Open letter to Christian leaders

First of all, you have a very difficult and often thankless job, so I want to thank you for your dedication and ministry. I know what it’s like and I can attest to the fact that it’s not easy, but it’s an important responsibility we have. To best serve those under our care as undershepherds, we need to be spiritually fed and above reproach ourselves.

You don’t need any statistics to know that pornography is a huge problem and not just outside the church. Within our congregations are many men (and some women as well) who seek out pornography to try to fill a void in their life. Knowing it’s not God-honoring, and trying to quit, they are trapped by the allure and subject to it’s bondage. Many also are addicted and feel they will never find freedom. Even church leaders are not immune. Because of their position they are scared to be open and honest about it. I know because this once described me.

Our attempts at curbing this issue while noble are weak at best. Especially if we ourselves are also struggling, how do we expect to help anyone else? Calling it “every man’s battle” is simply admitting defeat! Conventional Christian wisdom on the matter places the burden of the task on the powerlessness of man-made tactics. They perpetuate guilt and shame rather than providing a way forward to a new form of thinking which brings sustained and perpetual freedom from bondage. This is God’s work, which is done without our help or cooperation.

  • No amount of confession, accountability or software will cause a man to not look lustfully at a woman if he is intent on doing so. There are always ways to get around it. You can always fake it. 
  • No amount of promises made at an inspiring conference will stop a man from his own evil desires and impure motives. 
  • No amount of pancake breakfasts will help him resist the constant struggle of objectifying other people.
  • No amount of self-imposed modesty will help a man change his thought life. It’s prideful to think that way, as if Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough to save a man’s soul. This is the practical application of this thinking: Since Jesus isn’t powerful enough to change your animalistic behavior, we need to set an arbitrary length of skirt or “proper” coverage of shoulders or chest to help you out!

The church tries to address this issue but fails as its methods are ineffective. They are like treating a virus with a band aid and do nothing to address the root issue of the problem. In fact, one of the factors for my interest in pornography came from how youth groups talked about it. Instead of preventing me from seeking it out, it got me curious about it.

My point, coming from my own experience and that of many others, is that the heart and the mind of the individual need to change (be renewed) for a lasting transformation to occur. 

It angered me so much the other day to see a program being offered to pastors with porn problems for $199. The true and lasting solution should be and IS free! It doesn’t cost the price of internet filters and accountability software (that can always be circumvented anyway). It is not a man-made attempt to work harder or do better through will power. It does not thrive on guilt and shame. It is not confession-based to another human. It is solely a work of God, and he does it without my help.

This vice does not need to be every man’s battle. Nor do we need to bounce our eyes at the sight of anything that can become a trigger for actions that dishonor God and others. Temptation is all around us, but it doesn’t have to be temptation. James 1:14 (KJV) is quick to point out that, “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Temptation isn’t the fault of who you lust after. You and your heart are the only one to blame.

The goal of a recovering alcoholic should be to be able to go to the grocery store and walk down the liquor aisle without a single urge or desire to indulge. Likewise, someone who has been conditioned to respond in lustful ways needs to change his/her mind, with God’s help in order to have lasting freedom from bondage.

Should we hide and cover the cupcakes so as not to cause someone with a gluttony problem to sin? Do we need to ban money or close banks for those overcome by greed? Lust seems to be one of the few sins we practically label as hopeless to overcome in a fallen world. With everything else, it is assumed that we can grow, mature spiritually, and conquer with God’s help.

Let’s take this concept to an extreme. Imagine you and your wife (if you are married) are having a dinner party with your best friends. Then all of a sudden everyone’s clothes disappear and everyone is completely naked (inexplicably). Aside from the initial shock and possible embarrassment, would you be able to control yourself around your friend’s wife? Or would the animalistic urges kick in and it becomes an all out orgy? I’m thinking that after a few minutes of awkwardness, everyone may carry on as normal and no one would cross any moral lines. Why? Because you have a healthy respect for one another and a love and deep friendship. It would be wrong to act on any impure thoughts in this non-sexual setting. Why is it any different with a stranger in a picture or a video online? When it’s a person on a screen, where we don’t have that relationship built or a mutual friendship, and we act out sexually, we excuse it as a natural urge. See the problem?

