Summit hopes to ‘set free’ Christians from porn

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Set Free Global Summit logo. Photo courtesy of Set Free Global Summit

Set Free Global Summit logo. Photo courtesy of Set Free Global Summit

Christian author and apologist Josh McDowell said he noticed "something's wrong" with the young people he talks to -- their attitudes toward authority, the way they talk about sex. Photo courtesy of Set Free Global Summit

Christian author and apologist Josh McDowell said he noticed “something’s wrong” with the young people he talks to — their attitudes toward authority, the way they talk about sex. Photo courtesy of Set Free Global Summit

(RNS) Six years ago, Christian author and apologist Josh McDowell said he noticed “something’s wrong” with the young people he talks to — their attitudes toward authority, the way they talk about sex.

“It took me a whole year to figure it out,” McDowell said. “It was pervasive Internet pornography.”

That was the genesis of the idea for the sold-out Set Free Global Summit this week in Greensboro, N.C., where about 900 church and ministry leaders will gather to discuss what to do about pornography.

RELATED: Pornography: A Christian crisis or an overblown issue?

The summit — organized by Josh McDowell Ministries and Covenant Eyes, which offers Internet filtering and accountability — will run through Thursday (April 7) and feature presentations about the neurological, psychological, social and spiritual effects of pornography.

“I realized that most people, including pastors of the church, are blinded,” McDowell said. “They just don’t know what’s going on. They can’t even grasp the size of it.”

The Set Free Global Summit kicked off Monday by presenting the Barna Group data on Americans, the church and pornography released earlier this year that McDowell had commissioned.

Among Barna’s findings: Young adults and teens see pornography as less immoral than littering, and two-thirds (66 percent) have engaged in sexting, receiving a sexually explicit image in a text message.

And yet 53 percent of pastors reported that “We don’t have a problem in my church” with pornography, McDowell said. The biggest problem, he added, is ignorance — there’s not one church in the world that isn’t affected, he said.

Even pastors struggle with pornography. Most pastors (57 percent) and youth pastors (64 percent) admit they have watched porn, either currently or in the past, according to Barna.
“Here is the thing, different from anything in the past: It’s accessible, it’s affordable and it’s anonymous,” McDowell said.
Set Free Global Summit logo. Photo courtesy of Set Free Global Summit

Set Free Global Summit logo. Photo courtesy of Set Free Global Summit

Tuesday’s lineup at the Set Free Global Summit began with a forum titled “Brain Science and Porn” by William Struthers, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.; Donald Hilton, clinical associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio; and Ted Roberts, founder and director of clinical treatment for Pure Desire. The forum covered what physically happens to the brain after a person looks at pornography and whether those effects can be reversed, then put that into spiritual context.

Other speakers throughout the week include Ron DeHaas, founder and CEO of Covenant Eyes; the Rev. Sean Kilcawley, director of religious education for the Archdiocese of Lincoln, Neb., who will speak about St. John Paul II’s theology of the body; Bernie Anderson, a pastor who published a book about his battle with pornography; and Shelley Lubben, a former porn star who founded the Pink Cross Foundation, a ministry to performers in the pornography industry.

Not all are Christians, McDowell said, because he wanted to gather the best in their fields — not necessarily spiritual leaders.

McDowell, who will close the summit Thursday, said the Set Free Global Summit has a 10-year follow-up plan to address pornography, and he hopes in the next year or two to accomplish “total global awareness of not just the problem, but incredibly positive solutions.”

“I want people to walk out saying, ‘I want to be a Bonhoeffer, a Wilberforce, a Martin Luther King Jr. I want to be a revolutionary and stand up and make a difference,'” he said.

(Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS)

  • “They can’t even grasp the size of it.” – McDowell

    Good grief! Sex is a hit! Everybody loves it! Who knew?

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with grown-up pornography created by consenting adults or masturbation or lust.
    Christianity is completely unhinged when it comes to sex. It nurtures childish attitudes about purity and represses natural, healthy sexual expression.

    Interesting how God has the same pathological sexual psychosis as the barbarians who invented him:

    “If a man has sex with her and her monthly blood touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean.” – Yahweh God (Leviticus 15: 24)

    Utterly ridiculous.

  • Jon

    Next up: Church urges people not to breathe…….

  • Ben in oakland

    “They just don’t know what’s going on. They can’t even grasp the size of it.”

