"What Were We Thinking?"

[The following is the keynote speech delivered by our Executive Director, Dave Scriven, at our first annual 423 Communities Benefit Dinner, "Come Celebrate and Join the Fight," on February 9th, 2018."]

423 Benefit Dinner.jpg

I am older than most of you. In fact, if any two people in this room added their ages together, I’d still be older! I was raised in the fifties and sixties… that is the nineteen 50’s and 60’! Back then smoking was common place. It seemed to me that everyone smoked. I even took up the dirty habit with my friends in fifth grade. What could be so wrong? Everyone did it… at cocktail parties, restaurants, public places, and even on commercial airlines. Oh, there were “smoking sections” designed to protect those who found smoking offensive, but nobody informed the smoke. It wafted wherever it was inclined to go without regard for the imaginary smoke-free boundaries.

Today, just a few decades later, almost nobody smokes, at least not in public places in our country. The actual stats show that about 17% of Americans partake in the nicotine ritual, which is way down from the estimated 42% smokers in the 1960’s when I was young. Some experts project that, at this rate; that is, “around 2046… smoking will become rare to nonexistent in the United States.”[1] Most of us look back on those days with incredulity and ask ourselves, “What were we thinking? How could second-hand smoke not be harmful? Exposing children to second-hand smoke? No way!”

According to a 2014 report by the Surgeon General, over 2.5 million people died of second-hand smoke in the past fifty years.[2] It took a few decades, but somehow we got the message: second-hand smoke is not good for anyone, and together we put a stop to smoking in public places.

Today, we face a similar, yet much more sinister, enemy to the health and well-being of future generations. Fast forward from this point in history a few dozen years from now, long after I am gone, when both church and culture may together cry out, “What were we thinking? Graphic pornography and explicit sexual content available at the push of a button for children? How could that not be harmful. Exposing children to porn? No way!”

Please bear in mind that the Internet is a relatively new phenomenon. Compare thousands of years of civilization to two short decades ago, when America Online became a household name. “You’ve got mail!” and Voila… internet porn was born.

Today, anyone with a smart phone, and that’s just about every adolescent and adult human being I know, has access to online streaming video of people engaged in what God called sacred… the very act of sex! By the way, it wasn’t just cigarettes I was sneaking around with when I was in fifth grade at the age of ten. My buddies and I were using nicotine and pornography, but there is a difference between porn then and porn now. The problem with porn then was… it was hard to get. You had to find a magazine and, for prepubescent boys or girls in 1962, that was not easy to come by.

Today, almost all of you carry a device with unlimited access to pornography in your pocket or purse. What do you think curious girls and boys use their phones for? Do you imagine a typical 14-year-old male has the capacity to say “no” to the sexual bait dangling within easy reach? What about the young girl who hopes for instant “popularity” when she sends pictures of her body parts to the “in-crowd” at school? “Not my son or daughter,” you say? Think again.

About 20% of the human race, that is about 1.5 billion people, are using internet pornography, and one third of them are women![3] In 2016, 4,599,000,000 hours (e.g., over 5,200 centuries of time) were logged in at the single largest porn site in the world.[4]

Today, internet porn is characterized by the three A’s… it’s accessible, affordable, and anonymous. It flies just under the radar and no one wants to talk about it. It is not discussed in polite conversation and Satan has gained substantial ground. Do not be deceived. Pornography, in all its many forms, is an addictive, world-wide epidemic. The objectification and exploitation of the human body destroys countless numbers of lives, marriages, and families. Porn fuels the sex industry, including illegal activities such as prostitution, domestic violence, child pornography, and human trafficking. Most horrifically, it makes us feel bad about ourselves. What starts off as innocent sexual exploration leaves us feeling empty and filled with self-loathing. Here’s a good question: Why is it that society unanimously condemns rape and abuse, yet openly consumes pornography that depicts both and worse?

In tackling a task as monumental as ending porn, we start with the premise that every one of us who ever previewed illicit and sexually suggestive material becomes responsible for its existence. Each time we click on a pornographic site, we are endorsing it. The porn industry is perpetuated by the demand for it. It’s a simple case of supply and demand economics. In his brilliant TEDx talk, Ran Gavrieli stated, “I stopped watching porn because… I came to realize [that] by watching porn I take part in creating a demand for filmed prostitution, because that’s what porn really is – filmed prostitution.”[5]

Little girls do not dream of becoming porn stars, strippers, or prostitutes. These precious children fell into it and, through a set of unfortunate circumstances, were forced, pimped, or cornered (or so they thought) into a career path in the sex trades. I raised four girls. Not one of them ever told me, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to use my body to sexually entice men. I hear there’s good money in that.” No! Each one of their childhood dreams resembled the others – “I want to be a princess,” or “I want to have horsies and take care of animals,” or “I want to be a mommy just like Mommy.” Why do ‘good girls,’ little princesses-in-the-making, become so-called ‘bad girls’? Because someone lied to them, offering attention, love, cash, freedom, stardom, or hope for a life worth living, and these precious daughters and sisters bought the lie. Someone took advantage of their innocence for personal sexual gratification or the lure of easy money.

