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Clay and Renee Crosse
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Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography: A Conversation with Clay and Renee Crosse

By Belinda Elliott Daily Life Producer

CBN.comDove Award-winning artist Clay Crosse burst onto the contemporary Christian music scene in 1994 with his hit “I Surrender All.” He continued to climb the charts through the next few years producing more number one hits and selling out concerts around the country. No one would have known that behind the engaging voice and star status Clay was hiding a dark secret – his addiction to pornography.

In their book, I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography, Clay and his wife Renee talk about the impact his addiction had on their marriage and their journey to forgiveness and healing. producer Belinda Elliott recently had the opportunity to talk with Clay and Renee about their book as well as HolyHomes Ministries, a ministry they have created to help couples deepen their relationship with Christ and develop God-honoring households.

BELINDA ELLIOTT: In your book, I Surrender All, you are very transparent about your addiction to pornography and how it affected your marriage. How difficult was that for you, and why did you feel it was so important?

CLAY CROSSE: It was difficult at first. It really was. But after a while we are finding that people are attracted to honesty and attracted to someone who is being real and vulnerable with them. We’ve seen God use this testimony over and over to impact other people. So we are to a place now where it is more comfortable to say, “Yes, I used to be involved in pornography. That was a temptation in my life that was drawing me away, but God did a great work in my life, and I want to tell you about that.” The first time I uttered those words it was with tears streaming down my face and it was hard to even tell anyone that. This is a killer in our society. It was killing me and it was killing us.

RENEE CROSSE: I think something that has made it easier to speak about is that it is so prevalent in today’s society. We would share this testimony in churches across America and people would come up afterwards with tears coming down their faces and they would say, “You are telling our story. We are struggling with this.” Or they would say, “I’m divorced because of this.” So we realized that people need to talk about this. This is God’s message through us to the church, and it’s been powerful.

ELLIOTT: You say in the book that your descent into pornography was subtle and it was a slow progression.

CLAY: Yes, it is.

ELLIOTT: What should Christians be doing to guard themselves from that?

CLAY: They need to be aware of those subtleties. Pornography is a form of entertainment. There are many forms of entertainment. Another one is network television shows that so many people in the world watch, and I watch a lot of them, but thankfully over the years Renee and I are trying to walk in wisdom and be choosier about what we are watching.

We encourage Christians to take stock of their entertainment choices. If a man is not into pornography, but he is into television shows like the making of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, something like that which would not be considered pornography, he is slipping toward pornography if he is watching that. And it can be more subtle than that. It can be television shows that condone sex outside of marriage, which most of them do. The more people watch that, the more people begin to entertain the thought, “Hey, I can do that as well.”

RENEE: And so many of the movies today push it so far with the way they speak about sex, the way they portray sex on the screen -- and these are just rated-R movies, not even pornographic movies -- but they are so close to crossing that line into pornography that you are on a very dangerous slope to let yourself watch that kind of material. I think a good question that Clay has posed many times is, “As a Christian, do my entertainment choices line up with what I believe?” That’s what you have to ask yourself.

CLAY: So many believers, me included, will find themselves in places or watching something that at the end of the day you realize that’s not what I’m about. I shouldn’t be laughing at that or be entertained by that kind of thing. It begins that subtle slide that you referred to that can lead who knows where.

ELLIOTT: Do you think that as a culture we have simply become desensitized to that?

CLAY: No doubt about it, and we play the comparing game. We will watch a movie and tell ourselves, well it’s not as bad as that movie. We can always find a movie that is worse to tell ourselves, "This movie is actually clean compared to that." But really when you analyze what this was, maybe it was something that you shouldn’t have in your life either. We don’t tell people to stop watching movies or to stop watching television. We tell people to monitor what they are watching. It’s not being legalistic. It’s just saying let’s walk in wisdom. Let’s realize that some of this stuff is not about what we are about and it is going to drag us down.

ELLIOTT : In the book you discuss the idea of accountability and how important that is. Why is that so important and can that accountability come from your spouse? Or should you find a friend to be an accountability partner with you?

