Ethics: Church Staff And Internet Pornography

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What would you do Wednesday!

Upon borrowing a church staff member’s computer to use the internet a shameful discovery is made.  The URL address bar auto-populated with a pornographic website.

While nervously trying to close the website an open folder is clicked on and maximized only to find a handful of pornographic pictures. Upon calming down for a moment the web browser’s history reveals a few more of these sites.

What do you do?

Understanding the Matthew 18 addresses the question of handling sin.

[15] “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

How should this situation be handled? If this person listens and repents as verse 15 says (with accountability going forward) should that be the end of it? Should this person loose their position on staff? Why or why not?

What would you do?

(Photo: Chris Baker)

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris Roberts July 7, 2010 at 3:13 pm

It’s fitting that my CAPTCHA is grace. If a person confesses, repents, and works to overcome this temptation – clearly, actively working – then I’d say he/she wouldn’t have to be fired. But, the individual would need to have some clear signs of repentance, as John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:8. The sign here would be taking clear measures to fight the temptation, which would most likely mean drawing others in to create some sort of accountability structure. So while the struggle would not need to be broadcast across the church, there would probably need to be a few people aware of the struggle and involved to help the individual overcome temptation.

Something like that could work for the good anyway, as it would quite possibly reveal others struggling with the same thing and grateful to participate in an accountability structure that helps them fight the temptation

2 Mark July 7, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Chris,

Thanks a lot for your response. I wonder how popular that position would be to allow the truly repentant to remain on staff.

I appreciate it you stopping by.

3 Chris Roberts July 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Well, one would have to consider other circumstances as well. My first comment named a general approach. But if the individual had been using church property (was it a church computer?) or neglecting church duties (viewing porn during the day?) that reflects some other issues as well. Especially in church work we cannot separate private and public lives, we are who we are whether in private or in public, but it does show a particular abuse of trust if such sins are committed with church resources or on church time. That would have to factor in on a decision to keep or fire a person.

If the issue were adultery or some such, that would change things in my book. While the person looking at pornography is guilty of adultery, he still hasn’t committed the act. A person who hates is guilty of murder, but we respond to hate in a different way than we respond to murder. For obvious reasons, murder gets a stronger response than hate. I’d say the same about adultery vs pornography.

4 abclay July 7, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Mark,

That’s a interesting predicament…I think Chris has the right answer.

Question: you say, “with accountability going forward”. Is this because of our natural nature to distrust someone when they show contrition? Where is this “with accountability going forward” grounded?

5 Joe Blackmon July 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I believe at that point they, if it is proven that they used the church’s computer to view pornography, have take themselves out of the catagory of “above reproach” because sexual sins are sins against ones own body. I think the idea of sexual sins disqualifing someone for ministry/leadership in the church is what Paul had in mind in I Cor 9:26-27.

6 Mark July 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Joe,

Would you say that any of the following sins would disqualify one from ministry/leadership?

[19] Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

Do you believe one may ever be restored to their position?

7 Victoria July 7, 2010 at 10:08 pm

This topic is a bigger issue even in the church than anyone would care to know. Never before in the history of man has anything like the internet been available to entrap people in the dark world of porn. From ancient times until just a few decades ago, pornography viewing was a risk for any man; especially a church man, to indulge in. But that is not the case today in our brave new world. It is a frightening reality and many many souls are at stake.

Researchers know that pornography is just about as addictive as Crack or Meth. So when you find multiple porn sites on the computer of a church staffer, you must ask them questions like these:how long have you been doing this? how often do you visit these sites. You need to ask them other questions, about other illicit sexual activity they may be involved in and about lying to cover this all up. You see, finding the porn sites may just be the tip of the iceberg in this person’s sin pattern, because porn viewing does not stand alone. And know this; if they have been indulging in porn for even a short time–they are addicted. It really is not like catching a person in a lie and them repenting and moving on. If you men think that, I am afraid you are mistaken.

Also Mark, when you say church staff, do you mean the janitor or the pastor; the secretary or the youth pastor. Leaders must be called to a very high level of integrity and purity. A pastor or elder viewing porn is not a one woman man and has disqualified himself from that position. It is also true that trust has been violated. Trust lost has to be earned again.

Please men;do not think me harsh. I am an older woman and I am dealing with women whose husbands are involved in this vile mess. It is ruining marriages and marriage beds and breaking hearts and souls and families. This sin is not on the level of telling a lie or breaking a promise–this is a soul killer–and will take a man or woman to the gates of hell.

