Freedom Begins Here

By Lynda Wyman '07
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Choosing to Tackle Hidden Addictions

Gary B. Gray ’86 sits behind his massive desk in a front office of a building in downtown Siloam Springs. His hands are folded as he leans back in his chair and looks out the window to see cars drive past on Broadway Street. Gray, founder of Gray Communications, is a man of average height and build, with thick blond hair that is in the beginning stages of gray. His voice is authoritative and his words are articulate. He is a hard-working man who’s made a life for his family in the video production business.

I met with Gray to learn about his latest project, for which he has committed much more than the video talents of himself and his staff. Gray leaned forward in a serious manner, holding up a DVD and a brochure and pausing with a deep stare.

The product that he holds is titled “Freedom Begins Here” (FBH), a DVD and devotional book targeted at men and women who are struggling with Internet pornography. The toolkit is currently packaged in two forms: devotional study material for individuals and material for church leaders to use with members of their congregations. The toolkits are part of a larger FBH campaign, which, according to the FBH web site, aims to “shine the light of truth on the darkness by honestly talking about the problem, admitting our weaknesses and failings, and walking together in ruthless accountability.”

Gray and the team at Gray Communications have been responsible for shooting the FBH video footage, producing the DVDs, creating the brand identity for the material, designing the packaging, developing a web site, and helping to raise awareness about the campaign, which is gearing up for a nationwide launch in bookstores this fall.

It all started four years ago when Gray was in Orlando, Florida for a conference. There he met Dr. Mark Laaser, a leading Christian authority on sexual addiction. Gray and Laaser happened to be riding in a car together to an event when Gray heard, firsthand, Laaser’s inspirational and powerful story of his 25-year struggle with pornography and other sexual addictions. That conversation sparked a vision in the two men to create a video-based counseling course that would specifically address the issue of pornography addiction in a visually effective manner.

Gray had produced a number of communication pieces in the Christian counseling realm over the years, and he was eager to work with Laaser. In the months that followed, as Laaser and Gray began to work out their vision, news of the project spread. Requests began to pour in for material designed for churches and pastors to use with members in their congregations. The men took the requests to heart, and over the course of four years, the project bloomed into what is about to be the largest ever nationwide launch of Christian educational material that focuses on overcoming Internet pornography addiction.

The FBH web site offers statistics showing that 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women are addicted to Internet pornography.“Not casually looking—addicted,” it says. “Every family, every church, every person is affected in some way.”

In the March 2008 issue of Christianity Today, contributor John W. Kennedy wrote extensively about the gravity of full-fledged sexual addictions in the church. “An addiction to sex, experts say, is defined by obsessive sexual behavior regardless of the growing negative consequences for the person or their relationships,” Kennedy wrote. “The sex addict has tried to stop but hasn’t been able to do so, despite destructive results and deep feelings of shame. The addict can never hate the sin or himself enough to stop.”

The article also points out that the Internet has opened pornography to many who would never have become involved with it otherwise. Kennedy goes on to say that while some men and women may never move further than pornography and masturbation, some look elsewhere for a sexual release, and many “progress rapidly to increasingly exotic, perverse, and even illegal sexual behavior: exhibitionism, voyeurism, strip clubs, lap dances, massage parlors, adultery, prostitution, homosexual liaisons, rape, incest, bestiality, or child molestation—anything to feed the craving.”

Steve Snediker ’86 walks into the Gray Communications conference room for our early morning meeting holding a cup of coffee. He’s tall and lean and seems most comfortable in a T-shirt and pair of jeans. He smiles constantly, but his most striking features are his large, bright eyes.He moves and talks with the punch of three shots of early-morning espresso. He greets me and his Gray Communications colleague Bryson Moore ’03, a young professional whose optimism is contagious.

Dressed in jeans and a fitted blazer, Moore stands confidently, and speaks deliberately through his broad smile. The two men talk over early-morning events and upcoming decisions. They demonstrate two very different minds and talents working perfectly together to form a cohesive vision: to become a roadblock in a thriving pornography business.

“Where does the personal motivation for this project come from?” I ask. “From a personal experience,” Snediker promptly replies. “I’m a person who has walked out the other side of this, and I’ve seen how destructive and dangerous [pornography] is.”

Snediker says that he has interacted with people who confessed to him a struggle with pornography, and it has never ceased to affect him. “It’s become more than a job,” he says, his head nodding and his eyes fixed on the wall. The FBH team at Gray Communications includes Gray, his wife Jamie, Snediker, Moore, Bob Schermacher ’88, Tyler Kidd ’06, Michael Denison ’04, Jonathan Griesse ’93, Todd Robertson and Kelly Craghead. Seven of those ten people who have worked on the FBH project graduated from JBU.

“JBU not only trained these people in their education,” Moore said of his teammates, “but it also gave them all a heart for ministry.” Gray expressed the same thought in my meeting with him: “The people involved in this [FBH] project are involved in it for more than just production and vocational reasons,” he said. “This is our finest hour; this is our best material. Everyone in this office is stepping up and wanting to be involved with this project.”

Featured on the FBH DVD are Dr. Gary Smalley, president and founder of the Smalley Relationship Center, and Ted Cunningham, founding pastor of Woodland Hills Community Church in Branson, Missouri. The two men lead viewers through the FBH curriculum, which includes testimonials from contemporary Christian singer Clay Crosse and his wife Renee, in-depth teaching by Laaser, and personal accounts of men and women who have found freedom from sexual addictions.

The individual toolkit includes a devotional book, which viewers use to chronicle their journey through Laaser’s video teaching. The lessons define sexual addiction, describe how to recognize it, and help viewers learn how to move away from sexual addictions. The toolkit for church leaders holds three DVDs: The first speaks to church leaders, admonishing pastors and leaders to have accountability set up in their own lives. The second is an assessment DVD that helps viewers recognize problems within a church and in individual lives. The third DVD walks church members through the process of responding to sexual addictions within their church bodies. The church toolkit also contains a CD-ROM with PowerPoint presentations, sermon transcripts, icebreakers, and other materials that leaders can use with their church members.

“Most of the pastors we talk to know that this is a problem, but they aren’t sure how they are supposed to fix it,” Moore said. The FBH material is designed to fill that gap.This project has been a perfect example of what JBU tries to do with its head, heart, and hand philosophy. [JBU] infused us with a desire for our trade, but also developed a desire to use our faith in the marketplace.”

Sean Mercadante, a Virginia man en route to serve as associate pastor at a church in Hawaii, attended an FBH reception in Lynchburg, Virginia in February. He learned of the FBH materials through an e-mail he received from the Smalley Relationship Center.

“What initially attracted my attention is when I got an e-mail from the center,” he recalled. “When I see [Smalley] attaching his name to a project, it carries a lot of weight with me. The more I’ve learned about [FBH], the more I can see it stands the potential to impact and help not only me personally, but also so many people on so many different levels.”

At the reception he attended, Mercadante discovered that contemporary Christian artists Rush of Fools is teaming up with FBH. In the spirit of ministry and philanthropy that many bands are exercising today, Rush of Fools decided last year that FBH would be their ministry of choice to promote and support. “The young men in the band are so passionate,” Mercadante said. “I was touched by the commitment and dedication shown by the band and by Bryson [Moore]. It’ll be a great blessing to God’s people.”

Kevin Huguley, Rush of Fools guitarist and songwriter, said that the band is committed to what FBH is trying to do. In an interview with Christian music web site CM Central, Huguley discussed the band’s involvement with FBH, saying that none of the band members have struggled with sexual addictions. “But we’ve all been affected by it, in our churches, and in friends and leaders we’ve seen fall,” he said. “Nobody is talking about these issues. Marriage and sexuality are not being portrayed as God intended through this crisis, and a whole generation is observing this distortion.”

During the spring, Rush of Fools traveled with the Christian band The Newsboys as part of the “Go” tour, and they spent time promoting FBH at the FBH receptions. “We’re looking forward to bringing this issue forward from the stage on our next tour,” Huguley said. “Right now we’re meeting with pastors and others in the coffee shops to share the heart of the ministry. But the next tour will involve a Freedom Begins Here presentation during the show.”

As developers and promoters of the FBH materials, the group at Gray Communications has heard horror stories of pornography use. They’ve received e-mails ranging from a description of an 8-year-old’s use of pornography to a confession from a man who was on the brink of suicide because of his addiction.

“It transcends the thought that this [project] is a business process,” Snediker said. “It’s a war and we’ve been given the privilege to create a new weapon. We’re facing an enormous crisis and we don’t understand the ramifications and results of what we are into.” Day-in, day-out, the workers at Gray Communications

are constantly refining the FBH material, hoping to improve, broaden, and sharpen their work. They are looking into possible future endeavors, such as a prevention toolkit for youth, a toolkit for group studies, and a toolkit for spouses of people who struggle with pornography addictions. Gray said that all those involved with the project have worked longer hours, put in more effort, and felt more connected to this project than any other.

“We’ve been exposed to a hurting world and have played a part in taking steps toward healing it,” Gray said.

The men and women at Gray Communications have a unified vision for FBH: to tear down the walls in the church that muffle the cries of too many people struggling with sexual addiction and to proclaim the truth that there is a way to break free.