Jesus said in Matthew 5 that anyone who looks lustfully at another woman had already committed adultery in his heart. He did not say seeing a woman was sin, otherwise men would be sinning all the time. This would be cruel on God’s part! He said looking with lustful (coveting) intent is the sin. 

According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc., lust means, “to have an eager, passionate, and especially an inordinate or sinful desire, as for the gratification of the sexual appetite or of covetousness.”

This is desiring that person in a way that isn’t rightfully your place to enjoy. God meant for sexual expression to be in context of a married relationship. Looking lustfully is equating a person who is not your spouse as a piece of meat, a collection of body parts that you are objectifying, selfishly for your own gratification. This can occur with full nudity, partial nudity, or a fully dressed person! You are making a fantasy relationship or escapade with your impure thoughts, as if they were true. 

Pope John Paul II is one of the few theologians in history to address the evident gap in our theology with his “theology of the body.” He has posed many great truths and one of my favorite quotes of his is this: “Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment.” (John Paul II [Karol Wojtyla]. Love and Responsibility. Rev. ed. Trans. H.T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, 1981.)

This can be illustrated with David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was bathing on the rooftop like many people did in those days. It was commonplace. David, with the highest point in the city could see many people bathing, but with this one, he had to have her in a sexual conquest, even committing murder to cover it up. David was the guilty man according to the prophet Nathan. Bathsheba was the innocent lamb. So why do we place the blame on the ladies, saying they should not tempt men with how they dress? It’s not logical or right.

Jesus also said in Mark 7 that nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. He continues saying for it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, adultery, lewdness, envy and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.

This also indicates that the mere sight of someone is not the sin, but rather thinking improperly about that person, is the sin. We need to worry less about what visual stimuli we receive and more about how we think about it!

I write passionately about this because of my own story of failure after failure. I won’t go into all of it suffice to say that I battled the ongoing mystique and pull of pornography for over two decades. I tried everything with varying degrees of success, but never finding full freedom and a clear conscience before God and my wife. I thought I’d never grow out of it and it would always be a constant struggle. 

“That’s someone’s daughter” which you often hear as advice against this type of behavior didn’t ever stop me even though I have a daughter of my own. My mind was messed up and not renewed. My view of the body was skewed and distorted, as it is with so many today. As Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” This was me, WAS, being the operative word.

There needed to be a renewal of the mind in terms of how I viewed the body (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24). For too long, I allowed the way the world views people and their bodies to influence my own view. The worldly view is not God-honoring or holy. It agrees with the pornographers in its shallow view of what is and isn’t attractive and how sexualized we are today. The religious notion is to agree with pornographers (yes, you read that right) that “nude is lewd” and react to the opposite extreme of puritanical prudery. This body=bad, spirit=good is a dualism that the Bible does not teach. Rather it is gnostic heresy, and it damages our cause to maintain purity. As Colossians 2:23 (ESV) points out, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Pornography and prudery feed off each other in a vicious cycle, giving the other what it is missing- a godly view that honors, both the body and the someBODY who dwells in it.

Our enemy, the ancient serpent, has been crafty since the beginning. He hates the image of God (Imago Dei) reflected in humankind as much as he hates the God they represent. He adamantly attacks this whole concept and seems to be winning! What God crafted as his most precious masterpiece, Satan has twisted and distorted to the point that it no longer is seen in the same way. Like a priceless work of art, crumbled up, it needs to be rediscovered for its natural and pure beauty. It can, however, be restored as Jesus’ wounds heal our wounds and he makes all things new again (Isaiah 53:5; Revelation 21:5).

