#15 – Interview with Sam Black of Covenant Eyes
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Covenant Eyes has helped thousands of men and women of all ages quit pornography through their patented accountability software. Sam Black was led to be a part of the Covenant Eyes team many years ago, and in this episode, we discuss both his evolution and that of Covenant Eyes. Check out Covenant Eyes at covenanteyes.com.
How will Covenant Eyes keep up with the advancements of porn through AI and VR? How big is the staff of Covenant Eyes for them to serve over 200,000 customers? What drives their organization to continue working so hard after all these years?
- Are men alone in the struggle?
- What is the amazing story behind Covenant Eyes?
- What is the correlation between porn and faith?
- What’s a way to solve the need for connection?
- Where does Sam find hope?
Andrew Love: Hello, hello, and welcome back. This is another episode of Love, Life and Legacy, a podcast that was specifically designed for you. And your name here person. We have a great interview today; his name is… there’s a guy named Sam Black. And this guy’s just a solid guy all around. Solid father, husband, and human being. And he works for a really neat organization that we’ve been somewhat of an affiliate for because we’ve been recommending their product to many people: Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is an accountability software that for a lot of people they think God’s just to spy on me. And no, it’s to help you feel like you’re not alone on the Internet. By choice. You choose to put it on your devices. And it’s super cool – the progressing along with technology. I’m so happy to have him. He was in Michigan at the time. where he lives and we just want to welcome him. Welcome to the world of High Noon, Sam Black. Hello everybody. Welcome back. I am here. My name is Andrew Love if you haven’t heard me. And today we have a guest. We love doing these interviews. Some of our episodes are just Sammy and I pontificating about different topics like masturbation, pornography, things like that. But then we also have met so many amazing people along the way, in our own journey and in disseminating this information. We meet these warriors, unlikely heroes. And one of them is Sam Black. And I remember specifically talking to him for the first time. I was traveling across the country and I was on speakerphone in my car. I think it was in the Midwest or something. I just remember your laugh. You’re very jolly.
Sam Black: I’m a jolly man! Well…
Andrew Love: There’s that wonderful laugh. And I just remember you being a really warm person. And then I finally got to meet you at the High Noon Summit in Las Vegas. And I was obviously impressed by just you as a person. But then I was also super impressed by your presentation that you did about your own child and how you’re raising your children to be really brave and courageous in the face of this, you know, exponentially confusing world. So in the area of sexuality that you’ve been working together with them to develop a healthy understanding of how to navigate these hyper-sexualized waters. So, as a man, he’s very impressive, but he’s also a part of an organization called Covenant Eyes. And we’ll have a link to that in the show notes. Which is really really an astounding organization. And they’ve invested so much into helping to make people’s user experience online, curated so that we don’t stumble and fumble as much into places where we don’t want to be. And they do that by the kind of making it accountability-friendly. So you’re not alone on the Internet so that you have somebody kind of virtually together with you, in a sense to help you not get lost. So he’s an amazing man, a part of an amazing organization and I’m so happy to have him. So welcome, Sam Black.
Sam Black: Doing well. Well, I don’t know if, I’ll try to live up to least half of what you said there and…
Andrew Love: I don’t try to blow people up. I don’t want to make you arrogant but you are amazing.
Sam Black: It’s one of those things that God keeps me humble regardless. Wow, it’s really cool. A pleasure to be here. I love the conference, we were out together. And I thought it was just so impactful and that you guys have been so steadfast. And that is so important to the church today because so often we just don’t want to talk about this in the church. Yeah. Because I had a pastor say this, and I love this quote, I have just clinged to it. But it is, the quote is this: “The modern church today, not all the church, but especially the church in America, has become an institution of respectability, rather than a hospital where the Great Physician can do his work”. And what you guys are doing at High Noon is working to make the church a hospital where the Great Physician can do this work. And I just want to be, I’m just grateful for your steadfastness and your continuing search to help change lives, to help create a new opportunities for growth so that we can put off the old man and put on the new.
Andrew Love: Absolutely! Yeah, well, it’s it’s all the more easy or I guess, bearable I wouldn’t say easy. I will never use that word in this battle, but it’s made bearable when we have co-conspirators, right?
Sam Black: Yeah, that’s right.
Andrew Love: When we have brothers in arm and sisters in arm and so that’s why I wanted to invite you on and really dig into what it is that you’re doing because you know, you’ve been at this for longer than me. And what you’re doing is so specific and it’s so good to have some people who work in broad realm. Some people work in the political sphere to help against pornography, sex trafficking, and you know. Like, personally, I know a lot of people who are really advocating against sex trafficking, and that’s extremely important. And it’s a cause that’s easy to rally behind because it’s so clearly egregious. Nobody, I’ve never seen an advocate for – an overt advocate for sex trafficking. But the unglamorous work is well, what are we doing in our own homes? Right? And that’s something that you’ve been deeply invested in, which is helping to clean up home so that people can get the kind of causal effect. The origin source of human trafficking, which is so much of it is pornography, right? Trying to clean that up within the home instead of attacking the bad guys out there. It’s also what about inside of us and cleaning that up, right. So I wanted to get into what, what is Covenant Eyes? Can you give us like an overview Do you have like an elevator pitch that you give?
