6 minute read

Why the Church Must Be a No-Shame Zone

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Jen Ferguson
Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

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.

  • Comments on: Why the Church Must Be a No-Shame Zone
    1. Tom

      Jen – Great thoughts on an essential topic. Many sex addicts are SURE that local churches (and, certainly not denominations) will NEVER make their church a no shame zone. Below I’ll list some reasons.

      1. How about the Elder board of a local church makes a resolution that anyone having this problem (including the pastors) will be accepted and loved? Until the Pastors feel safe and own their own porn problems, I find it hard to see that people in the congregations.

      2. You wrote that over 50% of the Pastors struggle with Porn. I don’t think they will preach effectively about it until they are dealing with it themselves. And, I think, if they preach about it but don’t talk about their own struggles in specific terms, they are being hypocrites and not really being helpful to their congregations.

      3. I find it interesting that you used Rahab as an example. Could we say that God used her BECAUSE she was a prostitute? Imagine a sermon along those lines…

      4. Recently, I felt moved to think about starting a church that I suggested we name NSCF – No Shame Christian Fellowship where all of the Pastors were Sex Addicts.

      5. Because Sex Addiction is one of the hardest Addictions to break, the No Shame needs to extend to Sex Addicts who continue to slip and/or relapse after years in Recovery.

      • I hear you – and yes, perhaps God did use Rahab partly because of the sin in which she found herself entangled. And I agree – any sin that is a constant distraction for us in our lives makes us all more ineffective as spiritual people and leaders. Can God still work with us? Of course. But sin separates us from God, so we will not commune as whole people with Him, which means we are missing out on some of His power. He wants us to bring our stuff to Him and when we withhold from Him, we don’t allow those areas to be touched by His presence.

        I think Satan has the cycle going – pastors are entangled with porn so they don’t preach about it, which means congregants stay in their habit because they have no light shed on the subject, and generally the hypocritical nature of the church thrives…

        But, as more and more people confess and speak out openly, we will regain ground.

      • Adrian

        Probably the best damn comment on this issue. I love you.

      • Linda

        No. Just no. Absolutely NOT. Satan is all over this and just loves this! If a pastor is struggling with sex addiction, he or she needs to step down. Yes, we should feel safe to speak about our struggles. But those who struggle need to STOP. Their hearts need to transform. When they truly go through their recovery, they will change as people and not engage in the behavior anymore.

    2. Apo Rageci

      This is a project worth supporting and churches and individual pastors should make it a priority area in their work.
      I believe the sooner we address the problem, the better it will be for the church. May the Lord lead and guide you in your ministry which is so vital to the health and effectiveness of the church in the world. Blessings!

      • Thank you so much! Yes, my prayer is that those who have been through this will step out and help lead others to hope and freedom.

    3. So good and so needed. Thank you for this message, Jen, and Covenant Eyes.

      • Hugh McCann

        Oops, not the comment, the blog article!

        Quote: Shame can be toxic and debilitating. It can leave us completely paralyzed. It can even nurture the role of the demonic in our lives. But, it is a perfectly natural response, even a healthy response in certain situations. We are not created with a capacity for shame as a result of sin. Shame can be healthy.

    4. Gerard Johnson

      Not sure if this exist but expanding CE services to online pastors/mentors to be assigned to users who have this porn addiction/issue can be outlet to remove shame and not be alone. Jesus be with US!

    5. Gregg

      I am now in my mid 50’s and I struggled with pornography in one form or another for many years since I was about 12 years old. Thankfully with a lot of prayer and much help and support I was able to break free. I was blessed last year to be able to share my testimony with my congregation and it was very powerful. I lead a small support group at my church for those that have or currently struggling with pornography.
      Shame is the enemy’s weapon and he uses it well. Shame kept me from sharing my struggle or talking about it for years. I am not a pastor but I work for my church and I was raised “in the church.” So the thoughts of “I should know better.” If I was a better Christian I could stop this.” “If I prayed better.” If I was closer to God.” Notice a theme in all of these thoughts? “I.” When I finally realized I could NOT do this alone and needed God to help me that my life had become unmanageable is when God broke me free.
      The church body does put sin on a hierarchical scale. I did that! I told myself that at least my sin wasn’t as bad as so and so’s. I even compared myself to King David and told myself I was not as bad as him because at least I didn’t kill anyone! Of course God called King David “a man after his own heart.” But I was better than him??
      Pornography today is like drugs was back in the 70’s in my opinion. We all knew who did it and we all looked down upon them, but never tried to help them and always compared our sins to them as not being as bad!
      I believe in the next 10 years we will see an explosion of rehab centers that deal just with pornography or sex addiction. The church today needs to get in step and be a catalyst for breakthrough.
      I am always willing to share my testimony and have a desire to help those in bondage!
      God bless you for sharing your story and I pray blessing over you and your husbands ministry!

    6. Eugene

      So true that this needs to be addressed at a Church level, but sadly many church leaders (I’m thinking more Elders than Pastors) are blind to the need since they’re not as involved in ground level ministry. My church was looking at running programs to help people in this area, and with SSA, and one Elder stopped the whole thing by refusing to let go of Ephesians 5:3 (But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.) which he took to mean that discussion of these issues is sinful.

      Unfortunately, when someone has a mindset based on a particular view of Scripture there is not much anyone can do to shift them.

    7. Bob Adauto

      What a great piece you wrote here! Thanks for sharing perfect points and encouraging churches and their leaders to do something about this.
      This summer, my church will be hosting a 5-week video series on this subject which will lead into a mens group and possibly a wives group about recovery form sexual addiction.
      Right now I lead a men’s group regarding this subject and every single one of them are so thankful for the support!
      Thanks again!

    8. Temple

      “With a healthy support system, research indicates that you can overcome anything.” I had the unfortunate experience of being shamed by a church. I am now in a stable and happy relationship and attend a welcoming and Grace filled church. I am proof that with encouragement and support one can overcome anything. I pray that church leaders will realize how much pain that they cause when they offer shame instead of grace and how much healing can come when we offer support.

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