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A Body, White As Snow

Leading Your Church Into Sexual Purity

By Fred Stoeker

Experts on pornography and its effects on brain chemistry recently testified at a Senate hearing about whether porn was a form of free speech that should be protected by the First Amendment or whether it was an addictive and toxic material that should be legally banned in America. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover stated it was time to quit regarding porn as just another form of expression because it wasn’t. “[The eye] is a very carefully designed delivery system for evoking a tremendous flood within the brain of endogenous opioids,” Satinover said. “Modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction.”

Dr. Mary Anne Layden, representing the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, explained how prurient pictures are burned into the brain’s pathways, adding, “That image is in your brain forever. If that was an addictive substance, you, at any point for the rest of your life, could in a nanosecond draw it up [and get high].”

The evidence these panelists presented to the Senate describes the overwhelming harm pornography brings into a person’s life. But what about the other sources of vivid sensuality in our environment — the beer-and-babe commercials, the pg and pg-13 films, the sleek joggers, and the Sunday morning lingerie ad inserts? We tend to minimize the damage from this raw visual sewage dumped into our minds and hearts through our eyes each day, and yet viewing these can deliver the same drug-like kick to the brain as porn. This daily wash of sensuality can be just as addicting. I was once so hooked on sexual sin from all these other sources that it was crushing my spiritual life and my relationships. I even stopped to buy porn on my wedding day.

This same cultural darkness is now pounding women, too. A friend recently polled a large group of female interns at Teen Mania and found that 93 percent had engaged in masturbation, 80 percent did so regularly, and 63 percent were struggling with the practice — they desired to stop, but were unable. While the measured pool was not scientifically composed, the sheer size of these raw numbers makes the staggering suggestion that our mtv culture may have spawned the first generation of women widely bound by the biting straps of pornography and masturbation.

But teens are not the only ones slipping into the morass. In a survey of their female readership, Today’s Christian Woman recently found that 34 percent of women were regularly accessing pornography on their computers. Many women took their first venture into cyberspace because they wanted to check out what men found so fascinating there, only to be ensnared themselves and drawn back to pornographic websites again and again.

This is astounding, given that the baseline sexual nature of women cannot as easily explain this phenomenon as it can in men. After all, magazines like Playgirl have failed from lack of interest. As a lightning strike causes chaos in a computer’s hard-drive, today’s unlimited access to heavy sensuality in our schools, theaters, concerts, computer rooms, and family rooms is blasting women with such overwhelming, abnormal waves of sexual pollution that it is rewiring their natural sexual makeup.

For years, parents and churches have cowered in silence over the issue of open sensuality because they were terrified of being labeled legalistic. But Christians now know this was never an issue of liberty versus legalism; rather it is an issue of self-preservation and spiritual protection. The church might have seen it sooner, given God’s warning: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Today, sexual issues cannot be dismissed. The meaning of the phrase “sins against his own body” has never been clearer. Recent brain research confirms the eye’s role in flooding the brain with pleasurable drug cocktails. Standing against open sensuality is no longer an issue of cramping styles but of stopping an addictive compulsion in men and women before it starts. Perhaps the parental exhortation, “Stay away from Britney Spears videos,” and, “No watching pg-13 movies,” are no more legalistic than, “Don’t play on the highway.” Perhaps the modern hands-off, no-boundaries approach to parenting does not bring liberty to children, but instead dooms them to years of sexual struggle and pain.

For many Christians, a reassessment of their courage and attitudes as parents, lay leaders, and pastors is long overdue. It is time to begin parenting and teaching our kids and students the way God parents us. God knows how to parent His children. He tells them the truth and proclaims the way of life unashamedly, regardless of the cost: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).

What about the people sitting in your pews on Sunday? Even more to the point, what about you? You cannot lead your church into sexual purity if you are not pure yourself. It is time to get serious, accept the truth, and crack down on the lusts of the eyes that for years have inundated our brains with opioids.

Stay Connected To The Truth

What is God’s standard of sexual purity? “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).

Many are surprised at the impact this truth can have on one’s spiritual life. One young pastor told me, “I’d never really thought about guarding my eyes before reading Every Man’s Battle. I watched any movies I wanted, and I looked way too long at the women around me. I honestly didn’t think these things affected my life. But I began paying more attention to my eyes over the next day or so, and I found they were collecting more sexual gratification than I had thought.

“Once I got my eyes under control, the spiritual impact was dramatic. For instance, I used to get lustful thoughts popping up all the time during prayer. But now that my eyes are protected, it doesn’t happen. Prayer has become so much deeper and uninterrupted. Worshiping God is better as well. Now I feel free to express my heart to God. Before, I didn’t have the freedom to express my love to God, probably because I was too involved in my impure thoughts.”

The enemy will use one’s impurity against him in prayer and in other ways as well. One evangelist said, “At the altar after services, sexual scenes from movies I had seen would flash across my mind as I closed my eyes to pray for the pretty woman standing before me. You can imagine how that played havoc with my faith in prayer. That kind of battle between my flesh and my spirit had to go. I now guard my eyes from every corner of my life.”