    My lord! that I don’t believe in. Do these people ever, EVER, think about what they say?

    Maybe, just maybe, if conservative Christians didn’t OBSESS so much about sex– starting with Paul, and continuing on down to the present– the sex they are or are not having, the sex other people are having, whether it’s dirty or not– then maybe, just MAYBE…


    family values Utah, obsessed with purity, sex, and gender– and religion– has the highest per capita porn consumption in the US.

    And this conference? A bunch of pseudo-scientific claptrap, because the grifters have again realized that there are a bunch of sheep, just waiting to be shorn. Convince the sheep that they have sexual addiction, when it is merely sexual repression and its natural consequence. Ka-Ching!

    It’s indeed a spiritual problem, but badly misdiagnosed.

  • Pingback: Josh McDowell Led Summit Hopes to ‘Set Free’ Christians from Porn – BCNN1 WP()

  • Zachary

    There is porn and porn addiction. The latter can have “neurological, psychological, social and spiritual effects of pornography” as does all addictions. However I suspect that they view the viewing of any pornographic material as causing these problems which will sadly causes the wrong conclusion. That being said, the raise of internet pornography has risen a completely different concern, and that is human trafficking and exploitation.

  • There is no such thing as “porn addiction” – there is no science supporting it.
    It is an invention of religion, which wants to criminalize normal human behavior so it can offer a remedy.

    The God parasite thrives on criminalizing our natural, normal, healthy behavior then offering us redemption for it.

  • yoh

    “They just don’t know what’s going on. They can’t even grasp the size of it.”

    LMAO! Seriously, I can’t believe someone said something like this unironically on the subject of porn.

    Religious hustlers grifting the naive on a subject they have little to nothing of substance to talk about.

  • Golly, gee whiz! Is their data as reliable as that garbage they use against LGBTQ people and abortion?

  • Richard Rush

    If they really wanted to be productive in improving the human condition, the Set Free Global Summit would be all about setting people free from religion . . . rather than strengthening the stranglehold of religion over people’s lives – particularly their sex lives.

  • ATP

    It’s great they are talkin about other sins not just abortion or homosexuals
    because people who get drunk,are mean,gossip,gamble,sleep around go
    to hell as well which is why 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-12 both
    need to be taught with 1 Peter 4:1-7 plus Luke 13 also Matthew 7:13-23.

  • Diogenes

    Why is it that an expressly religious website is plagued by atheistic nay-sayers who have nothing better to do than knock God and insult those of us who honor Him? The religious may have squabbles among themselves, but that is an in house matter; Atheists have no dog in the fight among believers. I have found no evidence that the religious pester and denigrate atheists on websites dedicated to their point of view. Take a lesson in common courtesy.

  • Zachary

    Addiction = “Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.” (ASAM)

    Addiction = “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)” (Merriam-webster)

    Addiction = “Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.” (Psychology Today)

    There are many addiction Atheist Max and they do cause problems. Gambling, shopping, food, porn, …

  • Jon

    Oh yes, that’s right – religious people never intrude into the lives of the non religious. They never pass laws enforcing superstition, such as women’s health procedures, nor telling them which people they can’t marry, nor stopping people from making sensible end of life decisions.

    Of course, out of “common courtesy”, religious people never forcibly shackle the science of life giving stem cell research, condemning people to death, nor use public schools to distribute Bibles,nor target non-christian kids, nor intimidate those of other religions by putting “in god we trust” on police cars.

    Because of “common Courtesy” Christians would never try to intimidate and denigrate those of other faiths or none by erecting Christian monuments on government property and courtrooms, nor pressure those in the military to convert, nor preach Christianity as presidential candidates, (out of space for more).

    I’m so glad Christians show so much common courtesy…

  • yoh

    It is highly unlikely anyone from that group has any objectively credible view of what would constitute a “porn addiction”. So clinical definitions are useless here.

  • Garson Abuita

    RNS is not an “expressly religious website.” It is a website for news reporting relevant to religion. That includes atheism, for which RNS has a beat reporter.

  • Zachary,

    Sex is not an addiction. It is a NECESSARY part of human life!
    It is a healthy, excellent thing to do and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it so long as it is done safely by consenting adults.

    Pornography created for and by consenting adults is a fine thing and has saved millions of lives and relationships.