8 Mark July 7, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Thanks everyone for the insightful comments.

Victoria, it certainly is a huge problem. It may be larger than we actually know. Another important question is how do we get Christian men out of this darkness unto repentance.

9 Rhology July 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm

If the staff mbr in question is an elder, I say remove him as elder and then counsel with him as you would a normal sin-plagued parishioner.

If a non-elder, but staff like a minister or associate preacher or something, it becomes more difficult, but step 1 is to remove the computer and step 2 is to counsel with him thoroughly.
Lord have mercy! As a man who feels the pull of porn numerous times a day (thanks be to God for Covenant Eyes), I pray often for the elders and staff of the faithful churches in my area about this issue.

10 juan July 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Again I am amazed to your (humanity’s) hypocrisy, have anybody stop to think that maybe this church staff member allowed someone else to use his computer, and this is the person, and not him, that searched the net for such material.
Do not start throwing stones, just yet.

11 Rhology July 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Riiiiight, that happens all the time, juan.

12 Mark July 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Juan, for the sake of this situation the person in question is guilty. What do you do?

13 Juan July 20, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Mark
before answering your question, take a look a the cinicism in the answer posted by “Rhology July 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm”
Not trying to offend you,Rhology, but I always give people the benefit of the doubt.

Now to your answer, I would find a way to ,politely, expose him to the personal that could remove him from his position and try to make him realize that people must pay for their mistakes and he made one.
And afterwards I would honest to GOD, hope for him to see things diferently.
Another thing to keep in mind is that honesty is a rare commodity it is much easier to give you the answer that most people want/expect.

14 Victoria July 20, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Ted Haggard was given the benefit of the doubt-so were Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker–and so was Jim Jones.
I do find it strange though that Juan does not give Rhology the benefit of the doubt at all and accuses him of cynicism for making a true statement–ugh–I knew that I should not have subscribed to the comments to this post.
I am not trying to be offensive–but I am sometimes amazed that the Church is surviving in this land when sin is treated as such a trifling thing. Sin is not a mistake that we have made-we must call it what God calls it. I am not sure if language is a barrier here and I am being too harsh, but we must call sin what it is.
I am just wondering if Juan has read the account in 1 Corinthians 5 where the Apostle Paul had a man turned over to satan and put out of the Church for immorality–just wondering? What the Apostle did in that situation is far more severe than anything recommended here in the present imagined scenario.

15 Juan July 21, 2010 at 8:15 am

Step back and smell the roses,lady.
Just expressing myself.
If you want to punish people using the good book as a reference you would have to regress a little,’cause some of the punishment adminestered in the bible borders on insanity, but it is just my opinion.

have a nice day,lady. 😉

16 Victoria July 21, 2010 at 10:32 am

Thank you Juan–I will have a nice day and I do love to smell the roses, but when it comes to life and godliness there is no other option for the Christian than to follow the good book, the bible.

Juan there is no other source for living right, for being wise, and for dying well, for the believer in Christ, than a lifelong study of and adherence to the bible. We simply cannot live a life that pleases and honors God by any other means. It is my prayer for you that you will come to see and believe this truth.

You have a great day too Juan.

17 Mark July 21, 2010 at 11:50 am

Juan,

Why would you call Victoria, whose name is clearly legible, “lady”? All she was doing was holding you to your own standard of which you claimed to adhere to. If anyone is attempting to punish anyone it would be you in the form of self-punishment.

Have a nice day. 🙂

18 SirBrass July 29, 2010 at 12:02 am

Private sins fall under Matthew 18, and so going to the person privately would be a necessity. Adherence to Matthew 18 in this case step-by-step is the clear path for this kind of thing.

Where things get sticky is when the sin is open and public (such as lying about one’s past from the pulpit). That allows and indeed necessitates an open, public confrontation as the sin was public.

However, this is a case of private sin discovered by oneself. If I were that person, I would go to the offender and go through Matthew 18, beginning with the private confrontation. I would also assure the person that as long as scripture mandated, that I would be silent to others on the issue, but still be clear that as this was clearly sin and an cursory investigation shows it to be more than just a one-time fall and more of a side-habit, that it would be brought to the elders in due time with due scriptural process if there was not clear signs of repentance.

This was a softball question, btw ;). Private, only discovered by the one person. Easy :).

19 Mike August 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I’m the Media and Productions Pastor for our church, part of my job includes overseeing all of our computers/network. I found this thread today and felt compelled to throw my thoughts in.

