My fascination with porn began when I was a teenager. Because my activities were too shameful to describe to anyone and the penalties for discovery were harsh, I covered my tracks and did my best to stop. Unfortunately, my most fervent efforts to resist temptation never lasted very long. I might be able to hold out for a few days, but inevitably my defenses would crumble, and I would tumble back into a cycle of secret self-gratification.
You can imagine my relief when I heard that there was an effective way to win this battle. The strategy? Accountability. If I would simply enlist a few other Christian guys as allies and commit to reporting to them regularly about my sexual behavior, I would no longer be alone in the struggle. The prospect of disappointing my friends or provoking their disapproval would be enough to keep me from sinning.
Why Accountability Didn’t Work
Unfortunately, the new strategy didn’t work very well, even though I tried it a few times with different guys. Looking back, I think I understand why. It’s not that accountability is a bad idea—we all need help in the battle against our besetting sins—it’s that my version of accountability was based on false assumptions and misguided ambitions, and it didn’t go far enough.
Not wanting to appear too desperate or depraved, I always underplayed my initial disclosures. Speaking carefully in Christian code, I would admit that in fleeting moments of weakness, I sometimes entertained impure thoughts. I would express a desire to “overcome the flesh” or to “forsake the lust of the eyes.” My friends would respond in similar vague terms. We would then agree to meet weekly to ask each other the accountability questions.
My ethical attention during those years was focused exclusively on controlling my sexual behavior. I was convinced that the rest of my life was essentially fine, that everything else would fall neatly into place if I could only defeat lust, or at least domesticate it. The accountability questions that my friends and I aimed at each other, therefore, were all sex-related.
I was convinced that the rest of my life was essentially fine, that everything else would fall neatly into place if I could only defeat lust, or at least domesticate it.
Our arrangement was based on a couple of assumptions. It assumed, first of all, that I could be completely transparent in the face of uncertain consequences. It also assumed that I was capable of resisting temptation on my own for an entire week between reporting sessions. Neither of these assumptions turned out to be true. By the second meeting, I was always lying.
I believed there were good reasons to conceal the truth from my friends. For one thing, I was a leader, so it was my responsibility to be successful. (This was especially true after I became a pastor, when an admission of a sexual transgression could get me fired.). My friends would surely lose hope in their struggles if I admitted regularly failing in mine. In our ongoing battle against lust, I owed it to the team to stay positive!
Move Beyond Accountability To Accessibility
Many years later, after I had abandoned the ministry and had almost lost my marriage, I finally found the freedom I had been seeking in a 12-step recovery group. The men in this outfit operated under a different set of assumptions. They assumed, for example, that anyone battling compulsive behavior will eventually become too tired or angry or afraid or confused to keep resisting on his own. If he fails to ask for help, or if help does not arrive in time, he will need help getting back on his feet.
Today I belong to a mutual aid society for Christian men called the Samson Society. Although most of the men in our community are dealing with sexual issues, our conversations are not centered around sex. We recognize that sex is merely the medication we have been using to numb the pain caused by our deeper problems, issues such as fear and loneliness, anger and unbelief, resentment and entitlement and trauma. When we face those deeper issues squarely with the help of our brothers, the urge to hide from the difficulties of real life diminishes.
Sex is merely the medication we have been using to numb the pain caused by our deeper problems, issues such as fear and loneliness, anger and unbelief, resentment and entitlement and trauma.
The men in our community are committed to moving beyond accountability into accessibility. We give each other real-time access to our private lives, checking in daily to share exactly what we are feeling, thinking, doing, and thinking of doing. In this fellowship, we are all equals, and nobody is expected to have it all together. We value vulnerability, cultivate empathy, and ask for help when we need it.
Today I seldom feel the urge to lie. Secure in the company of authentic friends, I am able to speak the truth, hear the truth, and accept the truth much better than when I was battling my addiction all by myself and merely trying to be accountable.