Craig Gross, pastor and founder of XXXChurch.com, talks to us about our nation’s raging addiction to pornography, Ron Jemery and the ministries plans to take Sin City by storm. He also argues that the solution he’s offering, is one that can’t be defeated.
RETHINK MONTHLY: FIRST OF ALL, HOW DID YOU BECOME THE “PORN PASTOR?”
CRAIG GROSS: I noticed this common theme among kids in my youth group – they were struggling with porn and not one was talking about it. Friends of mine – Jake, who traveled with me giving talks on porn, and Mike, a worship leader at these events – sat down with me over lunch and asked, “Why isn’t this being addressed?” So we created xxxchurch.com as a safe place where people could go online and get the help and truth they needed about this issue. We were never like, “Hey, let’s quit our jobs and go pursue fighting porn.” It was more like, “Hey, we’re all involved in youth ministry and these youth are dealing with this, so let’s start a website that can help them.”
HOW DID THAT START GET YOU TO LAS VEGAS?
After we started the website, I was listening to Howard Stern talking about showing up at a porn show, and thought why not us! We jumped through all the hoops – costs, who would go, could we even go – and six months later, we ended up in Vegas at the adult expo.
WHEN YOU MENTION “XXX” IN FRONT OF CHURCH, SOME PEOPLE SEEM TO SCREAM “HERESY!” WASN’T THAT THE RESPONCE FROM MANY PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH?
Yeah, but that’s what I think is so great about it. It’s all about the “seedy and the sacred.” You merge those two with xxxchurch.com and it works. For some, it may seem sacrilegious, but when they realize what we’re doing, it starts to make sense. “XXX” is the most popular search category online. That’s the group we’re trying to reach. We aren’t advertising with naked women. You have to go there to figure out if it’s going to disappoint or maybe even help you.
SO, THE MINISTRY IS SEEING LIVES CHANGED, MARRIAGES RESTORED, AND YOU THINK YOU’D BE GETTING SOME PRAISE, BUT IT DIDN’T REALLY SEEM TO BE THE CASE. JESUS DIDN’T CALL US TO AN EASY MINISTRY, DID HE?
Jesus came to the sick, not the healthy. Actually, you’ll sometimes find more honesty at a porn show than in church. I can stand at the booth and talk to a guy that tells me he’s addicted, doesn’t like his job, or what he’s in love with. No one is trying to impress me with their “perfect life.”
WHY DO SO MANY OF THESE PEOPLE SHY AWAY FROM “RELIGION” IN MOST FORMS?
People involved in the porn industry, people who look at porn, people who are in that lifestyle are so far from God, they want nothing to do with Him. Some of them have just made a few different turns in their lives than we have. We’re trying to bring a little light into a dark place, and we’re not scared of the darkness.
SO, YOU’RE IN THE MIX, GOING TO PORN SHOWS, MEETING PEOPLE LIKE RON JEMERY. I’M SURE YOU GET THIS QUITE A BIT BUT HOW DO YOU REMAIN FAITHFUL TO THE CALL OF PURITY IN THE MIDST OF THIS “DIRTINESS?”
At a porn show we are on mission. We’re not shopping there, not walking around by ourselves. We’re standing at the xxxchurch booth, wearing our xxxchurch T-shirts, handing out Bibles. But all eyes are on us. People are waiting for us to screw up, but we’re accountable to a team of people praying for us back home and friends and family at the show. We’re fired up about the opportunity we have, and we’re not going to blow that.
WHAT ABOUT WHEN YOU ARE NOT AT PORN SHOWS?
We’ve been doing this now for seven years, and we only go to porn shows a few times a year. The rest of the week, we receive e-mails and phone calls, messages from people telling us that their lives have been destroyed by this stuff. We know firsthand better than anyone about the negative effects on people’s lives. We’ve taken people to jail. We’ve gotten messages from people that their family and loved ones have committed suicide. We’ve seen and heard every horrible story imaginable. Porn kills.
SO WHEN YOU GO TO THESE PLACES AND SEE PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST LIKE YOU AND ME BUT HAVE THIS PROBLEM, THIS ADDICTION, IT MUST BE A GREAT FEELING TO KNOW THAT YOU HAVE A SOLUTION. THAT MUST MAKE THIS EXPERIENCE A WHOLE LOT SWEETER.
Yeah. When we go to a porn show, we go with a different set of eyes than the other people there. We know what we deal with week in and week out, and get the devastation this causes. We’re not sucked into the lie that porn is glamorous, just entertainment. We see firsthand how this hurts people. These shows don’t bring people closer together. And most of the girls in the industry would rather do anything but porn.
YOU GUYS PRINT THESE BIBLES AND ON THE COVER IT SIMPLE READS “JESUS LOVES PORN STARS.” SO, SIMPLELY PUT, DOES JESUS REALLY LOVE PORN STARS?
I believe, because the scripture tells me, that Jesus loves porn stars as much as He loves pastors. Whatever you have done, God does not love you any less. Jesus came to restore the lost. Do you want the message to be “you’re going to hell,” like the picket signs say outside of the show, or “Jesus loves you,” like the Bible says? When people come to the booth and see a Bible that says “Jesus loves porn stars,” they immediately pick it up and look through it. They quickly get this is really a Bible. And then it’s a fun conversation from there.
SO WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP FOR XXXCHURCH.COM?
We started this ministry seven years ago in Las Vegas at the porn show, and the idea was to go there and never have to come back, but God had other plans. We’ve gone back every year, but this year more than ever I felt God asking, “Hey what if you didn’t leave?” At the time it wasn’t possible, but in the past few months, I’ve shared that with the team and we’ve all sold our homes. Now there are 21 people moving to Las Vegas in a few months.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FROM THERE?
As well as keeping the website going, we want to start xxxchurch. There are no rules we’ll have to stick by – no starting at 9, no Sunday school, no worship music – nothing that most churches do. We’ll hit the shows, and have gatherings for people there who are attracted to all the wrong things. Sin City will be our backyard.
AS WE WRAP THIS UP, WHAT IS ONE THING THAT YOU WANT TO LEAVE US WITH?
The message that Jesus loves you transcends whatever profession or whatever situation you are caught in, to know that there is a God that really loves and there is nothing that can keep you from Him. Recently, I was on national television with Ron Jeremy, the biggest name in porn, and was asked point blank, “Is Ron Jeremy getting in to Heaven?” That’s a question I couldn’t answer. A lot of times people say, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I haven’t figured out all the answers about Jesus yet,” but none of that stuff matters. We all have our excuses, but Jesus came so that we might have life. There is nothing – not even porn – that can keep you from receiving that.
Originally printed in the September 2008 issue of RETHINK Monthly.