Feb. 2, 2007 — -- The American evangelical church, in its various denominations, has boldly sent missionaries to every corner of the world. But according to a team of evangelists based in Michigan, there's one industry in the homeland that's been largely ignored by the church. It's the booming business of pornography.
"I think the American church for a long time just kinda stuck their head in the spiritual sand on the whole issue of porn," says so-called "Porn Pastor" JR Mahon. "As far as Christianity here [in the U.S.] goes, we've got a lot of work to do."
Five years ago, Craig Gross, also a seminary-trained evangelist, created an online fellowship called XXXChurch.com.
The fellowship's title was designed to attract attention, and it was originally intended as a resource for Christians who were struggling with pornography. Trouble is -- they came to their own, and their own received them not.
"The adverse reactions came quick and came heavy, and to this day my inbox is filled with people that can't stand us, that hate us, that wish us to go to hell," explains Mahon. "Our biggest critics are Christians."
Some Christians may be even more critical now. "Nightline" traveled with the fellowship to the world's biggest porn convention in Las Vegas last month. The annual Adult Expo boasts two halls full of various exhibits ranging from the latest prosthetic devices, to hardcore high-definition films and handcuffs covered in pink ersatz fur.
The XXX Church set up camp, somewhat sheepishly, between the male gay section and the so-called Bang Bus -- a tired old minivan which is used to film sex scenes that are then sold via the Internet.
The Porn Pastors, as they call themselves, do not preach in open-air sermons at the convention, but instead seek to engage porn "delegates" in conversation and then hand out Bibles, which proclaim "Jesus Loves Porn Stars." And they are adamant that they are simply obeying the great commission at the end of Matthew's Gospel to "go and make disciples of all nations."
"We've got to meet them where they're at. That's the great commission," explains Gross. "I think that God is using people that work with Triple X Church to carry about his message, to carry out his plan."
And they believe that by giving out a free copy of the New Testament, somebody will eventually see the light.
"The Bible says the Word won't return void, so we've got to pray," says Mahon. "I prayed as I unloaded those Bibles in the booth before anyone got here. I prayed, 'God do a miracle in these peoples' lives.'"
They will need a miracle to stop this road show -- the business of pornography is now worth at least $13 billion a year. It drives Web traffic around the world and is at the forefront of digital technology. The Porn Pastors are like evangelists crying out in the wilderness…but they believe that pornography is a serious danger, that it is delusional for men and disrespectful to women.
"It's not real. I mean the big deal is simple. It's not real," argues Mahon. "It's not a real relationship between a man and a woman. Everything the porn industry shells out to the world is designed to tell you what sex should look like, and how it should smell, and who you do it with and how you do it and when you do it. The reality is -- it is not reality."
By creating a fantasy, the XXX Church pastors believe that pornography makes people ill-equipped for the challenge of sustaining a real relationship. As Craig Gross explains: "Porn is a lot easier than sex especially now with the Internet. You can get it when and where you want it…and so what we see is people resort to the pornography, even when they are married and they could have a great sexual relationship, well, porn is easy."
The Porn Pastors reserve their strongest condemnation for the way they say women are treated.
"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.
And Mahon concurs. "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."
But the porn industry maintains that it has the most stringent health and safety rules, that nobody is ever degraded, and that the industry is just another legitimate form of adult entertainment. They also point out that an increasing number of porn stars are now migrating to the mainstream entertainment -- like Jenna Jameson and Stormy Daniels, who appeared (perhaps ironically) in "The 40 Year Old Virgin."
The XXX Church pastors reject these arguments and are determined to challenge the juggernaut of porn even as it thunders out of the shadows and into the mainstream. In addition to their presence at the Adult Expo, Mahon and Gross also tour universities where they debate with their philosophical nemesis: the legendary porn actor Ron Jeremy. They have become good friends with Jeremy but he remains undeterred, having starred in 1,800 porn movies…and counting.
However, the Porn Pastors say that they are seeing converts -- people turning away from the sex industry and finding salvation.
Gross recalls one such testimony. "One of the girls that we helped out of the porn industry last year, she had to have four surgeries on her body because of the pornography and the abuse. She actually went into prostitution at one of the places here in Nevada. And I thought, 'man, I can't believe that.' And she said, 'What are you talking about? It's so much easier to do prostitution than pornography.'"
Since her conversion to Christianity she no longer appears in pornography nor does she work as a prostitute. Meanwhile, the Porn Pastors continue to hand out Bibles and engage people in discussion, in between the relentless sounds of ecstasy that dominate the Adult Expo.