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Protecting Church Leaders from Porn

The technology and practices needed for the church office.

Protecting Church Leaders from Porn

When police discovered thousands of pornographic images on the home computer of a man involved in the leadership of a nearby church, Darrell Brazell wasn't surprised.

"They said they found something like 6,000 images on his computer," Brazell says. "That sounds like a lot, but it's not. You can download that much in a very short amount of time."

Brazell knows. He was addicted to pornography for nearly 15 years.

"It's a very common misconception that somehow ministers are above all of that," he says. "The truth is, ministers are humans too, with the same weaknesses and frailties as any other person."

Brazell, who says he has been "clean" for 10 years, is pastor of New Hope Fellowship in Lawrence, Kansas. He counsels and coordinates faith-based support groups for men addicted to pornography, and a large number of the men he counsels are ministers. When a minister realizes he is addicted to pornography, the efforts to cover up the problem lead to inner conflict, which can create growing frustration and hopelessness.

"The trouble is, for many years, pornography and addictions related to it have been able to fly under the radar," Brazell says. "Then, along came the internet, which allowed free and perceived anonymous access to pornography practically anytime, anywhere. And you won't ever stop it completely, people being people, but you can make the church property as clean of it as possible."

The Problem

The struggle with pornography for pastors and church staff members is not new. In 2001, LEADERSHIP journal surveyed pastors and found that four in 10 struggled with it. A 2007 New York Times article estimated $3 billion in annual sales for the internet porn industry in the United States, and since then, the availability of mobile devices that access the internet with ease, including laptops and cell phones, has exploded.

4 Computer-Policy Mistakes

by Nick Nicholaou

There are four common misconceptions about computer use that need to be addressed by church policies:

1. We're a church. A church is a publicly supported ministry, the thinking goes, so we collectively own the computer system, which means we should all be able to use it. But churches need to be as efficient as reasonably possible, and need to be good managers of their resources. Letting those without a church-related need use church computers often leads to higher support needs and costs because people will naively change things that hinder the staff from doing their work. One church staff member recently encountered computer problems. As it turned out, some of those emerged due to unauthorized use of her computer, which included the installation of new mouse pointers, screen savers, and more.

A policy that limits use to those with a church-related need will help your staff work more productively, and will help minimize support costs.

Another policy should provide guidelines for personal use on church computers by those authorized to use them for church-related tasks. It's important to set a reasonable guideline because prohibiting all personal use isn't realistic. We suggest stating that church computers may be used for personal tasks by those authorized to use them for church-related purposes, but only on personal time, to a small degree, and never in a way that costs the church money or efficiency. This approach is similar to one commonly used for the personal use of company phones.

2. We should model openness and allow full access to information and data. Information on the church system is an asset. It needs to be protected by everyone who has access to it in the same way they would protect any other church asset. That includes giving copies of mailing lists or directories, which should only go to members of the congregation and should include a statement that they may only be used for fostering the fellowship and ministry of the church (never for commercial purposes).

Some data must be guarded to protect people's privacy. Consider, for instance, the harm that could be done to someone if their Social Security number, checking account routing information, credit card, or counseling notes were made public. Policies need to be in place to provide extra protection for sensitive data.

3. If we find something online we want to use, we can use it how ever we'd like. It would be nice if that were true, but copyright laws say that copyright holders must consent to the use of their works with very few exceptions. The fact that you're a church is not one of the exceptions!

There are licensing agencies that can ease the use of some types of works (like worship music, videos, and so on), but it's important to tell all users of church computers that nothing may be used without the prior express written permission of the copyright holder. This does not apply to works created by church staff (unless there is a special written agreement in place) because those are considered works made for hire and the church owns the copyright.

4. Because I use a password to log on, emails and other communications I send are private. All employees should be required to acknowledge, in writing, that nothing done on or through church computers may be considered private. No documents, spreadsheets, pictures, emails—nothing! That policy should also be written to extend to all workspaces provided by the church—desk drawers, file drawers, trash cans, and so on. This may be one of your most important written policies.

As church offices evolve, so do the uses of technological devices. Frank Sommerville, a Texas-based attorney and editorial advisor for Your Church, has been a member of three churches that asked pastors to leave because of addictions to pornography. He says pornography "can be as addictive as crack cocaine."

