person in the family struggles with porn, it affects the whole family.

4. Step up. Craig and I have been through his porn addiction. We are vocal with our story and desire so much for people to know they too can overcome this addiction. Not only did we write a book about our journey, but we also developed a discussion leader’s guide so churches and small group leaders would have a tangible tool on how to guide others to healing and freedom. If you and your spouse have overcome porn addiction, pray about starting a small group to help others. Need help yourself? Take this guide to your church and show your pastor or with whomever God leads you to share it.

Last summer, Craig and I hosted a small group in our home. We had three couples gather for seven weeks and God did amazing work. Here are some of the comments from our participants:

“Immediately when we started the discussion, I felt less like my husband and I were broken and more like we have an opportunity to love God and each other better than we could have ever before this journey. I’ll be honest, with each week he gained more freedom, I learned more about the long journey ahead, and we both went home each night pretty wrecked. By the end of the series, through our discussions and hearing others, we processed so much more than what I thought porn addiction entailed. One surprising encouragement from my group was a reminder of God’s desires for me to take time for him and for myself, even in times of trouble.”

“I am certain that having a couple’s support group helped my husband feel more comfortable opening up and sharing with others. He would have kept things secret and hidden indefinitely had it not been for our support group.”

“Porn will grow and flourish in the dark. If you don’t talk openly about your struggle, in a large group or small group or with another person, then you are keeping it in the dark.”

Having a group helped me to feel supported in what we were going through.  By walking with other couples who have had similar struggles, it reminded me that his addiction wasn’t my fault, and that I wasn’t alone in my feelings and frustrations.

“Having my wife with me through this support group was a catalyst for healing, but the added bonus was having other men with their wives in the group. Their stories so graciously shared helped me confront this addiction face to face on more levels than what I had experienced on my own, with other men’s groups, or with my wife. Having other couples in the group that I knew were struggling with this addiction helped comfort me in a different sense of not feeling alone.

Church, though talking about porn addiction may be hard and uncomfortable, it is worth the squirming and averted eyes. Our job is not to look pretty on the outside, to gather in our Sunday best and extoll ourselves on how good we’re doing. Our job is to create an environment where sinners gather in the presence of God, confessing whatever sin, and doing the hard work of recovery together—from whatever sins afflict us.