CLAY: You know, I don’t have a definitive answer on whether it can be from your spouse or not. Certainly, there should be accountability among spouses. I’ve heard it suggested that it should not be your spouse, but I can’t say that for sure because I’m sure there are some husbands and wives who could do that. But there are many who could not, because if a man is really going to be honest, a lot of it is going to affect the wife negatively.

RENEE: For us, after the general confession -- when Clay confessed those things to me, about the pornography and the problem that he had with lust – in the days that followed there were things that he would bring up again, and a month down the road it just became like pouring salt into a wound every time he would mention something else. I said, “You know, I appreciate you being honest, but let’s move forward.”

So maybe there is an older, wiser, man in the church that you can go to and talk to about those types of things, and who can ask you tough questions. How is the lust factor in your life? How are you doing? Have you viewed internet pornography? Are you slipping back into that? There are those questions that we need to be asked. And even women because we are finding – and this was a shocker to me – that the percentages are around 37 percent of women who admit to internet activity with pornography or romantic chat rooms, that type of emotional affair. So this is something that women need to be holding each other accountable for too.

ELLIOTT: If a couple is dealing with this, how do they begin to heal?

CLAY: They need to know that it can go in a new direction now and things can change. Lives can change. Even deep down desires can change. They don’t have to stay where they are. They just need to realize that there is hope. Renee and I are proof of that. We are still together. I believe we are stronger than we ever were; and it’s only because we have invited Christ into our lives in a deeper way and have a closer walk with Him.

RENEE: Both of us were believers, but up until that point we were not having a walk with God. I think it is so important that we stress being in God’s Word. I would run to God’s Word and say, “God, forgive me. Heal our home. Heal us. Teach me forgiveness.” It helped me reading those scriptures.

Prayer was also an amazing thing. Clay and I would pray at a meal, or if someone was in the hospital. We’d say a 911 prayer, you know, “Hey, so-and-so is having surgery, be with him God.” But I’m talking about really coming together as a married couple praying and seeking the Lord together, asking God to heal them, and praying in front of each other. It was one of the hardest things that we ever did -- being open, honest, and vulnerable in front of each other -- but God has brought so much intimacy and healing to our marriage through those prayers and through His Word. You’ve got to have those two things.

CLAY: The things that Renee is describing are what we like to call God’s best for our lives. He wants His best for our lives and a struggling couple needs to realize that. They can have the best. God will always deliver if you ask Him to give you more of Him. Say to God, “I want more of You. Our marriage wants more of You in it.” He is going to bring it, and couples need to realize that.

RENEE: God will never say no to that prayer.

ELLIOTT: You touched on the issue of forgiveness earlier, how do you forgive someone who has hurt you so badly? I think that is often a struggle for many Christians.

RENEE: We speak at a lot of conferences and marriage events, and I talk to a lot of women who “catch” their husband in this secret sin. It is a lot harder to deal with that, but God says to forgive. Clay came to me confessing. I didn’t catch him. He confessed and really repented. He had such a sweet spirit, and he was really just crying out to God and asking me to forgive him.

It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It was a process, but as I began to pray and say, “God how do I forgive my husband?” then He began showing me scriptures. I wanted to blame Clay for this problem in our lives and in our marriage -- how dare he do such a horrible thing and bring that into our home -- but then God would show me the scripture about the plank and the speck. It was like God said, “If you are going to look at the speck in his eye, check out the plank in yours, Renee.”

I began to see how far from God I truly was, how all the choices I was making in my life were not God-honoring choices. I was not having a close relationship with Him; I was not hearing Him speak to me and tell me those things were wrong. This was all coming around to me and I was hearing God say, “There are some changes you need to make too. I want to walk close with you, but you need to release some things that are in your life too.” And those were not pornography, but they were magazines, movies, soap operas, and things that I held so dear. It was crazy. I was taping these shows with the VCR everyday and I realized what was I watching? It was like soft-core pornography, but it was on in the middle of the day so I reasoned it was okay. God dealt with me and showed me there were issues in my life too.

I also prayed for him. I knew that it was a problem, and I could either nag him about it or I could pray for him. With God’s grace I chose to pray for my husband and to pray scriptures for him. When you start praying for someone God starts healing and the forgiveness begins flowing. You can harbor it, and it will eat you up. So I just encourage people to pray.

