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'Christian people are no different than non-Christian people. Sometimes, you have to hold their hand a little, but once they see we're not the devil, they'll buy five tickets and take their friends.'


Cinequest 2005
Cinequest's 15th anniversary
Capsule reviews (part 1)
Capsule reviews (part 2)
Capsule reviews (part 3)
Ben Kingsley
Harold Lloyd
Suzanne Lloyd Q&A
'Charlie the Ox'
'Missionary Positions'
Festival schedule
Preview (from February 2)


Pfishing for Souls

XXXchurch.com, the Internet's all-Christian anti-porn site, tempts randy web surfers with redempton. Can Mike Foster and Craig Gross use the devil's Internet to do the Lord's work? Bill Day's documentary 'Missionary Positions' charts the course of the world's toughest crusade.

By Richard von Busack

WHILE TAKING a shower one day, Mike Foster of Corona, Calif., thought about porn. Not in the way another person might think of porn in the shower, but in the way that someone who had intuited the voice of God pronouncing that word might think of porn.

As seen in director/producer Bill Day's documentary Missionary Positions, which receives its world premiere at Cinequest on March 11, this shower-stall revelation jump-started a long journey for Foster and his partner-in-religion, Craig Gross. Together, the two men created a unique website: XXXchurch.com, a virtual ministry especially designed to lure in unwary smut-seeking web surfers and then convince them to cast off their sins.

Since starting their two-man war against porn, Mike and Craig have visited adult-entertainment conventions and preached to thousands. They have even appeared on the Christian CNN: the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

They aren't what one would expect of Christian anti-porn crusaders. A mental image of such preachers would probably consist of a flat-top haircut, mucho polyestero, a pocket protector and the kind of jowls that tell the world, "We've been to Sizzler every Saturday night for the last 40 years."

By contrast, the bespectacled Mike and the lanky, unruffled Craig are as personable young Southern California dudes as any that one might encounter on a ski slope or a beach. One look and you just figure you're on a first-name basis.

Dazzled by the possibilities of mass media in the new millennium, Mike and Craig advertised their church with billboards, mascots and a XXXchurch.com mobile. They even created "Pete the Puppet" TV commercials to console children grossed out by discovering Dad's secret stash of stroke JPEGs.

At a recent appearance in Gilroy, Mike addressed hundreds of young parishioners in two sessions at a "True Love Waits" rally for Valentine's Day.

"I heard it went really well in Gilroy," says Craig, who stayed home in Tennessee while Mike went proselytizing.

"We brought in an edited version of Missionary Positions. The church was a little worried. The youth guy persuaded the adult pastor to take a gamble; some people were a little uncomfortable with that sort of thing. I think the people responded well. We sold 200 tickets to Cinequest."

Craig figures that "Christian people are no different than non-Christian people. Sometimes, you have to hold their hand a little, but once they see we're not the devil, they'll buy five tickets and take their friends."

Xxxchurch.com represents just one aspect of a backlash against porn culture. This culture is elastically defined to include everything from salacious dolls for tweens to the ever-graying Playboy magazine. As an industry, porn is international, with deep, dark shadows, although it brings in enormous sums to more legitimate corporations.

Porn's opponents include everyone from Mike and Craig to a webmaster called Jill at Oneangrygirl.com to the assistant district attorney of Indiana, Larry Parrish, who turns up in the current documentary Inside Deep Throat, speculating about new anti-porn crusades to come.

'We learned a lot about porn in three years'

Before the revelation in the shower, Mike co-owned a design company. Craig was on staff at the zestily titled Fireproof Ministries in Southern California. "I grew up in the church," Craig remembers, "but I was a bad kid. My youth pastor had to take away my Van Halen tapes."

Later, Craig went to school at Hope International University in Fullerton and became a pastor at the East Side Church in that Southern California suburb. Craig and Mike met at Christian-rock functions and became friends.

