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Imagine this scenario. An engaged couple just left your office at the church, having discussed with you the pornography addiction hijacking their relationship. You were encouraging, asked questions, and prayed for them. You were even able to refer them to a counselor. Now you sigh, knowing you did your part, but that you ultimately can’t accompany this couple on this journey. You hope someone else can come alongside this couple and support them along this difficult journey.

While there are exceptions, this is often the story of your work in ministry. You find yourself in the double bind of immersion in the wounds and addictions of your flock, and yet without the interpersonal relationship most often needed to support the healing process. Intimate problems can be difficult to address from a programmatic, one-off, or informational model of ministry. Pornography is one such wound and addiction that requires heavy accompaniment from a mentor or friend that requires a relationship that you cannot personally provide to everyone in your church. So how do you support the multitude of men and women who are experiencing this struggle?

First, it’s important to identify the aspects of healing where support is needed. Healing from pornography is more than changing a behavior. Maybe there are beliefs about self and others that need to be acknowledged and transformed. Maybe there are relationship wounds from the past that have caused the anxiety or depression triggering the pornography use. Maybe the addiction has damaged relationships along the way. Maybe the experience of helplessness caused by pornography is fueling a cycle of shame that feeds the addiction.

The point is, healing from pornography means beginning the journey to wholeness and finding more and more freedom everyday. Those fighting this battle need someone with whom to share the experiences of the heart and their challenges and desires, if they want to experience healing at the heart level. Vulnerability and connection with another person can bring healing to the underlying causes of pornography addiction.

It has become a common practice to encourage the participation of an accountability partner on the journey to recovery, and this can be helpful. However, it is even better if the accountability partner is a trusted friend to ask the right questions and provide a sense of connection and hope throughout the healing process. It’s not just about having an accountability partner; it’s about having the right kind of relationship with that person.

Related: 5 Things To-Do When Your Bestie Struggles with Porn

The parish cannot provide this important figure of friendship and accountability, but it can promote a culture where these relationships develop, and can encourage this as a necessary element of healing for those who confess pornography in the confessional or seek support from clergy or staff. In our world today, friendships of this depth and accountability are rare. The parish, the family of families, can be the place from which such friendships are born and nurtured.

Related: Addressing Pornography as a Diocese or Parish

Here is a possible playbook for encouraging friendships of accompaniment in your community. It’s not neat and predictable like running a program can be; however, it can be more fruitful. Consider how you can utilize the steps below in the framework of your own parish.

  1. Lead the way in building authentic bridges of connection and empathy with those in your community. This could look like a few minutes of listening to someone after Mass, an encouraging email to a staff member, an apology to a volunteer, etc. Small courtesies like these teach your community about Christian charity lived out in relationships.
     
  2. Build a culture where genuine sharing is the norm. You, as a leader in the parish community, can set the example by sharing vulnerably (and appropriately) about something you struggle with as well as how God has transformed you! This makes it easier for others to follow suit! Hosting a Safe Haven Sunday is a great place to start.
     
  3. Form current groups in the parish into Christian community. Men’s groups, women’s groups, Bible studies, etc. might exist, but the participants may need support in developing growth-oriented relationships. Encourage individuals to open their hearts to people around them, and invite brothers and sisters in Christ to accompany them in their relationship with God.
     
  4. Encourage each person in the parish community to find a friend who can be a companion on the Christian journey. You could even initiate a prayer partner program, asking teams of two friends to sign up for some challenge to spiritual growth together. It works well to provide an entry level program through which people learn to engage more deeply in their friendships.
     
  5. When individuals or couples approach you about pornography issues, help them identify a friend or potential friend who could be invested in their growth. Maybe help them navigate the initiation of the relationship. Remind them that they are not alone, and that they do not have to overcome an addiction alone.
     
  6. Promote Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability software. Covenant Eyes asks the user to give the login information to a trusted individual to safeguard the user from seeking to bypass the filtering software. The parish could encourage parishioners to use the program, then to invite their accountability partners further into friendship by sharing more deeply and intentionally with them.

One final note. When addressing pornography addiction as a church, it’s important to emphasize that nobody is defined by wounds. They do not have the last word. Jesus Christ has taken them on Himself, and made it possible to be children of God. Not only that, God loves each beloved child of His so deeply that He is there especially in the places of need or hurt. Just think, this tender, consistent love of God can be demonstrated in the friendships within the parish community, forming an experiential catechesis about who God is and how He loves. This is the context where deep healing can happen.

Resource
Ally Covenant Eyes

Covenant Eyes: Screen Accountability™

Description

Be the best version of you.

Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability is designed to help you live with integrity on your devices by sharing your activity with a trusted friend.

Audience: Adults and supervised minors 
Language: English
Resource Type: Software 
Cost: $15.99 / month.  

Catherine Suprenant is the Marriage Preparation Coordinator for the Marriage and Family Life Office in the Catholic Diocese of Columbus. Outside of work, she enjoys building community, helping young adults discern their vocation and mission, and matchmaking.