By James A. Smith Sr./Florida Baptist Witness
Pornography is the “pink elephant in the pew” — the embarrassing, big subject no one wants to talk about — and that silence is feeding a “bubonic plague” harming churches, pastor Jay Dennis told state Baptist convention executive directors and editors gathered in Oklahoma City.
“Our enemy has found the perfect tool to deliver temptation to men — men who love God, men who love their wives, love their children and love their churches,” Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., said Feb. 14. “Yet their involvement in looking at pornography has virtually duct-taped their mouths closed and taken them out of spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.”
After his presentation, Dennis told the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal he was burdened to address the issue — even though he didn’t want to — when a growing number of women in his church sought pastoral counsel for husbands and sons who were struggling with pornography.
“I resisted … because I knew that the spiritual warfare component of this would be immense — and it has been,” Dennis said, citing multiple health challenges he has faced in the last three years.
Unable to find resources written from the perspective of a senior pastor that were sensitive and “grace oriented,” Dennis decided to research the issue and write his own materials for First Baptist Lakeland.
Dennis says too many pastors are “out of touch,” believing that pornography affects only a small percentage in their congregations. He cited a 2011 LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 pastors that found 62 percent of pastors believe less than 10 percent of men in their churches viewed pornography on a weekly basis. Dennis believes the figure is more like 80 percent.
Most churches, he said, respond to the problem of pornography by denying its reality, while others are aware of the problem but are not specifically dealing with it.
Instead, pastors must “admit there is a problem and urgently address” pornography by helping men overcome it.
Dennis said pornography is the “pink elephant in the pew” because “we have a huge problem that is primarily directed at men’s attitudes toward women.”
He cited six characteristics that make pornography “so dangerous”: it is accessible; affordable — in many cases free; anonymous; addictive; altering — changing how men view women; and creates amnesia.
“This is a winnable war, but we must act very quickly,” he said.
Dennis said the “God-sized project” of creating a campaign for churches of all sizes and denominations seeks to involve at least 1 million men to take a public stand against pornography — and 1 million women praying for men. The campaign is geared to Christian men, he said, because only through the power of the Holy Spirit can men overcome struggles with pornography. (Join1MillionMen.org)
Convinced he needed to address the problem in his church, Dennis said he attended the Institute for Sexual Wholeness in Atlanta where he earned a certification in sexual addictions. He wrote the initial materials and taught them to his men in the spring of 2010 during six Wednesday evening sessions.
“The response, honestly, surprised me,” Dennis said, noting that after the third session he asked those who were struggling with pornography to stand while no one was looking. The noise of “theater seats flapping” constituted the “far majority” by his estimation while not looking.
“I thought to myself, ‘This sounds like the beginning of freedom in our church,'” he said. “There was a spirit of revival that broke out among our men and this was the beginning of a journey that continues to affect positively the men, marriages and families of our church.”
To date, 1,300 men have signed commitment cards that have been posted to a wall and tower prominently displayed at the church. The porn-free commitment includes 14 statements the men affirm. (The statements are included below the text of this article.)
Dennis said he has urged even men who say they do not struggle with pornography to make the commitment as encouragement to those who do and to “draw a line in the sand … to never go there.”
“The wall has become an opportunity for our church to discuss this very sensitive issue,” he said. “The door has been opened to publicly demonstrate our men’s passion for purity.”
Dennis outlined 10 “action steps” to “win the battle of pornography in the pew,” including educating pastors; having churches of all sizes participate in “Join 1 Million Men,” educate women and involve them in prayer; provide “man-friendly” resources; involve men who don’t currently struggle with pornography; have the Southern Baptist Convention “lead the way” as it has on other moral concerns; and train the next generation of church pastors.
Asked by the Florida Baptist Witness what success in the campaign will look like, Dennis responded, “When men are more passionate about purity than they are about pleasure, when churches can openly discuss this, instead of sweeping it under the rug.”
He added, “Success will look like every pastor getting up and saying, ‘OK, here is the pink elephant in the room.'”
Join 1 Million Men: The Porn-Free Commitment
I am making a lifetime commitment to being porn free knowing this commitment is kept one day at a time;
I am acknowledging that I have the capacity to be tempted by pornography and could give into that temptation at any time;
I am placing my relationship with God as the number one priority of my life and admit that God cannot be number one if I am viewing pornography;
I am placing my relationship with my wife (if married) as my number two priority and admit that she cannot be that priority in my life and I cannot love her like I need to love her if I am viewing pornography;
I am placing my relationship with my children (if you have children) as the number three priority in my life and admit they cannot be that priority in my life and I cannot love them like I need to love them if I am viewing pornography;
I understand the only power I have over pornography is the power given by the Holy Spirit as I am surrendered to Him;
I will have at least three other men I can call at any hour of the day or night when the thought enters my mind to look at pornography;
I will consider the consequences to my walk with God, my relationship with my wife (if married) and children (if you have children), my other family members, my job, and everything that is important to me when the thought enters my mind to look at pornography;
I will do everything possible to create a porn-free environment (screensaver of my wife, if married) and children (if you have children); pictures of wife and children around the computer; using the computer in an open place where anyone can see; download accountability software on my computer; install a filtering software on my computer; share my computer password with my wife or friend; put Scriptures on screensaver; post-it notes with Scriptures on computer; taking a different route to work to avoid temptation; when staying in a hotel asking the front desk to turn off pay-per-view on the cable; if necessary avoid traveling with my laptop and use computer in hotel lobby; and eliminate the premium cable channels on my television;
I will develop the spiritual disciplines of daily Bible reading, prayer, personal worship, small-group Bible study, church attendance, fasting, meditating, and journaling (recording what God is saying to you through His Word, the Holy Spirit, your experiences, and your circumstances along with personal victories and failures);
I will recognize those times and places when I am most likely to look at pornography and interrupt those times and places by taking specific steps to guard my mind and heart;
I will immediately remove from my life by destroying any pornography of any kind;
Because I know I am not alone in my struggle I will be mindful of praying for and seeking to help my brothers in Christ to stay pure;
I will review and renew this commitment daily.
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James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at gofbw.com.