The Next Big Challenge for Clergy

The temptation of online sex sites seduces evangelicals

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The congregation at one major church has had an especially rough year--the senior pastor had an affair; as he vacated the post in scandal, church staffers discovered that the minister in line to take over had spent hours at church surfing porn sites.

A pastor's wife called the hotline recently to report that her husband had been on a porn site not three minutes before he climbed into the pulpit Sunday morning.

Dr. Mark Laaser, director of Faithful and True ministries, an organization that counsels Christians struggling with sexual sin, says web porn may become the number one problem facing the church in the next few years.

"It's an epidemic," says Laaser. "People are getting addicted to it. All the classic signs of addiction apply. They get totally out of control." Laaser said one man he counseled recently spent $85,000 accessing web porn in just one month.

In March, Focus on the Family and Zogby International surveyed 1,031 adults--Christian and non-Christian--and found as many as 20% of American adults have looked at a sex site online. The number, Focus says, is about the same for Christians: One in five people in the pews has looked at web porn. Broken down further, the survey shows that one in every three men has looked at a sex site, and close to half of men under 35.


Privacy--and lack of accountability--help to explain the increased interest in porn. "There's a whole population of adults getting hooked who wouldn't have before," says Laaser, "because of the socialprohibitions on purchasing pornography in a drug store orbookstore. Now they're just a click away in the privacy of their own home."

Laaser says women are increasingly wandering into the once-male preserve of pornography. As recently as five years ago, women who got sucked into cybersex usually stuck to chat rooms. Now they are heading straight to the porn sites.

Although Christians are interested in tackling porn from the demand side, they haven't overlooked the question of limiting access to web porn. Last spring, Laaser testified before a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce committee. He urged Congress to crack down on web porn.

Both political parties talk about responsible web use. But, says Steve Watters, Focus's internet research analyst, "when it comes to something like this, both sides are being lobbied by the tech industry not to limit free expression on the internet."

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