Sam Black: So, covenant eyes is just simply a good way to be, to have a friend go with you wherever you go online. We invented something called Internet accountability. And the whole premise behind it is that when we have a brother or sister in Christ walking with us, as Ecclesiastics will tell us that two are better than one, they have a good return for the work that if one falls in the ditch, oh man, if he’s by himself stuck… but if he has another with him, if he has an ally, a friend, a trusted companion with him, he’s gonna get out. And so that’s what the whole principle behind Covenant Eyes is. It comes from Job 31:1, “I’ve made a covenant with my eyes not to look on a woman with lust”. That’s where Job 31 was. But frankly, it’s both men and women who are struggling with what we see and do on our devices.
Andrew Love: Oh, can I ask about that? What, what, do you have statistics on the people that sign up for your program? Are they… what’s the percentage of men to women?
Sam Black: You know, I don’t know that offhand. I know we’ve, we’ve looked at that, but it’s growing. I just had two conversations over the weekend working on a book. And I feel we’re jumping around a little bit. But I am working on a book and I, on helping pastors understand the impact of pornography and how to begin addressing it well. And, and we have a Covenant Eyes insiders group that is allowing people to raise their hand and say, hey this is something I think is important that that Covenant Eyes needs to take care of. And we’re hearing from more and more women who are saying, “This is my problem, and yet my church doesn’t recognize it as my problem. It’s just the guy’s problem. And that’s, it’s not fair to me as a woman”, they’re saying. And so, it is important that in the church, we make it safe for women to raise their hand and say I’m struggling here and I need that same kind of support. Let me go back to what Covenant Eyes is, and what our purpose is and and how it all works. So the whole idea, again, behind Covenant Eyes, you take a friend along with you, with your on your devices, and we call that person an ally. And ally is a person you can trust, who is safe, who doesn’t spill your beans to everyone else, but they can call you out, as well as call you up. Accountability isn’t so much about calling someone out on all their their failures, but calling them up to the person they want to be, desire to be in Christ. And that translates, right, to the very things we do on a daily living, not just are we reading scripture? Are we in our prayer? But what is our thought life? Like? How are we using our devices and that when we have invite someone to walk with us, and that is an opportunity for us to see that they’re the best and worst in ourselves through the lens of someone who’s being a friend to us. But we’re also giving that permission. We’re giving that permission, hey, I want you to speak into my life. So that person feels comfortable in helping you grow. And often, it’s a, it’s allies who are working together. They’re calling each other up to be who they want to be. So with Covenant Eyes, you simply download our software to all your different devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phones and tablets, Windows and Mac computers. And what happens on your screens is being monitored. Now we invented something called Internet accountability. But dramatic changes in technology have shifted. And so we now provide something called screen accountability. And screen accountability is actually monitoring the screen itself. So it doesn’t matter if you’re using the Internet, or a text or social media on your Android device or etc. If it appears on the screen, we capture that and then artificial intelligence reviews that screenshot and knows what pornography is. If it’s pornography, it will be captured and sent through into a report to your friend. Now you’re also going to see additional items as well or additional screenshots that may not be pornography, but it gives your accountability partner, your ally opportunity to see how else you’re using your devices. This is a new technology that was released just this past year, 2019.
Andrew Love: Yeah. And you had somebody from, he was like an ex-government worker or something like that, who helped to develop this?
Sam Black: Yeah. So where are we? It’s amazing how God works at Covenant Eyes. We had a PhD Mathematician with a specialty in artificial intelligence who’s working for the NSA. And he said, you know, long story short, he says, I think God can use more Covenant Eyes at the National Security Administration. He joined our team and helps us create the algorithms necessary for our, our technology team to create this artificial intelligence, image recognition software that screen reads. So it doesn’t matter where pornography comes from. It appears on the screen captured and sent to the report.
Andrew Love: That’s amazing. And so how big is I mean, it sounds like there’s Pretty big staff over there. What’s, what’s the size of the Covenant Eyes team?
Sam Black: Oh, yeah, we have more than 200 team members here at Covenant Eyes.
Andrew Love: Oh, that’s huge. Which, which departments do you guys have?
