Obviously I had the problem myself, and when I was in bible school I just felt led to begin a support group for sexual addicts. That was really before such groups were known. There just wasn't anything like that in those days.
This was in the early `80s?
Yes, in April of `86. There were some 12-step groups starting to pop up around the country. But within the Christian church, that concept really wasn't known at all, about sexual addiction.
How early in your life did your addiction start?
It seems like even from the time when I was a young boy, I had an inordinate attraction towards sex, women, women's bodies, whatever. And then when I ran into pornography, meaning Playboy magazines when I was maybe 14, it was just natural for me, I was just so drawn to it. Then it just went downhill from there.
You joined the Los Angeles sheriff's office and then became a born-again Christian. Did that change your life?
I felt the Lord, calling me, leading me to quit my job and go into bible school, but I was still struggling, so it didn't go so well. I ended up backsliding even more. But I fought my way back and got really into a life of victory over sexual sin. That's when I finished up bible school and started the ministry. It really started as just a small support group, but the word got out and people started calling me. American Family Association ran an article about it, and we got 900 phone calls from around the country.
Why do you think that sex addiction is such a problem in our culture?
I think first of all that because of its prosperity our culture has become very hedonistic and pleasure-oriented, and of course, sex is the ultimate pleasure. So naturally speaking, that's going to be a direction a lot of people are going. And then there's been an erosion of moral values in this country, over the past 20 or 30 years. What's really capped it all off is the Internet--because that's made pornography easily accessible to millions of people who wouldn't have perused it otherwise.
People who would be embarrassed to buy a porn magazine perhaps or go to an X-rated movie might privately access the Internet?
Right. And that's especially true with ministers. And there's a real problem in the ministry because of Internet porn.
Really? Do you have any ministers in your program?
Usually there are at least a half a dozen guys from the ministry. The ministry is in certain ways very conducive to it-it's high stress, you don't get paid a lot, and there's a lot of freedom with your time. Most ministers have computers. So all those things combined really set the stage for someone to get involved in it.
Could you tell me how you started Pure Life Ministries?
It's been going since January of '90. It only started with six guys, but now there's 53 men in the program at any given time. There are about 25 of us on staff, and all the counselors have been through the program themselves. The program is six to nine months long. We are located in Northern Kentucky in farmland, out in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how many men have gone through it. Hundreds for sure.
What are the steps in the treatment?
I know you're looking for a simple five-step plan, but I can't give it to you that way. First of all, their greatest need is for repentance. Something has to happen inside them to change their heart, and only God can do that. We at the ministry put a lot of emphasis on prayer and bible study, first for ourselves personally. So each person on staff is expected to spend at least a couple hours every morning in prayer and bible study.
There's a real spiritual emphasis and atmosphere there. So when these men come into that atmosphere full of confusion and darkness and perversion and hopelessness and despair, most of them are dramatically affected. Some men aren't. Some men just harden their hearts even more. They might even make it through the program, but usually they'll quit.
How successful is it?
We've figured that 85 percent graduate and make it through, and probably of those 80 or 90 percent of them go on to live in real victory. That doesn't mean that they don't have their struggles or even failures. But the grip and the hold of sin has been broken and the habit has been broken. And even though they might occasionally fall in some way .we live in a sexualized culture, so it's tough out there. And sometimes guys just blow it, but they get back on track and that's what they've been taught.
I was struck in your book by how many times you went forward and slipped back. It went on a really long time.
Well, I was completely by myself. No one that I knew of had battled through this thing. So I was just out in a sea, flailing about. I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't know even what to do. But these guys come into a program where it's structured. Most men who go through Pure Life don't flounder like I did because they are given a clear-cut path to stay on.