The men and women of porneia; that is, the objects of our lust, have job security because we too bought a lie: “Pornography doesn’t hurt anyone.” The porn industry didn’t create that lie. We did. You and I invented this untruth. We chose to believe that porn use was somehow more acceptable than other forms of sexual immorality because we weren’t hurting anyone by looking at it. Why did we tell this ‘lie to self’? Because we wanted to watch young, beautiful, naked men and women engaging in sexual activities. It’s that simple. May we repent and forever reject the false claim that pornography is a victimless activity. Our use of porn amounts to nothing less than participation in “filmed prostitution.” Somebody gets paid to pose. We pay to watch. We pay with our time, energy, creativity, imagination, integrity, and sometimes even our money.

The truth is: Porn exists because we want it. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t.

The solution to the problem of pornography is clear: Stop using it.

“It’s not that simple,” you say. Oh but it is. As hundreds of 423 graduates will attest, there is hope for a porn-free existence. Thinking people are beginning to inquire, “How can the ready availability of anonymous sexual content at the push of an affordable button be good for society, especially our children?” Folks, if we can eradicate, or at least seriously limit the problem of second-hand smoke, we should feel empowered to halt the advance of pornography. But, it’s going to take exactly what it took to acquire and use our sex drug in the first place; that is, our time, energy, creativity, imagination, integrity, and yes, money. 

I do not suggest a political approach of directing our anti-porn sentiments outward. “How Not to Kill the Porn Industry” might include such overused and largely ineffective tactics as sending letters to our legislators, or picketing local adult bookstores, or writing dogmatic articles in the local newspaper. These actions will be interpreted by many as the ‘holier-than-thou’ antics of frenzied, religious moralists. If you are serious about ending the porn epidemic, you must look first at the man or woman in the mirror, and start with honest prayer and real self-investigation.

Herein lies the essence of 423 Communities and its unique recovery methodology. What we once believed was impossible; that is, putting a stop to secret sexual sin in our own lives, has now become an attainable goal. What we once believed would define our lives forever has lost its power. What drove us to isolation and self-loathing does so no more! Why? Because we joined a community, a community of recovery. This is the first of two principles that define our 423 recovery program:

  • You can stop sexual sin, but you cannot do it alone. You need a community of support.

The second principle of recovery, together with the first principle, forms the bedrock of all 423 Communities:

  • Addictive sexual behavior is not all about sex.

Addiction of any kind, including sex addiction, has much more to do with underlying negative emotions like loneliness, fear, confusion, depression, anxiety, worry, panic, inadequacy, boredom, self-doubt, financial worry, hopelessness, despondency, rage, grief, disappointment, unresolved conflicts, childhood traumas, and stressors of various kinds. In this sense, bad sex is like every other drug of choice. It releases in our brain a naturally produced chemical called dopamine which enables us to mask, anesthetize, ‘take the edge off,’ and medicate the painful realities of life. 423 Men, 423 Women, and 423 Young Men is not about stopping our bad sexual behavior. It is all about discovering the reasons for our bad sexual behavior.

Understanding this simple cause-and-effect condition enables us at once to both better understand the journey of recovery and find compassion in our hearts for the sex addict, including ourselves if we are so afflicted.

Addicts are human beings, and like everyone else, we long for human touch and connection. We want to love and be loved. We want to know and be known. We want to come out of hiding and isolation and darkness, and thrive in good relationships with people who care. At our core, we want community. We instinctively understand that consistent interaction with loving, competent, and trustworthy people is the key to our redemption. 

Healing of this kind is not possible, of course, without first recognizing our need for God’s forgiveness which He freely offers through the atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ. The all-important question, “Why do I act out sexually?” isn’t because I like sex. Every normal person likes sex. God made us that way. After all God created sex, didn’t He? Guilt-free sex is a gift from God to be blissfully enjoyed within the context of a marriage between one man and one woman for life. So why do women and men of integrity engage in pornography and bad sexual practices? We do it because we hurt inside, and we are trying to meet a need only Jesus can fix. Sexual healing, then, starts with trust in the Great Physician, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2.17). If there is anyone here who doesn’t need the healing touch of Doctor Jesus, then you can ignore everything else I am about to say.

