Hope and Healing for Christian Sex Addicts

On Friday, March 4, I left work early and headed over to St. Louis – along with a few other men – to attend a weekend seminar featuring Dr. Mark Laaser, the founder of Faithful and True Ministries of Eden Prairie, Minn. (just outside Minneapolis/St. Paul). The topic at hand was sexual addiction in all its various forms: serial adultery, enslavement to pornography, delving into the dark and dangerous world of prostitution…you name it. Dr. Laaser speaks with both the authority of someone possessing an outstanding educational background and the humility of someone who, decades ago, acknowledged his own helplessness, total depravity and desperate need for the intervention of Jesus Christ. More than most Christians, perhaps, Dr. Laaser is very clear on his life-or-death need for a redeeming Savior.

I very much wanted to hear what Dr. Laaser had to say for two primary reasons; 1) As a former alcoholic – sober, by God’s grace, since 1997 – and the father of several children, I have no small amount of personal interest in the subject of addictive behaviors, and; 2) My wife and I began facilitating DivorceCare classes at The Crossing two-and-a-half years ago. In just 30 short months, we have had a ringside seat to the horrific destruction wrought in the lives of many, many people when one or both spouses “act out” sexually. Marriages that may well have survived verbal abuse, financial crises, rebellious teenagers, substance abuse, cruelty or any number of other serious challenges can absolutely come apart – decisively – when one spouse is revealed to have betrayed the other sexually. The Bible affirms the seriousness of this issue in that sexual sins against a spouse – not limited just to the act of adultery – is one of only two clear, cut-and-dried conditions under which someone may righteously seek divorce and still be free to remarry, the other condition being abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (Matthew 19:8-9; 1 Corinthians 7:15).

Sexual fidelity does indeed seem to occupy a formidable territory all its own in the life or death of a marriage (or any relationship, for that matter). In the ESV translation of 1 Corinthians 6:18, the Apostle Paul warns Christians to “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” The footnotes in the ESV Study Bible helpfully elaborate:

Unity with Christ is incompatible with all sin (Rom. 6:6) but particularly with sexual sin. Because sexual union has a spiritual component, sexual activity outside marriage is a unique sin both against Christ (1 Cor. 6:15) and one’s own body (v. 18; see Prov. 6:26, 32). Within marriage, sexual union is not only allowed but has positive spiritual significance (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:22-23). Flee. Paul also tells the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry” in 1 Cor. 10:14. Idolatry and sexual immorality were closely connected in Israel’s history (Ex. 32:6; Num. 25:1-2) as well as in Paul’s thinking about the problems in Corinth (1 Cor. 10:7-8).

Paul could have chosen a lot of words to describe the faithful Christian’s expected response to the temptation to engage in sexual sin. “Stay away,” “Avoid,” “Watch out for,” or the use of similar terms would also have served to alert his readers to the fact that sexual sin is a very real, very dangerous, life-threatening sin. Instead, Paul chose the strongest-possible call to action when confronted with this temptation. The word “flee” carries with it a connotation of ignoring any and all other practical concerns and running as fast as you possibly can in the opposite direction, much as you would warn someone to flee from a building consumed by fire or seek cover from an oncoming tornado…don’t stop to think about the best course of action, just get the heck out of there. “Change course immediately; your very life is in imminent jeopardy.”

As a child who came of age smack-dab in the middle of “The Great American Experiment in Sexuality” of the 1960’s and 1970’s, I would be remiss not to confess that my own life is tragically littered by a history of tremendous sexual brokenness and disobedience to God’s good plan for our sexuality – and its proper expression within the confines of traditional marriage. While I do not personally suffer from any of the forms of sexual addiction that Dr. Laaser addressed while at Covenant on March 4th and 5th, my own decades-long history of substance abuse is such that it has given me a real heart for others who find themselves enslaved to anything, whether it be alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc. The simple fact, borne out by the lives of countless addicts, is that we are all, absent the work of God’s Holy Spirit, committed idolaters (Romans 1:18-32). In short, we have taken “a very good thing” (sex, alcohol, whatever) and made it “an ultimate thing,” something we would rather worship than give glory to our all-powerful Creator God.

Not knowing exactly why God seemed to be calling me to attend this conference, I drove back to Columbia with several pages of hastily-scribbled notes, a couple of new friendships with fellow brothers in Christ, and three new books to add to my reading stack. I may very well make my notes available in a future ESI blog post, simply because I learned so much within the course of the six hours during which Dr. Laaser spoke. For now, however, I guess I will have to be content to rebroadcast just a handful of the “big picture” ideas so clearly communicated:

  • Sobriety – in any form – requires a daily commitment. Nothing “groundbreaking” in this statement, certainly, but Dr. Laaser’s own life of sexual sobriety (along with his salvaged marriage to his wife Debra) speaks powerfully to the truth that sobriety really is a possibility and, at its core, must be a decision every believer makes on a day-by-day basis.

  • Resurrection is not possible without first experiencing a death. We really can believe Paul when he tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that every person in Christ is “a new creation,” but we must also pay attention to the fact that Paul simultaneously emphasizes the necessity of the death of “the old nature.” Addicts that do not embrace the necessity of the death of their old selves are therefore not as likely to maintain sobriety for very long.

