Pastors fight porn irreverently

Craig Gross and Mike Foster, two young pastors from Riverside, were looking for direction when, one day in 2001, God came to Foster in the shower and said one word: “Pornography.”

Foster, 33, did not often get such visits, so he treated it as a divine calling. Since it came with no further instructions, he and Gross reasoned that it was up to them to figure out what to do next.

And so it came to be that on a Sunday afternoon three years later, Gross, 28, and Foster were tooling around a mall parking lot in a black Scion xB festooned with ads declaring, “XXXChurch.com: The No. 1 Christian Porn Site.” An air freshener with an image of Jesus dangled above the dash.

“You can see people checking us out,” Gross said.

For Gross and Foster, who sometimes refer to themselves as “the goofballs,” it was just another day of 21st-century ministry, combining technology, self-promotion, sensationalism and humor to address what they see as an equally up-to-date scourge on modern society: Internet pornography.


Their approach bears little resemblance to what most people think of as church.

The two started their online ministry, XXXChurch.com, shortly after Foster’s shower experience. Instead of posting Scripture online, they flashed, “Porn. Sex.Girls. Guys,” in order to reach the people who wanted to see pornography, not ban it. Once the curious visit the site, they can download a free computer program called X3watch, one of several “accountability” programs designed for people who want to stop looking at Internet pornography but cannot do so on their own. Whenever a user visits a pornographic Web site, the program alerts his or her designated “accountability partner.”

So far, Gross and Foster said, 100,000 people have downloaded X3watch, including all of the pastors at the church Gross attends. In his own case, his wife gets a list of every site he visits.

“Filters don’t work,” Gross said, speaking of programs that block Internet pornography. “Kids are smarter than that. Filters don’t bring up conversation. A filter avoids the topic. Accountability forces you and another person to talk about what you’re looking at. That’s hard. We would have more downloads if it was a filter.”


Gross and Foster have set up booths at pornography trade shows and handed out postcards that said, “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.” They joined with a pornography director to produce a public-service announcement aimed at keeping the materials away from children.

Then there is the Porn Mobile.

As a couple approached the car at the mall, demanding an explanation, Gross took the lead. He had studs in both ears, and surfer bangs with streaked highlights.

“We’re pastors,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to talk about the issue of pornography.”

“Awesome,” said the woman, Cindy Mosher, 40, who said she had just come from church. “My previous husband was involved in porn, and that was one factor that destroyed our marriage.”


“I’m in marketing, and you have to go for extremes,” Mosher added. “Christian churches are quite traditional. To bring people in, maybe we have to go to extremes.”

Internet pornography is one of the issues vexing churches today, especially those that take strict moral lines on sexuality. Some consider viewing pornography a form of adultery; others decry erotic images as addictive and destructive to marriages.

Pastors, like school officials, often face severe punishment if they are found to have looked at Internet pornography. In 2000, Christianity Today magazine surveyed its readers anonymously and found that more than a third of the pastors who responded said they viewed pornographic Web sites, a number only slightly lower than that of their parishioners.

Even this figure is low, said Archibald D. Hart, a senior professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. “I do conferences for 3,000 pastors a year, and this is a biggie wherever I go,” Hart said.

In response, churches and lay Christians have created a circuit of “sexual addiction” seminars, 12-step programs and even residential treatment centers, modeled on drug- or alcohol-detox centers, where people can stay for months at a time. Most address pornography as psychologically damaging rather than as a sin, Hart said.

For Foster and Gross, who were both involved with conservative churches, the issue called for a generational break: not condemning pornography from on high, but rather forming relationships with producers and consumers.

Neither draws a salary from XXXChurch.com. Foster is also the communications pastor at Crossroads Christian Church, a nondenominational church in Corona. Gross speaks to Christian youth groups around the country as a founding partner in Fireproof Ministries, a nondenominational youth ministry.

Ryan Dobson, the son of James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, says he can relate to where the pastors are coming from.

“The church has gotten prissy in not going to the porn conventions,” said the younger Dobson, 34, who runs a ministry for surfers and skateboarders. “God bless Craig and Mike for doing it. I don’t want to do it.”

He said the senior pastor at his church uses X3watch software and talks about it from the pulpit.

“He talks about his struggle with pornography,” Dobson said. “He says, ‘I have X3watch on my computer, and my wife is one of my accountability partners. Why? Because I struggle. And I know people out there struggle as well.’ I flock to a guy like that, because he’s honest about it. We struggle together.”

Attendance at pornography events gives Foster and Gross leverage to address people scared away by church. “If Jesus were around today,” Gross said, “he would be at porn shows.”

In the mall parking lot, Lana Olsen, 54, said she did not appreciate the shock tactics.

“To me that is crossing the line,” she said of the car. “I decided this was a porn person trying to make fun of the church. My son, an atheist, would think that’s the enemy’s greatest tool.”

But Andy Allman, 19, who worked in the mall Starbucks, liked the car. “You guys are anti-porn, right?” he asked. When Gross explained that they were pastors, Allman, was interested. “Really?” he said. “Because I’ve been looking for a church. Can you recommend one?”

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Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The New York Times, via The Orange County Register, USA
Nov. 4, 2004
John Leland, New York Times News Service
www.ocregister.com

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This post was last updated: Nov. 23, 2006