Tackling pornography in church

By Focus on the Family Canada

Pornography is often in our top ten list of call topics to our counselling line. There was a time when we mostly heard from women who had discovered their husbands were using pornography. Occasionally, we would hear from men who wanted to overcome their entrapment, but increasingly now we are hearing from parents who are finding their children not only exposed but in many cases already addicted as teenagers! In order to help you tackle this issue in your church, we have a resource we believe could greatly benefit families.

Some of our staff recently attended a screening of a new documentary designed to open the eyes of churches, parents and educators about this problem. The film is called Over 18. We felt documentary filmmakers Michelle and Jared Brock have created a very powerful film that addressed the issues head on, in a clear but not gratuitous way. Later, we sat down to interview Michelle. Here is a summary of some of her insights.

Michelle, how did you come to choose this topic for your next documentary?

Michelle: Our friend told us that he was involved with the youth in his church and a bunch of the guys that he was mentoring had porn addictions. And he was emotional about it. He really cared about these guys and they all had cellphones in their pockets and some of them would come to him saying, “I’m so excited Dave. I have gone for a week without looking at porn.” Or, “I’ve gone for two weeks without looking at porn.” And Dave was thinking, This is no way to live! So he reached out to us and said, “Would you consider making a documentary about pornography?” And so he was the one who kicked it off, who got it rolling. He started fundraising and we started asking people, “When was the first time you saw porn?” We started doing research, and reaching out to people to interview, and that is how Over 18 began.

We thought you did a great job of conveying the information that needed to be conveyed without it ever being gratuitous. What was that like?

Michelle: We agonized over how to do that. You want to be very honest about Okay, this is the reality, but at the same time we didn’t want to jeopardize the bulk of people saying, No we’re not going to show this film because it’s crossed a line. And so we actually sent it out to about 10 people that we trusted who were in different areas – pastors and counsellors and people – and just said, Should we take something out? Should we put something in? What do you guys think? We made a few tweaks. The good thing is, it’s still a difficult movie to watch but every time we see it we think, Yep. We’re at peace with what is here.

Anyone can teach what this is. But we really felt that we were relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us in that process. And another thing that we really care about a lot is the tone that we set for everything that we do. I think sometimes documentaries can be snarky or they can be really argumentative or combative, and we were like, God, help us set the tone so that it creates a safe place where people can have discussion rather than fights or arguments.

What responses have you had from pastors specifically?

Michelle: We just did a screening on Vancouver Island and one of the pastors that I met there said that when the Internet was in its infancy, when it was starting, his denomination had a meeting about the Internet and said, Okay, what is this thing and what is our role in this? And someone there described the Internet as a new city, a foreign city. And in this big city there’s good places: there’s museums, restaurants, there’s coffee shops, there’s churches. But there are also parts of the city that are dangerous, where you shouldn’t go. And he said the key when you are visiting a new city is to never go alone. And that has been one of the reasons why they adopted Covenant Eyes and have been using different programs. But kids are going into the city alone, and they are ending up in dangerous places.

The response from the Church for this film overall has been very positive. But there was a pastor in one community from another church that emailed all the other pastors and said, Don’t go see this film, because it’s going to get people addicted to pornography. And we’re saying, People already are addicted to pornography and we have to crack open this conversation. According to Covenant Eyes, I believe only seven per cent of churches are willing to talk about this.

What has been especially impactful that you have learned though this project?

Michelle: One of the biggest things that I’ve learned while making this film is the brain science behind everything. When somebody engages with pornography, there’s a 200 per cent spike of dopamine to the reward centre of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. That’s the same level of reward that you get from a morphine hit.

When kids get this dopamine hit to the brain, their frontal lobe has not fully developed to be able to process that. That’s the part of your brain that is forward-thinking, thinks about consequences, thinks about the future – and that doesn’t develop in boys until their early 20s. And so, when a 10-year-old is exposed to porn and gets that dopamine hit to the reward centre of the brain, he is not fully able to process it. That leads to potentially a decade of addiction without the ability to really protect themselves.

So I think sometimes in Christian circles, we assume that this is only spiritual and there is no physiological component to this – but it’s both. And as a church we need to start recognizing that this is also a chemical issue.

The Bible talks about “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed through the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Now science is talking about neuroplasticity of the brain and how people can change pathways in the brain, and I think it’s cool when science catches up to Scripture and the two can work together to help us defeat some of these addictions.

You’ve shared that this activity can take people to some pretty bad places. Can you elaborate?

Michelle: There is a story in our documentary about a guy who had a porn addiction and he pulled over on the side of the road and was looking at porn on his smart phone and didn’t realize that he had stopped outside a school. And the police came up and knocked on his window and he’s now on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life. These are consequences that we don’t talk about when it comes to porn.

And I think when it comes to porn, it takes you further than you want to go and it keeps you there longer than you want to stay. When it comes to pornography, we can’t even calculate the consequences. It’s hard to know the ramifications it’s going to have. It’s like throwing a grenade: you don’t know where everything’s going to fly when it explodes. And that’s the same with porn: you can’t just calculate, Okay, this is going to affect my life in this way, and this way, and not in this way. And I think that is something that a lot of young people are missing – that they don’t actually know the consequences.

If pastors and churches missed your live screenings that are just winding up now, is there some other way they can access this documentary to see for themselves and/or share with their churches and communities?

Michelle: The film won’t be released on DVD for the masses until 2018. But in 2017, people can contact us through the website, Over18Doc.com, or contact the coordinator, Dave Knox, at [email protected] in order to sign up to host a screening in their own community.  Jared and I won’t be there live, but they can bring people from their community that would know about this – maybe counsellors or people that specialize in this if they want – and they would basically pay the screening fee and we would send them everything that they need to do a screening.

We find that live screenings are so powerful. I think a lot of pastors recognize that this is a huge issue and any tools that we can add to their toolbox so far have been quite well received. There was one guy who had been trying to start something in his church for a while, but unsuccessfully. And after the screening the leadership team got together and said, Okay, we need to start to deal with this. I think pastors could see this as a tool for their toolbox.

We always say, Stick around. Be real with each other. Honestly, one of the best questions to ask is, When was the first time you saw porn? We’ve asked so many of our friends this question and the conversation doesn’t usually end there. Obviously you have to do this in a safe way: you don’t want to be getting into deep things with people you don’t trust. Boundaries are good. But we have entered into a whole new level of intimacy, even in our friendships, because we’ve been able to have very honest conversations that have been hidden for a very long time.

You have other resources on your Hope for the Sold website people can find as well, right?

Michelle: There is a whole page of resources available here.


We at Focus on the Family Canada encourage you to check out the trailer for the Over 18 documentary online here and consider how you can equip the families in your church to be proactive about protecting their children as well as encouraging those already impacted to get help. If the church does not talk about this topic, the shame and secrecy will continue, leading to even more broken families.


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