We must adopt a sound theology of addiction predicated on the premise that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Until we “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1st Peter 5.6), “repent and believe in Him” (Matthew 21.32) who “came from heaven” (John 3.13), we will never experience freedom from the bondage of porneia.

The centrality of Jesus Christ in a good theology of addiction inevitably brings us to the question fundamental to every human quest for truth: “Who is Jesus?”

Many men and women ensnared in the web of sexual addiction, even church-going addicts, do not have a clue who Jesus really is. They behave as though they consider themselves to be the Lone Ranger with Jesus as their sidekick, Tonto. Jesus is an important tagalong, whose input is valid and helpful most of the time. In a pinch, “Tonto Jesus” is there to bail them out, but as a rule, Lone Ranger Christians can handle things themselves. These misguided souls have an agenda, and they expect Jesus to help them complete it. They are the hero of their own story, not Jesus.

While many addicts would give verbal assent to this truism, “You can overcome sexual sin, but you cannot do it alone,” most are quick to explain, as I’ve heard some say, “I have Jesus and that’s enough. Me and Jesus can get the job done. He’s all I need to stop my pursuit of porneia.” Folks, that's a lie. ‘Me and Jesus’ is not the answer.

The real answer is ‘Jesus, His body, and I.’ ‘Me and Jesus’ is religious code for ‘me alone.’ It is the ‘I-can-do’ man or woman’s way of remaining isolated and detached from authentic fellowship with sisters and brothers who can help. Jesus cannot be separated from His body. Our Lord is not a floating head. He is connected to His people. Christ in His “fullness” (Ephesians 1.23) is comprised of both His head and His body, His Presence and His community. We cannot have Jesus without “the communion of saints.”[6] No church... no Jesus.

We will not overcome sexual addiction if we remain secluded and determined to topple the spirit of porneia by ourselves and with our theologically inadequate understanding of Jesus. We need loving, caring, believing people on the path of recovery with us. This is the reason 423 Communities International exists and why so many hundreds of people are finally finding the help they need.

Last time I was on this stage was two and a half years ago when I delivered my dear wife's eulogy. I miss her, terribly, and I still regularly dream about her. One recent dream stands out as particularly vivid. Adonica and I were on vacation together with family and friends. Midway through our trip, my wife announced she was going home. I asked Adonica not to leave, but she was insistent. I complained, whined, and argued with her. "Why must you go? If you're going back home, then so am I." Adonica was emphatic. "No," she replied, "You cannot come home with me. You continue the vacation with the kids and our friends. Your trip is not over. You still have places to go and things to do on this journey. You'll be fine. Now get going."

Jesus told us to “go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28.19-20). We are called to do exactly that, to spread the gospel of sexual sobriety to every corner of the globe. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16.18). The mission of 423 Communities is to provide safe places in local churches all over the world where men, women, and young people can discover freedom from the devastation caused by sexual sin. This we will do with your help.

There is no greater threat to the emotional welfare of future generations than the Goliath of porn that has invaded our sacred land. Is there not a young David who will stand up against this mockery of everything that is pure and wholesome and cry out with conviction, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1st Samuel 17.26 NIV). Make no mistake, the demonic spirit of porneia is a monstrous bully of gigantic proportions.

Will you join us? We are not asking for your support to help the poor struggling sex addict who can’t stop viewing pornography. It’s not about that. We are, rather, imploring you to “celebrate and join the fight;” that is, to empower those who struggle to find the courage and humility to join forces with others in a 423 Community, so together we can storm the gates of hell and stop the demonic of assault by the spirit of porneia.

Thirty years from now, when internet porn is all but stamped out, and future generations inquire of those of us who sit here tonight, “What they we thinking?,” may it be said of you and me that we were, in fact, thinking and that we actually did something about problem of porn.

Thank you for your support.

[1] Day Trading, "Sweden Tops OECD Nations Likely to Stamp Out Smoking in 5 Decades" (2011), accessed at http://daytrading.maxnyc.com/sweden-tops-oecd-nations-likely-to-stamp-out-smoking-in-5-decades/, on Jan. 20, 2011

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014.

[3] Top Ten Reviews (http://www.toptenreviews.com/software/security/best-internet-filter-software/internet-pornography-statistics.html)>

[4] Fight the New Drug (http://fightthenewdrug.org/most-popular-porn-genre-search-of-2016/).

[5] “Why I stopped watching porn” is a TEDx Talk by Ran Gavrieli published October 26th, 2013, earning well over thirteen million views. You can easily Google search and view on YouTube.

[6] Article 9 of “The Apostle’s Creed” dating back to the 4th century AD.