    There is no clinical, scientific evidence of sex addiction. Almost everyone experiences a period in their life when they cannot get enough sex – these periods pass – it has to do with raging hormones.
    Frequent masturbation is a healthy response during those periods.

    Religion is a nuisance. It makes a big deal out of trivial matters!

  • Jon,


    Religion is attacking non-believers 24/7 and yet it offers nothing as evidence for its claims while it denies excellent evidence to the contrary.

    It is ironic that religious people often say “god does not want robots” yet I can’t think of anything more robotic than to repeat chapters and verses of dead dogma!

  • Ben in oakland

    If you have found no evidence of this, that is because you are simply not looking. I have so called religious people tell me all of the time that because I am an atheist, I couldn’t possibly have any morals. They are happy to explain to me why evolution is a lie contrary to God’s will, and intended to make us immoral and bad people. They will constantly explain how most Christian hitter was really an atheist, and how atheists are responsible for far more death and destruction than religionists.

    On top of all of that…


  • Ben in oakland

    Sorry, HITLER, not hitter.

  • Dennis Lurvey

    Pastors can’t understand why everyone isn’t clamoring to fill their seats on sundays. Why this is the most secular population in our history. It must be porn or the lack of prayer in schools, or our govt is neutral on religion.

    It never occurs to them that it is because there is no proof for any of it, that young people are looking to science for answers to questions, or that christians are in the news rejecting gays, rejecting birth control, rejecting a woman’s constitutional right to choose, and and younger people are rejecting christianity in govt at any level.

    It can’t possibly be talking snakes, god killing 158 times in the bible, or fantastical stories of resurrections and torture in hell for eternity with zero evidence or proof.

    But it is.

  • FrankensteinsMonster

    (1) rationality implies a thinker in control of thoughts.
    (2) under materialism a thinker is an effect caused by processes in the brain.
    (3) in order for materialism to ground rationality a thinker (an effect) must control processes in the brain (a cause). (1)&(2)
    (4) no effect can control its cause.

    Therefore materialism cannot ground rationality. I’m not implying that you’re irrational. Just that your world view is.

  • Fmonster,

    Until you prove there is something ‘supernatural’ it remains a myth.
    Rationality is the only thing which has kept humanity alive.

    Your disregard of reason and rationality is one of the afflictions of religious indoctrination – yet another price we all pay for the calamity visited upon our current society by religion.

  • Zachary

    I know what you are saying. That being said, even if the voices screaming are coming from a dubious prospective, that does not mean their shouldn’t be a communal dialogue on the subject in an alternative setting like RNS.

  • Dennis,

    Pastors have to know their arguments are miserable. The evidence is overwhelming. Religions are failed philosophies built on fear and obedience.

    The golden rule requires no gods. And it works better that way.

  • FrankensteinsMonster


    Your world view is an assault on reason and rationality as I have shown logically. Do you care to counter the argument? Are you able to without logical fallacy?

  • Zachary

    I never said there is a problem with Sex or Porn. Addiction on the other hand is another story that has nothing to do with religious context. There is a specific psychological determination of whether something is an addiction for an individual or not. If sex and porn is what is getting in the way of the dialogue of addiction, take another medium such as gaming. Some people become addicted to gaming. While not from a Scholarly article, CNN published an Article in January of this year titled “When video games become an addiction”. It is an interesting read.

  • Franken,

    Where is the evidence for your God? How did you determine this reality was created by 1 god and not 10 gods? or 235 gods?
    Or 67,847 Gods?

    I start with “I don’t know” and then I build on what I can know. I do not surrender to ancient claims which have no support in reality – and neither should anyone else.

    Where is your God? Where is your evidence? If you have none, you have already failed are reason and rationality.

  • Zachary

    Does this surprise you? People do not see what they wish not to see no matter what belief system they come from, secular or religious.

  • FrankensteinsMonster

    So you can’t counter the logic of the argument above. If you can take a decent stab at it, we can have a dialog. Once again, based on materialistic assumption that mind is physics and physiology, how does the materialist ground rational thought?

  • yoh

    Dubious perspectives produce dubious results. More problematic than useful.

  • yoh

    Franky I am sure your spiel sounded good in your prayer group but it was garbage from the outset. Shaky premise and stipulation rather than logic. The alternative to “materialist rationalism” is voodoo nonsense and superstition.

  • FrankensteinsMonster


    Why is it garbage? Why is it shaky? You only offer empty assertion, and Max has disappeared. Give me a real argument, since “The alternative to ‘materialist rationalism’ is voodoo nonsense and superstition.” Since you have the only solid foundation.

  • Zachary,

    Religion must not be granted the right to claim things it cannot prove.
    Addictions are a health emergencies requiring IMMEDIATE MEDICAL attention.

    The fact that a clutch of collared virgins is offering a remedy for porn ‘addiction’ should be a clue that it is a pile of nonsense.

    Ambulances do not drive up to churches – they go to hospitals.
    If porn is an addiction, I want to see the peer-reviewed scientific study which confirms it along with a list of hospitals which treat it!

    Religion can’t seem to get out of the snake oil business.

  • Ben in oakland

    We gay people would like to drop a line.

    So often, I heard being gay described as an addiction. No one but a self identified Christian has ever said that to me. They have also said that I am gay for all sorts of reasons they just pulled out of their butts. And if I pray hard enough to Jesus, and by the Christian cure, he will cure me. A religious cure for a non religious (and nonexistent) disease. It didn’t work for anyone. They’re still trying to sell it.

    Psychiatry said I was sick, but they also had a cure for sale. They pathologized something normal and natural for gay people, and when finally confronted with overwhelming evidence that they had pulled everything out of their butts, recanted.

    There may be such a thing as porn addiction. I’d be very curious how many addicted also identify as religious. And I certainly wonder how much harmless curiosity is magnified into overwhelming sin, because that’s the story sex obsessed Christianity is selling.

  • Ben in oakland

    For the record, I look at porn occasionally, sometimes more, sometimes less. Most of the people I know also look at it occasionally. It’s cheap, available, and you don’t have to look your best.

    I’m sure adolescent boys with surging hormones and no parental controls are looking at it a great deal. Are they addicts because they look at pornmore than a sin/sex obsessed pastor of 50? and is that pastor an addict because he can’t stop looking, or because he gets to flagellate himself for being an extra bad sinner? It’s quite a rush to know that Jesus loves you, and forgives you. Jesus Is forgiving super sinner family-values guy Robert Bentley for quotidian adultery right now!

    The problem with fig leaves is that everyone knows what’s hiding behind them, yet pretend to be shocked. If conservative Christians were not so obsessed with sex and denial, fostering a healthy attitude toward sex, I suspect that the problem would simply, mostly disappear.

  • yoh

    “(1) rationality implies a thinker in control of thoughts.’
    WRONG. Rationality is a process of thinking.Any thinking implies control of thoughts be it rational or irrational.

    “(2) under materialism a thinker is an effect caused by processes in the brain.” So what is the alternative to “materialism”? Supernatural nonsense? A thinker is a person. A thought is an effect. You have subjects and relations all messed up

    “(3) in order for materialism to ground rationality…” Since materialism is an undefined term and rationality is wrongly defined previously, anything derived from your premises must be false’

    “(4) no effect can control its cause.”
    Effect and cause being arbitrarily designated here and its wrong as well. A feedback loop is an effect which affects its cause.

    Religion has no logical roots. It avoids such things. One doesn’t have to accept any religious premise. Rational thought and evidence needs no belief. It proves itself.

  • Debbo

    I want to concur with what Dennis said also.

    Religion can be a very good thing for everyone, believers or not. There are some smaller or less noisy religious groups, including some Christian denominations, who are a good thing. They don’t hate, fear, demonize, discriminate, or mistreat people. They really are humble and really do recognize that what they know is much less than what they don’t know. But those good, decent people are much quieter than the ugly ones who chase everyone away.

  • Ben in Oakland

    Good job, yoh.

    Rationality implies comtrol of thoughts. Yes and no. Certainly not all thoughts, because we have a known process producing lots of irrational thought.

    CS Lewis made the same argument: if my thinking is a bunch of random atoms moving, I have no reason to think my thinking is a bunch of random atoms moving. Since we can control our thoughts, it’s obvious that are thoughts are not a bunch of random atoms moving randomly. At least not always.

    Materialism is not defined by you, but you think it opposes cogito ergo sum? Materialism does not exclude spirit or values. We create those ourselves with our “random”atoms. They seem to have some sort of order. They exist, just as sociology and psychology exist, created out of a jumble of facts to describe reality by employing rationality. As yoh says, rationality is a way of thinking about things. It seems to work.

    I don’t have the energy right now to deal with your conclusions.