Sam Black: You know, I think I’m starting to forget how many different departments there are. But we have one set or you know, definitely, specifically to Development. Education and Training is another major department. We have what we call the User Experience Department. And that user experience is all about making our software easy to use and understand as well as making our educational resources easy to, to decipher and, and use. And so when you engage with Covenant Eyes, we want to make it easy. Yeah. And so we’re continually working on new ways to make that happen. We are also the only ones in our industry that provide free phone support. So 8am to midnight, Monday through Friday, Eastern Time, and 10 to 6 on Saturdays, Eastern Time, you get to talk to a real live human being based here in the United States. And last year, the average wait time was 31 seconds. I take that very seriously.
Andrew Love: And so what this is for people who can’t figure out the software or just general inquiry about, about user-friendliness, or what are the questions you guys get?
Sam Black: Yeah, so it might be any number of things. What’s becoming less, especially screen accountability, is there is very little interference with what you know, using our software. Now the old system, there was a little bit, it could be more, might be a conflict between an anti-virus or something; or it could be just the configuration on your computer in some way. Or they might have a simple question about you know, I’m looking at this report and I have a question about it – can you help me with that? And so those are the kinds of typical questions we’re receiving.
Andrew Love: That’s really cool. And so I had no idea you guys are that big. Do you, is it, was it a nonprofit? Because I remember I saw a presentation by the founder. And I remember this was kind of the birth of some unfortunate circumstances, right? With, he had some insurance money.
Sam Black: Yeah. So that’s a, it’s a, it’s a longer story. But the, here’s the, let me see if I can put it together for you and five minutes worth of what I see is a very beautiful story of how God redeems all things. Our founder Ron de Haas, his wife and two children were killed when they had stopped for an accident in front of them on a interstate, and a tractor-trailer filled with kerosene did not stop for all that traffic and ran through them, is horrible. It just devastated him. God blessed him some years later with his new wife, and her children, and he cares so deeply about family. And when his new sons were getting on the Internet, they just brought the Internet home and, and 1999 coming in 2000. And very quickly, Ron said, you know, this can go the wrong way. This could provide unintended consequences. And so what I want to do is train my son so that they’ll understand and be prepared for the world that they live in. So he came up with the idea that he would like to receive a report that showed how his sons were using the Internet, and that would provide them an ongoing conversation to teach, train and disciple. And one thing led to another, and he founded it; founded a way to do that, and started the company called Covenant Eyes that exists today.
Andrew Love: That’s an incredible story
Sam Black: We are not a not for profit. We’ve been a for-profit company, we kind of describe ourselves as a self-funded ministry. And very recently, Ron has changed how Covenant Eyes is working, because we’re seeing continued growth 15 to 20% year over year growth. He keeps, was continuing to receive offers to buy Covenant Eyes. But we do things that don’t make sense, because it’s about mission and passion and culture change. And he found that everyone who wanted to buy his company that want to carry on his vision, they just wanted to earn more money. And so, recently, Ron has said the only people that I can trust with Covenant Eyes and he’s in his 70s now is the people who are most invested in the, in the mission and the passion. And so he has made Covenant Eyse into an employee-owned company.
Andrew Love: Wow, that’s incredible.
Sam Black: So the person, their customer support person that you speak to on the line, the developer who’s working on the software, the user experience person who’s making sure that what you do on our site and with our software is easy to understand; those are all company owners.
Andrew Love: That’s a really cool model. It’s really inspiring because it encourages everybody to feel like an owner, right? Because they literally are an owner. But that’s, that’s wonderful. And so the mission that you have as an organization, is to, is it specifically to help eradicate pornography? Or is it more focused on just helping people have a better experience online that simply doesn’t include porn? Or how do you… are you kind of like an organization that is attacking porn or it’s more helping people to escape porn altogether? How do you see it?
Sam Black: Let me share something with you. I think this is really cool, we have what we call organizational clarity. And those come organizations that really know the boundaries of what they’re of, of their mission, are most successful at achieving that mission. And so we have four points that we call, what is, what we call our organizational clarity. The first one is why do we exist? And that statement is very simple. Its pornography is corrupting hundreds of millions of people. And we exist to change the course of history by enabling the world to overcome porn and be restored and transformed. We have this crazy belief that we can have an impact on culture and as you’ve seen what through your work with (inaudible), which Covenant Eyes funds heavily is that we aim to have an impact on culture. So that when you, you know, Covenant Eyes team and the team at the National Center on sexual exploitation work together and help train Google’s executive team on the impact of pornography was having on children. And that’s when they agreed that they would no longer sell advertising to pornography websites. That happened about over five years ago. They removed all of the pornography apps from the Play Store, and there used to be a lot. That same campaign has led to Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton, Sherwood, Holiday Inn; the hotel chains one by one agreeing that they would no longer sell pay-per-view pornography in the rooms. When you go to Walmart, you will find that Cosmopolitan is no longer in the checkout aisle for your children to gawk at. It is then moved over to the magazine section. Now you can be part of this campaign by going to endsexualexploitation.org. And there you can learn more about the Dirty Dozen list and that Dirty Dozen list help you be part of something that changes culture. So this takes all of us, together.
