Morality, Holiness and Pornography

Greg Strand – February 15, 2016 4 Comments

For many, Leadership Journal’s Fall 1982 anonymous article was a huge wake-up call: The War Within: An Anatomy of Lust. I remember reading this article as required reading for our Pastoral Counseling course at TEDS in the later 1980s. It was published again recently as one of Leadership’s top articles since the publication of the magazine began in 1980.

Consider how the moral landscape has changed since 1982. The anonymity, affordability, accessibility of pornography and things related to deviant morality in the sexual realm have made this much more ubiquitous and challenging. It deadens a person’s soul and intimacy with God and others.

Recently Josh McDowell Ministry, Cru Ministry, commissioned Barna to conduct a survey on the use of and perspective of pornography for an upcoming Set Free Global Summit, sponsored in partnership with Covenant Eyes, in April. The study, referred to as The Porn Phenomenon, consists of “a massive research project examining teenagers, young adults, and Americans in general as well as pastors and youth pastors – more than 3,000 interviews in total across a range of questions.” McDowell notes, “Pornography violates all relational values between the individual and self, the individual and society, the unity of our families and our moral fabric and fiber as a nation. When we objectify and demean life by removing the sanctity of the human person, our future is at risk.”

Although the Barna team is still working on a detailed analysis of the data, they have released some of the “top-level findings” of the study. Their desire is that this study will prompt discussion among Christians. Their hope is that “it leads to healthy meaningful change.” Their reason for this focused study is “because a lot of what we have been doing to help address porn in a digital culture doesn’t seem to be working very well.” (This has also been summarized by Christianity Today: Here’s How 770 Pastors Describe Their Struggle with Porn)

Even though this study includes porn usage among Americans in general, it also focuses in particular of its usage among pastors. I will focus on that aspect of the study. Here is some of the statistical information with some of the conclusions drawn.

Porn and Pastors

12.   Most pastors (57%) and youth pastors (64%) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past.

    • Overall, 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn.
    • About 12% of youth pastors and 5% of pastors say they are addicted to porn
    • 87% of pastors who use porn feel a great sense of shame about it.
    • 55% of pastors who use porn say they live in constant fear of being discovered.
    • The vast majority of faith leaders who struggle with porn say this has significantly affected their ministry in a negative manner. It is not clear why, but youth pastors are twice as likely as pastors to report this kind of unfavorable impact.

13. There is a big difference of opinion between faith leaders and congregants when it comes to the consequences for pastors who struggle with porn.

  • Only 8% of pastors think that a pastor should resign his/her position if s/he is struggling with porn. Most pastors think s/he should deal with the struggle through counseling or accountability.
  • In contrast, 41% of adult Christians think that pastors should be fired or asked to resign if they are found to be using porn. Younger Christians are more likely to take a grace-filled approach.

14. The vast majority of the faith community, including leaders and laity, believe pornography is a bigger problem in the Church than it was two decades ago. But many do not know what to do about it.

  • 93% of pastors and 94% of youth pastors say it is a much bigger or somewhat bigger problem than it was in the past.
  • More than half of youth pastors have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with porn in the past 12 months.
  • Although teens seeking help are mainly teen boys, there is still a significant amount of teen girls seeking help from youth pastors.
  • Men of all ages and stages, but especially married men, are coming to pastors for help with pornography struggles.
  • Despite the awareness of the problem, most churches do not have programs specifically designed to assist those struggling with porn use.

Regarding the morality of porn more generally, Barna discovered “Teens and young adults view ‘not recycling’ as more immoral than viewing porn: 32% say viewing porn is ‘usually or always wrong’ compared to 56% who say not recycling is ‘usually or always wrong.’”

There are many moral issues affecting us today. Many of them are “out there” and we in the church must address them, e.g. homosexuality, same-sex marriage, LGBTQIA, etc. But there are also many issues we must address “in here,” in the church, in our own family. It is important and necessary to address both. Are we giving attention to those moral issues “out there” to keep from addressing our own personal moral issues? As Peter writes, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17a).

Here are a few thoughts/comments regarding this information.