Both are married men, neither of whom fancied porn before they started their mission. As Craig explains, "We saw such a problem, and we decided to deal with it. We've learned a lot about porn in three years—a lot more than we wanted to know."

Mike and Craig started the website with a banner reading "porn sucks." All very well and good, but then they decided to search out the reasons why porn sucks. Their preliminary effort consisted of looking for anti-porn websites and appropriating all the stats they could find: numbers like "25 percent of all web searches are porn-related," "[Porn is] 8 percent of all spam."

XXXchurch.com made its debut public appearances at the Adult Entertainment Convention in Las Vegas in January 2002. Inside the convention, Mike and Craig attempted a fuzzier appeal to the better nature of sinners with the help of the 6-foot-tall "Rex the Rabbit."

The rabbit suit, a disused costume hiding in the wings of Craig's church, served two purposes. Rex eased the anxieties of porn consumers threatened by religion and, serving as a kind of camouflage, it allowed the duo's wives to keep an eye on their husbands in the middle of this Las Vegas whirlpool of smut.

"It's strange," Craig recalls. "People stood in line to get their picture taken with the rabbit. When we got back from the convention, the church didn't want Rex back, so we've kept him."

Endeavoring to put "a human face on the issue of pornography," XXXchurch.com markets "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" T-shirts to keep both pro- and anti-porn people guessing. The site outlines a relevant Bible story in a section called "SCOPING BATHSHEBA." The legend of King David's downfall is the Bible's most enduring lesson on the wisdom of closing the curtains when you bathe.

The website's prayer wall includes written and videotaped stories of self-confessed porn addicts. This wall currently contains 82,000 postings by visitors, overflowing with stories of guilt and disgust. Along with the predictable hate mail, that is.

Fumes one angry pro-pornist: "How would you like it if I started preaching to your kids that porn is OK!" By contrast, some of the people who write to the xxxchurch.com site think that the E-church is close-dancing with the devil: "You all need to run to an old-fashioned Pentecostal church and get converted!" flames one angry Christian.

The site also provides free downloads of a net-guard that records the Internet wanderings of porn junkies and finks on them to pastors, therapists or wives. "We're developing the Mac version of xxxwatch," Craig tells me. "We've had the Mac people on hold long enough. A lot of church people hate what we do, but they like that we give away free software."

Missionary Positions follows the ministers on field trips to Pure Life Ministries. "The porn prison," Mike and Craig nickname it.

In rural Kentucky, Steve Gallagher, an ex-LAPD officer, runs the mission that allows sufferers to stay for six months at a time. Gallagher claims to the camera: "The best evidence against the notion that porn is quote-OK-unquote is the testimony of those who'd been addicts of it for years."

The film summarizes the sad history of one "Roy": "From an older boy, Roy learned to masturbate looking at porn." (Solemn music plays, as we blackout.)

'No business like porn business'

The existence of sex addiction is still debated by therapists. They started diagnosing it around 1989, about the time the home computer changed the delivery system for sexually charged media.

A huge body of anecdotal literature on computer-based sexual addiction is available, with titles like Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession?; Understanding Cybersex From Fantasy to Addiction and Cybersex Unhooked: A Workbook for Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior.

Many of the books mention the staggering sums being spent on porn. The figure one always hears is $10 billion to $14 billion a year. This number was made famous in an article by Frank Rich of The New York Times. Rich popularized the slogan "There's no business like porn business."

That's serious green; $10 billion is more than the intake of all major league sports. Dan Ackman of Forbes.com, however, has challenged the prevailing math, reducing the annual figure to something more like $2.6 billion to $3.9 billion. He adds that Variety (which doesn't track porn) believes the annual take for television, cable and movie receipts is about $20 billion. Easily observable phenomena would suggest that more copies exist of Finding Nemo then of Boning Hams #45.

