HOUSTON (BP)-—Back in 2000, Darrell Allen’s once-prosperous business was sputtering. Creditors and suppliers were hounding Allen and his business partners about outstanding debts. The business partners wanted to weather the storm. Allen wanted a way out.
Looking for a place to escape his mounting woes and determined creditors, he found refuge in an odd place for a former Southern Baptist minister: a strip club near his office in Houston.
“Probably the first step was needing to escape where no one would find me,” Allen recalled. “The first time I walked in there I saw this big wall with big-screen TVs, different sporting events on each one. I had a couple of drinks and got lost to the world.
“I knew I was in a place I shouldn’t be,” Allen said. “It became easier for me to walk into that place. I’ve got a pretty outgoing personality, and pretty soon I knew the waitresses, I knew the dancers. They would invite me to lunch sometimes. It was a place where I would get away from another place that was very uncomfortable.”
Allen, 45, had become a Christian in high school and served years ago on the staff of Lazybrook Baptist Church in Houston; strip clubs and pornography were not part of his life during his ministry.
“It was different then,” he said. “I never went to those places.”
After the pastor of the church left for another pastorate, Allen entered the business world and made enough money for him and his wife to travel often and not worry much about bills. It seemed a good life, he said.
When that changed, “All of the sudden you’ve got a business struggling. I allowed a lot of outside pressure to build up that I didn’t address that I should have addressed.”
It became common for Allen to schedule his day around hitting the strip club; he even worked harder to have money to spend there, all the while knowing he should be home with his wife or working, he said.
He spent an entire workday at the club once, and after discovering Internet pornography, which became an addiction, he said he would escape there too — sometimes for four or five hours continuously.
“It’s amazing how much you can find on the Web without spending a penny,” said Allen, who has since lost his wife to another man after his restoration process had begun with his church. Allen and his former wife had no children; she has remarried and is pregnant with a second child with her second husband.
“I remember looking at it and imagining and fantasizing and thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’ But as the pressures mounted, I would either walk into the strip club or look at the pornography online. It was a great big rock rolling downhill. Once it started, it was hard to stop.”
And Allen was growing estranged spiritually and emotionally from his wife, his fellow church members, his business partners and from God. His wife was unaware of his doings, he said, because she was used to him working long days.
But what he intended as a refuge from his pressures was beginning to mount a new kind pressure in the form of guilt and estrangement from people. He began hoping he could escape by being caught.
“I started feeling empty and separated from the people who were closest to me. I remember talking to those ladies at the club about God and defending my faith, but I also was defending my reason for being there.”
Allen said he started being conspicuous with his porn and his trips to the strip club, though he was still lying often about his lifestyle.
“I was hoping my wife would go, ‘What in the world are you doing?'”
Finally, in 2003, she did, and though he said he wanted to be caught, his first response was to rationalize it. “I guess I didn’t want to admit how far I had gone.”
“We worked through that. She really worked hard to help me through that addiction and to move away from it, but I was really trying on my own power … and I fell again.”
Allen said he soon learned that with each call in Scripture to flee immorality, there is an equal call to pursue righteousness.
“I tried to stop doing what was wrong and didn’t replace it with what was right,” Allen said. “I just did the first part but I didn’t fill that void with anything spiritually — the ‘learn-to-do-what’s-right’ part.”
After failing once to overcome his temptations and begging his wife not to leave, Allen decided to call up an old friend, Robby Partain, now missions director on the staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, whom he had served with on the church staff years before.
“We met at a coffee shop and I simply told him, ‘Here are the things that I’ve been doing. I need help.’ He became one of the guys I could call up. One of the pastors at my church became a prayer partner with me and began contributing to my life spiritually. I quit using the computer at all for awhile. Nowadays I’ve got all kinds of blockers that prevent me from going where I don’t need to go. I really don’t surf the Web. I go to specific Internet addresses if I need to, but I don’t do random searches.”
(One Internet filter, BSafe Online -– at www.bsafehome.com –- is recommended by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.)
Allen also left his business partners, spending 20 hours over several days with them as they tried to persuade him to stay.
“I needed to simplify my life and remove some of the pressures I had failed to address all along.”
He no longer has employees, tries hard not to work excessive hours and “I try to be around people who have built me up spiritually. If you aren’t someone who has a positive spiritual influence in my life, I’m probably not going to be spending much time with you.”
In early 2006, after being separated from his wife and trying unsuccessfully to mend their marriage, Allen said his wife met someone else and soon the couple divorced.
“It was a lot of the lingering effects of what we went through. It went on too long without me providing any of those things that I needed to provide. It destroyed our marriage relationship.
“Some of the fears of revealing this were there — my wife leaving me, my friends at the church saying we don’t want you in our lives, being ostracized — I thought all those things but I had reached such a point with the addiction that I wanted out.”
Allen said he fears the problem is more pervasive in churches than most people think, but that a fear of losing relationships keeps many men silent in their struggles.
“The people who love me and were my true friends, those relationships are closer than they’ve ever been. I have a clearer value of who I am in God’s eyes and who other people are. I love other people for who they can be in God than necessarily who they are right now. There were people who loved me and knew who I could be in God and helped me walk down that road.”
In a sex-saturated culture, Allen said each day is a struggle. “You have to quit doing what is wrong, but you have to learn to do what is right.”