Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Suffering the Pornographers



CRAIG GROSS and Mike Foster, two young pastors from California, were looking for direction when one day in 2001, Mr. Foster said, God came to him in the shower and said one word: "Pornography." Mr. Foster, 33, said he did not often get such visits, and so he treated it as a divine calling. Since it came with no further instructions, the two reasoned that it was up to them to figure out what to do next.

And so it came to be that on a Sunday afternoon three years later, Mr. Gross, 28, and Mr. Foster were tooling around a mall parking lot here in a black Scion xB festooned with ads declaring, " The No. 1 Christian Porn Site." An air freshener with an image of Jesus dangled above the dash.

"You can see people checking us out," Mr. Gross said.

For Mr. Gross and Mr. Foster, who sometimes refer to themselves as "the goofballs," it was just another day of 21st century ministry, combining technology, self-promotion, sensationalism and humor to address what they see as an equally up-to-date scourge on modern society: Internet pornography. Their approach bears little resemblance to what most people think of as church.

The two started their online ministry,, shortly after Mr. Foster's experience in the shower. Instead of posting Scripture online, they flashed, "Porn. Sex. Girls. Guys," in order to reach the people who wanted to see pornography, not ban it. Once the curious visit the site, they can download a free computer program called X3watch, one of several "accountability" programs designed for people who want to stop looking at Internet pornography but cannot do so on their own. Whenever a user visits a pornographic Web site, the program alerts his or her designated "accountability partner."

So far, Mr. Gross and Mr. Foster said, 100,000 people have downloaded X3watch, including all of the pastors at the church Mr. Gross attends. In his own case, his wife gets a list of every site he visits.

"Filters don't work," Mr. Gross said, speaking of programs that block Internet pornography. "Kids are smarter than that. Filters don't bring up conversation. A filter avoids the topic. Accountability forces you and another person to talk about what you're looking at. That's hard. We would have more downloads if it was a filter."

Mr. Gross and Mr. Foster have also set up booths at pornography trade shows and handed out postcards that said, "Jesus Loves Porn Stars." They joined with a pornography director to produce a public service announcement aimed at keeping the materials away from children.

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