I was at the Lighthouse Anglican Church in the decaying industrial town of Wollongong to see a sermon delivered by Craig Gross, founder of an LA-based Evangelist outreach program that takes The Good Fight right into the heart of the smut business. Gross and co set up shop at industry expos, back auxiliary groups that storm brothels, and run a website, XXXChurch.com, which purports to be a support network for chronic jerk-offs, sex addicts and prudes grievously affected by the behaviour of husbands and sons who just can't keep their hands off it.
For all the information available about the XXXChurch online, I was still confused as to what constituted a sexual sin. I also wanted to discuss the results of the “Are You Addicted?” test I had taken on the website – it seemed that I myself have “a profile consistent with men who struggle with sexually compulsive behaviour.”
The service began with a set by an eight-piece band that provided the perfect soundtrack for the stupefying atmosphere inside the church: there was almost no natural light and the canned air, which had a faint, dry incense smell was at a drowsy temperature. It seemed that the conditions had been expertly engineered to nullify the senses and pacify the mind. The growing crowd held their right hands aloft, singing along and bobbing from heel to toe in a way that allowed them to dance on the spot without any ass-shaking whatsoever. Maybe it was because it was my first ever church service, but I felt as if I was being bludgeoned to death with a pillow.
Eventually the music drew to a merciful close and a pastor came out and couched his demands for donations, or “demonstrations of faith”, in some of that half-assed, “Jesus Christ is a pretty cool cat” humour that all Bro-Christians (Anglicans) use to charm and disarm anybody stupid enough to listen to them. Fifteen minutes of ego-flexing and in-house promotions later, it was time for the main event.
After a short introductory video about his friendship with Ron Jeremy, Gross told the congregation he could count the number of times he saw porn while he was growing up, and that he has never struggled with a sex addiction of any kind. He admitted the Church will not be able to compete with the porn industry, but said that by fronting up to events like the Sydney Sexpo, the XXX crew would be “able to share what (they) know about it.”
And so began a cavalcade of incomprehensible, self-contradicting statements that left me in no doubt that I was the most intelligent person in a room of over four hundred people.
Pornography, Gross said, doesn't just affect men. A horrifying thirty-five per cent of porn-users are women.
“It's shocking,” he raved, “that fifty-seven per cent of [Sydney Sexpo] attendees are women...Three of the New York Times (bestsellers last year) were ‘Fifty Shades of Something’. And I mean, that’s not visual pornography, but it’s something you would read that I would think for women, it’s just as attractive, if not more, as for guys viewing something in the images.”
Sexual sin, he assured the crowd, is like no other sin. It is a Serious Issue. The question is, how do we break free of this? How do we open the conversation?
The best way to attain purity is to engage in an Accountability Program. X3 Watch is freeware (excepting the $7/month 'Pro' option) that monitors your internet usage. Every time you click on a “questionable” website, a notification is sent via email or text message to your accountability buddy, who will presumably give you the Bro-Christian equivalent of “what the fuck, dude?”
Shame then, is the cure to a symptom that has no disease, or at least no disease Gross was prepared to actually define. If your father, son, friend or wife is notified every time you seek an online visual aid, you're a lot more likely to open The Good Book than type “slut eats friend's anal cream pie” into Google.
“I don't want to have that conversation,” Gross said, going on to suggest you rid yourself of your smartphone as an additional precaution, because, after all, “a fool goes back to his sin like a dog goes back to his vomit.”
- - -
Gross was hanging around near the merch desk in the foyer after the service, shaking hands and flogging Jesus Loves Porn Stars bibles for ten bucks a pop. What follows is a verbatim transcript of our conversation:
VICE: I'm a little bit confused about what precisely constitutes a sexual sin. I’m not totally sure if you guys are against porn, or masturbation, or both...
Craig Gross: Yeah – I think it’s, you know, I mean, it’s just a range, you know. I think when you - sexual sin’s so broad, you know, so...
Is it personal choice, or do you think it’s something the Church can kind of provide a benchmark for?
I think it’s both, yeah, I think there’s stuff that, you know, we’re getting more open about stuff that real people are dealing with. It’s an issue, you know, bigger than...
But in and of itself, is it wrong?
Ah, I think, with the lust associated with it, and pornographic, I think it’s dangerous.
So it’s like a stepping stone type deal?
