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Porn Addiction and Masturbation in Evangelical Churches

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Did you know that one of the biggest problems facing Evangelical Christians is masturbation? Recently, Pure Life Ministries, a Fundamentalist “purity” ministry started by Steve Gallagher, published an article about what they believe is a “sexual sin” crisis facing American Evangelicals.

According to Ed Buch, Pure Life’s vice president for counseling services, countless Evangelical Christians are “porn addicts.” Their porn addiction has led to an epidemic of sexual self-gratification among sexually active Evangelicals.

Buch states:

Yeah, I think it’s definitely getting harder and harder to maintain that illusion that sexual sin is not a problem in the [Evangelical] church today. But there probably still are those who are just oblivious to it, or in denial over that situation. Because study after study is getting done now; surveys and polls are being done on a regular basis by people like the Barna Group and Focus on the Family, which are qualified organizations. They are really looking into these things and are consistently churning out numbers that tell us that fifty percent of the men in a congregation are addicted to pornography. Twenty percent of the women in a congregation are addicted to pornography. Focus on the Family did a poll that said that forty seven percent of families say that porn is a problem in their home.

And none of this should be really shocking because one of the stats that I saw recently was that eighteen percent of pastors are addicted to pornography. I’m using the word addicted here Brooks. It’s not just that these people are occasionally consuming something that they shouldn’t. These are men and women who are compulsively addicted to pornography and other forms of sexual sin. It’s a huge problem in the church.

But do you know what always stands out to me hand in hand when I see these statistics? I’ve read the letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation, and two of them specifically mention sexual sin as an issue in the church. What that tells me is that sexual sin in the church has been a problem, it is a problem, and it is going to continue to be a problem, even as we go through the very end times.

….

Well, let’s first go back to the verse I just quoted out of 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul was writing and saying that these various ones will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Among them he listed fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals and sodomites. That pretty well covers abroad list of sexual sinners right there. So, I suppose the other issue that isn’t on that list, that really most people latch onto, is masturbation. When it comes to this issue of masturbation, there are many who believe that it’s not a sin. Even some pastors may teach that sort of thing, that masturbation is not a sin.

But I can tell you this.  I’ve been in addictions counseling for over 20 years and in my ministry experiences, I can assure you that just like cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, those things that are the gateways to harder drug use and abuse, masturbation is a gateway to other forms of sexual sin. And sin always begins in the heart. So, when Jesus addressed sexual sin, and He did, that’s exactly what He pointed to. Do you remember the passage in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount? He said that if a man looks at someone lustfully, he’s committing adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). And so, whether I look at someone literally walking by or driving by, or something, and I’m looking at them lustfully, or whether it’s simply happening in my mind’s eye while I’m masturbating, I’m still committing sin. I’m committing the sin of adultery in my heart. And when I fantasize and masturbate, that’s what’s going on.

Then Jesus went on to say shortly after that, that it’s from within, it’s out of the heart of men that proceed evil thoughts, or fantasies, or you might say adulteries, fornication, and so on (Matthew 15:19). Jesus is telling us that those more offensive, deeper forms of sexual sin are actually rooted in our heart. They arise out of our hearts. So, when masturbation is corrupting our hearts, it’s feeding into those other forms of sin that will eventually flow and follow out of that same heart.

Do you know what I find in our counseling, Brooks? There are a lot of men who want to hold on to that sin masturbation and make it some kind of a pet sin that they don’t have to give up.  They’ll give up a lot of other things, but not that one. And they’ll continue to struggle with that one for a little while. And that’s why in his book At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry, Steve Gallagher devotes an entire chapter to this topic of masturbation. Because it is one of those myths that people have held onto, that it’s not really a sin. He addresses that pretty thoroughly in the book.

The bottom line to all of this, Brooks, is that masturbation, of which some people use the term self-gratification, and I’ve seen more and more recently, people are even just calling it self-sex; all of those terms, whichever one you choose, they’re pointing to the root of selfishness. I’m literally having sex with myself if I’m engaged in masturbation. So, if you look at the whole of Scripture, the full teaching out of the Bible, there is no way you can defend such a selfish behavior as being compatible with your Christianity.

Buchs, Gallagher, and Pure Life Ministries believe that Evangelical churches are filled with “porn addicts.” What should we make of this assertion? Is “porn addiction” even a thing? Sure, people can become addicted to many things, but has Internet porn turned half of all teen and adult Evangelical church members into addicts? Imagine for a moment an Evangelical megachurch with 20,000 members. Does Buch expect anyone to believe that this church has thousands and thousands of porn addicts; men (and women) so obsessed with porn that they spend every waking moment on the Internet, fulfilling their lustful desires? This, on its face, is absurd. Do Evangelicals look at porn? Sure, many do, including pastors. Do Evangelicals masturbate after watching YouPorn and other sites? Sure, many do. However, is this a sign of “addiction”? Of course not. Why, then, do Evangelicals confess to porn addiction?

Theology is the problem, not “addiction.” Evangelicals are taught, often from birth, that they are hopeless, vile, wicked, broken sinners whom God hates; that salvation from original sin comes only through the merit and work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead three days later. Evangelicals are taught from the earliest ages that they are in some way defective, and the only way to change this is by getting “saved.” Yet, as Buch makes clear, even after Evangelicals are “born-again” they still have a problem with “sin.” Why is that? Supposedly, Evangelical Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is their ever-present teacher and guide. Yet, the Holy Spirit is no match for porn. Evangelicals also have the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Yet, it seems the words of God are powerless to stop church members from viewing porn. And finally, Evangelicals have their churches and pastors who provide frequent reinforcement of Godly sexual mores. Yet, all the preaching, teaching, books, conferences, and Christian blogs/websites do little to turn eyes from 36DDD to Jesus. What gives?

