Published March 16, 2006
As Darrell Davidson* scrolled through his email messages at his church office, he was shocked to see a pornographic site pop up. He immediately deleted it.
A week later a similar site popped up. This time Davidson, senior pastor of a large Georgia Baptist church, didn’t delete the site immediately.
That was the beginning.
Day after day, he found more and more improper sites on his email. He found out later that once someone opens a pornographic Web site from an email address, that address is recorded and sold worldwide to other sites.
As more and more sites appeared, sometimes he deleted them. Sometimes he looked at them.
Pornography wasn’t something the 50-year-old pastor had ever thought much about. He never sought it; he never paid for it. But he began looking at it more and more.
“You know it’s wrong, but it would be 7 p.m. at the office and no one was there and I’d go [to the sites]. I struggled with it. I would go two or three weeks without looking at it. I’d confess it to God and promise never to do it again,” he said.
But he always went back.
Davidson was exhibiting classic signs of a sexual addiction, according to Patrick Carnes, author of In the Shadows of the Net, and an expert on sex addictions, including Internet pornography.
According to Carnes, signs of an Internet addiction include preoccupation; loss of control; promises to stop; consequences, and shame.
The consequences for Davidson came just months after looking at the first site. A staff member went through his computer history and found the pornographic sites. He shared the information with deacons and other church members.
“I admit I lied to him when he first called and asked me about it,” Davidson said. But the next day he confessed to his wife and then called the chairman of the deacon board and admitted it to him.
“It could have been handled in a much more discreet way, but the deacon chair wanted to tell the vice-chair and other officers and then they had to tell all the deacons. You know how secretive that is,” he said.
In the end, Davidson resigned from his church, but he also went looking for help.
“I was aggressive in finding help,” Davidson said. He spent three weeks at Samford University at a minister’s sabbatical program. While there he also went to counseling with his wife through Good Samaritan Counseling in Birmingham.
Then the couple attended the Ministry to Ministers foundation.
“That was one of the most helpful things we experienced. It’s a weeklong seminar for ministers and wives who have gone through forced termination. They bring in psychiatrists and we share our story with a small group of ministers and their wives. It was very practical and down to earth,” Davidson said.
While Davidson readily admits that what he did was “nothing but sin,” the therapy he did later made him realize why he was so susceptible to the sin of pornography.
“I learned that I thought I had to do it all. We’d had some stressful issues we dealt with at the church for several years. I felt a deep responsibility for everything; I was responsible for keeping everybody happy. As a result, I was very popular. But I allowed myself to be isolated.
“I didn’t take time off. Staff relationships were distant; my kids were gone; my wife and I weren’t having bad times, but we’d lost the spark. I later discovered that the person on that screen was the only thing in my life that didn’t want anything from me. I don’t want to excuse this, it was just plain sin, but this was a part of what hooked me.”
Internet pornography is just one of many issues that affects ministers. The Georgia Baptist Convention offers help for ministers in crisis through church-minister relations.
When a pastor in crisis calls, Danny Watters, specialist with GBC Church-Minister Relations, sets up a restoration team of a ministry resource consultant or associational missionary, two staff members from GBC and a close friend of the minister.
“We meet about every 30 days to evaluate where they are and what they need to be doing. We also provide counseling and if they are terminated from a church, we try to help them through their transitional period,” Watters said.
Church-Minister Relations also works with ministers with drug and alcohol addictions, marriage problems and other crises.
“Our goal is to restore them back to the ministry. That doesn’t mean they’ll always go back to being a pastor. It might mean they’ll work in a different area of ministry, but restoration is the goal,” Watters said.
For pastors who are feeling stress, but are not in a crisis yet, Watters recommends they take some time off.
“If they need a time of reflection, we can assist them in finding a place of rest for a week,” Watters said. “We’ll get them help. We’re concerned about these men.”
* Names have been changed.
GBC Church-Minister Relations is supported through your gifts to the Cooperative Program. You and your church may send Cooperative Program gifts to:
Dr. J. Robert White, Executive Director
Georgia Baptist Convention
2930 Flowers Road South
Atlanta, GA 30341-5562
Viewing pornography online is a growing problem among Southern Baptists, including ministers. Though sexual addiction can be crippling, help is offered through a variety of sources, including crisis management through Church-Minister Relations of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
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