Andrew Love: Yeah. Going back to the organizational clarity to how do we behave? Number one is we honor God. We have optimism. We have a passion for excellence. And we have (inaudible) in service to others. Those are the four guiding principles about how we behave. Honor God, optimism, passion for excellence, service to others. You know, I think you were talking earlier about prior to starting the session, was that isn’t it easy to kind of get a feeling like maybe you’re just banging your head against the wall? I was recently asked that and I was like, I never feel that way. And that sounds crazy because I know many people in this, in this support industry, it’s, it’s this support ministry field I should say, is working to help individuals find new freedom. They’re asking for help. And for me as long as I’m providing help, serving others, caring for others, I continually have this optimism that we can help change the world. And if nothing else, I’m helping change one person’s life at a time. Yeah, just like you are. Absolutely. And we can do so much together than we can apart. And so with the name Covenant Eyes, obviously, and you say it’s, it’s a ministry? Is that an overt part of who you are? Is it, is an expression of religion in particular? Is it Catholic-based? Is it denominational, or is it just merely an inspired idea that is available? Do you find a lot of secular people also sign up for your services? Or is this mostly a religious thing?
Sam Black: The vast majority of our members, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of… it’s been a while since I’ve seen this figure. And it changes, but it’s in the 90 percentile that our members are Christians.
Andrew Love: Got it.
Sam Black: From just about every denomination you think of.
Andrew Love: Okay, and I, I’d love to talk about this because there are people, obviously, who are naysayers, right. Disbelievers who talk about you know, the fact that there’s nothing wrong with pornography and that religion imposes a sense of guilt around the error of sex, just to make people feel bad, and now we should be able to do whatever we want. And obviously, I fundamentally disagree, right. But I would love to hear your belief about why it would be mostly Christians that would be attracted to a service like yours – mostly believers, most people who want a relationship with God – that would seek out accountability. Do you think it’s based on guilt? Or do you, what would it, what’s your interpretation of that?
Sam Black: A couple of reasons, probably that people choose Covenant Eyes specifically, is Covenant Eyes, just the name itself lends itself to sounding religious. We have, we also have a decent, fairly nice number of Jewish families who are using Covenant Eyes as well.
Andrew Love: Awesome. And so do you feel like, because my impression is this that religious people have an ideal, a clearly expressed ideal. They’re striving for the kingdom of heaven in heaven, the kingdom of heaven on earth. We have, we believe that we are destined to, to be, to kind of activate the God within, if you know what I’m saying. So, in my understanding, the reason why a lot of, you know, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, I know, there’s a, I know that there are some people that are Mormon, some people that are Catholic in that organization, but they’re mostly believers. Your organization is expressively religious that a lot of people that I’m meeting are inter-denominational, but they are denominational nonetheless. They believe in God and I, I personally feel that the reason is, that we know that we can do better than this. Whereas without that awareness, it’s easy to just settle for what exists, right? Oh, well porn’s everywhere, so, therefore, it must be natural, right? Whereas a believer might come to the assumption that it doesn’t feel right in my soul. It doesn’t. It doesn’t land. And I feel intuitively because of my scriptures, because of my understanding that we are destined for something far greater than this. A love greater than what it is presently expressed. So that’s my understanding. And that’s kind of what, I just wanted to touch on that. Because you guys are doing such good work. And I just know that sometimes it can be a turn off for other people because they say, Oh, it’s a religious thing, but it’s not a religious thing. It’s like the best of what religion has to offer is being made available to all and it’s not like you guys are evangelizing. You just, you just happen to be religious people who are providing a service.
Sam Black: Andrew, that is a really, really great question. Because it taps into this, this fight. And this fight does, is, has multiple sides. I think… there’s a book and an author named Dr. Samuel Perry. He wrote a book called Addicted to Lost Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants. And right off the bat, he does a very good thing of saying, it seems like a lot of scientists today have their own bone to pick that they have their side they want to choose. And so you do have some psychologists who are just very focused on nope, no way this is never going to pornography is never going to be addictive or create compulsive behavior. It’s just you know, it’s just that you worry about your own sexual drive. And if you just became used to porn, you’d be okay. On the other hand, you have these psychologists in the same field, you have many, many more neurologists. It seems like Dr. William Doidge, Dr. William Struthers, and others who are saying no, this from a neurological perspective. This makes very much sense that it is addictive and creates compulsive behavior. Often when you see blog posts on it, they’ll just, the blogger will simply… hey this is, you’re just being ultra-conservative religious, and that’s wrong and you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t have any hang-ups about whatever anybody wants to do. And neurology just doesn’t work that way. Well, it seems pretty shallow. It doesn’t really like seem like they’re really digging. It seems like they’ve already decided in the beginning and I’m sure that others outside can look at us and go oh, well you’re, you’re biased because you want people to live up to their Christian principles of, that says don’t lust, and, and yet, that’s what pornography is all about. So what we need to do is just get rid of religion. And there’s some studies that show the more people that watch pornography, the more likely they are to leave their Christian beliefs behind.
