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Churches confront an 'elephant in the pews'

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On a blustery day early this year, 13,000 people showed up at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., for what became known as "Porn Sunday." Two young California pastors with a website called XXXchurch.com - "the No. 1 Christian porn site" - were in town with a silence-breaking message.

Their frank talk about the struggles many Christians are having with pornography has drawn huge crowds in several churches across the country, and now the Revs. Craig Gross and Mike Foster are planning National Porn Sunday for Oct. 9.

"We were tired of hearing stories about people's lives being wrecked, and feeling they had nowhere to go in the church to get help," says Mr. Gross. He and Mr. Foster hope to engage 200 churches in talking openly about "America's dirty little secret" and are offering resources to help them initiate healing programs for their congregations.

While some consider the pastors' efforts controversial, many religious leaders recognize they need help on how to talk about this "elephant in the pews." Surveys show that 40 million Americans regularly view Internet pornography, which accounts for $2.5 billion of the $12 billion US porn industry. Some 25 percent of search-engine requests are porn-related; 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women admit accessing porn at work.

For years, churches were in denial about the scope of the problem, but the toll on marriages, careers, and faith communities has grown, Christian leaders say. And it involves not only congregants, but pastors.

In a 2001 survey published in Leadership Journal, 37 percent of pastors said pornography was a struggle for them, and 51 percent admitted it was a temptation.

"For 25 years, I would have said that the pro-life issue is the most pressing threat to America morally, but pornography has overtaken it," says the Rev. Richard Land, a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest US Protestant denomination. "More people's lives are being destroyed on a daily basis by addiction to pornography than through abortion."

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