First of all, after having read all of the comments here, I am taken aback by the overall tone this thread has taken. In my opinion, it’s fallen from a healthy discussion about how to biblically deal with a sexual sin, to emotional responses that stem from individuals personal experiences dealing with sexual sin. I’m embarrassed to say that this conversation looks and feels like any other flame-war, secular, Internet argument. Let’s keep it biblical and always, always in view of the Cross!

On to the question at hand. I believe that Matthew 18 is exactly how it should be handled. It doesn’t matter at all whether the person “on staff” is a custodian or a Lead Pastor. Here’s why: sin is sin. God does not hold one sin above another. There are no “levels” of sin. No categorizing, no hierarchy. Any sin is falling short of God’s glory and goodness. The notion that one sin, but not another, should disqualify an individual from a particular position is flawed. The reality is that without Jesus’ redeeming power and love, being a human being disqualifies us from any position worthy of God’s favor! We wouldn’t have any “church leadership” if the way we appointed leaders is by their “lack of sin”.

I do agree that leadership in the church is held to a higher standard, with additional instructions laid out for them (see 1 Tim. 3). This doesn’t say, however, that any particular sin would/should disqualify them from their already established position. And where is grace in all of this? Is grace not what Jesus asked us to extend to our Brothers and Sisters?

In the given scenario, the sin is still a private one, still able to be dealt with using Matthew 18 as the guide. The point in time when a leader of the church should be disqualified is when, in accordance with Matthew 18, the sin is made known in public. By this time the individual has clearly not turned away from his sin. It’s the lack of repentance from the sin that disqualifies him from leadership, not the sin itself. An individual would clearly no longer be above reproach while intentionally and continually sinning.

As for the comment about giving the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that the individual is innocent and that someone else borrowed his computer and used it to view pornography. In this case, the individual lending the computer is still ultimately responsible for what happens on it. It’s completely reasonable to begin the Matthew 18 process and find out what is happening regardless of whether or not he is innocent.

20 Mark August 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Mike,

Thanks for your comments. Would you say that a leader who is held to higher standards should be allowed to be restored from any without losing their jobs as long as the sin has not be discovered publicly?

21 Mike August 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Often God warns us about sin because He doesn’t want us to have to go through the consequences of that sin. There are some sins with natural and/or man-made consequences that would prevent them from being able to keep their job. For example, murder would obviously be a sin that would prevent someone from keeping their job because that person would be unable to fulfill their responsibilities from a prison cell. Do I think that someone who has been to prison, has subsequently been released, found Christ and now has a calling to minister to others exempt from ministry? Absolutely not.

Let’s take an example that wouldn’t have a person put in jail: an extra-marital affair. This scenario hits much closer to home in the given scenario. This particular sin has major natural consequences. Aside from risks such as unwanted pregnancy or STD’s, the natural consequence is destroyed relationships. In a sin like this one, it has already moved beyond a private confrontation as a first step. So many people (spouses, children, themselves, the person to make the discovery, etc.) are involved at the point that the sin has been discovered that it’s far too late and has moved well beyond a private confrontation – it’s already public. Whether they keep their job or not, the natural consequence of this sin is a tough one to recover from, from any perspective.

22 Jeremy Parks October 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

1. Assume the best about the situation, not the worst. Could the computer have been borrowed or used by someone else? Was this some sort of viral/Trojan attack that came from visiting a more innocuous site and clicking on the wrong thing? This is a part of a gracious response. However….our author has disapproved of this, saying that we need to assume that the person is guilty just for this debate. Fair enough…

2. Approach the individual in private. Someone has already spoken here about the application of Biblical principles regarding a sinning brother, and I don’t think Paul’s admonition about the character of a leader negates this act. Approaching the person in private is also a part of a gracious act in that there is no need for public humiliation and in that it is an attempt to bring a sinning brother back to holiness.

3. Part of step 2 requires obvious acts of change. This could be: accountability partners, cyber-protection programs (even if the staff member must pay himself for it), counseling, an openness to examination of his work and person computers, etc. I agree, again, with someone else’s comment that sin alone should not disqualify; habitual, unrepentant sin will.

We should assume a gracious response on our part, yet grace does not require that we turn a blind eye, or that we are wishy-washy, or wimpy about responding. Just because leaders are held to a higher standard does not negate the processes in Matthew 18. It simply means that leaders should reply more quickly, more responsively, more wholly in their return to the proper path.

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