This is one family’s story about being caught in the middle between family and faith, finding hope and strength with other parents in Harvest USA’s Parent Support Group.

 Click here for Chris’ article, “Caught in the Middle Between Family and Faith,” about the impact on parents when a child comes out. 

We were directed to the ministry of Harvest USA from a counselor shortly after finding out about our child’s struggle with same-sex attraction. Like many parents hearing such news for the first time, we were confused and shocked. We felt like our lives had been turned upside down. We didn’t know where we should turn for help or what we should do.

What do we “get and give” while being a member of this support group?

We learn a great deal about God, about ourselves, and about what our children are going through. It was so hard at first to comprehend that one of our children could be struggling with their sexuality. We wished that our child’s sexual identity could change with counseling or reasoning from God’s Word. We came to understand that simple or easy changes were not going to happen, but in the fellowship of the group we are reminded that God is sovereign over us and our child, that he is in control, and that our world is not collapsing around us. God is our deep comfort, and one way he does this is through our brothers and sisters in the group.

We feel connected; no longer alone. We are able to talk with other parents as well as get God’s perspective as we look into his word. To be hurting in isolation is so painful. To have other brothers and sisters in Christ come alongside and share their stories and experiences with their own children gave us hope and strength during a difficult time.

We feel safe. The group is a safe place to cry, to be able to release our feelings, and to not feel like we’re the only ones dealing with such feelings.

We pray and are prayed for. It feels good to know that others are praying for us and our child, and that we could pray for them too. Praying for others in the group and coming alongside them helps us to get our attention off of our own child and to engage with others who need prayer and support too. In the entire group experience, but especially during prayer, we come to live out what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

We learn how to love with Christ’s love. The staff at Harvest USA has helped us see how God wants us to respond to our children and how we should engage the culture on this issue with compassion and truth. We’ve gained new insight into how to demonstrate God’s grace and love to our children.

We are changed. God has used this group to change us as parents. Scripture teaches us that God uses everything that happens to a believer for his or her good. Our struggle with our child’s same-sex attraction has deepened our love for our children and has made us more sensitive to this issue that is so much a part of our culture today. We have learned that we all struggle with sin and that sin originates from idols that we hold dear to us. Same-sex attraction is no different from any other sin; it originates in our hearts. Understanding the frailties of our own heart and also our child’s heart helps us to respond to our children and our culture as Christ would.

We find God to be a deep refuge. The Parent Support Group at Harvest USA is a refuge, a conduit of God’s grace in a culture struggling to understand and deal with sexual identity as God intended it to be. As it says in Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (ESV).

To find out how a Parent Support Group can be started in your church, or if you want to consider joining ours in Philly, contact Chris Torchia at chris@harvestusa.org.

For more support for parents and churches, contact Brooke Delaney at brooke@harvestusa.org to find out how your church can host our “Shattered Dreams/New Hope” one-day seminar.

Updated 5.22.2017

It was halftime during the 2011 Super Bowl. We were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him.

He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic pornographic websites that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.

I am in my mid-forties, a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, they assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included images with violent sex, orgies, and graphic sexual positions. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest, my ten-year-old son.

During the rest of the game, I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say—words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night, and our family was starting to fade. My ten-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer. He said, “Goodnight,” and I said the same back. Before he hit the stairs, I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly, and with confidence, replied, “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “Okay, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that (pointing to the desktop computer)?” He paused, looked away from me, then to the floor and said, “Yes.”

When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of Internet pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours, he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours (when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight). Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their iPod Touches, Internet-capable game consoles, or smart phones to surf pornography websites. Through his tears, he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.

The hour was now 2 am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger, I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed, I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: After a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to relax in his arms, tell it all as it really is, and then find the peace to collapse in his arms…that’s exactly where he wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets, and going it alone.

Once I placed my son in his bed, he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.

I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long. I was desperate to help my son, and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of whom was John Freeman from Harvest USA. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, “Will my son be all right?”

John didn’t take the role of an expert, but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn his back on me. John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly, but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.

John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease” so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.

Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me.

The subsequent days were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first, but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home Internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule, which allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school, and our naïveté of allowing him full access to Internet-capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.

The weight that was on our hearts that Super Bowl Sunday lightened as time passed. In the weeks that, followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel, or see were many.

We now have a top-rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle, it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless and never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in his arms; give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets; and then to find rest in him.

Updated 4.27.2017

Today, the church is facing a major crisis, and few alarms are going off. It is a silent crisis, one that is spreading in the shadows of secrecy, and yet is doing great damage to the lives of those inside her walls.

I’m talking about the normalization of porn within the church. Pornography, which is now so widespread and accessible, seems to have become almost a non-issue for so many churches. Occasionally there are sermons which mention in passing the danger of it. A few bold churches have begun to set up support groups for those who have found themselves addicted to it. But mostly, silence.

No rousing alarms. No calls to action. No warnings that already the flood waters are inside the house and that bold, quick action is needed to save the very house itself. There seems to be a disquieting casualness to this issue, almost like a calm before the storm. But the storm is already raging.

The growing epidemic

“Wait! I need to talk to you!” a woman’s voice called out as I crossed the lobby following a church presentation. Her eyes revealed her distress, and she blurted out, “I just found out my 11-year-old daughter’s been watching online porn for months. What should I do?”

Many Christians assume that they are insulated from problems such as these. Sadly, this mother’s situation is far from unique. Parents call us regularly because they’ve discovered their children’s exposure to Internet pornography. This is not the pornography of yesteryear; rather, the kind that exists today is a cornucopia of increasing depravity. The Internet offers a depth of degradation that wouldn’t have been available even in adult bookstores 20 years ago. Tragically, I received a call from parents after catching their eight-year-old watching bestiality videos on his iPod Touch. 

But the problem goes from beyond the impact it is having on our children. Young adults in their twenties can’t remember a day when porn wasn’t free and easily accessible at their fingertips. Young Christian men and women are grievously impacted by its accessibility and, coupled with the vacuum left by the church’s silence on sexuality, are becoming ensnared.

Many singles, committed to chastity in their relationships with the opposite sex, succumb to the lure of porn and self-stimulation as a “less destructive” alternative to sexual temptation. We are now learning that this is a destructive fallacy. Growing numbers of singles don’t know how to move toward real members of the opposite sex because they’ve lived so long in a porn fantasy world.

And a new phenomenon identified by secular researchers is also affecting young men in the church. The fastest-growing segment of the population struggling with erectile dysfunction is men in their twenties and thirties who have been conditioned by online porn to respond only to never-ending novelty with increasing depravity. One man in his twenties likened his experience with online porn to ordering from an a la carte menu: “Tonight I’ll have a little of this and some of that,” lamenting that he is now incapable of sexual intimacy with his wife. Despite entering marriage as a virgin, his sexuality has been maimed by years of porn use.

Older adults in the church aren’t immune to the scourge. I’ve lost count of the people in their forties, fifties, and sixties who describe viewing porn magazines occasionally as a young adult, making a break from the behavior as they entered marriage and family life, only to later confess, “And then we got the Internet…” The result: estranged or broken marriages, shipwrecked careers, and the profound loss of spiritual vitality and faith. And these are men and women in the church.

Nothing robs God’s people of contentment and the joy of following Christ than hidden sexual sin. 2 Peter 1:5-8 is a passage where Peter challenges believers to add to their faith virtues like self-control, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, and love, and then says that failure to do so will cripple one’s faith: “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). I would contend that one of the reasons for the weak and wavering faith of much of the church today may very well be how its people are capitulating to the sexualized culture and are immersed in sexual struggles and sin.

Every demographic in the body of Christ is impacted by this issue, but the most heartbreaking group is our children. Porn usage is so pervasive, especially among youth and college-age and young adults, that many have lost any hope that they will find victory over this struggle. If leadership is aware of these struggles, then their overall silence communicates that the gospel is powerless or irrelevant to help them in their sexual struggles.

I recently attended worship at a large urban church. The pastor challenged the church with the danger of fornication and described the wrecked lives of young people having sex outside marriage…and then moved on. As I surveyed the hundreds of people in the sanctuary, most of them married, I wanted to shout from my pew, “What about porn?!” Sex outside marriage is indeed a huge problem, especially among Christian singles, but the pastor’s omission of pornography missed the mark of where the majority of his congregation struggles. They struggle, daily, with the relentless temptation, virtually everywhere, to give in to sexual sin and keep it hidden from others, guaranteeing that the problem will not go away on its own.

What the church needs to do now

The church can’t afford to continue in silence and ignore this growing epidemic. We must shun the casual attitudes and face the reality that the consequences of our inaction are already severe and becoming ruinous. How can the church be so relatively blasé about this, while some countries, like Iceland and England, are proposing outright restrictions on Internet porn being piped into homes? If even secular governments are raising the alarms about how destructive pornography is, then surely the church should be doing that and more for its own people!

How can the church begin to take pro-active steps to address this in a comprehensive way?

Sound the alarm

Like the old heresies facing the church in the early centuries of her existence, there is a new “Gnosticism” on the rise that says what we do sexually no longer matters. The younger generation has been raised on what I refer to as a “Clintonian” definition of sex. The boundary lines for acceptable behavior have been redrawn, and all manner of sexual activity is now seen as not really being sex at all.

The church must reclaim and teach what Paul preached two millennia ago: that what we do with our body matters. Passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Ephesians 4:17-19, and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 make clear that God cares passionately about our sexuality. According to these passages, what we do with our bodies demonstrates the allegiance of our hearts. We either look like those controlled by the Spirit of the living God, or we look like those in the world ruled by their sensual desires. Rather than displaying a casual attitude toward sexual sin, Ephesians 5:3 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Our sexuality is a litmus test for our spirituality!

The time for the church to sound a very loud alarm is now. The church can do so much more!

The body of Christ needs to hear dedicated sermons on sexuality and faith and to have real-life illustrations and strategies woven into sermon messages on an ongoing basis.

We need adult Sunday school classes where we teach practical strategies on how to live lives of sexual integrity, not an easy task in this overly-sexualized culture.

  • Youth groups need safe places to talk about this, and continual messages from youth pastors and adult volunteers that it’s okay to seek help when they feel overwhelmed, because silence and secrecy wreaks havoc on hearts and lives.
  • Pastors, elders, and Christian counselors need to equip youth pastors and youth volunteers to know how to help youth who are already finding themselves ensnared in sexual struggles and sin.
  • Men’s and women’s groups need to learn, in a gender-specific context, to talk openly about real-life struggles in this area. If adults and parents can begin to talk about this, then they will lead the way for youth to do so also.
  • Parents must be equipped to learn how to talk about sexuality to their kids and given tools to protect their children from the dangers of unfiltered and unaccountable Internet usage that children and youth now see on tablets, smartphones, and iPod Touches.
  • Groups for men and women strugglers need to be up and running, along with groups for affected spouses (usually wives). 

We must speak up. We must speak directly and relevantly. We must name the problem, proclaim that there is freedom and hope in the gospel, and patiently show our people how to manage their sexuality well. We need to talk about all this in a whole new way.

Talk about sexuality differently

There is a massive hole in the teaching of sexuality in the church. If the topic is broached at all, it is almost always negative. Yet the church must go beyond a negative message, especially in order to speak cogently into the culture in which we find ourselves. We know that the world doesn’t like to hear the Christian message on human sexuality; they find it too restrictive. Even C.S.Lewis said, decades ago in Mere Christianity, that the most offensive and unpalatable teaching of Christianity is its sexual ethic. When the church merely focuses on the negative, the world (and even a lot of our own people) just turn off and move further away.

Now, we need to proclaim a positive sexual apologetic, one that articulates the goodness of God’s design and develops a positive theology of sexuality to counteract the increasingly alluring false worldview that has captured so many. We need to speak a different narrative, one that tells of the good reasons for God’s design for our sexuality. We need to persuasively declare the beauty of God’s intentions, and how living within God’s boundaries affirms our human dignity and contributes to a healthy society. We need a better narrative to help singles shepherd their sexuality so that they do not feel like they are the ones being left out. We need a compelling argument for how God’s design for sexuality is the best argument against the many and growing forms of sexual brokenness, inside and outside the church. For example, the best argument that homosexuality is not within God’s created design for sex is not Leviticus 18 and 20, but rather Genesis 1 and 2!

Acknowledge the fact that Christians are sexually broken too

At Harvest USA we teach that sexual brokenness is a universal human problem. This simply means that the fall of humanity into sin has touched every aspect of our lives, including our sexuality. All of us need a supernatural intervention to bring redemption to our sexuality. But it goes deeper. A significant percentage of men and women in the body of Christ are living in bondage to their sexual desires. Pastors, next time you’re in front of your congregation, look around at your flock, and realize that, according to one survey, as many as 50% of Christian men and 20% of women report being addicted to or ensnared at some level to porn. Add to that the number of youth looking at easily accessible porn online, and the situation is frightening.

Church leadership has been slow to admit that the problem is so widespread among its people. It is time to vocalize this issue and take the necessary steps to minister to the individuals and families scarred by sexual sin.

What would you do if, instead of sexual sin, they had a terminal illness and were glibly going through the motions every Sunday as if all was well? What steps will you take to snatch them from the flames (Jude 23)? The mission of Harvest USA is to equip churches to minister to sexually broken people. We’d love to help train your people to mentor and disciple sexual strugglers, so that they can find freedom from this enslavement. We’ve developed material to equip laity to facilitate biblically-based support groups for men and women. But first the church has to publicly admit that the problem exists.

Partner with parents to teach their children about sexuality

Now, I’m not advocating that parents forsake their God-given calling to raise their children and address sexuality with them, but the church must work together with parents in this endeavor. No longer can churches just assume parents are talking about this stuff. They aren’t. I frequently ask audiences how many of them were raised in a Christian home and, out of those, how many had parents that talked about sex. Most of the hands go down!

The failure of parents and the church to shepherd their children’s sexuality (except maybe to say, “Don’t do it until you’re married!”) has resulted in hordes of young people exiting the church and the faith because they have embraced the cultural narrative of sexuality. The next generation of the church is being lost because this generation failed to honestly talk about sexuality in terms both practical and biblical.

It’s time for the church to actively assist parents, via classes, workshops, and outside speakers, and through the power of “one-anothering” to stop the drifting of our kids falling into sexual entrapment and loss of faith. There’s a reason why churches often ask all their members to take vows at infant baptisms or dedications: Raising sexually healthy kids is the work of the whole body of Christ!

This is much bigger than personal piety

There are broad cultural implications to the porn epidemic that go far beyond individual sexual integrity. Dealing with this issue forthrightly means we can help save marriages and keep children from experiencing the socially debilitating effects of divorce. Sounding the alarm and giving practical help will protect children from the scars of broken sexuality that result from early sexualization.

The positive effects of dealing with these issues will have even broader societal implications. People living within God’s design will not be supporting the porn industry, whose performers, both paid and amateur, are being exploited for someone’s economic gain. A large number of porn performers come from tragically broken backgrounds, and it is not surprising that a great number of them experienced early sexualization, abuse, rape, and incest, as well as continuing to be abused on multiple levels while performing. (See footnote 2.) Human trafficking, the deepest scourge of all, is embedded in this porn and broken sexuality epidemic.

The bottom line is that our silence on this issue is perpetuating injustice. Like those who use illegal drugs and who, by their usage, are linked to the violence and social discord found in countries where the drugs are grown and produced, so engaging in porn equally contributes to global injustice.

But God’s people should be the vanguard of justice, dedicated to undoing this horrific expression of the curse in this world and serving as Christ’s hands and feet to bind up the brokenhearted and heal their wounds. Will you be the one to start doing this in your church? We need to speak up and connect the dots, letting people see the human brokenness that is behind the glossy images and videos.

At Harvest USA, we watch God do this glorious work of “undoing” every day. The gospel is God’s power for salvation, and he is committed to radical change in the lives of his people. But we have a choice: Are we willing to get our hands dirty and enter into this glorious, redemptive work, or continue keeping our heads in the sand, waiting for the storm to clear? One pastor commented that he knew sexual sin was at epidemic levels among his men, but he was scared to take the lid off.

None of us likes to deal with messy situations, but we have a Redeemer who has blazed this path before us. Rather than maintain his glory in the heavens, Jesus was stripped of everything, entering this world as a baby. At the cross, he left it in the same way. But he conquered sin and death—including pornography!—and rose victoriously, so that we can be empowered by his Spirit to face these giants. And that is the key: It is impossible for us to face this challenge alone, but Jesus’ promise is to be with us to the end of the age. He is offering us deeper communion with himself as we face this challenge. It’s worth raising the alarm and rolling up our sleeves for this!

Dave White can be reached at david@harvestusa.org if you want to comment on this article or to find out how Harvest USA can help your church sound the alarm and implement effective ways to teach and help your church community.

1 ChristiaNet, Inc. “ChristiaNet Poll Finds that Evangelicals are Addicted to Porn.” Marketwire, 7 Aug. 2006. Web. 7 Dec. 2009. http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Christianet-Inc-703951.html. As compiled by Covenant Eyes.

2 For a insightful perspective on the reality of porn performers, go to Shelley Lubben’s website: http://www.shelleylubben.com. Shelly is an ex-porn performer who has a ministry to reach out to porn performers with the gospel and talks about the harmful nature of pornography.

Updated 5.1.2017

Read the article below in Leadership Magazine.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/summer/uncleantouch.html?paging=off

It’s a story by a pastor who struggles, along with his leadership team, with allowing a lesbian couple and family into his church. His reflections on what it means to reach out to those who do not follow Christ, but show evidence of perhaps wanting to do so, is excellent. Read his four convictions; they should be guidelines for every church, every follower of Christ, who is serious about introducing people to Jesus Christ.

I love his first conviction: God is here. In other words, if someone like this couple shows up in church, we should think first that God is up to something in the matter, regardless of where the situation ends up eventually. In other words, don’t let your initial thought be, “Why is this (type of) person here?” Believe that God is still drawing people to himself, and those (types of) people will challenge you to act like Jesus did to “sinners and tax collectors.”

At Harvest USA, we have developed some guidelines for youth groups to approach a same-sex attracted youth either coming out or wanting to come to youth group at church. If the church is the place where God is, then accepting the mess of people’s lives is par for our gospel work. So let them in, in whatever stage of “uncleanness” they are, and see what God is up to. It may be very confusing at first, and for some time, but we need to allow God to bring clarity along the way. This doesn’t mean we abandon biblical standards and doctrine, but if we allow our minds to first go to all the potential difficulties that might (will?) ensue if this couple, for example, wants to join the church, then we will hold back from loving them at the beginning of their entry. We will allow our fear to control our welcome.

Isn’t that how he wooed us into his arms? Weren’t we all messes at one time? Don’t we still have some mess still sticking to us?

Updated 5.4.2017

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