How widespread is it?
Four in ten pastors online have visited a pornographic Web site. And more than one-third have done so in the past year. Those statistics from our Leadership survey have drawn startled response.
From non-pastors: "So many!"
From pastors: "Is that all?"
Of the pastors polled, 89 percent have Internet access. Of them we asked:
"Have you ever visited a pornographic web site?"
7% More than a year ago
9% Once in the past year
21% A few times a year.
6% A couple of times a month or more
Pastors in our survey had typically been online 3.2 years. In general, pastors who'd had access to the Internet longer were more likely to have seen an adult site.
Should we call this epidemic?
Certainly pornography is pandemic in America. A nationwide survey showed 41 percent of men admitting having purchased or viewed pornographic materials within the past year. That study, in 1994, did not measure Internet pornography, then in its early stages.
The New York Times reports that one in four regular Internet users visits a sex site at least once a month. That's 21 million Americans perusing at least one of the more than 60,000 adult sites each month.
"The number of people visiting sex sites on the Web doubled over the last year, outpacing the number of new Internet users. Some of the more popular sex Web sites attract in excess of 50 million hits, or visits, a month, according to ratings services Nielsen/Net and Media Matrix" (Timothy Egan, "Erotica Inc." The New York Times, 10/23/00).
In our study, the questions were phrased differently than the Times report, however, we can draw these conclusions: while the number of wired pastors who have been exposed to Internet pornography seems about equal to that of other Web users, the frequency of visits is notably less. Only 6 percent ofpastors had visited adult sites a couple of times per month or more.
Why are pastors vulnerable?
Therapist Harry Schaumburg says pastors are as vulnerable as anyone else to sexual sin. In fact, they may be more vulnerable. Isolation and loneliness are inherent to the position. And many pastors neglect their personal relationships for the sake of ministry.
The Internet feeds these. And for wired pastors, who will be in cyberspace for legitimate purposes, it's a short journey from the sacred to the profane.
The pastor who samples Internet pornography need not fear encountering a church member on the sidewalk as he leaves a smut shop. Now, he's only leery that a computer-savvy secretary might happen upon his Internet history. Somehow that seems so unlikely, until he's confronted.
One church secretary wrote to us. She started receiving explicit ads on the church's e-mail account. "I assumed everyone got them, but soon there were so many that I became alarmed. When I told the pastor, he began naming people who could have used our computers. Later I questioned him about a large Internet charge. He told me it was for a ministry Web site."
When the pastor resigned, he was asked how it all started. "I was curious," he said.
Half of the pastors (51%) say Internet pornography is a possible temptation for them, while 37 percent admit it is a current struggle.
Top Five Current Internet Temptations
37% Viewing pornography
32% Spending too much time online instead of with spouse or family
40% Spending too much time online so that church responsibilities suffer
20% Replacing face-to-face interactions with electronic dialogue
8% Purchasing items online that I wouldn't purchase in person