The enemy is deceiving the whole world as he has from the beginning. We’ve been conditioned in many ways by society and by evil itself. For me, I agreed with several lies:

  1. When I see a woman I find attractive (nude, scantily clad, or fully clothed), because I’m wired as a visual person, I can’t help myself but respond with a sort of sexual fantasy and lustful thoughts. (Like Pavlov’s dogs or something!)
  2. This is bad, but it’s the way everyone is and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I’ll never be free.

I’m sure there were many more agreements made, but the point is the lies took precedent over the truth. I lived as though the lies were true. Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

True repentance according to the meaning of the greek word refers to a changing of the mind. I changed my mind about all of this, which seemed counterintuitive at the time, because I was so depraved in my thinking (Romans 1:18-32). I started to see humankind as the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His own image. I saw the body, not as lewd, dirty or obscene, but as beautiful and holy, worthy of respect and honor. I also saw other people for who they are, all fearfully and wonderfully made. I appreciated the diversity of God’s design of people as the crowning glory of his awesome creation, more grand than the most magnificent sunset. I no longer “worshipped” created things rather than the Creator as does an idolater (Romans 1:25; Ephesians 5:5). I focused on the whole person, not just certain parts (that in our society get extra attention). Arousal took its rightful place as belonging only to my wife based on our deep relationship.

Once I made the switch in my mind, it was smooth sailing. I was amazed. What I never thought possible was not only possible, but easy. As stated, I rejected the lies, and God did the rest. This constant issue of 20 years simply vanished. I felt different. It wasn’t like moments of “victory” before where there was still a struggle and then I inevitably would fall off the wagon with a binge. This is true freedom, and it’s incredible! I then came across the “My Chains are Gone” website which confirmed everything I had experienced. If you have tried everything and nothing works to rid yourself of these thoughts and habits, read through www.mychainsaregone.org.

This nagging, but ever-present problem was affecting me in many ways. Without it, I’m a better minister, but more importantly a better husband. And being the father of sons, I’m no longer impotent to help them with these issues. The cycle is broken, praise God!

What am I asking of you? First of all, if you yourself are struggling, take another hard look at my testimony and ask yourself if you are believing some of the same lies. Where are you missing God’s truth that’s been staring us in the face ever since the beginning? Secondly, maybe you are blessed to not be affected by this vice, but think about how you teach on this subject and what message you are sending, especially to young people? Does it agree with society’s view or worse our true enemy’s view of human beings and their bodies? Are you relying on man-made methods that fall short of true and full redemption as it relates to lustful attitudes and actions?

My hope and prayer is that this blesses you, and you experience the joy and closeness to God and others that I have found since embracing this more healthy, natural, and godly way of thinking.

Respectfully,

A co-laborer in the Lord, Phil O.

P.S. For a printable pdf of this letter click here.

Image credit: V0034184 In the Garden of Eden, while the serpent curls around the tr Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org In the Garden of Eden, while the serpent curls around the tree of knowledge, Eve is about to taste the apple. Coloured etching. Published: [n.d.] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Phil’s Story

Though I tell my story in bits and pieces here and there, I thought it would be pertinent to tell it in a more chronological narrative. So here’s my very personal account!

I grew up in a Christian home, actually a ministry family. My parents were missionaries. I loved my upbringing which afforded me many amazing experiences and a greater perspective on life in general. However, there was one part of growing up that I’ve now realized wasn’t so good. I’m fortunate not to have any trauma or abuse in my childhood. What I will describe is not uncommon for most people in this day and age.

I’ve always had an affinity, you could say, for being nude. As a kindergartner, I remember my parents giving me the Adam and Eve story about God making them clothes (although, as it turns out, they invented clothing by sewing fig leaves together on their own without God’s consent, but I digress). As a young boy in a swimming pool, when no one was around, my shorts came off and I discovered the pure joy of skinny dipping. As a teen, I’d enjoy streaking sometimes at night, relishing the air on my bare skin. This is not the bad part of my growing up. What was bad is that I began to think of these things as bad or wrong. They felt like rebellion in a way. 

