Analysis

What the pro-life movement might learn from “Porno Church”

Food for thought.

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Porn star Brittni Ruiz (known then as Jenna Presley) was signing autographs at the Exxxotica Expo in New Jersey when God got her attention.

The people of XXXchurch were nearby, passing out Bibles. Well-known among attendees of adult expos and often called the “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” people, they use snappy graphics, an easygoing approach, and a little shock value to grab the attention of sex industry workers, most of whom are, let’s face it, pretty difficult to shock.

It would be years before Ruiz would attend church with a friend, feel “the love of God,” read the Bible on a plane, and leave porn for good. But now she is sharing her story through XXXchurch. And while she’s far from the first porn star to leave the industry after a religious conversion, the unique church that first caught her eye may have a lot to teach the pro-life movement about converting hearts.

“I’ve never met a girl or guy in the industry that’s told me, ‘This is what I wanted to do when I was a kid,'” XXXchurch founder Craig Gross told “Nightline.”

Determined to take on the porn industry since he realized the toll pornography was taking on his peers in high school, Gross, as you might expect, is not your typical pastor. He looks more like a slightly built, handsome young hipster than a father of two who’s been married for fifteen years. The message of his church, which he spreads through their website and by passing out Bibles and other literature at adult entertainment conventions, is simple: “Jesus Loves You.” Yes, believe it or not, just as much as everyone else.

And this message of love and acceptance for all extends into his personal life: he counts among his close friends porn legend Ron Jeremy. The odd couple have debated on college campuses across the country and spent countless hours dueling on the issue of porn. But just before Jeremy’s sixtieth birthday, fearfully confronting heart surgery, he asked Gross to pray for him, and considers himself a changed man. While he hasn’t wholeheartedly embraced the anti-porn movement, the XXXchurch has embraced him.

“To me, the message of Jesus unites and doesn’t divide,” Gross explained to “Nightline.” “You know what we’re all against, but you never know what we’re all for. Like, to me, I’m for Ron.”

Ron, for what it’s worth, appreciates Gross’s mission to help porn stars – especially women – leave an industry that for many of them leads to poor health, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and even – as in Brittni Ruiz’s case – multiple suicide attempts. “He ministers to them and leads them on the path of righteousness,” said Jeremy, “and I think that’s great.”

Ron Jeremy and Craig Gross on "Nightline."

Ron Jeremy and Craig Gross on “Nightline.”

What do Craig Gross’s strange church and his friendship with an aging porn star have to teach the pro-life movement?

Maybe a lot.

While the idea of hanging out at porno conventions passing out a Gospel of John covered in splashy hipster graphics might strike some as sacrilegious or at least disrespectful, the fact is: it works. And can something that leads people directly to God be sacrilegious? XXXchurch’s approach gets people to read, and in some cases even accept, the Gospel, not to mention leave an industry that is harming them, body and soul.

By presenting themselves as relatable, by making their message snappy and entertaining and even a little shocking (“Jesus Loves Porn Stars”), they’re attracting people who would normally roll their eyes and move on.

Similarly, while some would argue it’s folly (or sin) to approach an argument about abortion from any but a religious standpoint, I am an excellent example of someone on whom that argument would have been lost. Seven years ago, when I was converted, it was on the basis of human rights, science, and reason; a mention of God would have caused me to (stupidly) reject the entire pro-life thesis. However, my conversion to pro-life led eventually to my conversion to Christianity.

Isn’t the Truth always on God’s side?

A good example of relating to abortion advocates on their level is Destiny De La Rosa, a pierced and tattooed mother of four whose organization, New Wave Feminists, attracts young women who might normally turn up their noses at the ideas of morality, virtue, and respect for life. How do New Wave Feminists do it? By looking and sounding, at least at first glance, just like the people they’re trying to convert.

But perhaps the most important lesson of XXXchurch is Gross’s decision to focus on unity, not division. With an issue as heated as abortion, this isn’t easy. But it is possible.

Take, for example, Save the Storks. This group parks a brightly colored, friendly, and professional-looking van outside an abortion clinic and kindly offers incoming women free pregnancy tests and sonograms. If they wish, they can be driven directly to a pregnancy resource center. There are no waving signs, no shouting – nothing but love and an offer of help. And, not surprisingly, a large percentage of women who get on the van keep their babies: according to the Save the Storks website, approximately 3 out of 5 women.

It appears to me that the simple reason for the Storks’ success is that they and the women they minister to agree on at least one thing: these women need help. The Storks, instead of focusing on where they disagree with these women – the sanctity of unborn human life – meet the abortion-minded mother on common ground: You came to this clinic for help; we are offering help. You feel like you are a human being deserving of respect, and we agree. You wish for comfort, and we will provide it. It’s not the kind of “help” they thought they needed, but it often works. And lives are saved.

Garish signs, megaphones, chanting, shouting…these may work well to galvanize the like-minded, but is a heavy-handed approach, or even a directly religious one, appropriate in every circumstance? Aren’t Christians instructed to be “wise as serpents”?

The successes of the unique and controversial “Porno Church” might show otherwise or, at the very least, provide a lot of food for thought.

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