When I began writing almost five years ago, I wrote about sex. In fact, I took a year of my sex life and blogged about every sexual encounter I had; I was even voted San Francisco’s Sluttiest Blogger in 2010. One of the things I chose to do during my year-long project and after was sex work. From 2011 to 2012, I was a phone sex operator and an erotic service provider in Northern California. My history and values are why I take it personally when I hear of anyone in the adult industry treated poorly or if manipulation to further an agenda that has nothing to with helping them takes place (for example, Pink Cross).
Over the Summer, I came to terms with my own relationship with God; I consider myself a person of faith; it’s another empowered choice I have made as an adult. Seeing people who profess to represent God and yet act with disrespect towards people they work(ed) alongside of and claim to help is far from acceptable.
Most people have preconceived notions about anyone who works in the adult industry. A good friend of mine after reading Part I of this series, who also works within the sex industry said, “I can genuinely say that I’ve never met as amazing of a group of people as I have in the adult industry as a whole. And the longer I’m in it the more I realize that it may be a result of the outside world’s perception of “US” and what we do. We’re a family and there are days where it’s us against the world.”
People who work in the sex industry have to constantly defend themselves and their choices; society has deemed any form of sex work less desirable than other jobs. Upon reading Jessica Drake’s Blog about what happened to her on that plane, I found it utterly offensive; mainly because the person who was responsible for that transgression, identified herself as a person of faith who was volunteering with a Christian ministry leading up to the incident. When that young woman said that she was surrounded by “sketchy” porn stars – suggesting that three days with them left her soiled – filled me with outrage and disappointment.
Because this young woman was representing XXXChurch, I held them responsible for her behavior. After two years of having an interest in ministries and organizations who claim to help those who are within the industry, this incident made me want to finally give my attention to Craig Gross, XXXChurch and organizations like it. When a volunteer of a well-known faith-based organization, makes a mistake of that grandeur, it makes me wonder about the leadership of that organization. That is why I have spent the last six weeks, looking into these organizations, to see who are charlatans and who are shepherds. No one is more surprised about my discoveries than me. The following is what I have come to learn about Craig Gross and XXXChurch.
For the record, I do not believe Gross tells his volunteers that porn stars are sketchy; I believe he doesn’t invest time reminding volunteers that they are people, just like everyone else. Gross told me in our first conversation that he, “...really [doesn’t] have a screening process for his volunteers.”
Why isn’t there a screening process? To hear Gross explain it, XXXChurch is in such high demand at adult expos and events, he relies on people in the cities holding the events to find volunteers for each show: “I think this year will be 11 shows that we’re in, from Australia to Canada. We don’t have a team, I mean we need help. We will normally work with a great key contact in that city and have them rally some like-minded folks, that will join our team. So, it’s a blend of people we just met and people from our staff, or people that have been on previous trips.”
What that means is that almost anyone can be a volunteer for XXXChurch at adult industry events, with no formal training, based on someones opinion of them being acceptable. Is Gross potentially more interested with XXXChurch being present at adult expos and receiving media coverage than on how volunteers representing the organization he leads are trained or how they should treat the people they claim to serve? Many believe so. First, a little background:
The idea for XXXChurch can be credited to a man named Mike Foster. Foster and Gross felt called to start a ministry helping people get off of porn because they saw it destroying some of the younger boys and men within there church. After two years with XXXChurch, Foster left it in the hands of Craig Gross; the direction that Gross took Foster’s initial vision allegedly didn’t seem to fit into the ministry Foster had in mind. In a documentary about XXXChurch, Missionary Positions, you see Foster remove himself in this clip because he didn’t feel XXXChurch was about helping people curb their porn addiction, but about XXXChurch getting attention.
