Missionaries in the Gutter (May-Jun 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
May – June, 2005

Mike Foster said God spoke to him in the shower one morning and said only one word: “porn.” Disturbing as that may be, his friend, Craig Gross, also a minister, was so taken with the idea of a ministry to pornography addicts that he raced back to the office to register a web site name, xxxchurch.com. But they were also racing into a fight against pornography that would lead them not only to the red light district in Amsterdam, to a porn rehab camp in Kentucky but would also land them in the gutter.

I spoke with Gross at a greasy spoon in Nashville, two hours before a screening of the new movie about him and Mike Foster, co-founders of xxxchurch.com, a Web site dedicated to helping raise awareness about the sinfulness and destructive nature of pornography. But this is not some anti-porn web site and ministry done from a spotless church environment, nor would they use bullhorns, email petitions, and placards from a distance.

No, Gross and Foster launched this ministry in 2002 by flying straight into the death star, a pornography convention in Las Vegas and putting up an approachable booth with resources on sexual addictions.

Foster’s and Gross’s wives were skeptical of this idea. Was it a true calling from the Lord? At the prospect of the men attending porn trade shows, their wives were cautiously supportive. They attended the trade show with their husbands. At the show they hung a banner that said, “XXXChurch.com: #1 Christian Porn Site.” They handed out postcards saying, “Jesus loves porn stars.” And they even had a walking bunny mascot to draw attention. “We’re not stupid,” said Gross’s wife, Jeanette. “Do you think we’re going to let our husbands go to a porn trade show without us? Who do you think was in the bunny suit?”

The 700 Club was skeptical, too. When they interviewed Gross and Foster, Pat Robertson said Jesus would not go to a porn convention.

But that’s exactly where Foster and Gross contend that Jesus would have gone—into the gutter. Gross’s new book, titled The Gutter: Where Life’s Meant to be Lived, is about hearing the call of Jesus to get out of the “Christian Ghetto,” out of the comfort zone and into the gutters of poverty, pornography, homosexuality, loneliness, illness, and death. “The gutter,” says Gross, “is the place I am least likely or inclined to go because it is a place where people are not like me; they are not Christians.”

“We’re trying to break out of the whole ‘porn guys’ thing,” says Gross. Porn’s just the challenge to overcome. We’re not just ‘in ministry’ but in a really dirty gutter, a secret gutter no one wants to talk about.”

Pornography is a thirteen-billion dollar industry and Foster and Gross have against the odds and against the concerns and outright opposition of fellow Christians entered a battle as little David to pornography’s Goliath. Incredibly, one of the major porn filmmakers, Jimmy D., offered to pay for and make a commercial for XXXChurch.com. “I got my own reasons for making this offer,” Jimmy D. said.

They made the commercial with a puppet who urged children to say no to pornography and suggested that if they’d found magazines with pictures of naked mommies in the closet or under the bed to ask their parents to say no to pornography. The commercial aired on some news outlets and as public service and was the highest profile thing they’d done at that point, making it also the most controversial. Most Christian media were against it, against the methods of entering erotica conventions, partnering with porn filmmakers. They began getting a barrage of hate mail.

While the mainstream media had overwhelming interest in the story of two pastors taking on the porn industry without hatred and from the inside, much of the Christian media still kept arm’s distance from the story. Gross says he believes Christian media are scared. “They think we went too far. That we’re becoming ‘of the world,’ so to speak.

Are Foster and Gross part of a new movement of young Christians who are willing to shed old guard ideas about where and to whom to minister and about church? Their “church” exists online but increasingly they are being asked to speak in churches nationwide. They began with “porn and pancakes” men’s breakfasts on Saturdays but now churches are receiving on Sunday mornings the message about how to turn away from pornography—about how to get out of our own gutters, change, and call others out of those gutters.

“We’re part of this new breed of Christianity,” says Gross, “there’s these underlying rules and the church is scared to waver from . . . it’s an underground movement of people saying, you know what, let’s start over. It’s not just about going to porn conventions.”

Gross and Foster represent a ministry team willing to rethink ministry and church and how Jesus would interact with the world. “It’s amazing what God can do,” says Gross. But he emphasizes this is not a “program” but a lifestyle of ministry he’s calling others to enter. “It’s up to us to take the church to them,” Gross says in his book, “and that’s why Mike and I were at the porn show. That’s why we do everything we do.” Rather than expecting them to come to our churches where they would never dare enter, they went into the gutter. “So many people see their mission as a program or a week and not ever about your life. They ‘serve’ in a Sunday school program and live like hell the rest of the week.”

The web site includes free accountability software called X3 that when installed in a computer system sends an email every fourteen days to a chosen friend or friends with details on all the web sites visited on that computer. The site also features testimonials from porn addicts, prayer and Bible study resources, and an open forum called “The Prayer Wall,” with hundreds of thousands of posts from addicts, spouses of addicts, and more recently porn stars themselves.

More recently, the ministry of XXXChurch.com has moved beyond those with addictions to those within the porn industry. In the last few months, Gross and Foster have received letters from three porn stars wanting to get out. One said she was trying to decide whether to email them or Jerry Springer and chose them. Another said when her twelve-year-old daughter was having sex, she knew she had to get out of the porn industry.

A nineteen-year-old intern working for XXXChurch.com corresponds with those struggling with pornography and porn stars as well. Not knowing much about the ministry, her parents were concerned that she was getting sucked into a trap and into the actual pornographic industry.

