Is there extra the Church may do to assist folks scuffling with porn habit?

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Carl Thomas

Carl Thomas, who recently acquired XXXChurch from Craig Gross, knows the harms of porn all too well, having been an addict for many years before finally breaking free.

Unfortunately, he says the church has given little help – something he wants to change.

He talks to Christian Today about what the Church can do to really help those struggling with secret addictions like he was.

CT: How has porn addiction affected you personally?

Carl: I was what you would call the "case by case", just a kid growing up in a super religious household where we never discussed these issues. My first experience with porn was when I was around 10 years old. I was at my friend's house and he found a Playboy magazine. It really went from there and grew over time. Back then it was VHS tapes and the cable box, but when I went to college the internet started kicking in.

CT: And that increased the addiction?

Carl: Oh yeah, because it made it a lot easier to access, which meant a lot more was being consumed.

CT: When did you decide you had enough?

Carl: My addiction continued throughout the dating and didn't stop after we got married and had our first child. But this time I had pneumonia and thought I was going to die. I felt like it was God's judgment on me, so I tearfully went to my wife and confessed to all these subjects that she didn't even know about.

It didn't go away overnight. There were four or five more years of ups and downs, but I remember taking my faith more seriously in general and hearing some really good news about the all-in from a pastor. From that point on, I started tackling the problem much more head-on, and I started going to seminar around the same time after 17 years in the insurance business.

I particularly remember talking to someone who opened my eyes to the fact that this problem was keeping me from anything I wanted to do. I started saying no because I realized that it just wasn't worth what I was losing.

CT: It's interesting that your struggle was with an ecclesiastical Christian. Have you ever felt like your church was somewhere you could get help?

Carl: The answer to this question is very simple: no. And that's exactly what makes ministries like XXXChurch a necessity. Because you can't find the help and support you need in the places you need it. I'm not trying to toss the church in the trash, but you find that a lot of churches talk about how bad porn is while at the same time not really prepared to talk about this stuff to the people who experience it. There are, of course, some churches that are aggressively addressing this issue, but I would say there are few.

CT: What is your priority in acquiring XXXChurch?

Carl: One of the things I care most about is getting to the bottom of this question: Why are we so afraid to tackle this problem? Why do we hesitate to talk about it? It's a difficult subject, but that's not an excuse. Why do pastors believe that they can get off the hook just by getting up one Sunday a year to do their "porn message" and point out the elephant in the room, but do nothing to actually help people?

I've heard so much of this news that it's almost predictable. For one, they usually focus on men and overlook the women, which is a real shame for the women who are struggling with this. But they generally go something like: Hey guys, you kind of suck when you do this; it hurts your marriage; it breaks up relationships and families; You really need to speak to someone and get help. Good luck! That's basically the message.

You never come forward with a resource or a program that can help people. And the guy in the bank is sitting there thinking, who to talk to? That was the problem, I don't know who to talk to and obviously you don't want to talk to me because you just told me to talk to someone else!

CT: In your experience, what happens when someone steps up and says they are struggling with it?

Carl: I've heard the same stories all along. Someone comes up to me and says, "I went to my pastor and it didn't go well." Or, "I went to my pastor and the answer was just, you need to pray more."

But seriously, the church has to do better!

For example, in my case, everyone found out I was the XXXChurch porn guy because a local newspaper wrote a story about me. I was sick of being ashamed, and that's part of my story. I'm not proud of my porn addiction, but I'm proud that I was able to overcome it and that my journey could be used by God. But after that, when people came up to me in church, there was a 95% chance that he would talk to me about his porn problem. It was like I was the only one in church that people were comfortable with when they talked about it.

CT: Why do you think is that so?

Carl: I think the average person would be more comfortable going to church and admitting that they have a drug or alcohol problem than a porn problem. Or debt problems, for example. It is easy to say that you are a financial mess in the church and you can get help for it. Something like that can be talked about over coffee and no one will judge you. But when you admit that you have a porn problem, it becomes a conversation behind the curtain – because it's sex, and sex is kind of dirty and gross.

In the new evangelical climate, it is very trendy to say, "Oh, we are a seeker church and we are here to hurt people." But bring up masturbation in your small group and see how many people rush to have this conversation! But if we can't talk about it in church, where can Christians talk about it? The church should be a safe place to talk about these things, but it isn't and this is why so many people are trapped.

Until we get to a point in church culture where we can talk about how we can talk about other things, it doesn't get any better because I think what keeps the guys trapped more often is fear – fear, found to become out of fear of being "that guy" lest they come up to them and just try to make it themselves or learn on their own. And it doesn't work, and because of that culture, they stay trapped.

CT: It's interesting that church culture is like that when we live in such a gender-saturated society.

Carl: The sexualization of our culture is all around us, so it's a little weird when we don't talk about it. But there is also sexualization within the church. There are important questions about what our speakers and worship leaders wear, for example, and what we wear when we go to church. Some people go to church and wear what looks almost like it's for the club. It's okay to want to dress nicely, but who are we dressing for?

So there is also a sexualization taking place within the church. Won't we just talk about it?

It is the ultimate irony that people come from out of the world where literally everything is sexualized and come into church and see everyone wearing tight clothes and looking sexy and the pastor on stage talking about his hot wife, and they will I guess it's not that different here. Besides being able to talk to your friends about your porn problem with your friends all over the world, while in church all those conversations around porn are restricted.

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