Foster now leads his own non-profit, People of The Second Chance. Foster just released his book, Freeway, which is receiving rave reviews, now in it’s 2nd printing within 90 days and is in high demand as a respected speaker. When I contacted Foster for a comment about XXXChurch and Gross, I received no reply; no reply is something I experienced frequently. I attempted to contact Foster as well as several performers who had a history of interactions with Gross and XXX Church. From AEE, eXXXotica, Hookers for Jesus and more, I received an abundance of no comments, a few that were not responsive and also those who contacted me after being interviewed to say that they did not want to say anything after all out of concern for themselves or others.
There were dozens who used to work for Gross, who either politely declined to talk about that time in their life or asked what they shared to be kept anonymous due to fear of retaliation from Gross. Retaliation in the form of bullying and verbal abuse and Craig Gross unfortunately have gone hand in hand and still does situationally, as you’ll discover.
A frequent question raised by myself and others: Is XXXChurch a business instead of a ministry? I spoke with people on this topic. Jake Larson, co-founder of Fireproof Ministries, in May of this year said: “I mean obviously we bring in revenue to continue our work. We have four full-time employees, we have a host of contract employees and a ton of volunteers. Our funding comes from a few places, donations by individuals or churches and resources. The stuff we sell on-line, recovery workshops, shirts and speaking we travel around the world to speak on this issue and people pay us.” When I asked him how much they are paid to speak, he told me the prices varied: “It depends on the event but we have asked for as much as $10k to speak in front of people on this issue.” He also said that they do speak for free at times as well.
I do not believe it is wrong for an organization to raise funds to do good work. I believe that people giving to organizations should be made aware of how their money is used, what the leadership does and how a team functions. Chances are, some portion of the money given to an organization will go towards the salary of those leading it. People deserve to know how an organization is led if they are being asked to give or serve.
When I asked Gross if XXXChurch was a ministry or a business, he had an interesting response: “The thing that sets us apart, is that we have this window inside the world, through debating Ron Jeremy and showing up at porn shows obviously it gets a lot of attentions. I mean, I love the evangelistic side that says, “hey. we’re just really trying to be a light in a dark world, we’re sharing a message of hope.” But, if you wanna say the business side, I mean those shows cost us $100k plus dollars a year with the bibles and everything else. So, I mean, when it comes down to it, we are a business, yes, but we develop relationships with people in the industry that I would say would call us friend.”
I talked to Nina Hartley about what happened with Jessica Drake and XXXChurch in general: “I hate hate hate that they come to the expos, though, I guess, if they pay their $2, they can buy a booth like everyone else. I hate that they stick their “Jesus loves porn star” stickers on people without asking. I tear them off every time I see one, or before anyone can take a picture with me. Most people don’t know that they’re anti-porn. Some who have spoken to some of the booth folks find them creepy but I don’t engage them at all. I don’t like them there and I don’t think they’re necessary. If a performer is so conflicted as to need help in leaving, she is unlikely to have her act together enough to GET to an event like Exxxotica or the AEE. Some women want to leave and they should be able to do so without this following her for the rest of her life. Our culture doesn’t allow for that. But is becoming a professional ex-performer/Christian the answer?”
I asked Hartley what she thought of Gross personally she said: “He’s Christian, monogamous and, I guess, vanilla. In this light, I see why he thinks Porn Is Bad. Why? Because all the people who approach him are those for whom porn use/exposure/experience/performance HAS been bad and he’s there to say, “I hear you. I understand. I can help.” That’s very comforting when one is in that state. In my case, the people who approach me are those for whom porn “use,” specifically my movies, has been GOOD for them, their relationships, their sex lives, their body image, their pleasure.”
Now that a few weeks have passed since the incident on the plane, I followed up with Jessica Drake to see how she was doing: “I am less angry, but it has had a long-lasting effect on me. I am still very frustrated. I think that many religious groups have used certain performers problems to generalize an entire industry and then they perpetuate the stigma, one airplane conversation at a time. I never like to complain about problems without trying to somehow be part of the solution. This situation has led me to examine whether or not we as performers have ENOUGH resources…and I honestly don’t think that we do. I am learning more about organizations that do support and outreach without attaching a religious message or making the girls that they help look like “victims”, and I am trying to be more of an informed resource myself. I think that more resources will lead to less misguided performers being exploited by organizations under the guise of “rescuing” them.”
