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.
Do you think that this kind of treatment of sexual addiction is the equal of psychotherapy?
When you ask that question, you have to tell me which form of psychotherapy, because there's three hundred and something and they're often as different as night and day.
I can tell you that our approach is spiritual and is dependent upon God doing a work in a person's heart. It is dependent upon the Bible to provide the solutions that person needs. We see sexual addiction as a spiritual problem. Now your typical psychotherapist, even Christian psychotherapist, sees it primarily as an emotionally based problem. So their whole perspective, their whole foundation, their whole approach is completely different than ours. It's apples and oranges.
Unquestionably there are emotional issues involved, and, of course, we deal with those, but as biblical counselors we deal with them secondarily. I believe there are times that psychotherapy is helpful, but from my experience, compared to what I've seen at Pure Life, it's very weak. And I'm just being honest with you. From my experience and what people have told me, there's not any real strong solutions provided there. It's based on man's ideas, rather than on the power of God. And so that's only going to take you so far.
Is it obvious to the person who is in the grip of this addiction that he is addicted? How can someone tell he needs help-as opposed to having a normal interest in sex?
When a person is doing things he wishes he weren't, but he can't seem to control his behavior, that probably means he's an addict. These men certainly know they are doing wrong. And they know that they can't seem to stop themselves. I think it's pretty apparent.
There were times that you went to a store and felt compelled to look at a porn magazine, and that would make you feel horrible. Why is looking in a magazine such a terrible sin?
Pornography is the illegal knowledge of someone else's body. God has created us to be one flesh with a husband or a wife, and to want to look at the bodies of other people is outside of the framework of biblical marriage. So it's wrong just in and of itself. And of course, it does often lead to other things. But even if it didn't, it would be wrong.
Getting back to the program, what happens after repentance?
Hopefully there's going to be a real encounter with God. Repentance is a process where the person is really starting to become broken over the wrongfulness, the sinfulness of their actions. God starts breaking through to them. God starts dealing with them and not just with sexual issues, because we're integrated beings. You can't compartmentalize one issue. If a guy is selfish and prideful and angry and full of jealousy and we only help him get over sexual addiction, then we haven't done our job. So God really starts dealing with the whole person and all their different issues.
The bottom line is.man needs to fall in love with God to a greater degree than he has loved his sin in the past. And that love for God is what displaces the love for sin. It's not enough to just try to stop doing something. There has to be something there to replace it in the human heart, and the only thing that really brings that kind of depth of fulfillment is the love for God.
What happens when they leave the program?
Most guys go back home, they get involved in their church. We often will get a call from a wife, and we'll hear things like, "My husband is a completely different man. He used to be so self-centered and now he's constantly concerned about me, the kids." What we want to see is a change of the person's inner life.
If there was one Bible verse that you could cite that would help people who are in the grip of sexual addiction?
Yes. Galatians 5:16. "If you walk in the spirit you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh."