By Tracy Riggs
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
Missions in the midst of a global pornography epidemic was the topic of a Global Voices seminar held recently at Beeson Divinity School’s Global Center at Samford University in Birmingham. David Parks, director of the Global Center, and Traylor Lovvorn, executive director of Undone Redone, a sexual addiction recovery ministry, spoke at the seminar.
Parks, who served with the International Mission Board (IMB) in Southeast Asia, said missionaries worldwide face the impact of the global pornography epidemic but have few resources to help those who struggle with pornography addiction. However, truths about guilt, shame, repentance and grace applied in recovery ministries in the U.S. may be helpful to missionaries serving abroad.
Lovvorn, a former church planter who secretly struggled with pornography and sexual addiction for 11 years before his addictions were exposed, shared his personal experience with addiction. He also explained his own recovery as examined through the lens of three dominant ways cultures around the world tend to interpret events in their lives: honor-shame, innocence-guilt or power-fear.
Looking through the lens of the honor-shame model Lovvorn said he felt he didn’t measure up. Since he was fundamentally flawed he hid. He couldn’t let others know who he really was.
“The opportunity I’ve seen with my own struggle and even the gift of addiction is that it’s given me a new lens with which to understand the gospel in a fresh new way,” Lovvorn said. “I spent years impressing with a pristine mask and really trying to convince God and everyone else what a small sinner I was.”
Through the innocence-guilt model Lovvorn said he knew he was justified by faith but his practical theology was that he was sanctified by sweat and effort.
“Ultimately I saw God as very, very angry and very, very disappointed, even disgusted with me that I couldn’t get my act together,” Lovvorn said.
The radical nature of the gospel says we have the Father’s smile because of the finished work of Christ not because of what we can or cannot do, he said.
Using the power-fear model Lovvorn said a lot of his struggle had to do with his identity as a man since pornography tends to eliminate the fear of rejection many men face.
Safe place for healing
The church can provide a safe place for healing because it is a place to share what we can’t overcome on our own, Lovvorn said.
“When willpower is not fixing a problem we have the opportunity to see our need for a Savior,” he said.
Asked what churches should do about pornography Lovvorn said pornography is not the main issue. Teaching healthy sexuality can help, as can counseling to help individuals get to the root causes of their sin. But mostly, he said, we need to provide safe spaces of community where people can take off their masks and be authentic.
“In a lot of our churches the recovery groups are in the basement,” he said, referencing Richard Rohr’s book about addiction recovery “Breathing Under Water.”
“People in the basement are longing for the day they’ll be back on the main level with the normal folk,” he said. “The normal folk are thanking God they are not like those folks in the basement. However, true spirituality happens in the basement.”