February 14, 2012 / Praxis
In this essay, Ryan Davis wrestles with God’s goodness and Scriptural promises in the face of profound physical suffering.
TOJ (Sean): On your website, it states, “XXXChurch exists to bring awareness, openness, accountability, and recovery to the church, society, and individuals, in the issues of pornography, and to begin to provide solutions through non-judgmental and creative means.” What are these “non-judgmental and creative means?” And in what ways have you seen this mission statement fulfilled?
JR: Wow, man, that’s good stuff. Basically XXXChurch wants to level the playing field when it comes to all issues surrounding pornography. Our non-judgmental ways are real easy. We are all about the love of Christ. We are not about [bringing] any judgment into people’s lives, or the sin therefore, but we are definitely all about loving people, and looking closely at issues with them—and in this case it’s immorality, sexual immortality—you know whether that be with a porn star or people addicted to porn.
We are not going to point a finger, we’re not going to look down at someone, but we are certainly going to let him or her know that Jesus is the other side of the fence for him or her. If they want peace and happiness, to get away from that immorality, get away from that sexual sin, it’s definitely waiting for them. So when we say non-judgmental ways, we’re just talking about making sure we level the playing field. When we come to the table to talk about porn and issues surrounding porn, we just let everyone know that everyone’s falling short of the glory of God; no one is better than anyone else. We want to take the shame and guilt away from this craziness, so people can just want to talk about it.
TOJ (Sean): And how have you seen this fulfilled so far in your ministry?
JR: I think the biggest direction this is going is going to the porn shows. Tomorrow, actually, we are all headed to LA. for LA Erotica, one of the biggest porn shows in the world. And when we hit the porn show floor, it’s real easy to see what happens to people in relation to how they view us. Most people would think that people at a porn show would see XXXChurch and get all crazy and want to argue with us. But quite the opposite happens. When you invest in people’s lives, and I’m just talking physical time—I mean, “Hey, how are you?” What’s going on?” “Can we be of help?” —all of sudden there’s a real honesty with people. And that’s what we seek. The real tangibles for us is when we can get face to face with people about this problem and let them know that they don’t have to engage in this type of activity because there’s something else for them.
We receive thousands of emails a week from people that have either downloaded our software or read our resources online or people who we’ve met at porn shows or other outreaches. The tangible things for us are just the breakthrough on the conversation, because we truly believe people are really ready to talk about this, but they are just waiting to be approached, and approached in a manner that’s not so much, “You suck and you need to clean it up.”
TOJ (Christina): On the XXX site, there seems to be a primary emphasis on pornography use in the context of married or engaged couples. In this particular scenario, do you believe it is advisable or even possible for women to act as an “accountability partner” for their husband/fiancé who wants to stop using porn?
JR: That’s a great question, in fact we need to answer that question more. It’s a great question because a lot of times a guy will write in and say “is my wife okay to be my accountability partner?” And here’s the short answer to that: there are things that are engaged in this addiction, if you will, or sin, that you need a lot of discernment for when you pick your accountability partner. Is your wife, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, a good ear when it comes to the nastiness that you’ve been involved in with porn? I’m not so sure. I believe that’s totally up to your prayer and your counsel with a pastor, or someone that you’ve got around you, to really flesh those issues out.
People talk about open and honest relationships, “Oh we share everything.” But there are things that you can engage in, in this sin and this addiction that most likely your spouse’s just doesn’t need to hear. But with that said, you can break any rule when it comes to this stuff, of course. So I guess we would say, use as much discernment as you possibly can, through the Holy Spirit, pray a lot, and make sure you have other counsel, outside of your relationship, in order to make those decisions. Because as I like to say, my wife, for example, is built a lot different than I am, and some conversations that I have, in just regular day-to-day life are not necessarily the conversations that she is willing to participate in.
A perfect example is that my wife is into flowers, I am not into flowers, so we don’t talk a lot about flowers with one another, because of those interests. So if it’s a porn related issue and I have a porn problem and I know it’s going to directly hurt or affect my wife, I’m really going to need some discernment in order to flush those issues out with her. I’m not saying don’t be honest, I’m just saying have a lot of discernment.
TOJ (Christina): A follow-up question, like I said the site seems very much geared towards wives, and one thing that you say in the sections For Wives, “it’s not your fault, most likely your husband has been struggling with this issue before the time you married,” so what do you think is appropriate for dating couples, ones that are serious, perhaps on the track to marriage, or do you feel this is an issue most appropriately brought up in an engaged or married context?