My inner nudist was crushed by how I was raised.

My parents were just doing what their parents taught them. There was no nefarious intent other than teaching me to behave according to what they thought right, and this out of love. I’ve now come to realize that their thoughts on the body and nudity are really less than ideal. They wanted to protect me from an overly sexualized society, but it didn’t work.

I remember seeing nudity on TV growing up, late night at a friend’s house, or the famous scrambled porn when no one was around. I even had friends on my basketball team wanting to teach me how to masturbate on a trip, but I resisted them. I’d hear of other people’s struggles with this in youth group. They were amazed I had not yet acted out on the lust which we all seemed to have. After all, it’s called “Every man’s battle!” We were all conditioned by our environment to equate the sight of the female body as an object that merits some sort of sexual attraction and/or response. My point is this: these moments of teaching against a certain action, made me want to try that very action!

I was a late bloomer. When I moved away from my parents house, just months before I was to marry my high school sweetheart, I had the complete privacy I had lacked before. I had a computer and access to the internet. It was in this new house, which was to be our first home as a new family, that I intentionally sought out porn and masturbated to it.

Pornography grabbed a hold of me, and wouldn’t let go for almost two decades.

I thought maybe I’d grow out of the phase. It was my secret sin (though I did confess it to some other men). I tried all the ways the church uses to combat this prevalent vice. They didn’t work. I have a daughter, and even the notion of “That’s someone’s daughter.” didn’t stop me from acting out in my addiction. (My Chains Are Gone website does a great job of proving why conventional methods don’t work.) I went to Promise Keepers events. In fact, as a church leader myself, I took men to these events, where they would quote statistics saying that most of the men there looked at porn before coming, and many will soon after the event, maybe even the same day! The conviction of guilt and shame was heavy upon me as I had an ongoing struggle to eliminate this behavior. 

I’d confess to my wife. We’d cry. I hated to let her down. I hated myself for these actions. I enjoyed some prolonged moments of “victory” but even those would not come without a fight, and the lust was still always there. For a while, as an addict would do, I had my wife give me a chip of sobriety (actually a washer, where she would write a verse or love note on it and a number) for each month in which I was “good.” I collected several. She could always tell when I was lying or when I’d go on another binge and fall “off the wagon.”

Even during this time, I would tell my wife that she is the most beautiful, that she’s the standard by which all beauty is measured. And this was true and how I saw her. But she didn’t see herself this way, and how could she with my unfaithfulness and looking lustfully at other women? (Read her story here.)

With smartphones, it got easier and easier to access the filth whenever I had the urge. If I was away from home on a trip or on business, there was a good chance I’d be fighting a losing battle at night.

Years ago I had come across a website devoted to Christian Nudists (or actually Naturists). I thought like most people think. “That can’t be good! That’s just a bunch of peverts trying to justify their evil actions.” Projection much? That was just revealing what was in my own heart. My undue judgment of them was betraying my own heart. Are Christian Naturists a bunch of sickos? The truth is that they are quite the opposite! I was the sicko! But I dismissed the notion that there could really be a devoted Christian that could live as a naturist.

I have teenage boys. I don’t want them to follow in my footsteps in this area, but how could I effectively train them up without having a sustained and real victory myself? 

Nothing I’d try would deal with the problem at the root issue. It would only put a bandaid on the surface, but it would not cure the ailment.

Somewhere during this journey, things got worse before they could get better. I hit rock bottom. But I had a realization that I preferred the non-sexual nudity more than the sexual kind. But in the porn sphere, there’s not much non-sexual nudity! The venue was wrong. Could it be that I’m just a nudist? Have I always been a nudist, and just suppressed that side of me because I learned prudery?

My close friends growing up knew of my propensity for being nude. My wife also knew it. When I’d work from home on Fridays and the kids were at school I’d institute “Fully Naked Friday” and sometimes my wife would join me in doing regular stuff but in the buff. This was nice! Freeing! Liberating!