The libertarian view is that there is no such thing as a sexual norm, making addiction hard to gauge. The religious view holds that the very size of the porn industry proves the staggering number of addicts. The problem is defined by anecdotes: the confessions of the guilty and the tears of wives (and presumably a few porn-spurned husbands out there).

"We like to think we're at the top of a funnel of the issue," Craig says. "Mike and I don't feel we're at all equipped to counsel people. We lead people to Sex Anonymous and to other sites."

"It's not about porn, it's about the hurt and pain," Mike comments in Missionary Positions.

In identifying the problem as hurt and pain, Mike has a point. Any addiction is the outward manifestation of inner trouble. The ever-spiraling pleasure/shame response of any compulsive behavior masks signs of deeper loneliness and unworthiness. All addictions are characterized by increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and a disinterest in outside relationships—whether or not porn viewing is an addiction.

'Champions of a lost cause'

Bill Day, the producer/director of Missionary Position, is a UCLA film-school grad who has worked for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Day showed a previous documentary, Saviors of the Forest, at Cinequest several years ago.

"I've always been interested in activists," Day says from his office in Los Angeles. "Stories of the people behind the placards, what their everyday lives are like." Day had thought of following around some anti-gambling activists that he knew about. "Champions of a lost cause—how do you get out of bed in the morning and face that?"

Then Day mulled over finding an anti-porn group to make a film about. There is no serious nationwide anti-porn coalition. Feminists against porn refuse to make common cause with the religious opponents, because of differences of approach and focus. Some porn haters are pro-law enforcement, some pro-therapy. And the federal government's several efforts to regulate porn have met with expensive and embarrassing debacles: that road is thoroughly mapped in the new documentary Inside Deep Throat.

Day flushed out an anti-porn group in San Diego, but "they found out I'd done work for MSNBC, and they thought that was too liberal."

At that point, the filmmaker heard about XXXchurch.com. Within 48 hours of contacting Mike and Craig, Day was on his way to Amsterdam to follow the pastors as they trudged through the canal-side shadows of the infamous red light district.

Day chronicles the ups and downs of the two-man anti-porn church, even capturing a moment of doubt on the frozen asphalt outside of some nameless airport terminal. "I'm trying to travel around the country keeping people from masturbating," Mike laments to the camera.

After this agony, we witness the ecstasy of the ministers receiving a $50,000 grant from Jack Londen, tycoon of Londen Insurance Group, and an important walking wallet for the Arizona Republican party. And at the end, Mike and Craig have purchased a kind of pornmobile with which to advertise their cyberchurch. Day is fond of his stars and the way they interact. "Mike has the doubts, and Craig has the blind faith. They're great guys, really committed."

But Day hesitates when talking about how the film went over with its subjects. "They got nervous whenever the material got too strong, or when the movie got a tendency to go 44ish," he says, referring to the fact that porn stars like to thrust their boobs into a camera lens.

Day explains, "I mean, the movie's not meant to be watched only by people in therapy."

One montage in Missionary Positions includes a picture of a barnyard-smut site, superimposed with porn-problem newspaper articles. A headline reads, "Porn Plague: Is the Proliferation of Porn Desensitizing Us?" It goes with a piece by Andi Zeisler of Bitch magazine, who wrote a San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed in July 2004.

The article is nowhere near as alarmist as its headline. Zeisler is the co-founder of Bitch, a 9-year-old publication with a circulation of 47,000.

Any religious organization looking to high-five Zeisler for fighting against porn will be greeted by ads in Bitch for a different kind of witnessing T-shirt: "I had an abortion."

Zeisler continues to critique the "jarringly retrograde" side of pornography in 2005. As she wrote in her Chronicle piece, what worries her in the new porn is the old problem of objectification of women. "We take our cues from the dominant culture, after all, and the dominant culture lately happens to be less about our bodies, ourselves, and more about pneumatic blondes with extremely tidy pudenda. ... If the porning of America has made baroque displays of flesh and lust commonplace enough not to shock, it has also taken away the underlying questions of power and agency that once accompanied them."

