Pornography and the Church
In an age where computers are attached to nearly everything that goes on in the church, from sermon preparation to worship slides and youth group clips, computer security is unfortunately an important issue. And with the rise of not only internet pornography, but also of so many pastors falling from grace because of sexual misconduct, it is even more important that we are above suspicion both as pastors and as entire churches. The slightest hint of scandal can bring down everything we have worked for. And more and more pastors and church workers are falling into this trap.
Whether a pastor suffers from a sexual addiction or not, many pastors spend hours every week sitting alone in front of a computer. The means to fall into pornography is there, and whether we have fallen yet or not it is an important enough issue that we need to combat it right now. Not only is this an issue for pastors and paid employees, but open computers can leave access to those same sites in the hands of teenagers and children. As a church, we cannot allow that to happen.
The Technical Side
Every time a website is visited a record is kept of it on the computer. These records can be easily checked to make sure there is no illicit activity taking place, but these records can also be altered with ease. Such records are not reliable and do not serve as any form of a deterrent to prevent viewing.
Passwords for every computer are the most basic form of protection. If every computer is safely passworded, unauthorized people can be kept from viewing anything illicit. However, it does this by adding an extra layer of secrecy because then no one can see what the leaders can, allowing the leaders to do anything without anyone knowing about it. Additionally, passwords on individual computers does nothing to stop someone who has the password from viewing pornography, and provides no accountability to stand by a pastor accused of this. In short, they aren't enough, not by a long shot.
Most internet browsers come with software built in that can be set to specific levels of sensitivity, which should be able to block all pornography. The problem is that they are passworded individually, can be turned off easily by an adult, and retain no separate record of what was viewed, but relies on files that can be deleted with ease.
Another option is to install parental control software on each individual computer. These programs are easily available, but expensive. They are generally designed to prevent accidental viewing of questionable material by children, and can easily be tailored to filter out any questionable sites. The problem is that they are not designed to stop the parents from viewing anything, and so turn off easily.
These programs might be good for general use computers in the church, ones that many people have access to, but are too easily bypassed to be used on computers that have heavy use or use by individual people.
Another alternative is software that has been designed for accountability. One software like this is X3 Watch, which comes in both free and paid versions. This software monitors traffic as it is viewed and so deleting the record of them afterwards does not help. The software then sends questionable links via email to several people of your choose.. It also records when it gets shut down and emails that so any blank time periods can be questioned as well.
This software is strong because once started no password shuts it off and uninstalling it or shutting it down only sends a violation email. The most important element of this type of software, however, is that it not only monitors but reports what is going on to a third party.
Most churches have internet coming into a single router, which is then divided up and sent to all the rooms in the building. Most routers can be set to monitor internet traffic from all of the computers in the church, and because a router is something most people don't know how to work, it is much safer from tampering.
Some routers also have the capacity to block some sites, or to filter the internet for the entire church. This can be an effective back-up system, but shouldn't be used as the primary method of protection for the church's internet.
The Personal Side
All the technology in the world isn't enough to keep someone from viewing something if they really want to. We can all find loopholes and ways around programs given enough time and motivation. What makes a program successful is to make sure there is a regular human element to whatever we do
Reviewing the Programs
Whatever programs are installed on the church's computers, someone needs to be regularly checking on them. All the security in the world doesn't do anyone any good if no one is checking into it. Someone who does not use any computers in the church, preferably someone on the board, should have the duty of being the person who reports get emailed to, and of accessing whatever logs there are on a regular (twice a month minimum) basis.
These reports should not be discarded, even if they are sent blank. They should be kept and filed away just in case the issue ever arises of what people are viewing. This provides accountability between the church and the people. Any irregularities in the reports should be dealt with, and explained where possible on the report before anyone forgets.
Have the Church's Response Decided Beforehand
Every church should have a plan in place for what to do if any pornography is viewed on a church computer. Confirmation as to who it was, and offers of grace, should of course be part of the plan. But not even a single instance should be pushed under the rug, for the sake of the person involved and for the sake of the church they serve.
In addition to having a person on the board responsible for viewing all reports, each individual should be encouraged to have a personal accountability partner who on a regular basis hold them accountable to what they put into their minds. This enables a specially tailored program of prevention and discipline that is truly the best defense.