We decided to take the month of September and focus in a bit on what we believe is one of the main issues of our day, particularly as the church of Christ, and that is, Sexual Health. We commend Rodney Vaughan’s story to both encourage you and exhort you to examine the culture of your church and your community around matters of sexual sin.
The back story…
Rodney and Rebecca asked Clif to do their premarital counseling and officiate their wedding ceremony. As I remember it, they were in a bit of a hurry to get things tied up, I think they were hoping for a wedding date that was just 2 months away. Clif had talked briefly with Rodney and knew about his ongoing struggle with pornography. He had asked for help and seemed open to pastoral counsel about it, though it seemed that he wasn’t finding freedom or lasting victory. On what felt like a risky and bold move on our end, we asked Rodney and Rebecca if they would be willing to put their wedding date off and do intentional work on the issue of pornography addiction for 6 months. It was a conversation that modeled to me a humility that I will never forget… and so we all pressed in! Rodney and Clif worked hard to understand what was actually going on functionally with the pornography use. They addressed the systemic and underlying drivers, uncovered wounds, and pressed into what deep and lasting transformation could look like. In the meantime, Rebecca educated herself on the issue, and though there were some really hard conversations and reservations at times, she came to understand how she could begin to fight alongside of her soon-to-be husband in this enslaving epidemic. The cool thing about Rodney and Rebecca is they are truly on a journey of healing together. Rodney leads support groups for men who struggle with sexually unwanted behaviors and pornography addiction at his local church. He keeps lots of early morning meetings and has been a faithful and consistent presence in the lives of many men, as they continue to “turn the lights” on in their lives and step out of the shadows, particularly around pornography use. And, the real commendation is not that Rodney “did” the work, but he continues to pay attention to his own soul and vulnerabilities, even as he eagerly and passionately invites others into the freedom that the healing and forgiveness of Christ makes possible!
Listen as Rodney shares some of his story and thoughts about pornography addiction and the church…
“When the doors of the church were open, I was there Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. I heard countless sermons over the years as the son of a pastor and learned many things in church, but one thing I learned nothing about was sex. Now on the surface this might seem to be a good thing. My innocence concerning sex was mostly preserved until I was 15 years old. I rarely if ever saw rated R movies or dirty sitcoms. I attended Christian schools that had no sex education. I knew nothing about sex other then it was a bad word and sex produced babies.
The problem though is if you don’t talk to your congregation about sex and offer a God glorifying outlook for sex, something or someone else will. For me, that something else was pornography. My first experience with porn was outside the home at a Christian school when a friend brought a magazine to class. On the surface my parents appeared to have done everything right to protect me, but in reality they had very little control over what I was exposed to. And this was 22 years ago, way before the smart phone and unlimited access to porn on demand. I had no categories for this experience at the time, but I knew I was curious and wanted to see more. Fast forward five years and I was a full on addict consuming porn almost, if not, daily. At that time, I thought I was the only one attending church with a porn problem. I knew all of the guys I hung out with my senior year of high school were addicted because we talked about it. But all that came from the church concerning porn was “it’s wrong, don’t look at it, and if you are, stop it!” So how did I respond? I hid in my shame and I silently continued on going deeper and deeper into my addiction.
The problem for the church is this is now the norm for men in the midst of porn addiction and has been for some time. But there is hope because one the most effective and biblical methods for fighting sexual sin is both simple and straightforward. You must bring it to the light. The book of 1 John 1:7 tells us, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” The apostle John spends a lot of time in 1 John speaking about light and darkness. It is a very simple analogy, but one we can easily relate to. If you have been in a cave and the lights get turned off, then you know the true darkness of not seeing your own hand in front of your face. This is what sexual sin addiction feels like. If you have ever been outside on a cloudless ninety-degree day, then you know what it’s like to be in the light. Now imagine walking from that pitch black cave into bright sun light. This is what it feels like when the light of Christ penetrates the darkness of sexual sin addiction. It hurts to have your wretchedness exposed, but now the true healing can begin.
In my personal experience, the church does a decent job on a micro level of helping men bring their sin to the light through accountability. When men come forward and confess, there are lots of resources available to help establish consistent accountability. However, if you only treat sexual sin as whack-a –mole, it will continue growing in the darkness. The real issue then for the church is dealing with sexual sin from the macro level. It’s as if there is some great fear that if we acknowledge our church has sexual sin problems then the whole structure may come crashing down. The reality is, how many times have we seen churches crash and burn because sexual sin occurred among leadership? From my experience, the churches that see the most victory in the battle against sexual sin bring it to the light from the pulpit, in their small group ministry, and in special events focused on sexual sin at their church. They make it a priority from the leadership down to be open and honest about sexual sin in their personal story, and they get educated by those who have gone before them in this struggle on how to improve.
Now clearly not everyone struggles with sexual sin, but I think we can agree that the vast majority do. And sometimes those who claim the loudest that they have no sin struggle are actually mired the deepest. A few years ago, I attended a community group with a man who for two years would always say he had no struggle or temptation with sexual sin. Even when other men were open and honest about their sin he continued to deny it. Now this man is facing a lengthy prison sentence for creating and distributing child pornography. This may seem like an extreme example, but we have no idea where he was those few years ago when we openly confessed our own sin struggles in front of him.
When sexual sin stays in darkness, it only grows stronger. Quietly addressing sexual sin as it appears in your congregation will not lead to lasting victory. I encourage you to take the initiative and confront it openly in every age group throughout your church, then you will truly bring it to the light.”