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.)
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.
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."