By Marilyn Stewart
NEW ORLEANS — The suicide death of a beloved colleague last fall after a sexual addiction came to light drove the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary community to their knees. They rose determined to help others caught in pornography and sexual addiction.
Recalibrate, a campus-wide conference April 28 with Greg Miller of Faithful and True ministries, came together as a response the death of John Gibson, long-time professor at NOBTS’ Leavell College, on the opening day of classes in the fall. Miller ministers to those impacted by sexual addictions.
“We have come to the realization through a most tragic event here on our campus that secret sin has a devastating impact,” Thomas Strong, Leavell College Dean, wrote in a NOBTS weekly publication encouraging all to attend. “We want to start a conversation on breaking the power of secret sin that is seasoned with redemption and hope.”
Miller told listeners that 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women self-report they are “addicted to porn,” pointing out that self-reported statistics typically skew low. By age 18, “virtually all” teens have been exposed to porn, either intentionally or unintentionally, Miller said.
Shame leads to secrecy which then fuels the addiction, Miller told the crowd. “Your first addiction is isolation,” Miller said. “Secrecy is necessary for it to grow.”
Confidential counseling has been made available to the NOBTS community through the Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center on campus that utilizes credentialed faculty members as well as master’s and doctoral students under the direction of state-licensed supervisors.
“We’re all wounded and this is an area we’ve not done very well in,” said Kathy Steele, professor of psychology and counseling, to a full audience in the NOBTS Leavell Chapel. “We’re determined to change that. This [conference] is a first step.”
Steele, director of the seminary’s clinical training program, said pastors and “strong” Christians can fall prey to secret addictions and extramarital affairs if anger and past experiences are left unresolved. To promote emotional health, faculty members this year studied together the book The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero.
“The day has to be over where a pastor’s wife says that she sees one man in the pulpit and another at home,” Steele said. “If you’re not who you say you are, you’re not emotionally healthy. That has to change. No wonder the church is powerless.”
‘Drinking salty water’
“Lust is the thirsty person drinking salt water,” Miller told the crowd. Pornography only intensifies the thirst, he added.
Miller stressed that sexual addiction is not about sex, but rather the way sex is used to meet deeply felt needs in harmful ways.
“What are you escaping from? What are you escaping to?” are the questions he challenges addicts to answer, Miller said.
Miller drew from the work of Patrick Carnes, internationally recognized sexual addiction expert, to show that pornography changes brain chemistry in the same way that drug use changes an addict’s brain. Pornography use leads to tolerance, then to escalation of behaviors and “acting out,” Miller said.
A recovering sexual addict, Miller lost his church staff position, community standing, and nearly lost his marriage as a result of sexual addiction that took root in personal feelings of inadequacy after being exposed to pornography at age 10.
Feelings of unworthiness, a self-dependence for nurture, and believing their greatest need is sex or that sex best meets needs are core beliefs of sex addicts, Miller said.
“Addiction is trying to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way,” Miller said. “We have to dismantle what’s driving the addiction.”
Owning one’s story is an important step toward recovery, Miller said. People trapped in sexual addictions often are “disconnected” from the reality of the hurt their addiction has caused, he added.
“Truth can be painful, but even painful truth can set you free,” Miller said. “Truth creates space for grace.”
Miller told of the tearful reunion with his in-laws after his sexual addiction became public and how their expression of love and grace transformed his concept of God. “Maybe the God they love can love me,” Miller recounted.
Sexual addictions arise from a combination of events and experiences unique to each individual, rather than originating from a single, common experience, Miller said. But helping addicts see that they are “100 percent” responsible for their behavior is empowering, Miller added, because they then realize they have the power to change.
Dependence on God is the only way to recovery, Miller stressed. “God is bigger than this,” Miller said. “There is life beyond.”
RESOURCES FOR HELP
In a culture where pornography is as close as the cell phone, Steele recommends the following to parents and churches.
- Pornography and sexual addictions are rampant. Even unintentional exposure can be a hook. Parents and churches must stay alert.
- Secrecy must end. Pornography and sexual addictions need to addressed as any other sin is addressed: how to avoid; how to look away; how to find help with an addiction.
- Resources are available. The Conquer Series, from the organization Pure Desires, is a video-driven series where training is not required. Greg Miller recommended Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, by Mark Laaser, founder of Faithful and True, and Shattered Vows, by Deb Laaser, a book for wives of men with sexual addictions.