I looked into “true” nudism again and found it’s not the same as pornography. True nudists make that distinction passionately. I finally decided to embrace myself as a nudist, which “naturally” made me want to gravitate to the section that labels themselves as Christian Naturists. Could there be a rational and even Scriptural justification for this lifestyle?

I want to share all aspects of my life with my wife. I went on a walk with her and asked if we could talk about something. I brought up that for our anniversary, maybe we could go to a clothing optional bed and breakfast that’s nearby. I thought it’d give her a chance to lay out by the pool, we could walk the vineyard, and there would only be the owners there and possibly one other couple. She got so angry! This did not go over well.

As a compromise, we went camping on private land by a river that was secluded. I spent most of the time completely naked. She did not. (Now she wishes she had!) I skinny dipped, and she saw me from the banks of the river looking like a little kid again! Pure joy.

I learned of www.nakedandunashamed.org and joined a group on MeWe. I found answers to my questions. I found people who were like me, even those who used to have porn addictions. Yes, used to, but no longer do. I found that my own issues with porn vanished as soon as I renewed my mind on how I thought of the human body. I decided I would test this to see if it was real and true. I determined to wait a year to tell my wife of the change. That wasn’t necessary!

I felt different. There were no struggles of the kind that had plagued me my whole adult life! There was a change that took place, and no withdrawal. So I laid groundwork before sharing these revelations with her. I prayed. I dropped little truth bombs. I prayed more. I solicited prayer from the group on MeWe, and the day came to break the news. You can read about this day from her perspective here.

She wasn’t shocked that I said I was a nudist, like “No duh!” She was angered initially that I had naturist friends in a group online. Then she was even more surprised when I turned it around and asked that she join me in this life, thinking it would help her find healing from her own issues of insecurity. 

After days of talking more openly than ever before, and praying together, and reading Scripture and other literature she started to see the truth. She did this very quickly. Upon reflection, she had already noticed a change in me. We were tearing down the stronghold that was holding me back from so many good things, from being a great leader, starting in my own family. She sensed a difference in me and attributed it to what I was claiming had changed in my mind.

We had a great marriage before. Sure there were many rough moments, but it was good for the most part. Now, it’s just amazing. This lifestyle has brought us closer to each other and closer to God. Even our sex life is sweeter and entirely based on our relationship, and not just physical response.

Now we are trying to undo what we were instilling into the minds of our children, so they will not fall into the same traps. Like us, they need to unlearn the things that have been taught or picked up from the environment around us.

To my wife, I’ve made a commitment. Actually, we renewed our vows on a nude beach in Florida! But before that, I promised to her and myself that every physical arousal that I would have in my own anatomy, would be by her direct involvement. In plain words, I will not masturbate. This is not out of rule keeping but born out of my own desire for our best relationship. That’s my conviction: that for every orgasm I have, my wife be a participant, present and fully engaged. That’s her rightful place for such an experience.

I don’t lust after anyone anymore. I’ve written about that change all over this blog. I definitely don’t seek out porn. I can’t stand the thought of it!

Think of recovering alcoholics; they despise the stuff that used to cause them so much trouble. The real victory is being able to walk down the liquor aisle in the store and not have any unwanted cravings. This is my experience now. Someone warned me not long ago, to wait a month, a year, because Satan doesn’t want a warrior for the truth and will try to make me fall. I think there’s some truth there, but I’m not afraid. I asked my friend who’s further on this journey than I am if he’s had any setbacks since renewing his mind. He told me the year this started for him and said, “No.” I believe him, and I don’t foresee any backsliding for me. My mind was like a corroded battery that wouldn’t work right. You can’t just try to clean it up on the outside and hope it works. You have to replace it with a new one, and it will function as it was designed to function.

My wife and I often will look at each other and reflect on where we come from and together conclude, “We’re not going back.” Why would we ever want to go back to our previous existence? When we’ve found the closest thing to the innocence of Eden, the closest thing to paradise, this side of heaven, why would we opt for the pig sty? 

I’m not going back.