On a humid 85 degree sunny Friday, September 10, 2004, I walk down Sunset Blvd to a screening room. I spot Pastor Craig Gross and his assistant Jason, John Leiland, a religion reporter for The New York Times, and Bill Day (director of the documentary on the XXXChurch.com, Missionary Positions).
When Craig and his fellow pastor Mike Foster began their project, they went to LFP, Girls Gone Wild and Wicked to see if they could find areas where they could all agree and cooperate (such as to keep kids away from porn). Nobody gave them the time of day, says Craig. Wicked had to be nice to them because there was a reporter from MSNBC there.
"We took the rabbit and balloons," says Craig. "Girls Gone Wild was pissed. It was probably not a good time to visit them because they were not doing well in the news. We got through security and to their door. Bill was videotaping. We got in there and one of their reps came out and put his hand to the camera and said, get out of here. We said, we're just trying to help kids stay away from porn. We hit a dead end.
"Larry Flynt's secretary said, I'm sure Larry would be interested. Here's his card. Call for an appointment. We called and called and got the run-around."
Then James DiGiorgio wrote them about a year ago, and the rest was history (they received enormous media attention for their cooperation on a PSA warning kids away from porn).
"Mike and I haven't recovered from porn," says Craig. "We were never addicted. Our ministry isn't about that.
"We've trying to motivate the church to get off the pews and do something about porn. We complain about all these bad movies. Let's make a good one."
Craig and Mike are married with kids. Their spouses Jennifer Foster and Jeanette Gross support their work "but when it comes into the house, as far as people getting a hold of your home phone number and calling, such as the Little People of America... Or when we go to church and my wife is sitting in the car and they call the cops [because the car is covered with XXXChurch messages]."
"Why would you drive that to church?"
"To let people know. Our wives like it until [their personal lives are disrupted].
"We found that JimmyD is probably a more responsible parent [about protecting his kids from smut] than most Christian parents. He doesn't bring it into the home.
"Jimmy and I did a debate on Lee Strobel's show, Faith under Fire on PAX. We were supposed to debate each other but Jimmy and I have respect for each other and we didn't debate once. Lee and Jimmy ended up going at it. Jimmy ripped Lee a new one. Jimmy came right back at him. I thought, this is no good. This is arguing and tearing each other down."
This girl (Dana House) who worked at Playboy for 18 years came on the show as a victim. She posed for Playboy. She said it made impossible for her to find a good man. Every man wants to marry a virgin. Jimmy disagrees. He says every man wants to marry a porn star.
Tyler Cash wrote:
Craig and Mike have had booths at four porn conventions -- twice at Erotica LA and twice at the AVN show in Las Vegas in January. "People love it," says Craig. "People stand in line to take pictures with the rabbit. They're like, I've got to know more. People wanted to get a photo with the banner. Most everybody knows somebody who goes to church. People always ask, is there porn on there?
"Our approach is so different. We have a rabbit. We have postcards that say, Jesus loves porn stars. We don't look like professional pastors. The porn stars want pictures with the rabbit. Sometimes they touch the rabbit where they shouldn't. That's my wife in there.
"The [porn] girls are on all display. Deep down inside, these girls are just kids. They see a rabbit. They want a picture. They don't want to spread their legs."
Tyler Cash walks up. Jimmy's business partner. His shirt is unbutton to his navel. Tyler says he spent 22 years in Hollywood but saw the profit potential in porn three years ago, and created Sinamotion.
I ask Craig when he got his ears pierced. He says high school.
"What would Jesus say?"
Craig: "I don't think he'd have a problem with it. He had long hair and a beard. My Christian high school had a problem with it. I had to take them out."
He also has a tattoo on his lower leg, a flame.
Duke: "James Dobson took a far out position. He said masturbation is ok."
Craig: "I don't think he would hang out at a porn show... We're not for masturbation. We say it is a selfish act that pleases no one but you."