  • The pervasive influence of pornography in our culture is astounding, though not overly surprising. Pornography has a pervasive influence.
  • The use and influence among pastors is sobering and sad. The numbers who claim to struggle with and are addicted to pornography is too high. At least they still consider it a “struggle,” recognizing that it is not something to give into.
  • Pastors who give into this sin feel guilty about it and live in constant fear of being discovered.
  • Most pastors acknowledge this secretive sin negatively affects ministry. However, bear in mind this says nothing about the destructive effects this has on their own personal life before God or their relationship with their spouse and family.
  • Pastors have lower expectations of holiness among other pastors and are more gracious toward other pastors who struggle with the sin of pornography than congregants are to pastors. There is still an expectation from God’s people that pastors ought to be examples, to live exemplary lives before others.
  • The fear of being caught and the fear of losing one’s vocational ministry (one’s job) tempt the pastor to keep this sin secret, to attempt to fight this sin alone, and to easily succumb to the sinful allure of this sexual sin.
  • Pornography is a significant issue in the lives of pastors and those in the church, and it is a much bigger issue than in the past. It has mostly been associated with males, but that is changing.
  • Even though most agree with the pervasive numbers of people affected by pornography and the and perverse problems caused by pornography, there is very little being done in churches to help with this problem. This refers to pastors, who deceptively deceive keeping this sin to themselves and thus struggling and suffering alone, and congregants, who feel guilt and despair thinking they are the only one suffering from this sin, concluding they are beyond help and hope, thus remaining guilty and silent.
  • The notion that not recycling is considered more immoral than viewing pornography reflects the changing culture mores of morality.
  • This is a way the Enemy is gaining a beachhead and winning a battle in the church. It is a way he is working to kill, steal and destroy.

I conclude with a plea and an exhortation.

  • If you are a pastor struggling with pornography, get help. Find someone you can trust and disclose this secret sin. If you do not know anyone with whom you can disclose this sin, let me know and I can help you to get the help you need.
  • If you serve as a pastor or leader of a church, know that many in the church are struggling with the sin of pornography. Address this issue corporately so that all know there is awareness of this sin, and have some ministry, resources and helps for those who confess their struggle with this sin.

Remember these three passages of Scripture regarding holiness and purity as we live and minister coram Deo, in the presence of and under the authority of God.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

“Strive for . . . holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

“You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).

Let us pursue gospel-produced, grace-induced, sin-fighting, people-edifying, God-glorifying holiness as we live our lives coram Deo.

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

4 responses to Morality, Holiness and Pornography

  1. Thanks, Greg, for your timely post. We need to have open, honest conversations within the church about the dangers of pornography.

    • Thank you for your comment, Amy. We are in agreement!

      And it is important that we not only address it to condemn it as sin, which is a good and right first step. But we also need (1) to provide hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, (2) to provide help in the form of resources, and (3) to provide health in the form of loving accountability.

  2. Thanks for this Greg! I co-led (with an elder in my church) my first “LFL” (Lust Free Living) group with a group of about 8 men 3 years ago. And, have since walked with several men through the LFL material on individual bases. Every time I engage in this kind of mentor-ship I’m reminded of how many MORE there are in my congregation who undoubtedly struggle with this issue – as I most certainly did for many years as both a single and a married man. I can say with great joy there is genuine victory and freedom we men (and pastors) can find in our sex-saturated culture, and that victory does not have to be through “gritted teeth” and “white knuckles.” Your 1,2, 3 points above in your reply to another comment are right on. This is real and its happening everywhere and with love, hope, faith, wisdom and accountability we can see and know genuine freedom and watch as our mighty God enables us (through the renewing of our minds) to “overcome evil with good.”

    • Thank you for sharing what you have done, Rick, both personally and with others.

      I am encouraged to hear that you have been intentional and purposeful about addressing this issue. It is certainly a sin that must be addressed and rooted out. It is not a sin to take lightly and give a pass. No matter how pervasive it is, it is not a respectable or acceptable sin. Per the survey, most pastors know and feel that. This sin will numb and deaden our souls which will prevent one from experiencing true intimacy, especially with God and with a spouse.

      I am also encouraged to hear you address this sin forthrightly, but not only from the posture of condemnation. You reaffirm the hope that is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not left helpless or hopeless in addressing this sin. Not only do we condemn it as sin, but we are given hope in the gospel. This is a sin that can and must be overcome by the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. As we pray, sing and believe, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me” (Charles Wesley, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing).

      Finally, I am encouraged to hear you are doing this with an elder. The accountability that is necessary for others to address this sin, the importance of life together, the fact that spiritual growth and the fight for faith by faith in the process of sanctification (ongoing spiritual transformation) is done in the midst of community.

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