  • G Key

    Diogenes asked, “Why is it that an expressly religious website is plagued by atheistic nay-sayers who have nothing better to do than knock God and insult those of us who honor Him? The religious may have squabbles among themselves, but that is an in house matter…,” and many commenters have already responded to his question.

    What I’d like to know is, Why is it that an expressly religious website is NOT plagued by the religious squabbling among themselves on in-house matters?

    For example, why don’t Christians use the RNS website to debate among themselves even basic questions like, “How should we treat non-Christians, personally, culturally, commercially, and politically?”

    BTW, it wouldn’t hurt atheists to similarly use the RNS website to debate how they should treat theists.

    Imagine what we could learn from each other (and about ourselves)!

  • Ben in oakland

    Actually, G, they do squabble here, incessantly, over which was has the truest faith, which was is closer to Jesus, and why all non Christians are obviously not quite up to snuff.

  • G Key

    Oops, I forgot to add “respectfully (toward each other), civilly (regarding outsiders), frankly (concerning their differences), and openly (about finding common ground)”.

  • Diogenes

    You have a point; but having visited several other specifically religious websites, particularly those which are focused on Christian issues while also functioning as religious news sites, I’ve found the same phenomena in place. The really sad thing is that more often than not the feedback threads degenerate into “Are Too,” “Am Not,” “So’s Your Mother,” contests which benefit no one. I grant that Atheism is not going away, but neither is Theism, so is it really useful to continue the endless hammer and tongs conflict. Perhaps RNS would be advised to do what other sites have done…eliminate the feedback feature for the benefit of all.

  • Diogenes

    I generally respect the beliefs of other Christians when they square up to the obvious grammatical, contextual construction of the Scripture. I only challenge other believers when their interpretation is wholly inconsistent with the received traditional and historical consensus of qualified biblical scholars going back for centuries. A sound rule is agreement on primary fundamentals, polite disagreement on secondary precepts, and silence on tertiary issues. I find this paradigm nearly unworkable with unbelievers. Garson Abuita made a fair point that RNS is not a religious site, but a news site addressing religious issues, but that still begs the question, “Why do Atheists flock here?” It ought to be for them much ado about nothing. The religious who comment here are hardly likely to influence social/govt. policy makers, and thus no threat to their perceptions.

  • G Key

    I really like your paradigm, Diogenes. It strikes a good balance between mutual respect & exchange of ideas.

    To answer your question, I can only speak for myself, but as an atheist, I post here because:
    (1) It’s the most inclusive metaphysical site I know, with articles and comments covering the full religious-existential spectrum;
    (2) Both theists and atheists frequent this site, and I learn a lot from reading articles & comments with differing perspectives;
    (3) I personally care more about how people treat each other than about anything else, and so I comment in favor of (and thru the lens of) respecting each others’ personal boundaries, beliefs, belongings, bedrooms, bodies, and business, along with their rights, freedoms, privacy, and equality, as we would have others respect our own;
    (4) Dialog begets familiarity, and familiarity breeds solutions;
    (5) Both atheists and theists are generally far more civil here than people at “atheist sites”.

  • Zachary

    Ben in oakland,

    I by no way was suggesting that being gay was a form of addiction. Also I would like to note that the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Finally I never said viewing porn was wrong. I was just trying to point out that there is a non religious side to this story as well. Everyone replying to my comment has been caught on the addiction part while ignoring problems of human trafficking and exploitation. While the conclusions that this specific “summit” may make may result in a misinformed conclusion, there are still topics to discuss around the social, cultural, and some cases psychological implications for those viewing and for those creating such content.

  • yoh

    The only thing worse than CS Lewis Christian apologia is when it’s referenced badly.

  • John from Nebraska

    This is nothing more than a money maker for Covenant Eyes. At the cheapest rate of $10.99/month per one user subscription x 12 months = $131.88 per single user per year.

    If these 900 pastors go home and generate 10,000 users at the cheapest rate, that’s $1,318,800 per year of revenue. I bet they helped Josh “discover” what is “so wrong with kids these days,” and I bet ol Josh gets a nice cut of that pie.

  • MD

    “[a] Young adults and teens see pornography as less immoral than littering, and [b] two-thirds (66 percent) have engaged in sexting, receiving a sexually explicit image in a text message.”

    [a] Good for them, they’re right
    [b] That is not what ‘sexting’ means