IN a mirrored hotel ballroom in the Philippine capital, a group
of religious leaders convened to confront the "problem of
pornography." For three days, 160 men and women of various faiths
and nationalities discussed what they said were the effects of the
explicit representation of sexual material: child prostitution,
rape, the breakdown of family, and other social dysfunctions.
The international gathering last week was a milestone for a
decade-old, United States-based movement against pornography,
especially sexual depictions of children and "hard-core" pictures
showing people engaged in bizarre forms of sexual activity.
"This is a whole new beginning," said Jerry Kirk, a
Cincinnati-based former Presbyterian pastor who is the unofficial
leader of the movement. Dr. Kirk's group, the National Coalition
for the Protection of Children and Families, has all but eradicated
the sale of hard-core magazines and videos in Cincinnati and won
passage of two US federal laws prohibiting the exploitation of
The conference combined elements of an interdenominational
assembly, a gathering of activists, and an academic convention. At
times, the atmosphere inside the ballroom suggested what an
orientation meeting for crusading knights might have felt like.
Participants prayed, strategized, and assessed the practices of
what they saw as a base and immoral enemy. And they reassured
themselves about their motives. "I believe God has called us,"
Kirk told participants.
Presentations addressed developments in the industry, including:
* The rapidly changing technology of pornography. Although he
presented no hard numbers, Deen Kaplan of the Religious Alliance
Against Pornography (RAAP), the Cincinnati-based group that
organized the conference, said the worldwide computer network known
as the Internet "is literally filled with hard-core pornography."
"You may see less pornography in your communities," he said,
"but that's because it's being transmitted by wire instead of by
* The downside of political freedom. Religious leaders from
Russia, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa indicated that the end
of the cold war and the liberalizing of trade opportunities with
the West had brought unprecedented amounts of pornography into
their countries. "When the country was behind the Iron Curtain,"
said Sergei Riakhovsky of the Moscow Church of God, "the people
saw nothing." Since then, he added, "the flow of pornography has
* The growth of sex tourism. "The persistent sexual abuse of
Asian children by foreigners has become commonplace in at least 10
countries of Asia today," said Ron O'Grady, international
coordinator of a Bangkok-based organization called End Child
Prostitution in Asian Tourism. He described the patterns of
pedophiles - including some Western religious workers - who molest
large numbers of children during long sojourns in Asia and
sometimes record their acts on film or video.
Worldwide delegates, many faiths
The conference was remarkable for at least two reasons. First,
it drew such a variety of participants, representing more than 35
countries and 40 religious groups. Among those attending were
black-clad Roman Catholic priests, including Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago and a leader of the movement;
Mormons in impeccable business suits; a phalanx of uniformed
Salvation Army officers; a Muslim lawyer from India; a Protestant
cleric from Namibia; and an American Southern Baptist whose son is
an all-state tight-end football star.
Also noteworthy was the extent to which conference-goers
identified pornography as a cause of social ills, rather than a
manifestation of deeper problems in the way that men and women in
society perceive themselves and their sexual relations. …