|Ron Jeremy, Anti-Porn Pastor: The Odd Couple|
|By PAULA FARIS and CLAIRE PEDERSEN||May 17, 2013, 12:26 PM|
XXXchurch has a simple message: Jesus loves you, even if you are a porn star.
XXXchurch.com is an online Christian-based church whose sole mission is to help people leave the porn industry and to counsel people suffering from sexual addiction towards recovery.
It's pastor, Craig Gross, believes that porn hurts individuals, marriages and families and that porn stars suffer the most.
"I've never met a girl or guy in the industry that's told me, 'this is what I wanted to do when I was a kid,'" he said.
Since he was 17 years old, Gross knew he wanted to be a pastor and founded XXXchurch.com when he saw that porn was a huge problem for his youth group.
"Average pay for a girl in porn is less than a $1,000," Gross said. "The lifestyle that she had to maintain, to do this, you know, living in Hollywood, or all this kind of craziness around her, it's not really even great money."
Given Gross' convictions, it is surprising that one of his close friends is Ron Jeremy, the world's most famous porn star.
Jeremy started working in the porn industry in 1978, when he and his then-girlfriend sent pictures to "Playgirl" magazine. Since then, he has appeared in more than 2,000 films. Once an aspiring actor, he has parlayed his fame as a porn star to get small non-porn roles in movies, including "Reindeer Games," and cameos in 48 music videos, including for Kid Rock's hit song, "Cowboy."
While Jeremy has had sex with countless women, on and off screen, Gross has only had sex with one -- his wife of 15 years, Jeanette.
"I've been with a couple thousand women. Craig has been with his wife a couple thousand times. Same thing," Jeremy said.
Yet the two have become fast friends. In fact, Jeremy hangs out at Gross' house with his family, but the pastor's kids are in the dark about what "Uncle Ron" does for a living.
Gross and Jeremy met at a porn convention seven years ago. They eventually started touring college campuses and debating one another on the pros and cons of porn. In 2008, the two participated in a "Nightline Face-Off" discussion at Yale University.
Since then, the odd couple has spent countless hours on the road together, preaching different gospels, and along the way, became friends.
"On stage you see us battle it out about the industry," Gross said. "I think our relationship, though, if you could be in a car with us driving, whenever there is a line of students outside a college to see us, it's me and Ron driving in, and Ron will be like, 'quick, I gotta duck,' and Ron is ducking because we can't let them see that we're friends because that's going to ruin the show."
"It's like Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson," Jeremy said. "Their last fight, they couldn't even shake hands. They had security guards right across the boxing ring, and yet they were friends, but they wanted it to appear that they're not."
Jeremy said he has even steered some of his colleagues looking to get out of the business to Gross.
"There are certain things I don't like, and having Craig around, putting things in check, or when girls want to get out of the business they might go to him, and a few have, who are actually friends of mine," he said. "And he ministers to them, brings them into the path of righteousness, and I think that's great."
Their friendship deepened this January, just before Jeremy's 60th birthday, when he was rushed to Cedar Sinai Hospital in L.A. for emergency heart surgery for an aortic dissection. Jeremy nearly died, but before surgery, one of the few calls he made was to Gross.
"I said to Craig, this is the exact conversation, 'Craig, are you free for a couple hours?' He goes, 'yeah.' 'Are you still close to God?' He goes, 'last time I checked.' 'Well, I would like you and him to come down to Cedar Sinai Hospital, I'm going through a life-threatening operation,'" Jeremy said.
Gross said his conversations with Jeremy are usually light-hearted, but this time, he knew something was seriously wrong.
"There was something different," Gross said. "He said, 'Craig, I'm scared, and I don't want to die.' And he said, 'will you pray for me?'"
After a 14-hour surgery and a lengthy hospital stay, Jeremy pulled through. He has a long scar, which runs from his chest to the right side of his leg, to prove it.
Jeremy said he is a changed man, in part because of what he has learned from Gross.
"I think maybe I'm a product of successful prayers," he said. "I had experiences that definitely made me believe in God ... there's no other explanation."
Jeremy estimates that he has made millions of dollars throughout his career, but instead of recovering from his surgery in a lavish mansion, he now lives in a motel apartment in Hollywood with a British roommate. While he owns several properties, Jeremy said they were unsuitable for his recovery.
"I'm not so much a hoarder as a pack rat," he said.
But despite his profession, Jeremy has embraced the XXXchurch flock.
"I think to me the message of Jesus unites, it doesn't divide," Jeremy said. "So many people in the church, or pastors, or religious folks, you know what we're all against, but you really never know what we're for. And I think, like to me, I'm for Ron."