So how can churches respond with safeguards that help protect their pastors and staff with church equipment, whether in the office or on the go?

Sommerville points out that the safeguards churches must take to protect their offices extends beyond pastors and staff members. Others with access to a church's property can take advantage of using equipment to visit inappropriate sites.

"There are people who know full well how easy it is to track pornography on a computer, so they might stop by the church, especially if they have their own keys and know they will be alone, to use a computer there prior to going home," Sommerville says. "Fortunately, if it's done right, certain types of websites can be blocked from ever getting on a computer, and tracking software can easily report wherever a computer has been. And with passwords or ID cards, even though you can't be totally sure who was sitting at a computer when pornography was accessed, the prospects can be narrowed down dramatically."

Password Please

A lot of trouble with pornography being viewed on church equipment can be avoided with the simple use of passwords and other identification requirements, says Nick Nicholaou, president of Ministry Business Services Inc. in California, a computer consulting firm that works with churches and other ministries.

"Simply having everyone who has access to a computer at a church eliminates a lot of problems with users who might want to use church-owned computers to view pornography and other inappropriate websites," Nicholaou says. "I'm continually amazed at the number of people who never consider using this. And combine everyone having a password with simple access to the IT records of where all the websites the computers have visited, and you have an easy, practical, and very economical way to track internet use."

Another solution: make computer monitors more public. In situations where staff members have individual offices, this can be done by installing windows on their doors.

Technical Solutions

Accountability software for computers also helps, Nicholaou says. "In my work, I often test software to see if inappropriate websites can be accessed using filtering software so I can see how effective they are, but I still use accountability software so that my accountability partner can ask 'Hey, what's going on here?' I see it as an insurance policy," he says.

Software options generally work on the same principles, blocking inappropriate websites and generating reports of where a computer visits. Prices range from free to as little as $5 per month per user, depending on the service selected.

Internet Safety Inc.'s flagship product, Ethershield, effectively blocks pornographic material on 10 to 200 work-based computers. It also can filter wireless networks, says Stanley Holditch, the company's internet marketing manager. Ethershield creates usage reports about each user's web activity, which are then stored in an accessible location.

"It's important to realize that websites can be inappropriate for many reasons," Holditch says. "That's why we provide the software that can block all sorts of websites, not only those of a sexual nature, but others that offer users gambling, shopping, and other opportunities that might be tempting to certain people."

The chance that a user will look at (something) inappropriate is significantly less when they know that someone else will know what they have been seeing.

Prices for Ethershield vary by the number of computers protected. For a 10-computer setup at a church, the Ethershield device costs $1,299, plus $49 shipping and a $210 filter subscription for one year. The company offers a 20 percent discount for nonprofits, bringing the cost for the first year to about $1,500. In subsequent years, though, the company says the cost is dramatically lower. For instance, in the second year, the 10-computer setup costs only $168 (including the discount) to cover the filter subscription's annual renewal.

Internet Safety also offers a $19.99 application for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

Covenant Eyes also offers filtering and accountability software for personal computers. The accountability software, priced at $7.99 per month for the first user and $2 for each additional user, monitors a person's internet use and emails a report of all websites visited for accountability partners to view. Reports are emailed to the partner or viewed online from the member center. Accountability partners may range from a family member to a pastor to a mentor. They are trusted individuals selected by the user to review reports and discuss how the internet is used.

Covenant Eyes' software also is available for mobile devices.

"The chance that a user will look at whatever might be called inappropriate is significantly less when they know that someone else will know what they have been seeing," says Donald Lindsey, a representative of Covenant Eyes.

XXXChurch.com, a Christian anti-pornography website, offers a free accountability tool called X3Watch, available for computers and as a free application on iTunes for Apple's mobile devices.

The same protection on machines in the office can be extended to laptops and other portable equipment taken off-site. "Almost all of the services have a utility that allows the filtering capability to extend to laptops and other mobile devices," Nicholaou says. "Even if a laptop is taken to an area where there may be no wireless access, the next time that laptop is turned on in a hot spot, the report of where a user has been on the internet will be sent."

Aside from options available from Covenant Eyes, Internet Safety, and others, churches can ask their service providers to block access to specific sites, Nicholaou adds.