Ryan says his tattoos are a formal expression of his faith in Christ. "I was born to testify to the truth," is tattooed across his chest.
James DiGiorgio walks up. "Those black socks," he says to me. "You look like the biggest dork I've ever seen. Those shoes [black heavy], unbelievable."
Craig: "I'm at Erotica LA. The first year. My wife's in this rabbit suit. This porn star walks up and says, I know you. Imagine what my wife is thinking.
"At the time, [Michelle Michaels] didn't have a contract with anybody. She just had a cheap business card. She said I spoke at her school. I spoke for a week. I said, what are you guys doing here? They said, I'm her booking agent. I'm her manager. She says, I've just done my first film. She'd just graduated that June. That was two years ago.
"I have it on tape. She tells me, I know God's pissed off at me but I don't care right now. It's about me. I'm just doing this for a while. Eventually, I will get back to him. I asked Jimmy how to get a hold of her for this reality show we're doing. I did a search. She's done 28 movies.
"Like many of the girls in the industry, she doesn't want to be in it.
"She just wants a taste. I hope and pray that Michelle ends this thing. I'd like to sit down with her and talk with her some more. It's a sad story."
We walk into the screening room. I chat with Mike Foster's parents. They're proud of their son's work.
Bill Day, director, talks about religion and pornography.
"A match made in heaven," says Jimmy.
The documentary runs 85 minutes.
It opens with various media clips about the XXXChurch.
Mike: "One day I was praying in the shower and God spoke to me. He said the word porn. We need to do something. A church that only exists on the Internet."
Craig: "As soon as I heard that Web address, it just clicked."
Mike: "Craig, what do we know about porn? We're not qualified."
Craig's wife Jeannette Gross: "I called him on my cell phone. I was concerned. It came out of the blue."
Craig: "We spent most of our early time just staring at a blank screen. How is this Web site going to help people? We just kept going back to the same issue -- that porn sucks. What does it mean that porn sucks?"
Mike: "Our research consisted of...going to Google, type in the word anti-porn, go to the Web sites, stole all their facts, and put them on our Web site."
The pastors went to Amsterdam for three days to check out the red light district. They took along Bill Day to videotape everything. They interviewed a hooker. They interviewed a woman who was previously married to a man addicted to porn.
They interview a man who just bought a trick.
"Do you think she was happy doing what she was doing?"
"No way in the world," he says. "She was just processing a McDonald's hamburger."
Craig: "There's a ministry in [rural] Kentucky called Pure Life Ministry [started by ex-LAPD cop Steve Gallagher]. They have a six month live-in program for guys who struggle with sexual addictions. We've labeled it porn prison."
There's no TV, radio or newspapers.
The documentary tells the story of Ray, a man who became addicted to porn at age 12. "An older boy taught me to masturbate to porn."
Ray: "I went into a public restroom and I was arrested for masturbating in a public restroom."
His wife found out. She tried to help him. But Ray was an addict. They divorced. "Suicide was an option."
At the AVN show, Susan Block lectures the pastors that the "Testament" in "New Testament" comes from testicles. She prances around after making her points.
The pastors are next to Violet Blue's booth. She looks at them skeptically.
Some porners touch the pastor's bunny inappropriately. One says he wants to "f--- the bunny."
Pastor Mike seems discouraged. "We just spent a thousand dollars and a heckuva lot of time. Did we move any people from the dark side to the light side? How the hell did I get here? I'm a pastor. I've got a great job. They pay me a lot of money. I've got a lot of cool friends. I've got two cool kids at home. What am I doing at Erotica LA for three days?"
Craig: "We talked to a lot of people. We didn't get the press we were hoping for but nobody did. We didn't even make the news."
Christian billionaire Jack London gives Mike $50,000 for his XXXChurch. Jack doesn't seem to have a clue about what XXXChurch is about.
Craig's friend John talks about his porn addiction. John is at the screening with a cute blonde. He spent eight months at Pure Life Ministry in Kentucky.
"I don't want to get close to a girl because I have this problem with porn...and she'll look down on me because of it. Do I want my porn more or do I want my girlfriend more?"
John says half of the people in the Pure Life program got kicked out or left in the middle of the night.
The pastors buy a sign tugged across the sky by a plane. "XXXChurch: The number one Chritian porn site."
They shoot a commercial with Eddie the Midget. They say that porn stunts growth. Little People of America take great exception. They begin harassing the pastors. They dig up their tax returns. They threaten to have them audited.
Mike: "They told us that they had four little people who worked for the IRS and they proved it by producing our tax returns. We had to write a formal apology to the Little People of America and make the ad disappear forever."
They get booked on "Praise the Lord" on TBN. They fly out to Nashville. Tape the show. Send out emails to tell people to watch the show. TBN doesn't play the show and won't explain why.
Mike: "It seems like the only media we got was early-morning shockjocks and be the butt of every joke they wanted to tell us."
Mike on his phone for an interview tells the camera, "He's masturbating
on the radio while looking at our Web site."
Later, Mike is stuck in an airport. "We're supposed to be fighting porn here. Does it look like I am fighting porn? I am going around the country telling people not to masturbate and watch porn."
James DiGiorgio admits that he has selfish motives for shooting the XXXChurch's 30-second promo for free. "It's not that I'm trying to promote porn. I'm trying to promote JimmyD."
Craig: "He seems pretty hostile to his industry.
"People who are getting sucked down need harder and harder material to get off to, so people like JimmyD are forced to push the envelope."
The documentary goes to a scene of JimmyD shooting a gaper and ass to mouth.
Jimmy: "I wish I could delete files in my head. I've seen things I wish I hadn't seen and I've done things I wish I hadn't done."
Pat Robertson's 700 Club TV show sends a crew out to interview the pastors and Jimmy at Hustler Hollywood.
Craig: "This was such a big deal for us because the Christian community hadn't embraced us to this point."
The 700 Club runs a promo for the segment on the next day's show. Craig says, "We're just going to a place where Jesus would go." Pat Robertson saw it. Pat turned his assistant and said, 'Jesus would never go to a porn show.'
The story vanished but showed up one day when Pat was taking a vacation.
Jimmy says he lost work over his directing the anti-porn-for-kids PSA. "You can't flunk out of porn. I'm part of this family. There will always be work for me."
Pastor Mike drops out of the XXXChurch.
Craig says Mike tends to quit everything he tries after a couple of years. Mike admits that is true.
The two pastors rejoin forces to go on TechTV.
Host: "Do you think pornography is a blight on society?"
Mike: "Do you think sitting at a computer with your pants around your ankles watching some hot chick doing a donkey, is there a problem?"
Host: "You wouldn't want to do it every night of the week."
After the documentary, I talk to people in the room. Everyone seemed to like it, from the pornographers to the pastors to their parents to Mike's wife Jennifer.
The documentary is intended for Sundance.
Jimmy says his son's great great uncle is Carey Estes Kefauver, who headed the anti-Mafia hearings of the 1950s.
"Jimmy has a lot of Mob ties," I say.
"No, I don't," says Jimmy.
I ask Ryan Dobson, "How would your dad like this film?"
"He would love the message but he would get hung up on some of the cursing and some of the scenes. He loves the idea of XXXChurch."
The pastors have done Dr. Dobson's radio show.
The pastors say a tamer version of the film would make it acceptable for some churches to view.
Craig: "TBN wasn't just friendly to us, they were overtly friendly. They were over the top. We came home and thought we'd have a show on TBN. And then to come home and have a TBN party at our house and put on our Web site to watch TBN...and there was a rerun. I'm calling the prayer line and apparently Jan [Crouch, owner of the network along with her husband Paul], the lady with the big purple hair, pulled the plug at the last minute. That was the worst [media] experience.