From her desk in Oakland, Zeisler says, "I got a call from the guys and I heard what they had to say—I thought they were an interesting organization. They asked me to email them back and start a dialogue. I never got around to it, partially because I was busy, and partially because I felt it was possible they were picking and choosing from the article. What I was talking about was the way porn has permeated culture, fashion and the lingo."

And Zeisler doesn't agree with what she calls the "gateway" theory of porn dependency.

"Like so many other cultural phenomena, porn deserves to be looked at with a little more nuance. As for the argument that as soon as you build tolerance, you'll head for the heroin of porn—it doesn't have to be that way. Porn can be sex education, it can be legitimate culture, and people have a right to it." Day's feelings about porn are also in transition. "My views changed. What attracted me about Zeisler's article was that it talked about how porn has power and impact."

Like Zeisler, Day is concerned about the way the gravity of porn draws in popular culture, such as the "stripper chic" clothing from tweens.

"We mention the teen-modeling sites, 11-to-12-year-olds in cheesecake poses," Day notes. "I saw this stuff, and I said, holy crap."

Missionary Positions includes a visit with a professional porn cameraman named Jimmy D. For the sport of it, D. decided to make common cause with xxxchurch.com. ("I agree with them, porn sucks!" D. chortles.)

In digitally blurred footage in Missionary Positions, D. is caught shooting a particularly ugly "A to M" sequence. (Don't ask.)

Day comments, "After she saw that Jimmy D. footage, my wife said, 'Thank you very much for ruining porn for me forever.' Funny how much the porn scene has changed—how it's been pushed to this point."

"We did an article in Bitch," Zeisler notes, "on what we call 'humilitainment'—footage of women on the web who were promised money, then beaten, bruised and not given the money, either. When writing about porn, Extreme Associates wasn't what I was talking about—that's worth a whole book right there. From what I've read, some of the women didn't know what they were getting into. But that doesn't mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater. "

Zeisler is referring to material Day didn't put up onscreen; the excesses of "gonzo porn"; rape, choking and vomiting films by Max Hardcore or Extreme Associates—"all just a few clicks away from your desktop," Day stresses. The most recent federal government effort to crack down on gonzo porn ended in failure on Jan. 20. U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster in Pittsburgh, Pa., threw out the case on the grounds that it restricted the individuals' right to consenting activity in the home.

The husband-and-wife team of Robert Zicari and Janet Romano faced 10 counts of obscenity. If Black and Romano had been convicted, they could have spent 50 years in prison or paid $2.5 million in fines. The subject matter of their film, Forced Entry, wasn't obscene in itself, having appeared in Oscar-winning movies as varied as The Accused, with its gang-rape scene, or the Neil Jordan picture Mona Lisa, with its inclusion of the scary-but-pleasurable-to-some practice of fisting.

New Attorney General Gonzales is taking up where Ashcroft left off and reinstating the case.

Director Day notes a new avenue for regulating porn—OSHA protection for the actresses against hazardous situations at work. Another possibility, much discussed online, is the possible expansion of 18 USC 2257. This law is responsible for the citation at the beginning of adult movies, certifying that all actresses are over 18. Expansion of the law to websites would mean that each purveyor would have to keep records on performers. Given the cut-and-paste nature of the Internet, this might chill Internet porn.

Faced with gonzo porn, the ordinary light consumer of adult images becomes like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. Pro-First Amendment bloggers like pornblog.com denounce the evils of gonzoist Max Hardcore. And pro-constitutionalists have to wince at the way patriotism is the first refuge of the scoundrels.

Craig tells me, "I'm not in favor of banning porn. For one thing, it's not going to happen. I think for some people it doesn't become a problem. It's like alcohol and drugs, some don't become addicted. For Christians, our faith says not to watch porn."

