The Next Big Challenge for Clergy

The temptation of online sex sites seduces evangelicals

Paul M. turned up at his pastor's house five weeks ago, in the middle of the night. "In the pouring rain," says Paul. "It was like something out of a movie. But I was desperate, and that's what pastors are for, right?"

Paul hadn't committed murder, or realized he was an alcoholic. He wasn't flirting with atheism. He was spending two hours a day glued to his computer screen, hooked on web porn.

Paul--a Boston-based 28-year-old graduate studentin sociology--says praying with his pastor put him on the right track. But he's not taking any chances. "For now, my computer is in thegarage." A Baptist who was born again at age 12, he says he used to "walk right with the Lord." But once he was hooked on web porn, he began skidding down what could have been "a slippery slope into debauchery."

Evangelical Christian leaders are increasingly worried about web porn, especially among clergy. It's hardly news that, like everyone else, evangelicals sometimes get burned-out and lonely. But it is surprising that in a community that puts so much emphasis on combating sexual sin--premarital sex, homosexual sex, and adultery--stressed-out evangelicals are turning to web porn for relief.

And not all pastors are as helpful as Paul M.'s. Many Christian ministers, it turns out, are also logging on late at night.


"This is going to be the next big challenge for the pastorate," predicts Eldon Fry, manager of Focus on the Family's Pastoral Care hotline (877-233-4455). "In terms of immoral things that really catch pastors in temptation, this is the big one."

Fry says pastors are often stressed to the breaking point and have no one to lean on. "One way they can relieve their stress when they can't be intimate with other people is to go to the false intimacy of web pornography." (Recall the scandal at Harvard Divinity School when, in the fall of 1998, the Rev. Ronald F. Thiemann was forced to resign as dean after thousands of pornographic pictures were found on his school computer.)

Fry said a quarter of his hotline's monthly calls from ministers and their spouses have to do with web-based porn. He has even compiled a sampler of some of the hotline's most notable calls: One pastor finds the internet is not enough and has taken to visiting topless bars; another began with the internet but then started calling 900 numbers; a minister in an interracial marriage feels isolated and relieves his stress and loneliness at sexy web sites.

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