A First Step

Even many of those ensnared in the trap of pornography will admit its dangers. By taking this first step, churches can help affected leaders break free of the trap.

"Every year we get hundreds of letters from people who tell us that our software has changed their lives," Lindsey says. "Unfortunately, by the time many users start using our software, they are at (their) wit's end in their struggle with pornography. The bright side is knowing that filtering and accountability software is available and does work. Users just have to take the first step."

The Power of Confession

by William Struthers

The first step that a man can take to free himself from the prison of pornography is to confess. Confession moves beyond denial, minimization, normalization, justification and rationalization to a right understanding of one's own brokenness. It refuses to celebrate and revel in the sin, and is the first step toward reestablishing communion with God and others. Because pornography has such an isolating effect on men who are intent on hiding their problem, it is important that this confession be more than between him and God. By confessing to another person, the isolating effect that porn has on a man will be reduced. When sin is shared with another person, a man is forced to expose his brokenness. How a man exposes this brokenness, however, is critical in the healing process. Only with a repentant heart that is completely broken can a man begin the process of true recovery.

Many men confess if they are caught, but they may not be repentant. They may feel guilty, but they may not be truly repentant. The measure by which a man can recover from a pornography problem is equal to his willingness to do the things that evidence repentance. If he tries to minimize, normalize, justify, or rationalize, true healing will be slow and unlikely. He must be completely broken, as King David was when confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12), in order to be restored. The consequences may not disappear, but he must be prepared to live with them and do what is necessary to make amends … If he does not acknowledge his need for God, it is difficult for him to make any lasting progress in his recovery.

Confession is difficult for many men because it is an admission of failure. This is at odds with their understanding of their masculinity … As a result, it is important to confess to someone who is able to be a part of the healing process. Many men, when confronted with their pornography problem, will confess it to their spouse or girlfriend. They do so because they are often the person with whom they have their deepest intimate connection. They reach out to the one whom they love the most for help. The consequences, however, can be disastrous.

Choosing whom to disclose your problem with pornography is a delicate process. The individual should be mature, supportive, wise, trustworthy, discreet, compassionate, and emotionally resilient.

Many men will share with a relative, teacher, respected church leader, pastor, or good friend. Regardless of whom you choose, remember that the need for another human being to hear your sin and speak the forgiveness of Christ to you is part of being human and becoming sanctified.

From "Wired For Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain," (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Used with permission. ivpress.com .

3 Questions with William Struthers:

If you could say one thing right now to a church pastor or staff member struggling with pornography, what would it be? "I would actually say two things. One, you should not underestimate the level of isolation and the level of deception, including self-deception, that pornography can have on a person. It inherently takes a person out of true community. Do not think that this is just your problem and no one else's problem, or that it's a problem that can be hidden indefinitely. We are a part of the body of Christ, and when one part of the body is afflicted, it affects the entire body. But two, do not underestimate the power of God and the ministry of Christ to bring a person to wholeness."

What should church staffs do regarding this issue to create transparency and accountability? "Accountability can only be done through true, authentic relationships. Each church staff needs to look at its unique circumstances. For example, a small church staff with two or three people will have different ways of creating transparency and accountability, especially if they're using the same computer. Larger staffs are going to have to have a different approach. That might look more like specific clusters—pastoral staff, the children's ministry staff, the youth staff, the adult ministries staff—each one probably should have a unique way of cultivating accountability to create the transparency there. The primary principle, regardless of your church situation, is that this should be an ongoing conversation. Conversations should include setting standards for appropriate entertainment; discussing cultural and Scriptural influences on those standards; raising the issue without overpersonalizing it—reading something as a staff, or bringing in a speaker that creates an open environment to engage the issue; and spending time regularly with each other in prayer."

Are software filters and computer-use policies the best measures a church staff can use to initially combat this problem? "I think the filters and computer-use policies are excellent starting points because they don't make it about a person. They make it about a culture that values Godly behavior. When you create this atmosphere, that's going to create a better community inherently. But these shouldn't be the end point. The need for pornography will decrease as people have a healthy intimacy fed and a healthy relationship fed through true relationships."

—Matt Branaugh

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  • May 20, 2010

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