Thursday, September 28, 2006

dirty little secrets - porn & the church

professor ben witherington @ asbury seminary has a great post on the church's dirty little secret - both in the pulpit & the pews much of the church is struggling with unacknowledged sexual addiction. the dirty part of this isn't the struggle - it's the lack of acknowledgment. i left a comment there and committed to blog on why i think this is a problem at the deepest root core of the modern church.

paul tells us in 1 corinthians 10:13 - such is common to all - no, not maybe the addiction aspect of the struggle - but the acknowledgment of the problem - we ALL are created as sexual beings, it is a basic, god-given part of our nature. god knew that without that drive we would all be sitting alone in our caves communicating through the internet (wait, isn't that what we're doing??). intimacy is the deep well within each of us that we desperately try to fill. i believe that is one of the reasons why god gave us our sex-drives.

this is a theory in process, i have been thinking about it for over a year now and have never written about it - i don't think i have all of the answers, but i know that the time and work others have taken to earn degrees and diplomas i have poured into recovery and addiction. i am not a theologian or a psychologist, that may disqualify me to some, but i would find that unfortunate as my black-belt in recovery has been earned with books, bumps, bruises and a life lived in the attempt of acknowledging my powerlessness over my addictions.

the base of my hypothesis (please track this all out with me, it's not scholarly, but i think if you read to the end it might explain itself) is that somewhere along the line of our spiritual lives, especially those who choose a life in ministry and receive theological training (i have a bsc in biblical studies and a call of god on my life) something happens between the christian's need for answers to the mysteries of god and their need for surety.

most of this training occurs in the lives of the called at a very tender age. the idealism of youth works against the christian's ability to dwell in the questions. the surety of their education and good grades allows them to leave university or seminary with the confidence that they are able to face any and all of lifes issues.

my theory is that when my answers and surety don't line up with reality and the problems and questions i face day to day (especially in ministry) i begin to separate myself. to doubt is unacceptable. to question god seems sinful, so i give assent to what i "know in my head" but my heart and soul start to withdraw from that aspect of my life. this creates a real inconsistency that when driven apart by crisis becomes the crevasse that so many deeply committed christians begin to fall into.

the downfall of the educational process is that no rewards are given for the mystery. no honors are given for the questions. it is only the answers, and the correct answers at that, that are held up as good and right. and because most educational institutions are supported by denominations only those denominationally correct answers are honored. the others are unfortunately demonized to some level.

so i begin to minister, whether it is lay ministry or paid ministry, it rarely matters, i am fulfilling the call of god on my life. i begin to create the person that i bring with me to church, to my community and into public life. this is the person with all of the answers, the knowing smile and the deep desire to please god and fulfill my call.

this projected personality begins with the best of intentions, with the deepest level of commitment to god and ministry and is born out of an insecurity that comes from the realization that we aren't as prepared for ministry and real life as we thought we were.

what if someone finds out i don't have all the answers? what if they see i am this afraid? what if they see me for who i really am? how will i support my family? who will hire me again? what can i do now?

it is fear that separates us and shame that keeps us separated.

the part i am ashamed of stays back in the recesses. confused, alone afraid and beginning to question everything. life isn't working out at all like i planned it. my marriage is hard work, my finances are a mess, my boss doesn't understand me and my congregation doesn't appreciate me.

i try only to feed the public projection of myself. the part that everyone sees. i work for all i'm worth, meet as many needs as i am able and stand as a paramount to all that god has done in my life. this projection is real, it isn't a mask.(yet) this projected self is who i long to be with all of my heart. unfortunately i am unable to keep this projection functioning without my heart and soul. i am unable to join into the community i have created, to know and be known because it is there someone might realize that i am divided. that i am separate. that i am hiding something.

even the relationships that are most intimate to me, my spouse, family members and best friends must be kept at arms length so that i don't disappoint them, and supremely so that i don't disappoint god.