Andrew Love: Really?
Sam Black: That’s why it’s in the front. And I’ll send you a link so that you can post that on your site that when you’re watching pornography, it’s hindering your faith. It’s actually wanting to change how you view God’s creation. You know, even though Christians as a whole use less porn, when they do use porn, they do feel a great sense of failure and shame. This isn’t, you know, oops, that was not a shame on me. It becomes, it does become sometimes a toxic shame that eats away a person’s feelings of self-worth.
Andrew Love: Absolutely.
Sam Black: Following an episode, watching porn, and masturbating, a person may feel helpless and hopeless and isolated. And maybe they feel unworthy to be called a member of the body of Christ.
Andrew Love: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I was just having a conversation with somebody this morning about it. He wanted an early morning coffee. So I obliged. But basically, it’s like, the worst of you becomes your subject. It becomes you, the thing that dominates you is this sense of “I’m controlled by these things”. And when you’re under the thumb of your lower impulses, the voice of God is a mere whisper, if anything at all. You can’t really hear your own value, your own self worth. And it’s kind of like it’s what we’ve realized is like, your relationship with your ideals becomes strained, and your ideals – even the mention of God – brings feelings of misery rather than feelings of love and joy because it reminds you everything that you can’t, you feel like you can’t have or don’t deserve when, when you’re having this kind of give and take with such negative feelings most of the time.
Sam Black: Yeah. And then there’s a culture out there that’s really backing that site up. Listen, what you need to do. You have that on one side of those psychologists argue that porn users simply need to set aside their moral misgivings and embrace the enjoyment of watching porn. Yeah. And when that happens, shame loses its power, as well as spouses, might need to give up their sense of entitlement to being the lone focus of someone’s sexual pleasure.
Andrew Love: Yeah.
Sam Black: When these factors come together, a person can watch, porn have sex with their significant other, and even do both at the same time, which leads to the eradication of the shame. Because and you know what, it is so sad because there’s become some times when a spouse, it has become addicted compulsive use of porn. The other spouse is saying, well, you know, I guess I need to go along with this. So at least they’re not watching alone. Yeah. And that becomes a terrible thing. There’s, every study shows that they have, when you’re watching pornography, you have less sex, sexual satisfaction with your partner, and we’ve had, oh, God bless it – women who say “he cannot reach orgasm unless he’s watching porn at the same time, even though he is with me presently”. So, but I think this is a moral statement itself. And so I go to her and say, “Hey, you, you all just… your spouse has to be okay with it. You just need to learn to be okay with it.” To me, that is a moral statement itself. That porn and sex outside of marriage is fine and (inaudible) was adequate, antiquated, biblical, or moral rules robs person of some exploratory sexual fulfillment.
Andrew Love: Yeah. That doesn’t hold a lot of hope for the follower of Jesus who says, “He said, ‘But I say to you that everyone looks at a woman with a lust, lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart'”, and that’s from Matthew 5:28. And so there is no if you’re going to adhere to Jesus’ teachings, you cannot accept this mantra that what you need to do, just be okay with using others, and watching others have sex and you can enjoy some thing that was never intended, right? I totally agree. And I feel it’s realistically, even I know the word morality is a trigger for a lot of people. But just a standard, a general standard that I think in this day and age, it’s hard for people to believe that one person could fulfill all their needs because they don’t have many templates of it. They don’t have many examples of it in their own life and so why, why even believe in something that you’ve never seen or never experienced, and it’s hard to really fathom. But in reality what, what happens in those situations like you mentioned, when one spouse kind of in a way just forgoes their own standards, they loosen their own standards to go down to where their spouse is at, rather than, you know, say, well, what was the standard that we agreed upon, right? And so that’s really, in High Noon, what we’re trying to teach, especially the unmarried or the people who are on their way to marriage, is to get clear on the standard that you want, and the vision that you want for your couple. Because if you want, you know, an amazing sexual life with your spouse, it takes a lot. It’s very emotional. It’s very spiritual. It takes a lot of effort, but you can absolutely achieve it if you set the standard and are constantly working towards it. And you know the, where we come from, God’s design sucks. Absolutely.
Sam Black: It’s his… it’s his idea. He meant it for enjoyment. He meant it to draw us closer together. It is a beautiful thing that God created. And and, and so these philosophies that Christians are prudes is just dumb.
Andrew Love: Yeah.