Evangelicals go through life believing they are weak. Sure, Jesus saved them, but Satan and the “world” continue to tempt them to sin and lead them astray. Making matters worse is that Evangelical preachers frequently remind weak congregants that God/church/pastor expects them to follow the Bible’s strict moral code (and a-biblical moral standards adopted and enforced by church leaders). ALL sexual activity outside of heterosexual/married/monogamous sex is a sin against the thrice-holy God. Even the most natural of sexual behaviors, masturbation, is a sin.

Instead of teaching church members sexual responsibility, Evangelical preachers beat them over their heads with God’s No Fun Book. This leads, of course, to fear and guilt. Evangelicals who engage in normal, healthy sexual activity fear exposure and judgment by God and the church. They are laden with guilt over their inability to stay on the straight and narrow sexually. Giving in to one’s natural desires only leads to more and more fear and guilt. As former Evangelicals can attest, this fear and guilt destroy one’s sense of self-worth.

Sadly, as long as people continue to attend Evangelical churches, the fear and guilt cycle will continue. The only permanent solution is for congregants to leave churches that promote sexual repression and find congregations that affirm normal, healthy expressions of sexuality. Let me also add that deep immersion into repressive theological beliefs such as those espoused by Buchs, Gallagher, and Pure Life Ministries may require competent secular counseling to overcome. Help awaits, but it requires exiting places where abuse and repression are normalized in the name of the God of the Bible.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    Well, and as Accidental Historian once observed, it’s so very much easier not to think of something when you’re not convinced that every time you do think of it is some sort of horrible, soul-devouring sin that must be avoided at all costs. The constant shaming telling you that you must “avoid temptation” ironically (and perhaps deliberately) leads to even more focus on the things that might tempt you.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    OMG. You know the title has another meaning? Like there is actual masturbation in the church building? And yet, I suspect an adolescent could get horny anywhere, and if he was in the corner away from others..EW.

    Okay, now that I’ve gotten my childishness out of the way: sex and sexual feelings aren’t wrong. Different people can define what is right and wrong, although I go with what consenting, legal adults do is okay. My personal practice is sex only within monogamy. But what I’m driving at is, those of us who accept our sex drives don’t feel controlled by it. Fundies have made sex and porn glamorous in its sinfulness. And then again, they get to pray every night and be washed clean through Jesus’s blood, only to start over the next day. There is no adult action here, as a mature person would either decide (1) okay, I don’t have to watch porn, so I won’t, or (2) actually, I like to watch porn and that is okay.

    Almost nobody is “addicted” although it is possible for someone to fixate on porn. But seriously, someone looking at porn a little every week who still works, goes to job, takes care of others? That person is not an addict. And I suspect that is 99.99% of the people who watch porn.

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I have a dirty mind so I couldn’t get past phrases like “hand in hand”, “pet sin”, “holding”……

    Evangelicals, conservative Catholucs, and other fundamentalist religions have such an obsession with sex. Even that stupid story of Onan emptying his seed onto the ground is really ridiculous. Like, why is it anyone’s business how consenting adults have sex? And masturbation is really a victimless “crime”. Really, these folks just care about controlling people and perpetuating the notion that normal human thoughts and behaviors are BAD and that the religion has the solution to the supposed problem.

  4. Avatar
    dale m

    Imagine if one were to ask these ministries if it would be more kosher to refrain completely from sex AND marriage. Never to indulge in procreation. Be absolutely safe from all sexual behaviour. Embrace extinction since these are the end times. Chemically induced castration. How would that hold out amongst evangelicals?!? Could that be used as a weapon against their evangelistic sexual propaganda? After all, you are helping them to approach a non-sexual life completely devoid of lust making it easier to be filled completely with Jesus thought.

  5. Avatar
    Troy

    Isn’t it only problematic if you don’t “finish”? The only thing “Pure Life Ministries” is doing here is making people regret doing it. I actually think it’s healthy. You rub one out, it clears the cob webs in your brain and the ants in your pants and you can get back to your mundane duties. No regrets, hey it keeps the sperm fresh. Reminds me of something Dr. Ruth mentioned. Have sex first and then go out to dinner (movie etc.). That way you can enjoy the meal and not want to rush back home to rock and roll.

  6. Avatar
    Trenton

    The last people I want teaching others about sex are those sitting and saying that no one should have sex. The apostle Paul seems to have really hated it and I have an inkling he was a preachy asshole who wasn’t getting any and decided that everyone else should be like him leading to 2 millennia of christian sexual dysfunction and abuse that continues to today.

    If they treated sex as normal and healthy, they might just break free of the bond of their “addiction.”

  7. Avatar
    GeoffT

    I have no problem with porn as such, though I’d say it must be based on acceptable standards, especially consent. Going further, I’d argue that both porn and masturbation should be encouraged, because they both serve as outlets for urges which are difficult to control otherwise. Falsely suppressing even these outlets means that many young people, and I’m guessing mainly men, go through puberty and into adulthood with all sorts of weird things in their heads, and there’s no telling where it leads. How many perpetrators of mass shootings have had just this sort of upbringing?

  8. Avatar
    aylogogo77

    Thete’s more going on here than meets the eye.. Evangelicals are anxious about the age of marriage being delayed more and more. If marriage is the only outlet for the release of sexual tension, they’re thinking then people will marry younger and more fertile and have more kids. That ignores the economic barriers that now exist to getting married and starting a family, barriers that evangelical Republicans helped put in place. It’s the law of unintended consequences.

  9. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    This reminds me of one episode of ” Beavis and Butthead,” where the theme was their intimidating high school coach barking ” MASTURBATION !” repeatedly. The two boys were laughing hysterically, and it was one hilarious show,lol!😆

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Bruce Gerencser