when that happens i must revert to my hidden self. the self that feels the emotions, the rejection, the pain. the self that grieves the losses and questions the answers and the theology i have been taught. they fail me now and i am unable to come in from the cold. all of my self-discipline, determination and desire cannot keep me from this frailty and keep the projected self on course. this is when the division between selves becomes critical. intervention at this point can save many. but the tyranny of church boards and the need for ministers to be free from sin, especially sexual sin, causes most to give up hope of ever receiving the help they truly need.

if resentments or hurt are done to the projected self i must return to my hidden self to lick my wounds. this is where i meet my needs because god seems to be unable or unwilling to do so. this is where i rationalize what is owed to me for all of the hard work i have been doing. i begin to decide what i 'deserve'. i begin to feel levels of entitlement before unknown to me. this is place where the addictions begin.

i blogged earlier this month about the 'thumb in my back' where i talked about my hunch that far too often the call of god looks an awful lot like codependency and manifests itself like another of the church's dirty little secrets of ministry - workaholism and a driven lifestyle:
one of my favorite metaphors about workaholism and that driven mentality is that of a boiling pot. the steam must escape somewhere. we just keep adding fuel, sitting on the lid and trying our darnedest to keep it sealed tight. the truth is that there will always be a place where the steam escapes. it's a law of nature.

i think that the steam escapes either physically, the workaholic's own body betrays him. heart attacks, strokes or other manifestations of the inability to be the six-million dollar pastor. usually those type of ministers don't last. it's the physically healthy ones we prop up on the pedestals - so then the steam must escape elsewhere.

i think family relations are probably the truest vent. the weakest link in the chain of the family dynamic falls apart - usually that 'black sheep' of a pastor's kid who just can't take the all of the stress that the mechanical family is dishing out.

my greatest fear though is that the steam escapes through sin. the rationalization that happens in the mind of an overworked person is an extraordinary thing. entitlement and payback for slaving away can be so very enticing. convincing ourselves that we "deserve" a break or a reward is so easy. but unfortunately the relational ties in the life of the workaholic are so non-existent true celebration and engagement can't happen. so that desire for intimacy won't go unmet and the minister ends up substituting any fix along the way to fill the gaping void of reward and relationship.
the steam is what drives us to back to the hidden personality. we are drained, wounded and need refilled. we don't have the time, relationships, energy, or financial resources to refill in healthy ways, so a quick fix must be found.

ministers are called to create intimacy and community - it is usually a great desire of their heart. i believe that many times we are most broken in the places of our greatest passion. my sexual addiction really has very little to do with sex. it has to do with my deep desire for intimacy. instead of banqueting at the lavish table of kingdom life - i replace the feast of community with the bait of sexual addiction and pornography.

bait for real food. it is why addiction works. it is enough like the real thing to masquerade itself as the banquet. my hidden self would never get an invitation to the banquet, so i must feed myself. the lie of pornography and sexual addiction is that it is going to fill that void. that what i really want is sex, release, pleasure and stimulation. it comes straight from the pit of hell. bait always does. it also always has a hook in it. it is the nature of bait.

i blogged on it here:
satan is the master of the bait and switch. he takes what is given by god and bastardizes it just one notch. instead of healthy, healing, god-given guilt the devil steps in and turns it into shame. guilt brings life and restoration, shame only death and separation.

the only problem is that in an addict's mind the two have never been separated. our minds are so clouded by shame and the addiction that the life giving guilt that allows others to make different choices has been bastardized by the devil into one and the same. shame convinces me that i am wrong, that i have no choice.

that is why a feast can be prepared before an addict and they will choose to eat the ashes. i try to explain it to the youth i work with by talking about fishing. i personally hate fishing, but liam and my father love it.

they wade in the water and offer food to those fish. big, juicy looking worms and bugs. but they aren't offering food are they? they are offering bait. there is always a hook involved in bait. satan is the baitmaster. he holds out the counterfeit and says 'hey look, yummy!' and those pre-disposed to bait end up falling for it. the false intimacy of pornography, the mind numbing effect of drugs or alcohol, the quick fix of adrenaline that comes from risky behavior, the lie of feeling less empty with my mouth full of food. it all has a hook. it's not the feast of amazing.
so my theory is that the root of this problem stems from the inability the church has to wrestle with the questions and not have the answers. i don't know how this can be fixed, but i know we are doing a great disservice to those sincere young men and women who fill our bible schools and seminaries looking for all the answers their idealistic minds can hold. what could be done if we allowed them to dwell in the questions, to teach them to teach others to do the same? to live in the present, feel our emotions and re-learn how to confess our sins.