Sam Black: And sometimes there’s some history there were Christians have been pretty prudish,
Andrew Love: The missionary position, right?
Sam Black: And they were, you know for sure they, the church has had to learn its own lessons from its inaccuracy of biblical teaching.
Andrew Love: Yeah. Well, then let’s go in there. And let’s talk about Covenant Eyes. And so you’re an accountability software, but I’ve also seen you make videos and you help people understand what’s going on with themselves and in terms of that end, so you’re, you’re an organization that creates a software but you’re more than that, right. So what else? Any team… you partner up with National Center on Sexual Exploitation to be, to work with advocacy? But do you do anything also to help with the culture, help change the culture? Because I remember Matt Frad used to make a lot of videos. Are you still kind of doing that kind of stuff and doing, doing cultural?
Sam Black: Oh, sure. You know, there’s a great video that, that just kind of gives someone a highlight of what Covenant Eyes is all about. I’ll have to send that to you. And this one is actually, we’ve actually made it humorous. It’s pretty funny. So you can help me be introduced to the conversation of Covenant Eyes and being accountable to someone with, through that. But yeah, we’re constantly producing more and more educational resources just as some good interviews with Nate Larkin from Samson Society. By the way, a great resource where you can get into the community with someone else. That’s not something you have available locally, as well as plenty of educational resources on our page at covenanteyes.com/resources, okay, where you can download a number of free ebooks. We’ve had some amazing people kind of step up. You might, you might know of Lamar Odom. He is a two-time NBA Champion, Olympic medalist. And he has become a reality TV star, Dancing with the Stars. But he felt he had it all. But after decades-long porn addiction that he felt was ruining relationships, he has given his heart to Christ. The woman that he loves, Sabrina Parr, they’re, they’re they’re focused on, on not having sex before marriage. They’re gonna, they’re aiming toward getting married and he’s just really been very straightforward and examining himself. And he’s been talking about how Covenant Eyes has made an impact in his life. I am currently working on a, on a book that is aimed at helping pastors better understand the impact of pornography…
Andrew Love: Fantastic.
Sam Black: …how they have… their efforts might have not been performing as well as they had hoped.
Andrew Love: The whole not thinking about a thing isn’t quite working out for us.
Sam Black: Well, there’s that. But there’s also some, some tough places that pastors find themselves in, where their own, their own church members are saying, hey, you know… I had a pastor say, tell me this, Sam, you asked me to talk about pornography in the church from the pulpit-pulpit, but I was reading from the Bible and use the word prostitute, and one of my parishioners came up afterward, says you can’t use that word in our church. And he goes, wait, I am reading from Scripture. What should I have said to him, Sam? And I said, what you should have told him to listen, bro up. This is real life. And he goes, You know, I think that’s right.
Andrew Love: And there’s really no discourse about the shame that a lot of pastors have themselves when they are watching porn. Because if they are to reveal it to their congregation, then some, some of them might be excommunicated. You know, they, they have this fear, this natural fear.
Sam Black: In the church today we have made it a habit of shooting a wounded and that’s bad enough for the congregation member. But we also have done a very poor job inside the church leadership, the pastoral staff. It is one thing to say, you know, that it’s important that we recognize that pornography is against our moral and Christian beliefs that’s, that’s, that’s no, what the problem has come is that instead of working to support and restore a pastor, we make it much easier to simply shoot her wounded. So a pastor who is struggling and saying, man, I would really like to raise my hand and find help and support within my own denomination. But they can’t because there’s no pathway for them to step aside for a while, get the support they need, find recovery and come back. Here’s the interesting thing I found over 13 years at Covenant Eyes is that pastors who have gone through the process to restore themselves to find freedom in the fight against pornography or just about anything else, but specifically in this, they go on fire. They become more dedicated. They become more impactful in their churches, they become more understanding and compassionate and lead others to freedom with greater strength and veracity than they ever did before they found freedom for themselves. So I think it’s incumbent on our denominations, our leadership boards, to create a means for a pastor who can say, hey, before I got caught, I want you to know that I, here’s where I’m at: I’m struggling, I need your help; would you please help me? And when they find that help, when they receive that help, they go back and they’re stronger than they were before than they had ever been?
Andrew Love: That’s so inspiring. And I mean, earlier on you were talking about how porn basically erodes people’s faith. And you can see that in the numbers, right, that when you look at the world, Christian membership numbers, it’s on the decline. And I would assume that so much of that is because of this erosion of faith in oneself, and that is through losing control of your own ability for self autonomy, self-authority, by giving your authority to an addiction, especially porn, because it’s so personal, and all the more the leadership; there’s so many, I know personally, so many leaders that have stepped down from youth pastors or for some position within religion because they feel like such hypocrites. And they don’t know who to go to because they’re supposed to be the ones with the answers, but they themselves struggle. So it’s so nice to hear that there are leaders, pastors, who are overcoming this and that they bounce back stronger than ever and to highlight them to hear about these people and highlight them. And boy, oh, boy, do we need to hear their voice so much.
