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The War Within

In the fall of 1992, Leadership magazine took the unprecedented step of rerunning an article, this time under the heading “Leadership Classics.” It appeared on the tenth anniversary of the article’s original publication, along with the report that this piece “generated more mail than any other, and was rated by our readers among the most helpful ever.” Its title: “The War Within: An Anatomy of Lust.” Its author: “Name Withheld.”1

Not far into the article, the reason for the writer’s anonymity was obvious. On the first page, he told of a visit to a strip club in Rochester, New York, and then, on subsequent pages traced his descent into and walk through the pornographic underworld, a journey of almost ten years. And this was before the plague of Internet pornography.

The writer described the “ratchet effect” of exposure, its cooling effect on the passion for his wife, the cognitive dissonance between public preacher and private voyeur, and the specter of ruin, whose full horror hit him when he confided his addiction to another pastor, only to discover this pastor had sunk even farther than he. And then there were the rationalizations—that nudity was art, that Playboy had great articles, that David did worse, and that fantasizing was harmless.

His conscience and the desiccation of his spirit would not allow him to sustain the lie. He cried to God for help—and found it. It was not in “Just say no,” but in the realization that sins were not “a list of petty irritations drawn up for the sake of a jealous God,” but impediments to spiritual growth and barriers to intimacy with God.

The work of French Catholic writer, and Nobel Laureate, Francois Mauriac played a role in his recovery. Mauriac’s novel, Viper’s Tangle, and memoirs, What I Believe, were particularly helpful. A chapter on purity in the latter book spelled out the reason for recovery. It was grounded in the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

For Name Withheld, repentance was painful but necessary. In it, he found that C. S. Lewis was right—that repentance “is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose; it is simply a description of what going back is like.” And having spurned pornography for a year at the time of writing, the author offered a “battle strategy,” with ten items of practical advice, e.g., Call lust what it is; Stop feeding it.

In the winter of 1988, Leadership asked him for a progress report, which appeared as “The War Within Continues.”2 He confessed that he had stumbled once, but caught himself quickly and ran from the place. He had continued to learn that “the greatest danger of pornography lies in its false depiction of sexuality.” He noted the scars of “spoiled innocence” but gave thanks for the “Immanuel-ness” of God, in that “He is with you when you succeed and when you fail.”

Leadership passed along the letters to their anonymous author. Some “offered stern advice,” with biblical admonishments. Some scolded him for speaking so plainly of these matters, but “more than half expressed deep gratitude.” Many began with the words, “I thought I was the only one with this problem.” Hence, the great popularity of this piece and its reprint.

Of course, “The War Within” is not so much a publishing phenomenon as the reflection of a terrifying spiritual phenomenon in the midst of the Church. Just as it was vital for this man to speak plainly of the lust in his own life, the Church must address the crisis of lust in its midst. Otherwise, in impurity without repentance, it will fail to “see God.” And if the Church will not see Him, who will?


Name Withheld, “The War Within: Another Look at the Anatomy of Lust,” Leadership (Fall, 1992): 96-112. The original article ran in the Fall, 1982, issue, pages 30-48.


Name Withheld, “The War Continues: An Update on a Christian Leader’s Struggle with Lust,” Leadership (Winter, 1988), 24-33.