Wellington Barbosa (WB): Welcome,Pastor Anderson. How did you come into contact with pornography?
Bernie Anderson2 (BA): I stumbled across pornography at the age of nine while visiting the home of a family member. It was pretty captivating in that first encounter, and I remember thinking that I wanted to return to that closet where I found it another time. I wasn’t really sure what it was; but it was powerful, and I lingered even though I felt like I probably shouldn’t be looking at it.
WB: What were your thoughts when going into the ministry about being addicted to pornography?
BA: There had been an ongoing spiritual conflict since I had been exposed at nine. This sense of conflict and internal spiritual inconsistency always lingered in my soul. So even as I entered pastoral ministry, I had a deep sense that I was unworthy and constantly sought God for forgiveness of my secret sin and failure. I also felt that if I could work hard, it might, in some ways, make up for my secret sin. I constantly begged God for forgiveness and for Him to “take it away!” I especially felt terrible when preparing for a Sabbath morning message, so I was very intentional about pleading with God for cleansing and forgiveness before preaching.
WB: At what point did you decide to tell your family about the problem you were facing? How did it come about?
BA: Well, I never told my wife. I was caught. In fact, I really never wanted my wife or anyone else to ever know about my dark secret. That was one of my major fears because I was concerned about what people would think. And it was embarrassing and shameful. I thought for sure I was the only pastor who had this struggle. Not to mention that my name was pretty well known since I had appeared on Net '98 with Dwight Nelson. But my wife discovered porn on the computer after I forgot to erase my internet history. Then, unfortunately, things only got worse. After she confronted me I was sorry— but only sorry I got caught, not sorry enough to pursue real change.
WB: How did your family and church help you overcome your addiction?
BA: My wife especially has been very straight with me. She confronted me and was a constant source of truth for me. She was a reality check! She literally screamed through her tears at me one time, “Do you want to lose this?” Much was at stake, and I didn’t even realize what I could lose. My churches at the time were incredibly gracious toward me! They were patient with me even as the local and national media picked up the story. I am forever grateful to those churches as they demonstrated true forgiveness and love toward me.
WB: How did your recovery and healing take place?
BA: Once I confessed to a dear friend,things really began to open up for me. I began reading as many books as I could get my hands on regarding the issue. Then I attended an “Every Man’s Battle” intensive in Dallas, Texas. It was truly a life-changing event for me. I felt empowered, educated, and equipped to begin the recovery journey. Then it was simply a matter of continuing to “work the program,” and that is essentially what I continue to do today. Part of what I consider my program is engaging in a small recovery group, guarding what I watch on TV as well as in movies. I also limit just how much time I spend online in general. But really the healing has come over time with my understanding of God’s incredible grace and my (and I believe everyone’s) absolute need for legitimate intimacy through my relationship with my wife and friends.
WB: What inspired you to write a book telling your story? Were you afraid?
BA: I came to realize what I had kind of suspected all along, and that was that many others struggled in the same way, including other pastors and church members. I wanted to write and break the ice, so to speak, on a taboo subject. I wanted to share my story and be transparent about my personal struggle in hopes of encouraging others to seek help and break free. I imagined that if an Adventist pastor could open up about it, then surely it would provide a way for members to address their own issues. I believe the church should be the type of place where there can be an openness and transparency in order to seek healing and wholeness.
WB: Did your book influence other ministers to seek help and fight pornography?
BA: From what I understand, yes. I have had so many reach out to me over the years, and it’s been powerful and encouraging to me. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by that I don’t hear from someone seeking help and support to break free.
WB: Given the many enticements in the virtual world, what tips can you offer ministers to not fall into the trap of pornography?
BA: It’s so important for us as pastors to be aware of our own vulnerabilities. And, to a certain extent, the temptation to act out sexually online is particularly enticing to pastors. We should always have another pastor or friend we can be completely honest with and who will hold us accountable. Be in a group if possible. Also, remember the acronym HALT, which means to be aware of when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. All of these are inherent to the nature of our work as pastors. Regular fasts from media (especially social media) are important, along with truly practicing Sabbath rest. Nurturing intimacy (both physical and emotional) within your marriage is absolutely essential as well. And, on a practical level, you should install accountability software on all of your devices, along with making sure your wife and/or accountability partner has all of your passwords and credentials to email accounts, as well as social media accounts. I like to tell pastors you should never be completely anonymous when online. You should make sure that someone is always aware of what you’re doing and where you’re going online.
WB: What advice would you give to our readers who are experiencing this problem?
BA: God’s grace is available to you too!Just know that you’re not alone and that getting free will require some level of disclosure. This will be very difficult, but it is truly part of the journey to healing and wholeness. This is such a huge problem; but the good news is there are so many resources available for you to use. The most significant thing you can do is to prayerfully and humbly seek God and pray for the courage to pursue help and find freedom and restoration.