  • All parties affected by sexual sin must commit to recovery. Spouses that choose to remain in marriages where they have been sexually betrayed must also commit themselves to the ongoing process of their own recovery, regardless of the willingness of the offender to do the same. Ideally, recovery takes place simultaneously on three fronts; the offender, the betrayed, and the couple together. (Note: Women that have been sexually betrayed by their husband may do well to check out Shattered Vows: Hope and Healing for Women Who Have Been Sexually Betrayed by Debra Laaser.)

  • Recovery and redemption really are possible. Don’t believe the enslaving, despairing lie that goes something like, “I’ll always be like this,” or, “He/She will never change.”

When confronting sexual sin, I think it’s important to recognize that our modern American culture has totally stacked the deck against anyone seeking to live out a faithful life of sexual fidelity. You can’t go into a grocery store or gas station, watch a movie, surf through YouTube or even walk down Ninth Street in Columbia, Mo., without being constantly reminded of the fact that Americans worship sexual expression in almost all of its forms. It’s absolutely everywhere, and its nonstop proliferation only increases as technology advances.

Deprived of a complete and full fellowship with God, a saving relationship that fully and finally frees us from our own tendencies toward self-destruction (Luke 4:14-21), many Christians are repeatedly giving into a cycle of temptation and despair. If you have any doubts at all that the problem of sexual addiction and brokenness is currently functioning at epidemic levels in our society, even (or perhaps “especially”) inside the church, I’d like to invite you to read just the seven short paragraphs from the foreword to Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. The question is clearly not, “Do we really need to be alarmed about all this?” Rather, I think, the question we all need to wrestle with a little more seriously is, “Am I personally willing to examine my ways, and do I really want to return to the Lord?” (Lamentations 3:40-42)

Foreword to the First Edition: The Secret Sin

The Christian church, both Protestant and Catholic, is experiencing tremendous turmoil in the area of sexuality. We have Christian leaders whose sexual behavior has become a problem of credibility for their ministries. They ask forgiveness only to become embroiled in sexual sins again and again. The media exposes their folly, and the sacred becomes the focus of our culture’s wit and sarcasm.

The problem seems epidemic. We have a clergyman, a Roman Catholic priest, who has 163 counts of sexual misconduct with children. We have a bishop whose affair became a national scandal, only to find that the woman has been involved with a series of ministers. We have a denomination facing close to a billion dollars in out-of-court settlements for child sexual abuse. We have a clergyman, who preached national crusades against pornography, arrested for the production and distribution of child pornography.

The church membership also struggles. Some struggle with inhibited sexual desire. God’s desire for their sexual lives remains elusive. The sexual compulsivity of others drives them to secret lives of shame and self-hatred because they cannot live up to their values. Both types probably suffer the aftereffects of sexual abuse, the memories of which reside in the shadowy fringes of their consciousness. They do not know what troubles them, and even incessant prayer does not take away the pain.

Worse, our entire culture is in sexual crisis. The problems between men and women were highlighted by the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. That a whole nation could be so absorbed and conflicted about what is exploitive sexual behavior underlines our sexual pain and uncertainty.

But parents confront this every day. The average age of first intercourse in our country is 16.2 for girls and 15.9 for boys. The vast majority of students are sexual by the time they are high school seniors. Parents do not know what to do. They know how poorly the old prohibitions worked for them. Yet in their hearts they know how unprepared their children are for sexual activity. All of this is shadowed by the AIDS epidemic, which is transforming our culture. Nothing more clearly connects responsible behavior and sex than this disease. By 1993 over a million Americans were infected with the AIDS virus. And with that statistic we sense the emerging awareness of our sexual pain.

The gospel message endures because Christians learn to transform suffering into meaning. Now is the time to focus that healing power on our sexual lives. We have needed voices to witness what sexual grace can mean. Dr. Mark Laaser in this book has done that. Faithful and True is written from the heart, in the context of his own healing. It presents the best of what we know about the disease of sexual addiction, and challenges the Christian community to face the sexual realities around us. It is a risky book to read if you wish to avoid your sexual self.

Most important, this book places sex in a spiritual context. As alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, and other addicts have found, the path to recovery is spiritual. As many of us who work in health care have found, God does not think in compartments. The Spirit works with medicine and science if we are open to the Lord. Such is the nature of this powerful book. And so should the reading of it be.

Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D.
New Freedom Treatment Programs
Scottsdale, Arizona

More Information on Mark Robert Laaser, Ph.D., CCSAS
Dr. Mark Laaser is an internationally known author and speaker on the topic of sexual addiction. His book Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction was the first Christian book to address this issue. He has written nine other books and authored two workbooks for men that are being used by Christian and church-based support groups around the world. For the past 25 years, Dr. Laaser has designed and conducted seminars and workshops, developed treatment programs for hospitals, consulted with churches, and ministered to hundreds of sex addicts and their families. He currently serves as director of the Institute for Healthy Sexuality of the American Association of Christian Counselors and as executive director of Faithful and True Ministries. He is an adjunct faculty member of Denver Theological Seminary, Fuller Seminary, and the Psychological Studies Institute (now Richmont Graduate University). For more information on Dr. Laaser, visit www.faithfulandtrueministries.com.

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