It’s not just that Gross and XXXChurch want to help you get out the porn industry, they want you to tell people about it. Donny Pauling, who used to be in the adult industry, called Gross when he wanted out. “Craig flew a pastor out to my house the very next day to help me with whatever I needed.” After helping Pauling with a number of challenges he faced in the beginning of his transition, they also asked him to share his story with others: “In December of 2006, they asked me to come to a church in Michigan and tell my story. Then they started asking other churches if they wanted me to come share, so I was really busy speaking for them about how they helped me and led me back to Jesus.”
Pauling isn’t the only person they have helped, who they ask to speak on their behalf, in regards to their good deeds.
Craig Gross @craig_gross7 AugThis Is What Happens When A Porn Star Finds God http://www.buzzfeed.com/hunterschwarz/this-is-what-happens-when-a-porn-star-finds-god … via @hunterschwarz
This begs the question: Would XXXChurch and Gross still help people, if they didn’t receive the amount of attention and endorsements that they do now? Judging by Gross’s social media it seems as if he enjoys the limelight:
Craig Gross @craig_gross 5 AugVIDEO // Got to be with Brittni on ABC’s “The View” this morning sharing her story. RT THIS! #xxxchurch http://abc.go.com/shows/the-view/video/PL5554876/_m_VDKA0_f1n72ja8 …
I first noticed Gross’s tweets when I interviewed Jake Larson in May, after three women in Cleveland were rescued from horrific conditions that made global headlines:
- Craig Gross @craig_gross 7 MayDue to the Cleveland story with the three kidnapped women our story is coming later in week on @Nightline
I can accept this, as Pastor Gross letting his followers know that their segment will not be shown. That’s fair. However,the following feels inappropriate.
He seemed disappointed that the rescuing of the three women, delayed his Nightline interview with Ron Jeremy. As a Pastor, I found it odd that he didn’t follow up those tweets with, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families”. A week later, the Nightline segment got bumped a second time and these were Gross’s thoughts:
When I asked people, does Pastor Gross like the attention that comes with his ministry they said:
“If it weren’t for Craig’s drive to simply get the attention focused on XXXChurch, there wouldn’t be a world-wide surge that brings people to XXXChurch. Craig’s a slick dude, he looks good, he’s always up on fashion, he’s got the right haircut if you will, he knows whats going on, he’s not your typical church pastor, he’s an intelligent guy who understands the media.”
“I think it would be very hard for him to do this work if he didn’t receive attention”
“I don’t believe he would do anything unless it was to get some type of notoriety and attention.”
“He does enjoy being front and center and putting himself sort of in the conversation, more than putting God in the conversation. He has more of a desire to be seen.”
Someone who responded to this question differently was Krissee Danger, who used to work closely with Pastor Gross: “I think that one of Craig’s least favorite aspects of being in the ministry IS the attention. I think that he is willing to put up with the media because he knows that ultimately, he is creating good in the world.”
Jake Larson said in May: “Craig is good friends with Ron Jeremy and that friendship brings us a lot of attention. We get a ton of media and it’s really helpful.” Words that are mentioned frequently when people shared about XXXChurch or Gross are attention and business.
I spoke to one of the friends Gross mentioned from the adult industry, icon Ron Jeremy. Jeremy told me that “When [me] and Gross quarrel”, he “reminds” Gross “that he would have a lot less people show up for his Porn and Pancakes breakfast, if I wasn’t there to get him the crowd.”
When I asked former volunteers and employees what he was like to work with, these were responses I received:
“I think his leadership style is dictatorial. As long as you follow his ways of doing things, you’re fine, but I don’t think he’s looking for people to challenge him.”