Stay Connected With Your Wife

A pastor’s eyes are a huge issue if he expects to lead his church into sexual purity. But a deeper connection with his wife is just as critical to his personal purity.

Pastors are often too busy to do more than pose as great husbands. Many are burnishing their peaceful marital image for the sake of the people instead of taking time to be a great husband. Furthermore, because of their rightful authority as God’s anointed leaders, pastors have the last say in every decision at church. It is easy to slip into this I-get-to-break-the-ties leadership mode at home, instead of the mutual submission pattern that is discussed in my book Every Man’s Marriage, and that Paul emphasized in Ephesians 5. This take-charge, tie-breaking mode will quickly trample a wife’s heart, and her sexual desire for her husband will be squashed with it.

If a pastor wants to be sexually pure, he must take more care with his leadership patterns at home. Pastors who are leading their homes by the principles of mutual submission also struggle much less with their sexual purity. Coincidence? I think not, and it is not just because they have better sexual relationships with their wives.

Stay Connected With Other Men

Strong, interpersonal human connections defend against a second vulnerability in the male sexual makeup. The eye is one obvious obstacle to purity, but men have a second, less obvious vulnerability in their sexual makeup — a disconnection from people. The enemy can use this to breach their sexual defenses.

What does this vulnerability look like? By nature, men fill their intimacy tanks primarily from what they do just prior to and during intercourse. Essentially, it is their native language of intimacy the way they naturally long to share it.

But that presents a big problem. Nearly all of the body’s most powerful chemicals are involved when the wash of pleasure chemicals floods the brain’s limbic centers during orgasm. This means it is easy for men to confuse true intimacy with the feelings they experience with porn and masturbation. An orgasm produces a strong sense of manhood. Men feel dominant and strong at the moment of release, even though the sensation is fleeting. Second, men also feel a strong intimate connection with the other person at that moment, even though the experience is over in a flash.

Now, consider that pastors are often beaten down emotionally by mediocre marital relationships or by the endless — and often unfair — demands of their boards and congregations, leaving them wounded and vulnerable to the addictive lure of porn. For the lonely, hurting, or disconnected pastor, that sense of manhood and intimate connection is an extremely potent draw, which explains why porn and masturbation shine like a pan of fool’s gold to his eyes.

Because a man’s native language of intimacy is sexual, masturbation feels like intimacy to him and can become like an easily obtained feel-good drug. If life is going badly and a man is depressed, he can masturbate to feel better. If life is going good, he can masturbate to celebrate his good fortunes. If he is stressed heavily for time, he can masturbate to relax and to reassert control of his life.

This is relevant in the wake of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. As Protestants, we can sometimes ponder, What do they expect when they demand that their pastors remain unmarried forever? It goes against nature.

But, have Pentecostals not done similar things? In the past, Bible schools warned young pastors to avoid forming tight relationships with individuals in their congregations. Some of the reasons made sense. But when one considers the male sexual nature and the damage that human disconnection produces in a man’s sexual defenses, did this teaching create more problems — especially sexual ones — than it solved?

Much has been written recently about the importance of building friendships between men through men’s ministry. These close friendships can help every man stay pure, including pastors.

Stay Connected With Your Church Body

Individual connections are vital if a pastor is to remain pure and lead his church into sexual purity. But a pastor must also work wisely to maintain his connection with his church. He needs to ask, What is going on in my church? Do I know? Am I missing some red flags?

Recently, the senior high pastor at my church was fired for sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old girl from our church. Many people in the congregation were devastated, but his dismissal barely raised an eyebrow with some people because they had seen the red flags for months.

Why didn’t they say anything? There are several reasons. No one in the congregation wants to look small and petty to the pastor. Also, sharing red flags is risky business. No one wants to be viewed as a nosy nitwit snooping around into everyone’s life.

Most important, even if people can get past these risk factors, most churches do not have a channel by which to communicate such serious charges. What does a church member do? Set up an appointment? Pastors are busy — most congregants feel uncomfortable doing this. Pastors cannot be pulled aside after a service for such a discussion. Serious concerns require a more formal format. The church must have a channel for sharing this kind of information because pastors need that information to lead well.

I recently visited a church where the pastor preached a message entitled, “Not Even a Hint.” Can’t beat that message! Yet, when the young worship pastor’s wife led the singing before and after the message, she was wearing such a revealing outfit I had to look away from the platform. At lunch afterward, a friend mentioned she dressed like that every week, and men in the congregation had been complaining. The senior pastor did not seem to notice, and the other pastors did not want to confront their colleague about his wife’s dress. So, while the pastor is concerned enough to preach about sexual purity, he is too disconnected from what is happening in his church to understand what is going on around him.

If a pastor desires a sexually pure church, he must break down these obstacles of communication by creating a way for people to share their concerns in a risk-free manner. Designate a deacon as the go-to guy for the congregation and encourage them to process their concerns through this channel. The pastor cannot be everywhere and know everything. Make it easy for deacons to be the pastor’s ears and eyes.

