Pornography seems to be a taboo subject within most churches, but its increasing impact is reaching into the Christian church, according to a comprehensive survey about porn use in America and the church.

The survey was conducted by Barna Group and was commissioned by Josh McDowell Ministries, a campus crusade for Christ ministry based in Plano, Texas.

Gene Bracken, pastor at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Russellville, said he believes that it was McDowell, while speaking at a Kentucky Baptist event, who said the average age of first exposure to pornography was 8 years old. Bracken said he’s not sure if pornography is a taboo subject in the church, but it must be addressed with discretion.

“When I preach, I usually have young children in the audience. There are some issues that are just too big a burden for tender ears. There are also in attendance many senior adults that are of a generation that considers such openness to be entirely improper. However, there are other occasions to speak about such issues,” Bracken said in an email.

Nearly 3,000 people participated in four online studies, including in-depth surveys among the general population, American teenagers, Christian pastors and the Christian church. It was found that 70 percent of Christian youth pastors have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with porn in the past 12 months and 21 percent of youth pastors and 14 percent of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn. About 12 percent of youth pastors and 5 percent of pastors said they are addicted to porn.

Crossland senior pastor Gregg Farrell said he’s not afraid to mention pornography on a regular basis because if the church isn’t talking about it to their youths, then the world is and the church need to be wary of that.

“Somebody else is going to fill in that blank. We ... should be filling in the blanks,” Farrell said. Pornography is “destroying lives, it’s ravaging marriages and homes and it’s not a victimless act. It’s a cheap substitute for the real thing.”

Farrell agrees that pornography is an issue in the church and has heard of teenagers and young adults having an issue with it.

“Every person has the ability to sin, and my hope for people is not to make them feel badly about what they’re doing, but to think rightly about what they’re doing,” Farrell said. “As bad as it might seem, God is still capable of healing you.”

The study’s findings said pornography use was particularly evident among teens and young adults, with 27 percent of young adults 25 to 30 first viewing pornography before puberty. Whether they are seeking it out or not, 16 percent of young adults said they come across porn daily and 32 percent do so weekly; an additional 23 percent said they do once or twice a month.

When it comes to teens, 8 percent said they come across porn daily and 21 percent do so weekly; an additional 21 percent said they do so once or twice a month.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green minister Peter Connolly said it’s normal and to be expected that young people will be curious about sex and seek places to explore it, but he does agree with McDowell that when we objectify and demean life by removing the sanctity of the human person, our future is at risk.

“It’s very unfortunate, but not surprising, that the Internet has made pornography freely available and accessible to young people, thereby turning something meaningful and potentially beautiful into something superficial and potentially meaningless,” Connolly said in an email.

Seventy-one percent of adults and 85 percent of teens and young adults who have viewed pornography did so using online videos. Also, the study found that 66 percent of teens and young adults have received a sexually explicit image and 41 percent have sent one usually from/to their significant other or friend.

Connolly said he’s had several church members who discovered their teenagers had been “sexting” (sending sexually explicit photos of themselves to partners or potential partners), but no one has approached him about porn addiction.

“Anything taken out of context and worshiped as an ultimate good is idolatry in Christian terms. It also constitutes a sinful act in that it changes a God-given good into a commodity; people are not objects. They should not be treated as commodities,” Connolly said in an email.

Participants were asked to identify what is porn. The results showed that 70 percent agreed that if it’s watched, listened to or read specifically for the purpose of sexual arousal, then it’s porn, and 60 percent also agreed that if you masturbate while watching, listening to or reading it, it’s considered porn.

The Presbyterian Church director of youth ministries David Muffett said people are afraid to share their struggles and issues because they don’t want to be stigmatized in the church. He said just like the rest of society, pornography is an issue with people in the church because we are all human and sexual beings.

“They are teenagers and young adults with raging hormones, of course they’ve viewed pornography in some form,” Muffett said. “It’s objectifying the human body as just a sex object. By viewing porn, it can actually start to erode their own sexual preferences and disorder their sexual arousal template, which is what they find sexy and are aroused by.”

There are several websites and campaigns dedicated to helping fight porn addiction. Two that were mentioned by local pastors were fightthenewdrug.org and xxxchurch.com.

— Follow faith/general assignments reporter Simone C. Payne on Twitter at twitter.com/_SimonePayne or visit bgdailynews.com.