Day claims, "I'm still behind the First Amendment, but watching porn is like a right to smoke, it's not without risk. I'm all for adults looking at what ever they want. This is a medical issue, not a political issue. Maybe the answer is labeling porn, just like cigarettes."

Oneangrygirl.com is a porn-opposing site that offers an anti-porn "cheat sheet." This wallet-sized card gives rebuttals to common pro-porn arguments like "It's just sex," "It's just pictures" and "Women buy porn." The site master "Jill" hates porn, but she's also against banning porn outright.

"First of all," she writes, "there are already various obscenity laws on the books, but these are rarely enforced anymore because it can be very expensive to go to court against the porn industry lawyers. ... However, while I believe pornography is gradually poisoning our country, I do not believe that censorship is the solution. ... I favor education as the solution, by which I mean that if you give people enough information, they can be persuaded to give up porn voluntarily. And that is what my site tries to do."

Sinners Beware!

And now for a cautionary message from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:

Pornography, with its sleazy filth, sweeps over the earth like a horrible, engulfing tide. It is poison. Do not watch it or read it. It will destroy you if you do. It will take from you your self-respect. It will rob you of a sense of the beauties of life. It will tear you down and pull you into a slough of evil thoughts and possibly of evil actions. Stay away from it. Shun it as you would a foul disease, for it is just as deadly.
President Gordon B. Hinckley,
President of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

We now return you to this article.

Since so much of the idea of the smut-glut is anecdotal, here's mine.

In many religions, it is essential to keep the faithful in line by stressing that today's adulterer is tomorrow's murderer, just as surely as today's puppy is tomorrow's dog.

Similarly fallacious is Steve Gallagher's idea that his porn addicts prove the essential dangerousness of porn. This is like saying, "The best evidence against the notion that food is OK is the testimony of the morbidly obese."

As a longtime, earnestly dedicated sinner, I have not found escalation of sins to be a problem. Covetousness, gluttony, sloth and avarice still work their age-old magic, and I don't spend my days dreaming of the eighth deadly sin that someday someone will invent. The same kind of porn does the same reliable job it did decades ago. There is something essential to the nature of vanilla that keeps it Earth's favorite flavor. Moreover, easily available doesn't mean most popularly consumed.

Lastly, how does one separate the cruelty in some porn from other forms of ordinary cruelty? The production of food, clothing and fuel is a far crueler process than most nice people like to think about.

As for oneangrygirl.net's claim that "depictions of subservience perpetuate subservience," it is opposed by Angela Carter's early and excellent defense of porn, The Sadean Woman. Carter deems porn as "nobly enough, art with a job to do," and stresses that just because its images oppressed in the past, doesn't mean they'll do so in the future.

And as for the XXXchurch.com: they may have their share of enemies, but they also have a new friend.

Their current mascot has a little more stature than Rex the Rabbit. He's the 25-foot-tall inflatable "Wally the Weiner."

A frankfurter, I ask delicately, with eyes and a mouth and such?

No, not quite, Craig answers.

Wally (wallytheweiner.com) was first erected at the Video Game Award shows, where he served as the backdrop for an impromptu award ceremony for such honors as biggest-boobed video game character. Then, Wally went on to Jacksonville for a standup, so to speak, at the Super Bowl parking lot.

Mike and Craig's idea is a "Michael Moore meets the Truth campaign" tour of America.

"We've caught a lot of flack at xxxchurch.com. ... Wally wasn't made to offend, but a lot of people haven't liked him. What we're doing doesn't look at lot like our parents' church. We don't want to lose support, but we do want to draw attention to what's going on out there."

Porn is not going away, and neither is the xxxchurch. This country may have mixed feelings about smut, but everybody loves a wiener.

Thanks to Felipe Buitrago for help with this article.

Missionary Positions, a documentary by Bill Day, plays March 11 at 9:30pm and again March 13 at 4:30pm at Camera 12 in San Jose as part of Cinequest, with an added show March 11 at 10pm at University Theater, SJSU.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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