JR: You mean specifically if they have issues dealing with porn? Is that what you’re getting at?
TOJ (Christina): Yeah.
JR: Here’s one big thing that we tell. I mean, I want every woman to know that when you meet a man, whether you’re an older teenager, you’re in your twenties, college, or whatever, when you meet a man, or when you meet a woman, because we are finding out that the addiction rate for women is growing incredibly. When you meet anybody you’re interested in, here’s one thing to ask them, ask them about their history with pornography. I don’t think that’s off base; I don’t think that’s a question that we should wait until we get engaged or married to find out about. Because when you are actively going to pursue a relationship, you need to know these things. And if someone has a problem with porn, it will eventually destroy the relationship. So ask.
TOJ (Sean): You recently posted a blog titled “Sex and the World Cup” on your site that briefly talks about some of the sex tourism statistics that are expected during this month-long tournament. How does XXXChurch understand its current role in addressing a cultural and social phenomenon like sex tourism at the World Cup?
JR: That whole blog thing; you want to talk about something that really bummed us out in the office, when we really started to investigate that. It bummed us out because here’s something that in Germany we’ll throw out there as quite normal. I don’t know if you know, but there are billboards advertising these brothels, there’s leafleting going on in the streets directly across from the venues they’re playing soccer. So in our world, sex and sex trafficking and a reducing of women, or reducing men, to nothing but playful objects used for sexual arousal just bums us out totally. Again, XXXChurch wants to serve as the loudest bullhorn possible in the world for people to understand that this isn’t the behavior that will lead anybody to happiness and peace. It’s not the behavior that we want our young ladies, our young men, to be engaged in. We want healthy relationships, which means that things like a 5-story brothel in Berlin just aren’t going to do it.
We certainly aren’t going to Capitol Hill and write a bunch of bills and stand around with protest signs; that’s not what we’re about. But we certainly are about screaming it, as loud as we possibly can, that there is an alternative to the craziness, like what’s happening in Germany, when it comes to the World Cup.
TOJ (Christina): Pornography often involves images of submission and domination, usually in the form of men dominating women sexually. If men are often shown dominating others in sports, in war, in video games, etc. why should we expect them to NOT dominate women in their imaginations?
JR: That’s a great question. The truth of the matter is, whenever we belittle another human being, it’s just not where we want to be. That’s all there is to it. I know a ton of couples that have very healthy, sexual relationships that we all talk about when we get together for this group or that group, and occasionally we do talk about those things, or it’s okay to talk about those things, and I’m going to tell you something, none of those conversations have to do with them, or me, or anybody else I know, dominating their wives or dominating their sexual partners. It’s just not a good thing. God does not want us, man, to be banging on other people or belittling them in any way: verbally, sexually. He just doesn’t want that.
We’ve got to take into consideration with what’s going on between our ears, with what’s going on in our hearts. Where are we when it comes to thinking about other people? And conversely, with our spouse, where are we on that plane? Are we treating these people with respect? Or we bringing them into the same level as we are? We have a real hard time with those types of issues, because we just don’t want other people to be treated that way.
TOJ (Sean): Through a number of nationally recognized and controversial campaigns like “National Porn Sunday”, the “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” Bibles, and now the “Starving Jesus: 40 Days of Nothing” tour, XXXChurch has certainly made a name for itself as radical with both the evangelical and secular communities. How do you respond to critics from both sides that see XXX as little more than “shock” ministry?
JR: A part of me just wants to say, “Hey man, we really don’t care about what other Christians think,” and then part of me wants to embrace the church, and another part of me gets really sad knowing that the Church, as a whole, has had such apprehensions to what we do. I’ll be honest with you, man, we love the church, we love the church as a whole, we love Christ, we love the people who formed the church. But we also think that the Church has a huge honesty problem. The church does not want to confront its demons from the pulpit; we certainly don’t want to draw out sin. We have a real hard time with throwing our stuff on the table—XXXChurch, again, wants to be a bullhorn for that issue.
We want to be able to say, “let’s level the playing field, let’s all come to the table, let’s all strip away the garbage of our human personality and the garbage of ego and pride, and all the craziness that wraps up our sin and lay it right down and get it out. Because it’s a heck of a lot easier walking in Christ, when you are free from your personal garbage, than not. So we do take a lot of heat from Christians, we do take a lot of heat from the outside world. But I’m going to tell you something, man, if the conversation gets started and then after that conversation gets started some work gets done, we have done our job. That’s all we really want to do.