“You don’t want to follow someone who’s not a strong leader and you especially don’t want to work alongside someone who you feel belittled by. When I was there, if constructive criticism or feedback was offered and not appreciated, you’d get bullied, made fun of or eventually replaced.”
“He sort of rules with an iron fist.”
Pauling said: “I think that Craig has a huge heart for people who are not Christians, they can pretty much get away with anything. When you are a Christian he is very harsh, he has this opinion of how Christians should be and you need to meet it. If you don’t meet it then he is really harsh. Craig is very direct, he says whats on his mind, even if it’s not timed.”
When I asked what happened when a complaint was lodged with Human Resources:
“There was no HR Department. Complaints were discounted, his behavior was enabled and justified. His board or those who knew never addressed it to my knowledge. I don’t know of anyone who has received an apology because it was never mentioned after you’d complain.”
What I continued to find interesting is that Gross seems to not be able to work easily with those who have been with him in the past but he receives excellent critiques from industry people who he deals with on a business level. Perhaps he is simply inclined to put his best foot forward with those in the industry that do not work side by side with him and see his flaws. Pauling said: “Craig’s not really a people person, unless you’re lost from a Christian perspective.”
I asked Drake if she thought XXXChurch should be allowed to come to adult expos: “Because of my strong feeling about freedom of speech & personal rights, the short answer is yes. However, knowing that they are shaming our industry and our performers, even exploiting us to further their agendas, I think the real question is why are our expos supporting these types of people? In years past, people from the Pink Cross Organization would try to come to the Wicked booth to give the girls nail polish and bibles so we would pose for pictures with them and I was quick to catch on- I would say, “No thank you.” and refuse any gifts. They were trying to make it look like we supported them! These people aren’t a part of our industry, they’re doing more harm than good.”
At XXXChurch, their tag line is “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.” There is truth to that statement as a person of faith; Jesus does love porn stars – He loves everyone. Ghandi said it best: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
The behavior towards those XXXChurch desires to serve and to those who have worked with them, is concerning. XXXChurch is seemingly a business run by a man who has lost his way; he has used people on both sides of the porn issue he claims to care about. Sadly, his behavior towards me in emails throughout this series has caused me to believe that he is afraid and angry for what could be shared and printed. I chose to not share what was sent to me from Gross, but after being on the receiving end of his wrath via email, I believe that those who still fear him are valid in those concerns. Pastor Gross blames almost everyone except himself for this series even though it was his volunteer’s poor behavior on a plane that prompted it. I pushed back with all of the leaders of the organizations I featured; each responded quite well to me pressing them for answers. I cannot say the same for Gross and have the emails to prove it.
My hope is that Craig Gross will be held accountable for his actions and not be given a free pass so he can right some wrongs. While XXXChurch may do some good and will no doubt continue to be a presence in the industry, many have now wondered how long it can withstand a slow, internal crumbling of a leader who is reluctant to be held accountable for poor behavior and impulsive choices. If this is how he treated his past employees and volunteers, if this is how he treated me, then how would he treat those who need help that may not have the following of Ron Jeremy or Jessica Drake?
There’s a saying, a few bad apples ruin the bunch; unfortunately, I feel that is what XXXChurch and Pink Cross Foundation are doing for other faith-based organizations, who are doing some good. When I was exiting the industry, some of these organizations helped me and continue to help those I send their way. I watched them and how they interacted and dealt with people I love in the industry and with me. So thank you to Treasures, The Cupcake Girls, solaceSF and abeni.
I want to thank everyone who talked to me, especially those who chose to relive memories better left forgotten. This has been an education for me and I hope for you, the reader as well. If you are in the sex industry and need resources, they are available, but look closely; be wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing. They say to save the best for last; while I do not think XXXChurch is by any means the best, it seemed very appropriate that they be highlighted in my final piece covering this. Thank you for taking the time to read this series. I appreciate all the feedback I received.