The following letter was provided to SA Lifeline Foundation by a Stake President in Orem, UT. It provides valuable insights into the role a Stake President can have in addressing the important issue of Pornography / Sexual Addiction.
Having served as a bishop twice (once in a YSA ward and once in a conventional ward) and now serving as a stake president for over six years, this is something that is continually on my mind. Shortly after we were called as a stake presidency, we felt impressed to write a letter to all the families in our stake (to be read in family home evening) about the dangers of pornography. In recent months we have found ourselves again feeling the need to heighten the understanding of our members about this insidious problem. Our stake is the largest of the 22 stakes in Orem. We have about 5,000 members and fourteen units. As we meet with our bishops and youth leaders, we are very concerned about the continued struggles of our members with pornography.
Recently a fellow physician suggested that I read the book, “He Restoreth My Soul,” by Dr. Donald Hilton. As I read, experiences that I have had in helping people deal with sexual addiction began making more sense. One of the first was a man who was married and had six children. It was before the internet existed and his wife had found X-rated videos in a box in his closet. As a young bishop, I counseled him to get rid of them and stop viewing pornography. He struggled and struggled much to the heartbreak of his wife. It seemed like an easy choice to simply stop and become the worthy priesthood leader of his family. After many failed attempts, I became quite impatient with him and and was surprised when he said to me, “You act like giving up pornography is very easy and simply requires making the decision to do it.”
Do you have a problem with Pornography?
With further church leadership responsibilties, it became very apparent that most discliplinary councils for sexual transgression began with problems with pornography. It was also interesting that it was seldom mentioned unless a specific question was asked. What is more, the phrasing of the question needed to be direct or the problem remained a secret. I learned that if I asked, “Do you have a problem with pornography?” the answer was always, no. Now whenever I interview someone, I ask the question, “When was the last time that you looked at pornography?” Many times it is surprising how often the answer is yesterday or today. That allows me to ask the question, “Can you tell me the circumstances?” Sometimes it was noticing an immodestly dressed co-worker or a magazine cover at the supermarket checkout stand, but often it opens up a history of a long battle with pornography addiction.
Each member of our high council and each bishop in our stake now has a copy of “He Restoreth My Soul” and we are ordering more copies to get into the hands of parents and families. There is no family in the church that has not been affected by pornography addiction.
After inviting our high council to read the book, we discussed it in an early Sunday morning high council meeting. We talked about the young men who have been successful in stopping pornography viewing in order to serve a full time mission and then return to it after their mission. Later that day I had interviews with two young returned missionaries who had been home for about four months. These young adult men were well groomed, praying daily, studying the scriptures daily, and very active in the Church. They were students at BYU and pursuing their education. They were dating and looking for their eternal companions. They had current temple recommends and assured me that they were worthy to hold them.
My final question in the interview with each of them was the same, “When was the last time you looked at pornography?”
Both of their answers were the same, “Just a few days ago.”
When I asked about the circumstances surrounding the event, they were quite different. One said, “My roommate was watching an inappropriate movie when I got home from school.”
“How did you deal with it?” I asked. ”I turned away, went into my room, and told him that he shouldn’t be watching those kind of movies.” I then inquired further about other encounters with pornography, and there were none. I asked about before and during his mission and he assured me that had not been troubled with that problem.
The second young man answered differently. He indicated that he had been on the internet and came across some internet pornography. ”What did you do when you saw it?” I asked. He mentioned that he had continued to look at it for a few minutes and even went to some linked websites. He was clearly concerned about it and felt that what he had done was wrong. ”Has it happened any other time since you have been home from your mission?” I asked. He sorrowfully replied, that there was another time that he had succumbed to the temptation to view internet pornography. He expressed sincere sorrow about what had happened and a desire to not let it happen again. He said that he had prayed to the Lord for strength. Since this young man’s family had moved into our stake during his mission, I asked if he had had any struggles with pornography before he served. ”Oh, yes, it has always been a great temptation for me.” He replied. ”I had to work very hard to stop looking at it before my mission.”
“Were you successful in stopping?” I asked.
“Yes,” he assured me, “And I didn’t look at it at all during my mission.”
These two interviews point out the difference in someone who has simply noticed pornography and someone who is addicted to it. In the first case, I encouraged the young man to continue to avoid pornography and be diligent in prayer, scripture study and church activity. I mentioned the addictive nature of pornography and that even idle curiosity can lead to addiction.
In the second case, I found that this young man had confided in his father before his mission about his problem with pornography. He left my office with a copy of Dr. Hilton’s book and a commitment to read it, have his father read it, and begin the 12 step program. He also commited to speak with his father about the two events since returning home as well as his Bishop. We talked very specifically about pornography addiction and compared his situation to an alcoholic who had been dry for 2 1/2 years and had now taken two drinks. He is at a critical crossroad in his life and dealing directly with this addiction is critical.
The other thought that came to me was this: ”What if I had not asked the simple question: “When did you last look at pornography?” I may have left these interviews feeling that both young men were right on track with no need to worry about either of them.
As a practicing physician, the information from Dr. Hilton’s book not only makes good medical sense, but it explains why so many young men fall back into this addiction after serving honorable full time missions.
It has renewed my desire to be carefully thorough in my interviews and to direct those addicted to the 12 step program. Thank you for such an important tool in helping fight this great battle.
President, Orem Utah Sunset Heights Stake
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