There’s a few things we all know will trigger a response in conversation: sex, religion, money and politics being the most common. Those topics are usually the makings of a lively debate, anger inducing conversation, occasional agreement and in some situations, those topics when spoken of and shared can forge a new friendship or end one.
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Imagine that you have just boarded a flight from New Jersey to Los Angeles. You are tired after having worked for three 12+ hour days; all you want is an easy flight and to be home. What if the person randomly seated next to you, begins to insult what you do for a living and who you are as a person while using God to prove their points for the 5 1/2 hour flight?
This scenario happened 3 days ago to Jessica Drake, a respected sex educator who also happens to be an adult film performer. While returning from EXXXotica in New Jersey, she experienced something that few of us ever will. It was (and is) so outrageous and insulting to her professional and personal community in her opinion, she wrote a blog about it; that blog has been making waves.
For those of you not familiar with the world of adult entertainment, here is a snapshot of a trend geared toward the porn and sex worker community. In the last decade or so, there are several faith based organizations, who are vying for time with adult entertainers and sex workers; the most visible of them all is XXX Church led by Pastor Craig Gross.
If you have even been to the AVN Awards, EXXXotica, AEE, or any of the adult fan events that take place each year, you will recognize XXX Church by the tag line, “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.” Their booth at each show is well branded and always hosted by a team of individuals eager to interact with fans and performers alike.
XXX Church’s mission is, “..to get people off of porn”; they believe that pornography is a debilating addiction. In doing so, they have immersed themselves within the adult community and attend events where performers and consumers alike gather so they can hand out bibles and support or encourage those who work in porn or those who they hope will someday leave the industry.
XXX Church was invited to Exxxotica New Jersey last week, where they helped to support The Hotties Suite. The Hotties Suite is where female adult performers go to change wardrobe, get hair and makeup services or just relax while they are working the event. XXX Church’s role was to staff the suite with volunteers, who would offer free services for performers who wanted them.
One of the volunteers from XXX Church who offered makeup services for performers during the 3 day event, did more than touch up lipstick and hair; she carried and shared offensive opinions about these women, she and her organization claim to love, respect and serve.
As Miss Drake was burrowing into her window seat on her long flight home, she noticed a young woman as her seat mate. The 22 year old began to chat with a man in the aisle. Drake wasn’t paying any attention until she heard the young woman say that she was, “in ministry”. This piqued Drake’s curiosity and she began to listen more intently to this young woman. When the man in the aisle asked her what she had been doing in New Jersey, the XXX Church volunteer replied, “I’ve just spent 3 days with sketchy porn stars, ugghhh...”. As she said it, Jessica Drake watched her wriggle her face and body in disgust as if the experience repulsed her. After Drake had finally had enough of this young ladies monologue, she said loud enough for surrounding passengers to hear, “I’m a sketchy porn star and what you just said is very un-Christian.”
This statement got the young ladies attention. “She was very shocked when I said it and caught unaware, I’m sure she was embarrassed and I’m sure she was a little bit afraid too. She had put us in in a category where we’re all bad people, now she’s sitting next to one and she made her (Drake, speaking of herself) angry.” Drake said.
The young woman tried to recover and explain herself to the man in the aisle, not to Drake, yet almost addressing her, continued to say, “I’m sorry about that, but it just affects me so much when I see these guys take advantage of these women, they’re so mistreated and these poor girls are so unhappy” and that made me more upset.” Drake told me.
After this, Drake began to explain to this woman not only why she was wrong, but that she was a hypocrite and contributing to a larger problem. “The reality is, most people look down on adult stars. They generalize us and they victimize us and Im really tired of hearing it.” Drake said.
Drake decided to be the bigger person and instead of debating for 5 hours, she turned to her blog and decided to write about it. “I blogged while I was sitting right next to her and the thing that really got me, was that I knew who she was working for, because it was the same organization I see at other shows that we do and I started questioning why we as an industry are even allowing this onto our turf. Why are we inviting these people, because they’re not really trying to help us, they’re just trying to spread stigma, forward the stereotype and generalize all of us. I’m really trying to reach out to some of the shows like EXXXotica and AEE and just ask them, why are we tolerating this?”
