Feature

Leaving Las Vegas

Finding Jesus on the Strip

By

What do you do for a living, Donny?”

“I’m a porn producer!”

Whenever I had an exchange like this with one of my pastor-father’s parishioners, the initial response was usually laughter. But I would make it clear that I was serious and then neatly cut off the coming lecture with a question of my own.

Double Exposure

Although raised in a Christian home, I abandoned my faith to become a porn producer, a decision fueled by an intense hatred for the Church. For many years I confused God with the people who claimed to represent Him. This may seem like a simple realization, but for me it took quite a bit of time and a whole lot of love from a missionary group known as XXXChurch to recognize it.

When I was growing up, “Jesus” was a list of rules and regulations. “Following Jesus” meant I couldn’t go to the movies, watch television or spend the night with friends because their parents might allow such “sinful activities.” Since I never really knew Him, I lumped Jesus in with the judgmental hypocrites I met each Sunday morning. The things I’d witnessed in the churches my dad pastored sowed seeds of bitterness within me, particularly during my teenage years.

The biggest mistake my parents made was to speak openly to each other about what went on behind the scenes in their churches. My little ears were eager to soak up such information. When my young mind discovered Brother So-and-So, that role model of Sunday services, was really up to disgusting activities in his private life, the results were a lack of faith and a large dose of cynicism toward all things relating to God.

Shady Business

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I met the Christian girl who was to become my wife. During the four years we dated and then early in our marriage, I tried to be the man of God she deserved. Yet all the while, I secretly battled thoughts—which came more and more frequently—that everything I’d been taught about Christ was a lie. Without a real foundation in Jesus, it was easy to reach a very dark place—I’d stay up long after my wife was in bed, get up before she awoke and come home on my lunch hour to view porn on the Internet. In 1997 there was an explosion of pornographic Web sites, and becoming involved with them on a business level was much easier than I thought it would be.

My college major was computer science, a topic that didn’t interest my wife, so when I started Pauling Technology Consulting, she didn’t ask many questions. I began secretly recruiting girls to pose for photos that I then sold to my favorite sites. I started my own network of Web sites and eventually increased my customer base to include well-known companies such as Playboy. Those first three years I hid what I was doing from the woman who loved me, keeping business as constrained as possible to avoid being “found out.”

I’d always intended to keep things “strictly professional,” but after two years I slipped up and slept with a model. I loved my wife very much and felt enormous guilt for cheating on her. I swore that if it ever happened again, I’d come clean with her about everything. Through it all, I continued attending church, going to prayer meetings and pretending to be the man she deserved—just like the hypocrites I’d always detested.

A year later, I once again cheated on my wife. I kept that promise to myself and called her from a hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, where I’d been attending a porn convention. That conversation ended my marriage.

Easy Money

Too insecure to stay alone for long, I quickly found a girlfriend. She was eight years younger than me and a member of what I’ve come to label “the porn generation”—raised in a society where kids are allowed to go to elementary school in “porn star” T-shirts, as if being one were cool; where Paris Hilton can build a career on an explicit video; and where parents sit in the living room watching soft porn on network TV, believing it must be okay since the actors have their clothes on. Coming from this mentality, my new girlfriend didn’t just accept my career—she was eager to help.

Since I no longer needed to hide what I was doing, my income exploded. The very first month I could be open about selling porn, I grossed $50,350. Now there was no way I’d stop.

I lived for the opportunities to meet people from one of my father’s churches so we could have the “catch up” conversation—that dialogue where we asked what the other was up to.

After I told them how I made a living, I loved the chance to expose their hypocrisy. “Before you say whatever it is you want to say, let me ask you a question. Don’t answer out loud, because I don’t want to hear you lie to me. Have you ever consumed porn? Because the law of supply and demand says I couldn’t be doing this without people like you!

“Now, what was it you wanted to say to me?”

Jesus Loves Porn Stars

My rage toward Christianity was met head-on the year I encountered XXXChurch.com, led by Craig Gross, an Alliance official worker, at a porn convention in Las Vegas. They weren’t outside picketing. They weren’t telling us we were on our way to hell—with graphic descriptions of how badly we would burn once we got there. The XXXChurch members were inside, manning their own booth.

This group did crazy things—like doing make-up for the girls who were paid by the porn companies to walk around practically nude. The XXXChurch team told the girls they were beautiful and that there was nothing they could ever do to make God love them any less, that He had more for them. And if the girls needed anyone to talk to, members of the XXXChurch group assured them that they were there to listen. The people at the booth handed out free Bibles with covers that read “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” and on the back added, “That might go against what you’ve heard about Jesus, but it’s true: He loves porn stars as much as He loves pastors . . .”

For four years I spewed verbal venom at this group. For four years they consistently responded with love. I started thinking, If I were a Christian, this is the type of Christian I’d want to be. As the hatred was taken away, I could no longer justify my involvement in the porn industry, and I quit producing it the same day Playboy offered me an additional $4,000-a-day contract to shoot a new reality series for them.

I surrendered my life to God two weeks later. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, at times it’s been one of the hardest roads I’ve had to follow. But the peace inside has been amazing. I’ve learned God really can use all things for good.

XXX

“You want to stop looking at porn? Go to a porn show,” said Stephen Rose, an apprentice at XXXChurch who had just experienced his first industry event.

It sounds like a paradox. Why would anyone go to a porn show to break the grip of porn? Stephen knew that viewing these women as people and not “porn stars” adds human interest and puts renewed value on them as persons. His first porn shows revealed to him how real these people are and how jacked-up the industry is.

Some use porn to feed addictions to sex, drugs, attention, publicity or a combination of them all. Others have a strong need to please people—even if it means dehumanizing themselves. The value of each female performer is cheapened by what is being asked of her. The producers and profiteers see the woman as nothing more than an object ordered to perform on cue. Those still entangled in the porn industry would not admit this, but when people get away from it, they quickly realize that their worth is much greater than what the industry supported.

Codependence fuels the porn industry: the addicted users, the producers and the performers feed off of one another. They are interdependent, and without the others, they are weakened. The industry trap works as a feedback loop that draws people in. Many in porn want off the roller coaster—they just don’t know how to do it. If performers and producers get out, most can’t keep the same revenue flow. In many cases, they have built a lucrative career without any education or job aptitude. They don’t know what to do with their lives. Lack of a clear purpose that extends beyond wealth and money is one of the greatest pitfalls of those who have left the industry. Visionless, directionless and rudderless, they drift aimlessly into deeper dependence on others, depression and chemical addiction.

What can they do? Where can they go? At XXXChurch, we are committed to helping those who want out and assist with accountability for those who are entangled in the sex industry. We see them as individuals. They are people, not images.

Craig Gross is the founder and pastor of XXXChurch.com, a ministry based in Las Vegas, Nev. His latest book, to be released this fall, is called Jesus Loves You This I Know.

Past Alliance Life Issues

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