Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,63502,00.html
02:00 AM May. 20, 2004 PT
"Rick," a 20-year-old Krispy Kreme employee from Washington, says he has a serious problem: He masturbates.
He recently befriended several other Christian men who share his belief that masturbation is sinful, and together they've pledged not to "defile themselves" for 40 days -- the same amount of time the Bible says Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. They encourage each other to remain steadfast by e-mail and instant messages.
"I'm only a few days into it, but I'm really seeing how used to it that my body really is, and how I am addicted to it," Rick writes in a blog chronicling his quest. "As difficult as it is, I'm contending not only for myself, but the men that are on this fast with me, to be strong, and beat this addiction. Let's do it guys! We can be holy."
The men were inspired by XXXchurch, whose mission is to help people overcome the twin temptations of pornography and onanism and bring them to God.
Started by two young pastors from the porn capital of the world -- Southern California -- the ministry is aggressively fighting carnal sin on the porn medium of choice, the Internet. It's an uphill battle. There are millions of XXX sites, but only one XXXchurch.
Watch the latest commercial from XXXchurch.
"(We) saw the church really doing nothing about the issue of porn, so we decided to step up and do something," said Craig Gross, 28, who started the XXXchurch with Mike Foster, 32, in 2002. "We wanted to do it outside the context of a normal church so we could attract both secular and church people."
The site -- which advertises itself as the No. 1 Christian porn site -- features downloadable bible studies, a virtual prayer wall and free software that records sites visited by Internet users and sends the log to a third party. There is also plenty of practical advice. Here's what the pastors recommend instead of self-gratification:
"Remain calm and tell yourself, 'You don't own me, masturbation! I'm taking my life back!' (or something of that nature). If that doesn't work, you can pursue alternatives like chewing gum, blasting John Lennon's song 'Cold Turkey,' eating chocolate or whatever helps you best (not masturbation)."
The ministry is based on Matthew 5:27-30, which condemns lust and recommends amputating body parts that cause a believer to sin, "for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."
Much of the XXXchurch's traffic is generated by the pastors' savvy marketing strategies.
First there was the Save the Kittens campaign, which featured a video and e-mail featuring a photograph of a kitten being chased by two snarling red monsters and the phrase, "Every time you masturbate ... God kills a kitten." Gross said they came up with the euphemism "killing kittens" because people hated saying the word "masturbation." Although the e-mail was widely disseminated, some people were offended by the video, which shows a cat being thrown across a room.
Next there was a television commercial featuring a dwarf and the tag line, "Porn stunts your growth." The ad ran on MTV and on television shows targeting young people, but was pulled after a dwarf-empowerment group called Little People of America found it offensive.
The XXXchurch recently wrapped its second commercial, which has been no less controversial. It was shot by veteran porn director James DiGiorgio, whose filmography includes Nutjob Nurses and The Anal Life. "Jimmy D," as he's known in the porn biz, met the two pastors during their yearly trek to the Adult Video News Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, where the duo open a booth and hand out Bibles and "Jesus loves porn stars" stickers.
DiGiorgio offered to direct the new commercial -- which features simulated puppet sex and an admonition to keep porn away from children -- for free after hearing about the dwarf debacle. He has not publicly stated his motivations for shooting the anti-porn ad, and did not respond to an interview request.
The pastors have raised the hackles of conservative Christians, who accuse them of fraternizing with pornographers and find their irreverent style unbecoming to ministers.
"The main reason we do not support them is because their method is not biblical, nor are they fruitful as a ministry," wrote Mike Cleveland, the founder of a competing anti-porn group in a letter found in the site's hate mail section. When contacted for an interview, Cleveland refused to elaborate on this criticism.
But others have praised the duo's approach, including Steve Gallagher, the president of Pure Life Ministries, which operates a treatment center for Christian sex addicts in Kentucky. Gallagher said he was skeptical of the ministry when he heard it was called XXXchurch, but changed his mind after the pastors flew out to visit him.
"Their simple message, 'There's something better than porn, and His name is Jesus,' delivered nonjudgmentally with an edge, and a witty sense of humor, is building a bridge into a subculture that will someday be crossed by those who find themselves at the end of their rope, discarded by an industry that they thought was their friend," Gallagher said.
Gross said he could care less what people think of his ministry.
"Jesus was a controversial figure so (we) are fine if people don't like us," he said. "The sad thing is that most of the hate comes from Christians, same as in Jesus' day. The so-called religious people were always pissed at him."
Meanwhile, the pastors are busy with speaking tours and developing an Internet reality show that will document their "adventures in the world of porn," and will feature a real-life porn star and a young man recovering from porn addiction. The name of the show? Missionary Positions.