I contacted Craig Gross, the co-founder of XXX Church, to see what he had to say about all of this. After all, this woman was speaking as a representative for XXX Church as she said those words. I wanted to know how Gross vet’s his volunteers, how he trains them and what is the relationship he would like to have with the porn community. “I think at the end of the day it’s friendship. I think, it’s no strings attached friendship. Could we do your makeup, could we do your hair, do you need coffee, we’re here for you.” Gross said.
When XXX church is in attendance, they pass out stickers and bibles to reach as many as they can. While most people in attendance are there to purchase porn, be photographed with their favorite adult performers and be surrounded in an environment they enjoy, XXX Church does something different. “Consumers are walking around, getting porn and getting photos, we’re giving them a bible that says, Jesus Loves Porn Stars and it’s a clever, interesting take on a book that you may normally be disinterested in, but now you’re like, “Wow that’s a pretty cool bible.” Gross said.
Handing out bibles at a porn convention begs the questions, does XXX Church do this to save people who work in porn and people who consume porn?
When XXX Church started 11 years ago, they never imagined they would become this popular. You can find XXX church at 11 adult conventions a year and they are very busy. Due to attending so many conventions, Gross relies on key people in each city where the event is held, to find, “…a group of like minded people, to be volunteers. It’s a blend of people we just met and people from our staff, or people that have been on previous trips. It is a blend of new and old people.” Gross told me.
So was this volunteer someone who fell through the cracks? “The interesting thing about this situation, is that it’s a girl from LA that I know quite well.” Gross said while also telling me that she is no longer a volunteer due to her inflammatory remark about porn stars being sketchy people. Gross also reiterated he would never use the word sketchy to describe the porn community.
After spending quite a bit of time on the XXX Church website and their social media, they appeared to be more of a business than a ministry. They sell accountability software, to help people stop using porn. They also filmed a reality show of sorts, that features Gross and some other gentleman driving around in a hearse, with the words ‘porn kills’ on the side of it. You can watch The Porn Kills Tour for about $12 or host their speakers at your venue for a price. XXX Church has a lot for sale, when it comes to their brand of salvation.
Gross mentioned his friendly relationship with Ron Jeremy at least a dozen times when I spoke to him and hopes that maybe the good that will come from the incident with Jessica Drake, is to be able to develop a relationship with her. Pastor Gross hopes that her willingness to accept his apology means that she is forgiving and perhaps now they can forge a friendship.
When I told Drake what Gross hopes, she told me, “I have a lot of respect for Craig, just because he reached out to me to apologize. As far as forgiveness goes, I’m a really forgiving person. But, I think the situation is certainly not over or that my accepting his apology on behalf of XXX Church, means there is an open door of communication between me and the organization. While Gross explains that his organization feels they have a message to get out, I too feel like I have a message that I want to get out as well. The reality is, organizations like XXX Church are trying to save people who don’t want to be saved. I think that’s the bigger issue. I think that they are coming into our territory under the guise of doing this very positive spiritual outreach, when the reality is, I think their actions more closely mirror the behavior that I saw on that airplane.”
Hearing this caused me to wonder about what Drake had to say. This is the first part of a series on Faith-based organizations, who seem to make it their business to bring their version of God to the adult industry.
Are they charlatans or are they shepherds? My next blog series will be dedicated to speaking to talent in the adult industry, interviewing and featuring the reality of the goals and vision of these organizations who claim to help, in order to really find out if these are honorable organizations or if they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Brace yourself. There is a long list of present and former staff, volunteers and donors with plenty to share. I have and will be requesting everything from hard copies of training manuals, HR directives, financial records, Board of Director interviews and more.
And, for the record, I’d like to make something very clear. This is not an attempt to discredit people of Faith, who are motivated to do good for those who are marginalized. No organization does it right or gets it right 100% of the time. Organizations are run by people. People are flawed. But when you use religion and God to justify your work, you had better believe that the truth will come out. A friend of mine is fond of saying, “I love to catch people doing good!” There’s a lot of good that I’ve discovered and there’s also a concerning element of profiting from people who are already treated poorly simply because of the work they choose to do.
Some of what you read will inspire you. Some of what you read will enrage you. In the past 48 hours of research and interviews, I had to ask myself and others some hard questions about what they believe about God, people, porn, money, the politics of doing this type of work and more. Stay with me, it’s going to get interesting for XXX Church and several others in the coming weeks.