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By venturing into the belly of the beast, Craig Gross earns respect

click to enlarge The Bible, XXX Church-style.
  • The Bible, XXX Church-style.

[Note: Extended Web version]

Indy: Is XXX Church solely an online ministry? Do you have a physical house of worship?

Gross: No, we don't actually have a church building. We mainly exist online; however, we've probably been a part of 250 or so church events. Most weekends you can find us at church speaking about [pornography]. But we're an online community.

Indy: When did you become a pastor and a porn pastor?

Gross: In '99. I was ordained at East Side Christian Church in Fullerton, Calif. I started at Hope International University and got my degree and was a youth pastor. In 2002, [XXX Church] basically came out of all that work in the youth ministry dealing with kids and seeing how they were affected by this issue and we decided to do something about it. [People] started calling us "sexperts" and "porn pastors."

Indy: Why the format of a religious organization to take this issue on? Why not just a social action group?

Gross: We're so untraditional in our approach, and we break down a lot of religious misconceptions people have. But you can't take away the fact that pastors started it. We toyed around at the start with having another dot-com that doesn't have the word "church" in it. But in the end it worked, because I think a lot of people are interested in Jesus, but not in religion. Whether you're religious or not, it doesn't matter if you have a porn issue. You still want help.

I think we've gotten to that point with porn, where not a lot of people talk about it in the helping way, so people are like, "I'll take what I can get with this. Forget the Jesus stuff. But hey, these guys are on to something." Hopefully people don't just throw out the Jesus stuff, because we think that's important.

Indy: Do you preach a certain religious message while helping people? Will you counsel other faiths?

Gross: You have to dig for some of it. I think on the surface, you're like, "Where's the Bible verses?" It's there, but it's different than just, "Hey we're Christians and we're loud and this is what we believe and we're right and you're wrong." We say, "Here's what Jesus has done in my life, but we can still talk about porn whether you buy that or not."

I get some flak from Christians that say I don't use enough Bible passages in the debate with Ron. If I'm going to speak at a college that doesn't hold the Bible with the same authority that I do, I'm not going to win my debate based on Scripture that they don't believe.

We're not debating God. Five years ago I had this idea, and I still have a job and we have a staff and we have thousands of e-mails and hundreds of thousands of people coming to the Web site that need help. So, obviously, this is a problem. And there's always a Q&A time in the debate. And when "What do you believe?" comes up, I'm not going to shy away from it when asked. But I'm not going to start from the top, rambling Scriptures that don't mean anything to these kids.

Indy: How did you develop a relationship with Ron Jeremy?

Gross: We met at a porn show. He saw what we did and we saw what he did. And then, after that, I was asked to debate him, so I got a good opportunity to get to know the guy.

Indy: Who organized that first debate?

Gross: Wolfman Productions. They're a college booking agent. They put together the format. Ron used to debate a feminist lesbian named Susan Cole. It was interesting. But I thought, "I can debate this guy; it'd be fun." So I sent this company my stuff and snuck my way in. I just got on in Boston in March '06.

Indy: How have you and your message been received by the porn industry folks?

Gross: Well, [we're] such a breath of fresh air compared to what anybody else had tried. It just worked.

Don't get me wrong not everyone's doing backflips because we're at a porn show. But we've had some pretty good endorsements. In the Christian world, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren have given us quotes Robb Bell there's some leaders in the Christian world that really make a huge difference if you want to do anything.

In the porn world: I'm on a bus with Ron Jeremy for seven days. The biggest guy in the industry, and he doesn't think I'm the bad guy and trusts me and says good things about our ministry, that we're helping people. And we've helped people out of the industry that can actually speak about it. We're still going to have critics, but for the most part, we've got some good stuff going for us.

Indy: Are you and Ron friends outside of the debate?

Gross: We're friends. My family was on the bus with us on the tour. I would say he's a friend.

Indy: Are you putting your faith in action, so to speak, accepting him for who he is without judgment?

Gross: I don't think I'd debate someone I didn't like, because that's too typical for Christians. I hand out Bibles at porn shows that say, "Jesus loves porn stars." So if I'm not willing to befriend [the porn industry], I'm an idiot. Why even go to a porn show and make that first step?

Like, we go on CNN and they sent one car for us, but they sent us to different studios because I guess they thought we couldn't be together. It was like, "Look, morons, we're on the same bus together." And that's the norm: The Democrats won't be anywhere near the Republicans. For me, it's like, "No look, I like this guy, he likes me, he respects me, we have fun together, we share different lifestyles ... I don't agree with what [Ron] does, but it shouldn't keep us from having any relationship.

Indy: You've said you aren't for outlawing porn. What are you for?

Gross: We want to raise awareness that this is an issue and we want to help people that want help. So when it comes to legislating, you aren't going to find us doing that stuff.

Ron always says, "What else are we supposed to do?" I'm like, "You guys have figured out how to put this in every home in America. Don't you think if you guys got together, you could figure out how to get this away from kids and whatnot?"

Indy: A colleague of mine disagrees with the term "porn addiction." Is it more accurately a "sex addiction," and porn is the vehicle? Or do you feel porn is like alcohol that people are addicted to the substance?

click to enlarge Craig Gross wins hearts with stats and a smile.
  • Craig Gross wins hearts with stats and a smile.

Gross: I know porn has become the sex-ed for the culture today. I don't buy that it's not addictive or that it's one of the other. I think it's definitely addictive.

