“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22–23)1
remember clearly, and with inexpressible regret, the night I walked into an adult bookstore and entangled myself in the use of pornography. I was a 23-year-old former minister at the time, well on my way toward a fully backslidden state, and I was considering whether to indulge in the many sexual sins that I had, at that point, only allowed myself to imagine. That evening in the spring of 1978, my decision was sealed when I embraced what I now call the “dark magic.”
The “magical” qualities of pornography were obvious and immediate. One glance around that roomful of graphic sexual images sent a rush through my system very much like a narcotic response. The longer I gazed, the more intoxicated I became, and over the next few hours the porn brought me temporary escape and exhilaration. I’d found a new drug, and it seemed to work beyond my expectations.
The darker aspects of this newfound magic soon became clear to me. I revisited the same porn shop nightly for the next two weeks. I then spiraled into the use of prostitutes, an affair with a married woman, homosexuality, and a five-year habit of reckless, degrading sexual practices. It began with the use of pornography, a product I continued to consume during my backslidden years, and which I have come to regard much the way an addict regards a drug—a destructive vice I have to strenuously avoid, always remembering its lethal impact on my life.
The Problem that Grows Unnoticed
That same lethal impact is being felt on a broader level today as pornography’s availability has reached levels unimaginable twenty-five years ago. Through cable, videotape and DVD products, and the Internet, virtually anyone wanting to view porn is able to do so with minimal effort. The statistics on porn usage, therefore, while tragic, shouldn’t be surprising:
• During the single month of January 2002, 27.5 million Internet users visited pornographic websites.2
• Americans spent an estimated $220 million on pornographic websites in 2001, according to a New York-based Internet research firm. (The same firm, Jupiter Media Metrix, noted that the $220 million figure was up from $148 million in 1999; Americans are expected to spend $320 million annually on porn sites by the year 2005.)3
• In a national survey polling 1,031 adults, Zogby International and Focus on the Family found that twenty percent of the respondents had recently visited a pornographic site.4 Every month millions of people stop what they’re doing to look at erotic images and, in most cases, pretend that they are sexually interacting with the women or men on display. It makes St. John’s description of the world—a place dominated by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16)—chillingly relevant.
What, at first glance, appears to be a secular problem is, in fact, a problem more commonly found among Christians than any of us would care to admit. Over eighteen percent of the men polled in the Zogby/Focus survey cited above, for example, identified themselves as Christian believers.5 The Promise Keepers Men’s Conference conducted an informal poll during its 1996 rally and this poll yielded even more dismal results when one out of three men in attendance admitted they “struggled” with pornography.6 Finally, the Colorado-based Focus on the Family organization reports that seven out of ten pastors who call their toll-free help line claim to be addicted to porn.7
The use of pornography is not restricted to men, either, as is often assumed. Thirty-four percent of the readers of the popular magazine Today’s Christian Woman admitted to the use of Internet pornography,8 and the Zogby/Focus poll indicated one out of every six women surveyed viewed pornography regularly.9 James P. Draper, president of Life Way Christian Resources, was hardly exaggerating when he stated, “It appears the sin of choice among Christians today is pornography.”10
Considering the prevalence of pornography use among Christians, it’s time we examine the effect it’s having on individuals and families within the church and on our Christian witness in a secular and increasingly sexualized culture.
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