one of the greatest losses to the protestant church was the discipline of confession. instead of reforming the idea of verbal confession to begin between brothers and sisters in the church and removing it from the 'father confessor' role (which with good theology behind it can still be an amazingly useful tool). james 5:16 tells us that if we confess our sins one to another and pray for each other WE WILL BE HEALED. yes, we are meant to confess to god - but what we forget is the power of confessing to a trusted, kindred soul allows us to see a jesus 'with skin on' and when they don't run screaming from the room something within us heals. we are reassured that 'such is common to all' is really true.

that is truly why the 12 steps work. if the church could re-learn this discipline of confession (instead of accountability, which is a whole different post...) and prayer community could truly be restored. god help us all.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe there is a world of difference between confession and accountability. I have always cringed at the thought of being accountable.....it breeds in me a good/bad thinking. It also encourages me to hide the truth at a deeper level because of the thinking that if I am accountable to someone I will somehow behave. Confession brings me to the mercy seat. It's not about behaving. It's about being human and confessing my need of not only mercy but grace.
~ Hope

bobbie said...

ahhh - yes, this next post is brewing for me! thanks for your support dear friend!

Kristin said...

Bobbie, this is a really amazing post. Thank you for writing it, and for all the work you've done to be able to. The work you've done benefits all of us.

Anonymous said...

I have the great pleasure of seeing these incredible insights develop and perculate to the surface.

Bobbie you have crystallized months of thought and reflection into an marvellously coherent post.

I'm a lucky man.

Liam

owen said...

bobbie,
you address such an important issue and I thank you for doing so.

You have thought hard and well and opened some important questions.

My recent conversion to the Catholic faith from years and years of being a Protestant minister has show me that in confession, at least the Catholic rite of confession, where one receives absolution and penance there is a tremendous sense of accountability. I have experienced it and been liberated from one physical habit and one mental/emotional state of mine over which I had little control previously no matter how much I had an accountability partner, no matter how many times I confessed 1 John 1:9 style.

As I see it one of the great disservices to the global body of Christ was the unscriptural separation of confession and accountability. I understand I speak now as a Catholic and not everyone will agree. However, I can only respond to the great joy that absolution has brought me and how it has merged the reality of confession and accountability.

Yours in the brave path.

Owen

Anonymous said...

...and if there's no mystery, what is it that we need to trust in God for? I think the hardest part, and most neglected problem by the church, of being a Christian is going through this life with only the limited knowledge God affords us, and relying on Him for all else. It is frustrating that all answers are not given in the Bible, and that some things are not for us to know.

I loved this post.

BarBarA said...

Hi, I haven't visited your blog in a long time and can see I've missed out. Gary linked to it the other day. I know we share similar backgrounds and struggles. I'm glad you are writing about this openly. Maybe someday I will have the nerve to open this subject on my blog but so far...I haven't shared too much there about my past abuse/addiction issues.

Connie said...

Thank you, Bobbie. I think you should leave this post up for several days. Let the responses ripple in because this is an important issue...several book chapters, I think, when you get around to it.

I believe that sexual sin does thrive in secrecy and all addictions are related to a sense of entitlement in one way or another...speaking as one who spent a lifetime feeling entitled to a plate of food as big as her husband's and ended up weighing exactly the same as him!!!

To me, confession is something that happens between me and God with at least one other person standing in with God as witness. I think that often, in my work, I am the person who listens to the confession. The whole church never becomes privy to a confession unless a person chooses to testify openly. In my experience this is not unknown. I have watched teens wrestle with sexual addictions and confess to one another in small groups and before a congregation of peers and elders. I have been thrilled to see the context of compassion and understanding, forgiveness and accountability which these large congregations have provided for the one who courageously and honestly confessede to sin. Very helpful. Quite rare. Also not without risk.