Indy: Of all the feedback you've received, has any one correspondence stuck out?

Gross: This kid from James Madison University after one of our debates. He said to me, "You know what, you made me think. I lost my relationship because I couldn't have sex without fantasizing about porn. That was the only thing that would get me excited enough to orgasm. So I have problem that I'm going to have to change. I'd rather reach orgasm with someone I'm with rather than someone I make up in my mind."

This is the case today. You're getting more than you bargained for when it comes to looking at this stuff, and it's not going to just go away that easy.

Indy: What's the response like at the debates? Is everyone respectful to Ron and You?

Gross: Hands down. People are thrilled we're there and people will listen to all that we have to say. Sometimes kids ask stupid questions, but ...

Indy: What about our conservative nature here in the Springs? Do you think anything specific will come up here, versus other cities?

Gross: No, college kids are college kids. James Dobson, who both of us are not huge fans of, is located there. Ron has a huge hatred for Dobson. But I don't think Dobson will come hear the debate, although I'd invite him if they'd take our calls.

Indy: Aside from Ron, what's your beef with Dobson?

Gross: It's beyond Dobson. What our parents' generation has done is what people now think of Christianity. It's the Ted Haggard thing "Oh, he's against this, but you know ..." They don't buy it. It's not believable.

Focus on the Family does some great things, but a lot of what they do, especially on this issue of pornography, is more politics and legislating. Right now, they're sending out a newsletter that lets you know of all the hotels that sell pornography, and they're asking you to do something about it. Well, how about this? Don't buy the porn. The problem isn't the hotel selling it. They wouldn't sell it if you didn't buy it.

Fifty percent of Christians admitted to struggling with pornography, so why don't we send out newsletters to help people? Well, Focus won't endorse our free [accountability] software because we don't act and sound and agree with all the things that they do. So they're going to waste their time letting their people know about hotels to avoid.

Give me a break. Marriott hotels make more money on pornography sales in the room than alcohol and food at the restaurants combined. Do you think a letter from a little James Dobson supporter is going to get them to say, "Oh yeah, we should get rid of this"?

I think Focus is spinning their wheels on all the wrong things. They've come out and said they don't like us. Whether you agree with what we do or not, you can't deny the fact that we're changing lives and helping people. It does no good to just stand on the outside. We're taken seriously at a porn show because we've gone inside.

We're taken seriously at a porn show because we've gone inside. That's why Ron Jeremy will show up in Colorado Springs with me. Ron's biggest beef with Dobson is his claims that Ted Bundy said he was into porn.

Indy: That's not your type of Christianity, is what you're saying.

Gross: It's not us. And we all look stupid. I have my work cut out for me. When we give out the Bibles at shows with a Bible verse on the back, and people walk into the show and see boycotters with Bible verses on their picket signs, I'm like, "Look, I know we look like idiots, but what do I believe?" Especially on a secular university, they'll kill me with the Ted Haggard issue.

"OK, Craig, you're into porn. How do I not buy that this isn't just because you want [to be close to the industry]?" I have a good joke: I say, "If that was the case, I'd probably be touring with Jenna Jameson rather than Ron Jeremy."

Ron actually chimes in and says, "I've met Craig and his family. I've hung around his friends and pastors. He is the real deal. He isn't doing this just because he loves porn."

Our work's cut out for us because too many people have had a megaphone and spotlight and camera in front of them, and they've blown it and said some stupid things.

Indy: Has XXX church been able to track any success rate with the help offered?

Gross: We have over 350,000 people using X3Watch, our free accountability software that we developed. We've had millions of people on the site. That number means a lot to me that's tangible. We've helped porn stars out of the industry. Everywhere I go I meet someone that says, "Thank you."

Indy: How do you provide a "way out of porn industry for those trapped and needing escape?"

Gross: Estherfund.com has resources ... whether its accountability or childcare or helping with education. We help with some physical needs. A lot of people think they're not qualified to do anything but porn. And we're like, "Let's us help you walk down that road with you."

Indy: What do you think are the main reasons people turn to pornography?

Gross: It's easy. It's accessible. We're turned on by it. Guys are more visual. But Paris Hilton makes a porn tape and it makes her career. We live in this world now where Britney Spears walks out of her house without underwear and it's on CNN.

Kids were asking me in Atlanta recently, "There's AIDS in Africa, there's homelessness ..." I go, "Yeah, those are great things, I actually deal with some of those, but 800 kids wouldn't have shown up to discuss poverty." But they did to talk about porn.

Indy: On your Web site, I read in the "Get help" section: "Women are beautiful because that's the way God made them. We are naturally attracted to them. If you're not, then there is probably another Web site out there that can help you with that problem." Is being gay a problem?

Gross: [We did that] jokingly. We don't deal at all with homosexuality on our site. We were writing that directed at guys that are struggling because they find women in porn attractive. We're working with a gay porn star right now. I don't see it any differently than the other people.

I've learned a lot in dealing with this [person] that has even changed some of my thoughts on some things, that prior to knowing him and the situation, I couldn't understand. I haven't been around it enough to start making quotes, other than I know that the Bible says "sex should be between a man and a woman," so I'm going to promote that.

And when you get into people saying, "Well I do it this way," I'm like, "Well, that's not any experience that I have in knowing how to help or address some of those things, or speak out on all these issues."

matthew@csindy.com

  • By venturing into the belly of the beast, Craig Gross earns respect

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