Sam Black: You know, one of our good friends, our mutual friends, Michael Leahy and Brave Hearts…
Andrew Love: Yeah
Sam Black: …regularly serving pastors to help them find that restorative peace means find, to find true recovery. Samson Society as well. Pastors are finding an opportunity to go into those online meetings, find recovery, find help, find support, and leading them to victory.
Andrew Love: I have to say that I’ve been an extremely rude host. And we haven’t… Like, what, what got you into this? Because, so how long have you been working with Covenant Eyes?
Sam Black: So how did I begin and end up at Covenant Eyes. My wife came to me one day and she says, hey, you know, that organization, Covenant Eyes that our friend at church works for? I said, yeah, they’re, Covenant Eyes, they’re doing great work. And she goes, Well, I’ve been praying about this, and I feel that you just need to give them a call. And I said, well sure, I’ll give him a call. You know, I think, I’ll think of that over. She was no, I want you to promise me you’re gonna give him a call. She’s not usually like that. So I said, oh, yeah, okay, I’ll give them a call. You know, I want to honor you and do that. And one thing led to another and it was clear to me that I needed to make a leap of faith and join Covenant Eyes. And at that time, 13 years ago, Covenant Eyes is in these, there’s in the United States, there’s,these little towns where the big box stores and moved in in the in the surrounding area and the little downtown area sort of run gets run down.
Andrew Love: Yeah.
Sam Black: And so we were in these little rundown downtown buildings and the tiles were coming off the floor. There were false ceiling tiles missing from the ceiling. And there was a running joke, and we live in Michigan, that before you go to the bathroom, be sure to crack the ice in the toilet. So when I came on the cover of ice, it really felt like I was crawling out on a limb.
Andrew Love: Sure,
Sam Black: But back in those days, you did just about everything – answering calls, to writing, to doing all kinds of things. And I was so, felt so inspired going to this rinky-dink office. And, and I would go home and tell my wife, I feel like I’m plucking souls from hell, because they’re under their own personal hell, they’re there. I remember talking with a pastor’s wife. I think it’s my first week at Covenant Eyes. And she says he’s watching porn on Saturday night and preaching on Sunday morning and it’s killing him, it’s killing us. And we just need a little help. And to see those calls come around again and seeing the change in people’s lives. It is so invigorating and so exciting to see people find their, their freedom that they so desperately desire.
Andrew Love: So obviously, you’ve gone from rinky-dink to 200 employees to, you know, developing new technologies with former NSA operatives or whatever you call them, right.
Sam Black: And it’s, it’s to me, it’s all just a God thing. It is. When, you know, here’s the strange thing. Six months after I came on board, there was a company that was moving its employees and they look like they were just going to not use their their current building. And it was a rather large facility where we’re located now. And our president walked in and said, I understand you’re going to be moving your employees and, and that you might be willing to put this facility up for sale. And the receptionist says, you know, it’s strange, but our Vice President of all of our real estate holdings is here. He’s never here, but he’s here today. Would you like to talk to him? It turns out, they’d recently put a million dollars just into the office space, like the year before. There was a large warehouse in the back of all this office space as well. And our president says, you know, I think we can offer you $400,000 for your building. And this vice president who is handling their real estate says, you know, we would just like to get it off the books. We don’t even have it up for sale yet. Why don’t we go ahead and close this deal now. And we used, we refurbish that warehouse space. And it paid the mortgage on our building. So Covenant Eyes has this without debt, has been without debt. And we continue to reinvest in the technology and education and resources that bring freedom to people.
Andrew Love: Well, that’s what I’d like to know is, you all sound like a very ambitious bunch that are dedicated to changing this world. So where do you see yourself in 10 years, right? Technologies, obviously ever evolving. But your core mission remains the same. So how do you see your mission evolving as a, as an entity? Where do you see Covenant Eyes in the future?
Sam Black: If I, you know, 10 years seems to be dramatically changing in the technology world. But what doesn’t change is the importance of connecting people. And as we are developing and changing our platform and our technology, what I really see us doing is to do a, continually create new road maps and connections that connect people together, that create meaningful change so that maybe your instant notifications and a lot of different things that really, maybe you can correspond with someone in real-time. Maybe there’s a way that you can write through the app, you don’t have to go to a website or things that pick up educational resources and, and guides that really help and support you and your ally in conversations that create meaningful change.