I left the church astounded, among other feelings, that a man who'd just spoken for over half an hour on the destructive travails of “impurity” could fail so completely to answer a simple question, or even speak in grammatically coherent sentences. Worryingly, a teenage attendee I'd spoken to after the service had the same problem when I'd asked him a similar question...and I still had no idea how I could be classed as a sex addict by an organisation that refused to apprise me of the parameters by which I was so judged.
Despite an underwhelming first round, I was confident I could get Gross in the corner once I got to Sexpo, away from the heady atmosphere of the church. I had a beautiful blonde accomplice waiting to attend the event with me in the city, so I went home for a cleansing whiskey and did a little research on one of the porn stars who would be appearing at the smut-fest.
- - -
A squat, bald, satyr-like fellow danced into our path brandishing a black dildo the size of a small tree. He demonstrated its versatility by sticking it to his head and shuffling out a jester jig.
“Hey,” I said. “Do you know about the Triple-X Church?”
“Oh yeah, the Evangelists.”
“We’re trying to find them,” my accomplice told him. “Do you know where they are?”
“You need to go round this corner,” he replied, indicating with the dildo’s fist-sized bell-end, “and then take a left once you see the Shaved Pussy stall.”
“Many thanks. By the way, have you met them?”
“No,” he said. “I go near anything like that, I start burning...”
We rounded the corner and sure enough, there it was...but aside from an 8x8' banner bearing the Jesus Loves Porn Stars image, the XXXChurch stall appeared to have been abandoned.
I crossed over to the stall opposite, MJ’s Toybox, cursing under my breath as rage rose in my chest. Behind the counter sat Kim, consensual slave to the eponymous Master Joe, purveyor of various kinky goods: ball-gags, studded collars, whipping chains and the like. “Hey,” I said, planting my hands on the glass counter. “Have you seen those Christians?”
“They’re gone,” Kim told me. “They left about half an hour ago.”
I steered my accomplice back towards the bar.
“Motherfuckers!” I exploded. “Do you realise what this means? Not only is my article now fucked, but I sat through about a million hours of that goddamned happy-clapper music for fucking nothing! This is a disaster.”
“You’ll have to improvise,” my accomplice told me. “Let’s go and interview some porn stars. Or you can watch me get my tits painted.”
I made a desperate whip around the building. Almost without exception, every stall owner and minor celebrity I talked to at Sexpo had nothing bad to say about the XXXChurch. “Really nice people,” they all told me. “Not judgemental at all.”
Russell Gilbert described them as “lovely guys”, and could confirm they had not told him he should stop jacking off. The only exception was a member of the Sex Party who said one of Gross's crew had “gotten pissy” when he started an argument with her over the party's policy of separating religion and politics.
Nor did the amicable Kim and Master Joe have anything negative to say about the Evangelists – but that didn’t stop them from aiding and abetting (supposedly) the apparent theft of the XXXChurch’s huge "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" banner.
I can only speculate on what kind of morally-bereft degenerate (or degenerates - these people often work in pairs) would steal from a church...but my guess would be that whoever perpetrated this egregious crime is probably a listless fuck-junkie justifiably outraged that the XXXers had packed up a full three and a half hours before the expo closed, thereby being robbed of a chance of salvation and a rare opportunity to speak openly about their embarrassing and literally painful addictions to the basest pornography, amyl and anonymous sodomy.
- - -
My accomplice and I left the convention centre subdued. Both of us realised at the same time that despite the tits, ass, toys and demonstrations, neither of us had actually had a sexual thought, let alone approached a state of arousal the entire time we were in the Sexpo bubble. In fact, it wasn't so different from the Lighthouse service that morning: the stupefying atmosphere, the shit music, the encouragement to shed money and the degradation of women - though Sexpo couldn't hold a candle to Christian chauvinism.
In hindsight, I'm not sure why I expected any answers from Gross, and I doubt a second interview would have made much difference. The man is a charlatan and the only half-smart thing he's ever done, so far as I can see, is figure out a way to use the dirty glamour of the sex industry to sell religion and all its rancid, inexplicable prejudices. The XXXChurch's angle is a kind of macrocosm of the buddy-Christ humour employed by Anglican pastors. It is designed to obscure the archaic tenets of religion behind a neo-liberal, progressive fascia in order to appeal to the young, immature and adriftwithout ever really defining right and wrong with regard to invented "issues".
Personally, if someone held a gun to my head, I'd rather be Catholic. At least they don't fuck around when it comes to fire and brimstone.
For More Porn: