I’m Interviewed By ProgressiveAdventism.com

Loma Linda University religion professor Julius Nam asks me about my journey from Adventism to Judaism.

As the interview is no longer online, I am republishing it here with the comments:

Luke FordBorn in 1966 as the third child of Seventh-day Adventist theologian Desmond Ford in Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, Australia, Luke Ford spent the first 14 years of his life on the campuses of Avondale College and Pacific Union College—until his father’s dismissal from PUC stemming from the controversial position he took on the investigative judgment doctrine. After graduating from Placer High School in Auburn, California, in 1984, Luke Ford attended Sierra College in Rocklin, California, and University of California at Los Angeles. While at UCLA, Ford was deeply influenced by Jewish radio host and lecturer Dennis Prager which resulted in his conversion to Judaism in 1992. After struggling to break into acting and mainstream journalism, Ford’s career took a shocking turn in 1997 when he launched a blog devoted to reporting on the pornography industry. His controversial style of reporting quickly earned him the nickname, “Matt Drudge of Porn.” Since 2001, his blogging interest has expanded to larger social, cultural, political, and religious issues. He has also written four books including XXX-Communicated: A Rebel Without a Shul, a personal memoir, and A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film. Ford continues to be active online through several websites and blogs. His official website (which does not contain pornographic content) is LukeFord.net, which includes his unpublished autobiography.

Could you describe in a nutshell why you left Adventism?

I was never into the New Testament. I saw it as a downer. I never really got Jesus or Paul, and the otherworldliness of the New Testament. Growing up, I read Churchill, Cromwell, and King David—people who made a difference in this world. They were my heroes. I could never get excited about soteriology, mechanics of salvation, heavenly sanctuary, the world that is to come. There always were these nutters around Adventism because of its eschatological bent. They liked Adventists because they were talking about the world coming to an end. That belief didn’t attract me. So I knew Christianity wasn’t for me. I loved many people in it. I’m still a vegee; I don’t drink; I don’t take caffeine or swear. I stick to many SDA practices. But I could never get excited about the otherworldliness of Adventism.

Then, why not seek some other less-otherworldly expression of Christianity? Why Judaism? What attracted you to it?

I went through a phase of atheism and communism. Then I encountered Dennis Prager through radio, who is a Jew. I saw that Jews have always been at the center of what’s going on. I liked being in the middle of where things are. Also, Judaism focuses on behavior rather than esoteric theology. I think that works. It provides a step-by-step detailed system for making a better world. It’s focused on the things of this world—what we can do now. I never had a serious conversation with a Jew about when the Messiah will come. That’s not very important. I appreciated the this-worldly emphasis of Judaism.

Among Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, which “denomination” of Judaism did you end up in?

I went through all three denominations. Today, I mainly attend Orthodox synagogues and most of my friends are Orthodox.

What lies at the core of your experience of Judaism?

This has evolved over time. First, it was the wisdom of the Jewish tradition. For example, there’s the shopkeeper law that says you can’t ask about the price of an item that you won’t buy. That says, you can’t fool people about your intentions. As time went on, my experience with the community became very intense. The Jewish people became my people. This means more than belonging to a religion. For example, during the Cold War, the Soviet Jewry were persecuted much less than Christians in Russia. But Jews around the world went crazy over this and did everything they could to help their people. Meanwhile, Christians did next to nothing. Having your own nation in Israel and the experience of being a Jew creates a bond (though it can be a pain in the neck) that is terribly profound. It really creates an awareness of those around you. At the same time, I must say that the ambivalence that I felt toward the Adventist community got rolled over to Judaism. I was a rebel in the Adventist community, and I’m a rebel now in the Jewish community. But this is still my people and my community.

If that’s the case, why not stay in Adventism? Why go through all the trouble of conversion?

I’ve always been a social misfit—both as a kid and now at age 40. But I believe in the community that I belong to now, even if it doesn’t always believe in me. I have too many problems with the beliefs of Christianity to want to go back. I’m willing to sacrifice for this cause that I believe in.

But if it’s the this-worldliness of Judaism and the community that it provides, doesn’t Adventism offer the same? Couldn’t you live with the parts of Adventism that you don’t like—much the same way that you function within Judaism?

The primary thing is, like all forms of Christianity, the set of doctrines that Adventism has. That God cares more about how you believe about him than how you act. That is so repellent to me. For example, there was a Christian pastor who flew to Israel to visit [Adolf] Eichmann in his final days. When the pastor arrived at the airport, reporters asked him, “If Eichmann confessed his sins and believed in Christ, would he be saved?” He said, “Yes.” Then he was asked, “What about the six million Jews who died because of him? Would they be saved if they didn’t believe in Christ?” He replied, “No!” I could never relate to this kind of a religion. As far as the rules of behavior in Adventism, they never bothered me. I have no problem with the laws in Adventism. Every group has the right to establish its own set of rules. All these very, very strict laws about movies, dancing, eating, drinking, I can understand it.

But you know, Adventists are much more relaxed about those standards these days.

I know. That’s true in Judaism, too. But those who go to movies, go dancing, and eat and drink whatever they want, they’re not gonna stay SDAs. They as individuals might stay, but their children and grandchildren probably won’t. If you live that way, you’re not going to make the necessary sacrifices. You’re not going to inculcate the distinctives that are necessary to stay Adventist. They’re not going to matter anymore, and their grandchildren will be flushed down the toilet of Adventist history. You need to believe that your religion is the chosen one to stay and make sacrifices to keep the religion going. The assimilators in Loma Linda and their children will be gone. It’s the Africans and Third World Adventists and the fundamentalists who will take over.

Let’s shift gears and go back in history to 1980. Could you tell me what it was like to be in Glacier View in 1980 while the Adventist church leaders made decisions on your father’s fate in the church? You sat through the meetings, I understand.

The primary experience for me was emotional—beyond the intellectual. My participation in the community, particularly the Angwin community (which remains as the happiest memory of my life), was being threatened. I was very upset.

Then, I saw that for many people there, it was one of the most important moments in their lives, particularly for my father. My father was on a suicide mission. There’s no way he could get away with it. You cannot dismiss the central platform of the group that you’re part of and think that you’ll be allowed to stay. There was no way he could remain. All the people who agreed with him were being smart with their mouths shut. That way, they got to keep their positions. You don’t need to voice all your objections publicly the way my dad did. There was a lot of passion in the room, and they were telling my dad to recant. But my dad’s immovable. It’s trying to tell the ocean not to advance on its tide. So it was inevitable that they were going to throw him out and that he wasn’t going to change.

What was the most difficult thing about being Luke Ford in the aftermath of Glacier View?

Losing what I loved. Being so lonely. We moved to godforsaken Auburn. I hardly knew anybody there. I was so lonely from age 14 to 28 when I converted to Judaism. It was a time of sheer, unadulterated loneliness. Without friends life is not worth living. We were cast into diaspora. Horrible. Absolutely awful. I got a D average in my freshman year in high school. I was in no man’s land.

Do you ever think about what might have happened if your father had been more flexible toward the church—and vice versa—and you had continued to live within the Adventist subculture?

If I continued to live it! My love for the PUC community was so intense that I probably never would’ve converted and gone through the great extremes of my life. I would’ve had a much saner and healthier and happier life.

Since 1997, you’ve reported on the porn industry while maintaining your Jewish religiosity. How have you been you able to reconcile the two that are worlds apart?

Right. They are not reconcilable. As an enlightened journalist, I can rationalize that there is no forbidden knowledge, no subject unworthy to be written about. But as a religious person, I know that there are huge areas of life that are out of bounds. There’s tremendous amount of knowledge that is forbidden, that you just shouldn’t know. Whether it’s Judaism, or Islam, or Christianity, they all abhor pornography. Pornography is against religion and civilization. It’s an abhorrent, repellent, shocking thing from a religious perspective. I can intellectualize that it’s not the greatest sin, but as a practical matter, socially and emotionally, pornography is a topic that is contrary to religion, propriety, and civilization.

Because I was so isolated in my teens, in part because of the religious structures that I grew up in, my first encounter with sexuality was through Playboy and Penthouse. It had been inculcated in me that sexual sin was the greatest sin. Not in so many words, but that’s how we were made to feel. For example, the worst sin for pastors to commit was adultery. So I’ve had a fascination with the worst that one can do. As an adult, I was struggling with making a living as a writer. As someone who doesn’t take orders and who chose living as an independent writer, the best paid thing was writing on the pornography industry. If I am offered a job tomorrow for the L.A. Times, I would take that job in an instant.

Pornography is not something that is important at all in our society. But issues dealing with pornography are important. Such as, how men interact with women; porn addiction (one in 10 young men is a porn addict is my guess); the health implications; AIDS and other STDs; cultural problems of the porn industry; organized crime; the extent of government censorship; the type of people who make porn. In some ways, porn people are the most honest people in the world. They’re outlaws, but they are truthful. It’s kind of exhilarating to listen to their stories—amazing stories.

Are you able to support yourself financially simply by reporting on the porn industry?

Since 1997, I’ve made an independent living through blogging. Aside from Matt Drudge, I believe I’m the only one. I’ve done research for A Current Affair. I’ve assisted 60 Minutes in 2003 for their report on the porn industry. I’ve also done research for Fortune 500 companies.

I understand you stopped reporting on porn for a while in-between?

On August 8, 2001, I sold lukeford.com because of the social, psychic toll that it was having on me. I vowed I would never report on porn personalities again. But I immediately started LukeFord.net and kept on blogging but not about porn. I blogged about Hollywood, religion, etc. From the end of 2002 until the present, I have on and off written or researched for other media about the porn industry or related topics, but I deal with the legal, moral, medical and social issues that arise from this vice. I haven’t watched a porn film in 8 years. It’s like someone writing about organized crime. They don’t participate in it when they write about it. I also report on Judaism and other cultural issues on lukeford.net. There are some rabbis whose careers ended because I exposed the problems that they were having, like sleeping with women in their congregations.

How do your rabbi and fellow congregants feel about what you do?

I never talk about it. Every synagogue has a different dynamic, so I know that some synagogues will not want me there. I spread out the gift of my presence. I’ve been able to find community. I use my Hebrew name, so most people would not know or care to know that sometimes I write about such distasteful issues. For anyone who does know, they know that I don’t write about the porn industry exclusively, that I write about issues surrounding pornography and many other issues. It’s not like the porn industry comes up in my daily conversation. It has no place where I live and I don’t look at it as having any part of my real world, my true inner sacred world with my friends. It is just one of many gross things that a reporter may deal in.

How did your father react to your conversion to Judaism and then to your choice of career? What’s your relationship with him like now?

My conversion to Judaism was the worst thing that could have ever happened to him. Or maybe someone asking him, “Is your son the porn king?” was the worst. I was the easiest kid to raise, kind of placid around the house. But in adulthood, I caused the most amount of pain. You know, you just make decisions, and you blow up relationships. I’ve done him incalculable amount of pain and damage. My father’s birthday is February 2nd, which is today. I exchange emails with him, maybe several times a year. I exchange emails with my mother on average probably once a week. We’ve always been on speaking terms.

What do you miss the most about being Adventist?

The food. The community. The friends that I had at PUC. My 8th grade year. I stayed in Angwin that year, while my dad was given time off to write in Washington, D.C. I stayed with a friend’s family. Life was normal. I had normal relations with people. I could just hang out and not be Dr. Ford’s son. Ironically, with my parents gone, that year was the happiest time of my life. In high school, I would always go back to PUC every summer and hang out.

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