TOJ (Christina): This is just a follow-up question; when you refer to ‘the church’ how do you see XXXChurch in the context of the larger Church body. Especially in a day of age when you can do so much online, how do you see your partnership with, let’s say, the home churches of the men and women using the site, but also the Church as a whole?
JR: That’s another good question. There are a lot of churches out there that have embraced us, and we thank God for them and we have a lot of great relationships. I would really hope that the Church as a whole would really embrace the messaging of XXXChurch. And what I am specifically talking about is being able to talk about a subject and then being able to follow it through with some accountability and obviously some Christ-centered activity in their lives.
For us, if a Church comes to XXXChurch, and wants in, we are more than happy to outstretch to those guys, and feed them our resources, or point to them to Bible studies, or help them to other groups, or help them to other ministries, or whatever that needs to be. We want to create as many opportunities as we possibly can for the church.
National Porn Sunday is a great example. National Porn Sunday, for us, is an outreach directly to the church, not necessarily an outreach directly to people with porn problems, although that’s what it is [as well]. But in the context, we need the church and the church’s pulpit to make that happen. We centered a lot of those resources, creating a kit, if you will, with a bunch of resources, so that churches can arm themselves with ways on how to help people with porn problems.
TOJ (Christina): Connectedly, because of your particular emphasis within the Christian community, you’ve no doubt had the opportunity to speak with many pastors, youth pastors and lay leaders around the country regarding the surge in pornography use in recent years. What patterns or themes have emerged in light of those conversations and what has been the most surprising to learn?
JR: I think one of the big surprising things is that we’ve found a ton of youth pastors involved in pornography. I would say a good amount of emails that come into my box every day, every week, every month are from youth pastors; that’s certainly surprising. I think the truth is the Church in America has definitely started to embrace XXXChurch because of this rising problem. XXXChurch right now is out on a speaking tour with EIY doing 22 dates around the country, you know, to young people who just need to hear the purity message. Obviously we do porn shows, and also a ton of regular speaking events, where churches will have us at youth groups, or to their men’s groups, or sometimes on a Sunday pulpit. I think Pastors are finally getting passed the point of thinking that ‘these guys are crazy, these guys are nuts, or whatever.’
They are starting to really understand that we are not going to stand up and be vulgar and rude. We’re just going to stand up and say that we really want to take care of this problem for people, we want the Church to act responsibly when it comes to this sin issue and get over it, and find accountability for it. But the surprising thing is that the Church has a tremendous porn problem right now and it continues to surprise us. You’d think on this side of the fence you’ve seen it all. But when you get an email from a 23, 24, 25 year old youth pastor, saying that “I’ve been at the church for a year-and-half and I can’t stop looking at porn, and tonight I’ve got to go and talk to 20 kids who are coming to my church,” that frightens you a little bit. That makes us want to stand up and make sure that we are as long as we can possibly be to help these people out.
TOJ (Christina): Can you flesh out what you mean when you say the ‘purity message’?
JR: The purity message for young people, for kids, is basically don’t have sex before you get married; don’t engage in any sexual activity before you get married. Keep yourself pure. Keep some integrity in your life.
My wife runs a life group with several women, all between the ages of 18-25, and her message, because of XXXChurch, she’s married to me, is real easy. Her message back to them is ‘hey, wait until you’re married, wait until you’re married.’
Our society is so sexually explicit that it’s hard not to go to the grocery store without seeing some kind of craziness. I think we need more voices out there looking back at our young people, or even people in their 20’s, that say it’s okay to be a virgin, it’s okay not to have sex, it’s okay to wait until you’re married. It’s what God wants us to do.
TOJ (Sean): I have a follow-up too, to something you said earlier about youth pastors and the sheer number of those that you have spoken to. How is your response to them different than to someone who isn’t a youth pastor? Or is there any difference?