The relationship you have drawn between expectations and idealism and sexual sin are very important. I am not sure where to go with these ideas yet. They deserve deeper consideration.

As far as pornography and sexual addiction are concerned. There is no question in my mind that sexual desire is hard wired into us. Sexual addiction does like to masquerade as intimacy and of course, falls so very short because it is the polar opposite...it is sexual release without the encumbrance of personal intimacy.

However, it does provide release. And it becomes a habit because of the chemistry of sex itself. Those endorphins are released in the brain. One is calmed. Tension is eased. And there is the hook. That is how sexual arousal through pornography and sexual release through masturbation work and become real addictions.

I ramble on.

This is so important that I am referring several friends to your post and my write about it myself.

SteveW said...

Maybe the real deep root core in the church, and the world, is a failure to see the power of the cross in removing that which accuses us before God...the power of religious obligation and performance....something that we can point to and take credit for.

It is not our righteousness or lack of it that is at issue with the new covenant and how we see things but a lack of understanding of the word of God's righteousness. Most of us struggle trying to establish our own righteousness and as a result, guilt and shame still inevitably haunt us continually.

In the cross, did not God deal with all of our sins, secret or not, sexual or not? Did He not put away the law and the ordinances previously held against us? Is our righteousness earned through what we do or not do or is it not imputed to us through the finished work of the only One who COULD perform what was demanded of us spiritually, morally and ethically?

Yes, I suspect that there is as much sexual addiction in the church as out...maybe more. But how much of it is due to us still trying to eat from the wrong tree.

I have great that the realization that God's righteousness has been established in us, apart from what we sometimes do, and that knowledge will bring true salvation and renewing of our minds to a race of people, fully redeemed by the One who performed all of the requirements without in need for us to add one thing to His work. I just don't know if our current religious paradigms are helping that to happen quicker or actually standing in the way.

Did Jesus die so that we would never fail or so that those failures could never again have the power to condemn us and cause us to flee in fear from a God who wishes for us to run quickly to Him when we inevitably fail?

If Jesus is the Savior of the world then is God EVER holding any of our sins against us...like our ideas of righteousness cause us to hold them against ourselves?

It seems to me that much of modern theology still cause us to focus on the works of the wrong person...me and not Him.

Maybe God is permitting all of these perceived failures in the churches to exist to drive us to the right tree.

Blessings and peace.

bobbie said...

thank you for your meaningful comments and interactions with this post - i promise to deal with them as soon as i have a chunk of time to do so. it means a lot to me!

michael said...

I just saw a woman named Lauren Winner speak at Wheaton College on this same issue. I don't know if she has written or published anything on it (she has a recent book called _Real Sex_ that I have not read), but I'm glad Christians are really facing and speaking of this issue! I look forward to your post on accountability.

Erin said...

"this is where i meet my needs because god seems to be unable or unwilling to do so. this is where i rationalize what is owed to me for all of the hard work i have been doing. i begin to decide what i 'deserve'. i begin to feel levels of entitlement before unknown to me."

This fairly accurately discribes my adult life. Not in relation to addiction, necessarily... but everything.

Crap.

Tim said...

You got me thinking with your paragraph beginning with "bait for real food". In my couselling program it was refered to as a "settling for less". I'd love to hear to talk more on this subject. Why do we take the bait?

Michelle said...

It is so much easier to point the finger at say, gay people, than to be accountable for our own actions.

bobbie said...

yes michelle, turning the tables on other 'easy targets' sexually is the quickest way to get the spot light off of me - i know when i was full blown in my own addiction i threw the shame around on everyone else.

i think the most vitrolic preachers out there against "others sexual choices" are the ones who can't bear their own shame - this feels like another post.

anj said...

Hey - I have some thoughts percolating on this, some of them about how revenge and release works into this, and some of how our minimazation of the divine feminine, and the resulting void in the church, finds its flipside of sacred, ie depraved, release in the objectification of the feminine.

Anonymous said...

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Furthermore we offer a weekly radio broadcast, The Blazing Grace Show, as an awareness and encouragement resource for those trying to overcome their addiction.

You can find more information about our counseling and radio program at:

www.healingforthesoul.org