What are Foster and Gross doing to safeguard themselves and those who are working for them in this ministry? Gross says they keep strict guidelines about not traveling with women other than their wives or being alone with them, and he knows the struggles of those working with them and where not to take them. Another intern, for instance, had struggled with pornography and finally ripped out his modem. “That’s the kind of person I want working with me in this ministry,” says Gross. The intern told Gross that he could never go to a porn show. “I said I’m never gonna take you,” Gross said.

“There’s nothing enticing about this (porn) industry,” says Gross. “I go to a trade show, and all I see are a bunch of miserable, unhappy people. People looking to fill their lives with this crap that’s leaving them empty. I’m happily married. I don’t want what they have; they want what I have.” Bill Day, the director of the newly released documentary, Missionary Positions, the story of XXXChurch.com, is not a Christian. “That thing in the shower, about God speaking to you,” Day said at the Q & A after the screening in Nashville April 20, “Are you sure God didn’t say, ‘Corn’?” But Day admits that he’s seen tangible faith.

While filming, Gross quoted Matthew 17:20, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Day put the camera down and said it was perfect then said, “S—, where did you get that from? That’s really from the Bible?”

Gross says while the camera was off, he and Day started talking about faith that can move mountains. Day has not given his life to Christ, but Gross says “the biggest reward of the film is that Bill has seen real faith.” He’s seen it acted as a drama before his eyes and lens over the past three years of filming.

Gross said “we’d have more fans if Jimmy D. became a Christian,” but Gross claims his friendship with them is not based on whether or not they will come to Christ. “I pray Jimmy will leave the porn industry, that he will become a Christian, but that’s not what I base my friendship on.” Jimmy D. asked Gross, “Why is everyone so concerned about me becoming a Christian?”

Where Gross’s new book, The Gutter is strong on calling Christians into the world, it is weak in calling them to being equipped and trained to do so. A friend of Gross’s suggested that he add a chapter about the dangers of entering the gutter, particularly one as insidious as pornography trade shows and a porn film industry underworld. Gross said he appreciated the advice but declined to add a chapter on the dangers, saying enough voices were talking about staying away and he didn’t want to discourage people from doing what they are called to do. Have Foster’s and Gross’s wives stuck with this ministry and supported them wholeheartedly? While they were cautious and shocked initially—and the past three years have been anything but “normal”—Jeanette and (Kim?) have been supportive. “Jeanette says, ‘if Craig’s called to do something, I’m for it,’ and she’s by my side and doesn’t lose heart. Her parents are not Christians, and they don’t talk about any other ministry I’ve done but ask all the time about this.”

“The craziness,” as Gross puts it, left Foster with a decision whether to continue subjecting his wife, Jen, and two children to early morning radio interviews by shock jocks making fun of the ministry and the children not understanding what their daddy and mommy are doing. The travel and stress of trying to help people addicted to porn—“men who like to look at naked women,” as they put it, took its toll on Foster and he decided to give the ministry over completely to Gross.

Six months later, however, Gross drove into Foster’s driveway with the latest marketing gimmick for their web site: a billboard decorated car with the web site name and information about the ministry. He told Foster that he’d book travel for both of them to appear on TechTV’s Unscrewed. Foster agreed to go and has since entered back into the ministry with Gross. The Unscrewed talk show host seemed amazed that pornography was harmful, yet he jokingly urged his female assistant to take the “NoHo Pledge” that XXXChurch.com promotes: that women pledge not to dress in sexy clothes publicly. They had brought to the show a doll that was dressed like a prostitute and asked if we really want our six-year-olds to play with and model their own identities after these.

Foster and Gross are finding appearances on CNN, Good Morning America, TechTV are more fruitful for the ministry than appearances on Christian radio or television. One nationwide Christian talk show host interviewed them and said their intentions might be good but they might get burned if they get too close to the fire. They spent most of the time defending their beliefs and methods, rather than talking about the success stories of the ministry and the people who have been transformed.

“Missionary Positions” is screening in film festivals and in churches and Day is trying to get national distribution but finding it difficult. The R-rated movie is also cut into a “CC” version to show in churches. One church, says Day, voted on whether to see the R or CC version, and most of the women voted to see the R version, presumably so they could see the real tragedy of the pornography industry. Even in the R-rated version screened in Nashville April 20, most scenes of Jimmy D. filming pornography or scenes at the trade shows were obscured or blurred. Still, the movie is graphic and should be R-rated (there is currently no rating) because of nudity and graphic verbal references to repugnant scenes in pornographic films.

When Gross and Foster speak at churches around the nation, they speak of changing the world but each person being changed first. They’ve found the most profound hurdle to people being used by God is fear and sin. “But we don’t need more people falling on their faces into sin,” he says, “we don’t need more flash in the pan ministries. We’re not into creating ministries.” It’s difficult in the gutter, but it’s also difficult to get there, says Gross.

The porn industry is here to stay but so is a ministry beachhead set up to fight it, not with bullhorns at trade shows, but with love and concern of Christ, who lived and breathed the gutter and who “came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).New Wineskins

Craig GossCraig Gross is author of the new book, The Gutter: Where Life’s Meant to Be Lived (Relevant Books, 2005) and co-founder of XXXChurch.org, a ministry to porn addicts and increasingly to those in the porn industry as well. In this offering in the Living Christ issue (May-June 05), we look at the testimony and model of a ministry that is getting down and dirty in the gutter.

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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