Now don't get me wrong...if you feel a calling to pack up your life and go to a region of the world where people are suffering and starving and you work your ass off to plant fields, dig wells and raise livestock, that's magnanimous by any definition.
If, in this process, you bolster your own spirit by praying and reading scripture, then that's fine as well. But when you decide that providing succor to the suffering is contingent upon their accepting your faith and worshiping alongside you, you're crossing an indelible moral line.
The resurgence of right-wing Christianity in America is probably best defined by the old question "how do you boil a frog?" You don't throw it into a boiling pot; instead, you put it in temperate water and turn up the heat until it's cooked.
Christianity has been inserted into previously uncharted territory, becoming highly visible in the fringe. There has been a rise in Alt-Christian music, Christian surfers, and skateboarders. (Personally, it always gives me a jolt when I come across a random surfer who wants to strike up a conversation about his relationship with Jesus Christ as I'm peeling off my wetsuit.)
Now the fundies are getting into porn. Oh, don't get me wrong...they've been watching it, ahem, religiously, for years. In fact, the Pat Robertson media outlet CBN reports that "a survey of men at a Promise Keepers rally showed half had looked at porn in the week just before the rally." Meanwhile, Christianity Today magazine found 37 percent of pastors admit to struggling with pornography.
Enter the XXX Church. The ministry's website opens with a hot pink page with a picture of porn king Ron Jeremy hoisting a cigar. The schtick here is that "porn pastor" Craig Gross, himself the embodiment of a Tim Burton character, tours the country with Jeremy, publicly debating pornography.
Meanwhile, Gross's church aims to save the porn industry from itself, setting up booths at trade shows in order to pass out New Testament Bibles emblazoned with "Jesus loves porn stars" to the wicked and sinful of the industry.
Under the umbrella of what seems to be a multimedia marketing firm called Fireproof Ministries, XXX Church places a high importance on getting so-called porn stars out of the industry. Their
"Local church involvement; Willing to be accountable to leaders of local church and individuals within the ministry; Stop receiving funds, royalties, gifts, or previous royalties from prior industry work; Fill out monthly accountability report detailing finances, relationships, etc; Willing to not live with anyone of the opposite sex unless married; Cannot take any job in modeling or sex industry."
In return, there are vague promises to "exhaust all resources" to assist with things like schooling, counseling, legal, and living expenses. On that front, Fireproof Ministries tells those hopping off the porn train that "We will send up to $500 at the beginning of the month for the first 12 months providing all obligations have been met from the previous month."
Not surprisingly, in its some five years of existence, XXX Church hasn't "saved" too many porn queens. According to most published reports, the industry and its members tend to ignore the church, regarding it as a fly in the KY, so to speak. Some have befriended the group, not necessarily agreeing with their message, but supporting their right to promulgate it.
In one case, a director who spoke with them at a porn convention said, "Oh, I get it. You guys are like Jesus walking with the lepers." He was impressed with their approach, and he offered to shoot a commercial for them at his own expense.
Christians have always loved the stories of Jesus washing the feet of prostitutes. But in this case, XXX Church's biggest detractors are other Christians and churches.
"XXXchurch.com features a page full of hate mail-most of it from Christians who find their tactics too extreme. But Gross and Foster are unfazed-and point out that 16 percent of those who visit the site find it while surfing for porn."
Do As I Say, Not As I Do?
As some fundies consider the church to be "Porn's Worst Nightmare," I can't help but wonder why they are looking outside of their own rank and file. They've obviously got a healthy population of their own who are watching adult fare throughout the week, then reporting for zealot duty on the Sabbath.
With Promise Keepers and ministers cruising x-rated materials, and folks stumbling across the main website (the tagline of which is "The #1 Christian Porn Site!") while looking for gangbang flicks, why put so many resources into the porn industry?
The reality is that Fireproof Ministries recognizes that it could be a player in providing Christian-based marketing and advertising to similarly minded groups. Their 2007 mission plan notes that they're making themselves available for lucrative advertising contracts, and have created a boutique marketing/graphic design component and record label.
In order to drive this over the top, they desperately need their own Mary Magdalene.
The porn star outreach has only succeeded in passing out bibles at conventions. Paying consulting fees to Ron Jeremy to debate porn in various venues provides them an insider to the industry. But no one is stepping forward to claim their salvation thanks to XXX Church.
Consider the case of the commercial-shooting porn director. "When asked if the pastors were getting through to him, DiGiorgio replied, "I'm sure that you and your viewers would love to have me say 'yes.' But unfortunately, 'no. I feel the faith that they have, okay, if you will, I sense that about them. I can feel it. It's a real thing. It's almost a tangible thing. Has it become contagious to me? I have to answer 'no.'"
The most obvious testimonial is blatantly absent: That from twenty-something founder Craig Gross. Gross's bio for his book Questions You Can't Ask Your Mama About Sex says simply that he is married with two children.
So where does his take on porn come from? One would think that, in order to speak intelligently about the topic, he would have had to have engaged in some "research viewing," but no mention is ever made. Is Craig Gross just an average twenty-something guy obsessed with sex? Why the adamant stance that porn hurts marriage?
Gross's single greatest take on porn is the way the industry treats its women. "There's no respect. To think that these are somebody's daughters. My pastor from my old church, Brian, is here with us. He says that these women are treated like dogs," says Gross.
Craig Gross's fellow Porn Pastor agrees with this hearsay. "Just look around. Look at the devices and the machines -- machines that are designed to do certain things to women. Yeah, it's degrading. There's no doubt about it."
And yet, millions of women (and their doctors) historically disagree.
In short, the whole premise of the church is based around casual observations, extrapolating the most generalized conclusions that spring to mind. But a lack of factual research has never stopped anyone from becoming a well-known evangelical preacher.
Nor will it stop Craig Gross and his porn crew, who are looking to expand their ministry into such desirable marketing demographics as college campuses, the X Games, WWE Professional Wrestling, and a highly coveted slot on the Vans Warped Tour.
Perhaps other church's biggest problem with XXX Church isn't that they choose to associate with the porn industry.
Maybe it's that the church requests hefty financial and in-kind donations from the faith community to bolster its for-profit branches such as its marketing firm and record label, even selling $500 "porn packages" to churches across the country. (Their goal of finding 200 churches to buy the packages means a tidy $100,000 to the church.)
Meanwhile, those same churches are home to members with a variety of very real needs. Those everyday folks aren't porn stars, and they won't further the XXX Church goals' of penetrating desirable commercial demographics, so they're left to their own devices while a twenty-something Porn Pastor pushes his agenda in front of a bank of cameras.