Looking at Centerfolds has an Effect on who Stays in the Fold!
Pornography is destroying the church. In the past year I have had over 20 individuals confide to me that they are struggling with a pornography addiction. More than half of those were preachers. I speculate this epidemic is even worse in young people, who have easier access than previous generations but are more reluctant to discuss their viewing habits.
Question: Has the church even acknowledged this problem exists? Are we prepared to deal with members who have this addiction? Are elders coming up with resources and solutions in their weekly meetings? Are we actively discussing preventative measures that will help our young people avoid this pitfall? Do we have individuals who can serve as accountability partners for those who are struggling? Are we inviting men to speak on this topic to inform congregations, or are we simply hoping our child will not be one of the statistics? Have we even given thought about how pornography is effecting our young people’s religious beliefs?
A peer-reviewed study that appeared in the journal Social Forces has demonstrated just how much viewing pornography impacts individual’s religious beliefs—and the results are not good. Samuel L. Perry and George Hayward coauthored a study titled, “Seeing is (Not) Believing: How Viewing Pornography Shapes the Religious Lives of Young Americans.” (Social Forces, 2017, vol 95, pg 1757-1788). They reported, “Fixed-effects regression models show that more frequent pornography viewing diminishes religious service attendance, importance of religious faith, prayer frequency, and perceived closeness to God, while increasing religious doubt.”
In other words, porn is destroying the church! The authors went on to observe, “these effects hold regardless of gender.” Add to it that pornography is just more pervasive and just one-click away for the current generation of youth who are constantly plugged into their smartphones or tablets. In their study the authors tested three hypotheses:
- Pornography viewing will lead to lower levels of religiosity over time.
- Pornography viewing will have a stronger negative effect on religiosity during adolescence than during young adulthood.
- Pornography viewing will have a stronger negative effect on religiosity for males than females.
Their first hypothesis was proved true in that pornography certainly impacts the viewer’s religious beliefs. The second hypothesis was found to be partially correct in that it affected the importance of religious faith and perceived closeness to God, but there seemed no difference across the age spectrum on the negative effect on attendance and frequency of prayer. All age ranges diminished in attendance and frequency of prayer. Lastly, they found no difference between pornography viewing and gender, so there was no support for the third hypothesis. The research showed that males and females are affected equally.
Josh McDowell recently commissioned “The Porn Phenomenon,” the largest survey into pornography addiction that has ever been conducted (see https://www.josh.org/key-findings-in-landmark-pornography-study-released/). In a personal interview with Josh I asked him why he commissioned the study. Josh responded, “Brad, five or six years ago, I realized there was a breakdown of authority of the scripture in churches. After research, I found it was pervasive Internet pornography. As soon as you get involved in pornography, you start to question the authority of scriptures, your past, your church, your parents.” Josh’s findings correlate precisely with the findings in the Perry and Hayward study.
What’s more, it appears the effects on religious beliefs are worse for youth. Perry and Hayward observed, “The effects of viewing pornography on importance of faith, closeness to God, and religious doubts are stronger for teenagers compared to emerging adults.” Their belief is that young people still at home and under the moral influence of their parents experience greater internalized guilt and cognitive dissonance associated with their pornography use.
Josh McDowell shared just how much of an epidemic pornography usage really is. He remarked:
In 13-24 year olds, 81% of Christians actively seek out pornography. Now that is staggering. Now what the studies show, Brad, is that from 29 years old and younger, both in culture and the church, there’s been a distinct cultural generational shift in morality. With every age division you go up, fewer seek out pornography. But if you take 29 and under, you get a total shift in truth. 56% will say that “not recycling” is a moral sin, but only 32% will say watching porn is a moral sin.
Recycling worse than pornography?! This is what happens when your conscience has been seared with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2) and you move away from absolute truth.
The final conclusion of the Perry and Hayward study is one of the most troublesome: “the growth of pornography use may contribute to the decline of American religion itself.” This study should be a strong wake up call to all parents, elders, preachers, and teachers. We often wring our hands about the declining numbers in the church. This study should be a clarion call to parents to wake up and make sure you know what your children are viewing. It should be a wake up call to congregations about why some of our youth are leaving the church. It should be a wake up call to youth about the soul-endangering threat of pornography.