Break Connection With The Culture

Christians as a whole are having little preservative effect on their culture. They would not be useless if they feared God more than men. After all, what would happen if Christians stopped watching sensual halftime shows, refused to buy tickets to the latest pg-13 movie, and stopped purchasing videos that titillate their minds? The culture would change.

Some may think, Be realistic, Fred. That’s not possible anymore. The fact some Christians cannot imagine this reveals the extent to which Christians have lost their saltiness. It also begs another penetrating question: What has the Church been doing during this era of porn? Has the Church been calling back the strays and setting the captives free? Not often enough.

In a quest to remain hip and relevant, churches can become irrelevant to the greatest issue of our day, and men can fall victim to the enemies deadly sexual temptations.

Having tricked pastors into using films and film clips in their sermons for the sake of connection, one can only imagine how hard Satan must be laughing at us, much as he laughed at the foolish Christians in C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters. I remember one youth leader who asked his group how many had seen Dead Poet’s Society, a pg movie starring Robin Williams. Over 90 percent of the teens raised their hands.

He then proceeded to preach the truths he had mined from that movie, yet he failed to mention the biggest-busted truth of all — a Playboy centerfold flips wide open, front and center, for at least a minute during the film’s early scenes. Having just given tacit approval to watch the film, he openly indicated it was okay for teenage boys to look at pornography. A single viewing of such a film can set a boy up for years of masturbation and guilt, as this letter attests: “I was 11 when I first masturbated. It just kind of happened while watching a strip scene on a TBS movie. … I was hooked, and I was locked into masturbation for years.”

Male hardwiring is prone to addictive lusts of the eyes. Our churches can wound men in their desire to be relevant, when sermons or programs promote and approve the very things that rev a guy’s sexual engine into the red zone. Once there, however, masturbation destroys a man’s spirituality.

This is frustrating. We have had the truth for 2,000 years. Paul wrote that sexual sin is different, and Christians must flee from it or be bound by it. The Church could have continued to speak out against it, but church leaders did not want to sound old school or jeopardize their relationship with the younger people in the congregation.

I became a Christian in 1980, about the time many denominations began to relax their standards on Hollywood and the viewing habits of their people. Churches rewrote and watered down their entertainment standards for membership in their by-laws. Eventually, pastors even began using feature films as their message texts.

Now, just 25 years later, the results are staggering. While mainstream feature films can pollute as surely as pornographic web pages, Christians ignore the truth because everyone else is watching them. These films damage our oneness with Christ as surely as cyberporn.

As a result, churches are left with husbands and sons who are stumbling on in their warped sexual behavior, who wonder why they cannot get control of themselves, and who are trapped by the church’s silence. Meanwhile, the sheep bleat foolishly on, saying, “I’m glad the pastor is finally talking about movies in his sermons. Now I don’t have to feel guilty about watching them.”

What are Christians thinking? Pastors begin innocently enough, hoping to soften the church’s seemingly stern standards to make things comfortable for the seekers sitting in the pews, but have forgotten that the primary call of the church is to equip the saints. When pastors approve viewing practices that play against a man’s natural wiring (and play right into the hands of Satan), they not only fail to equip them, they emasculate them as leaders.

To add insult to injury, secular scientists now stand in Senate hearings crying, “The eyes are like a syringe of heroin straight to the brain. We’ve got to do something.” Like two ships passing in the night, the pagans are now sailing the right direction, while the church in its quest to be hip is steaming the wrong way — full-speed ahead!

If pastors expect to have a sexually pure church, they must rethink their course. The spiritual temperature of the church will be inversely proportional to the sexual temperature of the people.

Helping The Addicted

How do pastors help men and women who are sexually addicted? Many men and women who attend church cannot control their addictive compulsions. If they are to become pure, they must take the following steps:

Stop the behaviors

To get control, men and women must read books like Every Man’s Battle, Every Woman’s Battle, and Every Young Woman’s Battle and apply the principles of fleeing to cut off the sensuality spewing in through their eyes and minds.

Get connected with others

If men and women are to escape sexual temptations and the false intimacy of sexual sin, they must develop a deeper connection with their spouse and develop friendships with other men and women in the church. Men’s and women’s ministries are vital lifelines for any recovering sex addict. Counseling is recommended to help them deal with the wounds that drove them into porn in the first place.

Get connected with God

There is no intimacy like the kind available with Jesus. Pastors need to teach men and women to develop a deeper relationship with Christ that is personal and encourages worship at home. Christ is the finest accountability partner a man and woman can know. Once a personal relationship with Christ is developed, victory in this battle is more assured.

Purity is possible today, in spite of the obstacles. Christians must understand the times and, in wisdom, rise up and crush the enemy in his tracks. It will be costly, but believers know what they must do. Now, they must stand and do it.

FRED STOEKER, is a best-selling author of the Every Man series, chairman of Living True Ministries, and conference speaker who challenges men to become sexually pure and to reconnect in true intimate relationships with their wives. A graduate of Stanford University, Fred and his wife, Brenda, live in Des Moines, Iowa.

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