Andrew Love: That’s fantastic. I had an idea once that if somebody signs up for it, they, if they were to click on some porn, you know, website, it would automatically FaceTime and then instead of seeing porn, they would see their friend’s face and then they would just have this agreement where it’s a hey, buddy. For a moment, you’re really just looking for connection right and you settle if you’ve trained your synapses to settle for some fake person on the other end of a plastic device, then that’s kind of what you’re used to. But in real terms, we just want somebody to be there for us to let us know that they love us. Right? So that’s great to see that, that being and when we get into virtual reality and all that, how much more will we need a real person, a real guide to be there with us
Sam Black: Having greater connectedness to God, greater connectedness to each other as the body of Christ, then we are more successful at healing our wounds.
Andrew Love: Fantastic.
Sam Black: If we stub our big toe, or if we cut our foot, the hands need to go to work on that. Yeah, right. So and the more, the more ways that we have to create that connectivity to real people, people who love us and care about us, and the more we can do to help churches and congregations and friends, to learn to create trusted environments, safe environments, with safe processes for freedom. And that’s where, that’s where real change comes from. That’s where I hope to see us in 10 years even more of that happening.
Andrew Love: I’d love to end on that. I have a question about hope. And, you know, you see a lot of difficult cases every day. And you hear a lot of people’s testimonies, good and bad. But in the end, what, what gives you the most hope about your work and about the future of this fight, you know, against isolation, against self-centeredness? Where do you see, where do you really get your true hope, this kind of, I don’t mean, like hope, like optimism. I mean like, hope in your bones like, you know, we’re gonna be okay. Like what, where do you, how do you get there?
Sam Black: Wow, I think I find it through not only my journey with other people. When you find that you are giving back to others through personal relationships, not just you know the work in your church; but when you have one on one relationships where you are being a mentor to others and you’re giving back – that gives me huge amounts of hope.
Andrew Love: Got it.
Sam Black: Amazing. So you see, you see the change, you see that changes possible. You’ve witnessed it on a macro level because you deal with thousands and thousands of people. So that that I’m sure inspires a lot of hope, right that you know that although this is somewhat of a pandemic and that porn is about to reach a bunch of new customers as though as WiFi gets across the entire globe, at the same time, we know that healing is possible. So… And what I found so interesting, too, is that we, through some polling of our customers, found that there was this big radical change that they found that when they first came in to being a Covenant Eyes member, they felt hopeless. They felt shame and frustration and in guilt and all kinds of negative thoughts. And after they had connected with an ally, begin conversing and talking through their pornography use, began finding that process of healing within a short frame. And I think it was like six months, if I’m not mistaken, they were finding their new descriptions for themselves for hopeful, excited feelings of self-worth, better care, all those kinds of things that really made them feel more positive about themselves and their journey. Healing is very much possible. Healing is a reality. Healing and growth- those things are true.
Andrew Love: I like that. Things that you can, things that you can look forward to. I want to encourage someone who’s out there today struggling, feeling so alone, that there are people in your church community that cares and loves you. And you may not feel like there’s anybody that you can trust. But there is and I have that hope for you. If you don’t have it, and maybe just have an area where you just think that the people in my church just don’t really, they don’t seem like they would have any understanding of this. I do encourage you to, to get into a group called Samson Society. I love them because they are men and men. This is specifically for men and we’re looking to create something for women as well. But for men who can find a group to join, you can find that at samsonsociety.com, and in there, you can also find an ally or a, what they call a silence in that group who will receive your Covenant Eyes report. And then you get to join in on meetings multiple times a week, and really talk through your own journey. Amazing. Yeah, that’s where it’s at. Because we do know that some people listening are in very remote parts of the world. And there is a way to connect. High Noon is trying to be that, but it sounds like there are also other good resources in Samson Society. But that is the point is that that whisper in your ear that you are all alone is a, and there’s always somebody somewhere. And if you put your ear to the ground, you will be able to find that person that will absolutely be your accountability partner be your help through this journey. So you can contact us at highnoon.org. You can look at what Covenant Eyes has at their disposal. And, Sam, I guess we’ll leave you with that. If you could leave us with any resources that you recommend. You’ve already mentioned, Samson Society, but anything else that you recommend?
Sam Black: Go into covenanteyes.com/resources, or visiting our blog. Lots of great educational resources there. Take advantage of those.
Andrew Love: And I just want to say again, thank you. This has been amazing. Because I think sometimes in this battle, we are in our own little silos and we forget that there are other people fighting as good to connect like this and to see that when we are united, we’re incredibly strong and we can help millions and millions and millions of people find their true selves and give up this alternative reality that they choose with porn, right? And the more that we do connect, like you and I are connecting now; and the way that you, Covenant Eyes is connected with National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the faster we can recreate this world so that sexuality can be something that has God at the center, right. And so I want to personally, on behalf of High Noon, thank you so much for all that you do. And on behalf of Covenant Eyes, all that the organization does and I just want to thank you for your time and coming on this show.
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