"Mike got more hung up on the shock jocks than I did. He refused to do any more radio. I do them all."
Craig talks about his time in "porn prison," aka Pure Life Ministry. "We went from Amsterdam to that. We're hanging out at the barbeque [at Pure Life for the weekend]. I think they think Bill [Day] is part of us. Out of the blue, we hear Bill say, 'What is this s---?' You don't cuss around this crowd. Everyone stopped their conversation. Bill's like, 'I can't say that here?'
"I'd rather be in Amsterdam, but not in the red light district.
"Twenty miles outside of Amsterdman is a place [the government has set up] for all the [hookers] who aren't legal can go. Our taxi cab driver told us about this place. He charged us $60 to drive out there. It's three degrees. One a.m. Sunday morning. We drive a mile off the freeway and we see all these brake lights. As soon as you turn right, there are girls here. Transvestites. Guys. These girls or guys are half price [compared to the red light district] but you don't know what you're getting.
"You drive in, roll down your window, and pick a girl up. Then you get to the end of the stop, and there are about 75 car ports and that's where you have sex. You see the steamed-up windows, cars moving, kleenexes and crap outside the car. We're not talking Pintos. We talking Jaguars, Lexuses, Porsches.
"We couldn't shoot footage. There were guys patrolling. When you watch Wild on E! or Wild on Amsterdam, the results of that red light district are 20 miles outside of town. The guy in the Jaguar is driving out there because he can't afford 50 [Euros]. It's because he's ashamed of what he's doing and his problem has drug him out to the darkest place you've ever seen.
"There's nothing tempting to me about this world.
"There's a giant church in the middle of Amsterdam's red light district where John Calvin used to preach. That's where the taxies pick up passengers and drop off. The Christians could've impacted their city but it became just a building. It has no relevance. While you can have sex for 50 Euros or do drugs, it is illegal to share your faith in groups of more than two.
"They rent out the church for $5,000 a day. The last event held there was the Gay Olympics.
"When you tell people you are going to the red light district, they say, meet us at the church. That's our challenge in the United States. Our churches are great buildings, but if we don't get out of 'em, this is what is going to happen here."
I talk to Pastor Ryan Dobson about the book, The Cross and the Switchblade, a favorite during my youth. Ryan says he grew up with Nicky Cruz's (Run, Baby, Run) daughter. Both books were read to my class in Seventh Day Adventist school in eighth grade.
I ask Ryan if he believes in eternally burning hellfire. He says yes, for anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ.
I ask him if he's ever met anyone who's just as fervent in his belief in God, and just as religious and good, as himself, but is not a Christian. He says no. He says he doesn't know any Orthodox Jews.
Ryan snacks on pork. He says Jesus has released him from the law.
None of the pastors seem to have much interest in Israel.
Craig: "This movie will not be embraced by the Church. If you water it down, it's still not going to win [over the establishment Christian church].
"Bill doesn't pick a side but he represents our side well."
Who's more interesting to hang out with? Saints or sinners?
Craig: "Sinners. Saints are boring."
How far do you think Christian youth should be able to go in physical interaction before they marry?
Ryan: "If you're doing more than kissing, you're sinning.
"Soon after I got married, I wished that I kissed less people.
"I say, girls, somewhere out there is your husband and tonight he's going out with another girl. And girls immediately get mad. And you're going out with someone else's husband tonight. How are you going to behave?
"Guys, your wife is out there. She is with a guy right now. Do you want them to get to first base or second base? Act accordingly when you are on your date."
September 11, 2004
Pastor Mike Foster writes: "Susan Block was a little rough, mostly due to her husband. The porn industry sure is an interesting business that deserves to be challenged. I think I know everything I need to know about ethical hedonism. I experienced it first hand. The guy screaming at us was named Max. He also had an accent. He wasn't running the camera though he did carry a microphone the entire time."
Craig Gross writes: "Wild, direspecful, out of control. That sums it up."