CLAY: Our pastor said the same thing this week. He said, “You cannot pray for someone, continually pray for them, and be mad at them.”

RENEE: God just changes your heart. Even if that situation never changes, God is still going to work in your life. There are many men who don’t view this as a problem, and the wives are hurting and crying out, asking how they can change their husbands. Nothing but prayer and the power of God can change that man. It has to be that you are praying for that spouse in that situation.

ELLIOTT: For married couples who maybe have not faced anything like this in their marriage yet, what preventive measures can they take to protect their marriage?

RENEE: “Holy Homes.”

CLAY: That’s right. Holy Homes is something that we encourage Christian homes to be. So many times they are not. We talked about television choices and entertainment choices, but it goes so far beyond that. We encourage Christian homes to be set apart for God’s glory and to be different than other homes in their neighborhood that are not following Christ. We shouldn’t resemble those homes. We should be set apart.

There are so many things that we could talk about that would describe a holy home, but it is really the basic things that as a Christian you’ve known your whole Christian life. I know that when I get out of God’s Word my life goes in the wrong direction. That’s just a simple thing that I would challenge men to do, to be in His Word and to keep their families in His Word. Whether it is keeping his wife accountable by asking her what she is reading, or teaching the truth to his children, God’s Word needs to be our guide. And prayer should resonate throughout the home, not only before meals, but dropping everything just to pray. Kids need to see that and know that is where you run to.

RENEE: It really changes the environment too. Clay and I both grew up in Christian homes and we would go to church. I used to go “do church” and then I would go home and I was “at home.” When you walk with God on a daily basis you are bringing God into every aspect of your life and that permeates your home. There is this sense of His presence in your life where it is not just something you do when you go to church. I think as Christians, we fall into that trap of we do that on Sundays or Wednesday nights, but the rest of the week I’ll live the way I want to.

And these things -- walking with the Lord, staying in His Word, being accountable, teaching your children God’s Word, teaching them to pray, and praying openly in front of them -- these are sometimes uncomfortable things to do. Satan doesn’t want us doing those things as Christian families. He wants us afraid to pray and afraid to speak God’s truth, but we have to rise up.

CLAY: Satan wants us camped out in front of the television just soaking in what the world wants to tell us.

RENEE: Yes, and he wants us not communicating with our children. It is totally opposite of what God wants for our homes. Clay and I look at our home and we think our home is still so far from being a holy home, but we are on a path now. We want it to be set apart and different, not being legalistic about it, but we want it to be a place where others see Jesus in our home and in our lives.

ELLIOTT: Clay, you also recently worked on a CD that addresses the topic of pornography. Tell me a little about that.

CLAY: It is an issue-specific CD titled Somebody’s Daughter: Confronting the Lies of Pornography. I was really honored to be asked to sing the title cut on that. There are a lot of different artists included and Renee has a testimony on it. It is a great resource for recovery groups, for men’s accountability groups, general Christian men’s groups, or women – as Renee has mentioned there are women also who fall into pornography. The album is all about that battle and what God wants for our lives.

That title cut that I sing, “Somebody’s Daughter,” is saying that as men have viewed pornography, they need to realize something about these women that have fallen into acting in those films. Men need to realize these women are not disposable. God loves them so much, and they are somebody’s daughter. When they were born they had a mother and father who loved them, whether that is the case now or not, they are God’s daughter. God loves them and wants the best for them. We as Christians should not be enjoying watching them.

RENEE: That is something too, I can remember being angry at that whole industry. I thought those people were “trash” and God really did a work in my heart before that CD even came out. Just in those years that followed He showed me they are God’s creation too. Something happened in their lives that pushed them in that direction, and we need to pray for those men and women in that industry. It is such a dangerous trap that they are caught in, and they are God’s daughters and sons.

CLAY: It really is a beautiful song. I look forward to people hearing it. It really has a punch to it. (Read an interview about the CD.)

ELLIOTT: And the book has a great message as well. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.

CLAY: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Got comments? Drop me a line.

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