Ian Henderson lost his father shortly after finding out he had been using child pornography. He tells Heather Tomlinson how God got him through.
After Ian Henderson finished preaching at a youth event in Manchester in 2007, he received a voicemail that would change his life..
‘It was from my mum saying, “Your dad’s been arrested and I need to talk to you,”’ explains Ian. ‘“The police have come to the house and are starting to take away computers and files.” For a little while we didn’t know what was happening and what it was about. Then I found out he’d been arrested for having indecent images of children on his computer at work.’
Ian’s dad had been using pornography for 20 years. Throughout that time he had a high profile Christian job and attended a church. He was reported after lending his computer to someone at work.
When he was arrested, his dad told the policeman, ‘That’s it. My life is over, isn’t it?’ The whole family suffered, as his crime was reported in the local newspapers. ‘He saw the implications, and the consequences meant that he was going to lose everything,’ says Ian. ‘He had to leave his job straight away… had to face up to the darkest parts of him being revealed to us, his family, and the wider community.’
There are many questions left unanswered for Ian, because weeks after being arrested, his dad was diagnosed with cancer. He died soon after being convicted, having been given a suspended sentence so he could go to a hospice. Ian struggled with the lies his dad had told, as well as feeling ‘sickened’ at what his dad had looked at.
‘When we spoke to him afterwards, he described it as having a little box in his mind,’ says Ian. ‘He could open it, and he had the ability to shut it, and for it to not affect the rest of his life – his work, his family, and his church life.’
Ian’s voice still reveals the pain that he feels about what happened. But he also describes how God worked in a desperate situation. His father was counselled by the church leadership and was able to receive forgiveness before he died.
‘For us as a family, for the first year or so, we were trying to deal with how you forgive people, dealing with all those emotions,’ says Ian. ‘My mum was an incredible model of faith, how she responded in that process. She didn’t throw him out of the house or anything. He was at home with Mum, and then diagnosed with cancer very quickly. She was caring for him…having the knowledge of everything that had happened. She showed huge amounts of grace and forgiveness.
‘For all of us, we had the journey of trying to make sure that unforgiveness didn’t eat us up, and the bitterness and anger didn’t come, that they didn’t take hold. My dad’s life had been impacted and affected by this… we were desperate that it didn’t go wider. My main response for a long time was making sure I was in a place of forgiving him, and making that decision often, continuously.’
For some time, Ian tried not to think too much about what had happened, other than dealing with the direct consequences. ‘I certainly wasn’t looking to start a campaign or start to think about recovery for people who fight and struggle with porn,’ he explains.
But when he was praying and asking God about his future, Proverbs 9 spoke to him clearly. ‘Folly says to people passing by [that] stolen [water] is sweet and food [eaten in secret] is delicious,’ he explains. ‘Even as I was reading this, I was sensing, that sounds like the enticement that porn has for people. It ends with saying, but in folly’s house ‘the dead are there… her guests are in the depths of the grave’ (v18). I felt God quite powerfully imprint on me that this was the journey that Dad had had, that [porn] felt good but was all about secrecy, but there was this consequence of death and destruction. I began to hear God challenge me that this was not just happening in Dad’s life, it’s happening to everyone.’
He believes that his dad’s problem began with a normal pornography addiction, leading to the ultimate interest in deviant forms of porn. From Ian’s campaigning, he has heard many people talk about their journey from ‘normal’ porn into violent forms, even getting to the point where they are no longer aroused by normal sex with their wife. So Ian wants to help people who have a porn problem get help. ‘We make it worse for people by not talking about it; it increases the power of the thing, it increases the shame and the guilt,’ he explains. ‘We’re meant to be convicted but not condemned. This is one of those areas in the Church where people do feel condemned rather than convicted and empowered to live differently.’
This has led him to begin a campaign called the Naked Truth for Christians to pray for the problem of pornography, and challenge our culture on porn’s effects, as well as providing places for people to find healing and a way to stop. ‘The project seeks to open eyes and free lives from the destructive power of porn,’ he says. He is developing a website with help and recovery resources, counselling, and beginning self-help groups connected to local churches. They’re also going to use art and media to challenge the public’s beliefs about porn as a ‘bit of harmless fun’. He wants to encourage people to talk about the problem to break the stigma, which can perpetuate the problem. In fact, he knows that it stopped his dad from getting help. ‘He’d once seen a leaflet for some sort of a recovery centre where they were specifying sexual addiction,’ he says. ‘He knew that was what he needed, but he felt he could never get that help, because it would mean everything coming out in the open.
‘Even in his own thinking, perhaps very early on, when it was just a porn addiction… he would have felt he didn’t want to risk people knowing – the humiliation and the implications of what that was. He kept it quiet and kept it secret. So it got worse and worse and took more and more control of his life.’
Ian is hopeful that his work will lead to many finding freedom from pornography. ‘I genuinely believe in the restorative, redemptive power of the gospel, taking brokenness and restoring it,’ he says. ‘The story that God is writing in my life is one of when things get smashed and broken because of sin, but that God can restore stuff. Sometimes he makes something new, sometimes he makes something beautiful out of the broken bits. Already there are people I know who are getting set free and receiving support and help with long-term porn. We’ve already got a group where that’s happening. My dad didn’t get that help.
‘That’s what God does. The story doesn’t end with brokenness and with sin winning. I’ve got big dreams… of thousands of lives being impacted. There is a sense of God saying, “I bring streams in [the] desert, I breathe life into dry bones…[there is] resurrection from death.”’
Ian Henderson is executive director of the Christian charity The Message Trust, and the founder of the Naked Truth project. nakedtruthproject.com