JR: I don’t think there’s a difference, but I mean obviously I am going to hold them more accountable, given their job. As a rule, I am going to make sure that is foremost in my email, only because I kind of understand his or her world a little bit more than someone else does. But again this isn’t accountability; if someone writes XXXChurch and says ‘hey I have a porn problem,’ we’re going to challenge them to accountability. We are going to challenge them to a relationship with Jesus, and then we’re going to challenge them to get someone in their life that they can talk to about this—open up their mouth and tell them what’s going on. And once accountability is established—face to face—with someone, we are going to challenge them to keep it cleaned up, to do a daily reprieve with God, to really help their lives out, to not go back into the those activities and actions that they were already in. Whether you’re a steel worker or a pastor, I’m going to hold them to the same accountability. But then again, if I do get that youth pastor I remind him very gently—the word there is gently—that the dude has to really face his problem. Because you can’t be leading a youth group and be addicted to porn. You just can’t do that.
TOJ (Sean): XXXChurch speaks often about God’s intention for human sexuality and that pornography is not a part of that intention. Would you say more about why pornography is not merely an artful expression of human sexuality, as many believe it to be?
JR: I mean, that’s just a crazy lie. There’s nothing artful about porn—there’s nothing artful about movie dealing with double penetration, there’s nothing artful about a woman doing a donkey, there’s nothing artful about a man having sex with a four year old, there’s nothing artful about preteens having sex with multiple men partners. There’s nothing artful about that.
The art controversy is a lie, designed for the world, to look back at you and I and say this is how you should be having sex, how you should dress, how you should act, how you should scream, how you should react when this guy does that, or this gal does that. It’s just a lie.
TOJ (Christina): Your website often asks men not to objectify women visually, but in your section entitled The NoHo Zone, you challenge women not to dress in a scandalous fashion, for their sake and for the sake of men. While these may be necessary steps for men and women to take, how can we as a church encourage both sexes to move away from blaming the other for our own sin?
JR: Again, it starts with and comes down to accountability. It’s just a simple matter of personal accountability; if we have relationships in our lives and we’re talking about what’s going between us, whether it’s man-man, woman-women, women-man, I mean, pick your poison, whatever relationship you want to have inside of the church. I would hope that we’re talking about responsibility, we’re talking about ‘Does this look good on me? Or does this too revealing for me?’ ‘Well you know, I saw her the other day and I was a little turned on by her.’ These are conversations that we need to have—all with the regard of personal responsibility.
What’s going on between my ears? What’s going on in my heart? If we don’t establish that kind of a communication, everybody might as well dress like a ho, and every dude might as well go around lusting after everyone. So I really challenge the American Church, especially pastors and leaders of the Church, to be able to have these conversations in the real, in the open, without feeling the heat that someone is going to get in their grill and say ‘why are you talking like that to my kid,’ because we need to talk like that.
TOJ (Sean): Last question. I think XXXChurch does a great job of sending a message of hope to many by telling them they are not alone and encouraging them to start the process of change and healing by telling others about their struggle with pornography. What adjustments do you anticipate X3 will need to make in order to remain an effective and relevant ministry?
JR: For us, we make no bones about being outrageous. We want to be outrageous and we’ll tell everyone that we are all about being outrageous, because we know that being outrageous with an outrageous problem is where we need to be. And so I just hope, and I pray, my one prayer every night when I hit my knees, is that the Lord would keep us creative and effective inside of this outreach. Specifically this means that we continue to stay on the edge, that we continue to stay relevant as far as the conversation goes, because you know what? This conversation about porn can get boring in the world’s eyes. There’s no doubt about it, people search porn to porn to porn, that’s why there’s so many porn sites, so we get that and what we want to do is stay as creative as possible.
From No Hoes, to Save the Kitten, to Wally the Wiener, to whatever it has to be, so we can use a large bullhorn to get it out there. Even Starving Jesus for that matter, even though it’s not directly related to porn, it does have a relation to exercising your faith. If you start doing that, coming up with creative ways on how to bridge the gap of all these sin problems—I don’t care if it’s booze, porn, lying, cheating, it doesn’t matter. You can use these creative methods, coupled with the word of God and it’s on. Paul, John the Baptist, I mean, you name these guys and you read the word of God, and you’re going to get that they were just as creative. And that’s what great about being a Christian.
TOJ (Sean): Well JR, thank you again for your time and all of your thoughtful answers.
JR: I appreciate you guys and all your questions too—very, very thoughtful. Way to go. Thanks guys.
Christina Maria DesVaux
JR Mahon has been affiliated with XXXchurch.com for over two years and now works with them fulltime. He is the co-author of the book, "Starving Jesus."
Sean is a psychotherapist and an avid film watcher. He lives in Seattle with his wife Laura and their newly born daughter Emma.