Christians Should Not Be Smug About the Ashley Madison Website Hack
I’m sure many people were glad when the cheating website Ashley Madison was hacked and the identity of its users was revealed. I know I was. I thought “serves people right.” But very quickly the depth of hurt inflicted on many families across the country became very real to me and my initial happiness was turned to sorrow for the hurting families.
I think there is a tendency among Christians to assume that the only people that use such websites as Ashley Madison are contemptuous people that deserve whatever happens when they are finally exposed. What we tend to forget is that many of the users are friends, neighbors, and pastors.
The people who signed up for the cheating website are not just anonymous men and women with no families, reputations or careers. They are husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, deacons, elders, and pastors. The extent of hurt and heartache inflicted by this single act may never truly be known. But one thing is for sure, no one should be laughing.
Consider, according to Christian culture analyst Ed Stetzer, roughly 400 pastors, elders, and deacons resigned their position on Sunday. We may be tempted to think that a good thing, that they should not be allowed to serve. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. But what about the churches? If that number is correct then 400 churches just lost key leaders. And with a shortage of qualified leaders already causing issues among churches, the enemy, Satan, is surely smiling.
Churches have a tendency to shoot their own wounded. Friendly fire has ended the ministry of more Christian leaders than enemy fire ever dreamed. I can’t help but wonder if resignation is the answer. What if the church, after the humble acknowledgement of sin by their pastor, surrounded him with love, forgiveness, and vowed to help him restore his walk with Jesus, his marriage, and his fellowship with the church. What message would that send to those outside the church waiting for a bloodbath?
When I consider my own sin, and the depravity of my own heart I can’t help but come face to face with the reality that I am no better than those caught by this website hack. I may not have had a physical affair, but according to Scripture each and every time I lust over a woman that is not my wife, I am indeed committing adultery. What makes me any better? Why should a man guilty of lusting be allowed to pastor his church if adultery is a matter of the heart?
I think about Josh Duggar and grieve for him and his family. This young man had a promising career as a conservative values advocate with one of the premier organizations in the world: The Family Research Council. But in a matter of weeks, allegations of sexual abuse of his sisters when he was young, porn addiction, using Ashley Madison, and sleeping with porn stars has destroyed his career. What will become of his family remains to be seen, but there is a steep road of reconciliation ahead.
One porn star named Duggar as a “rough” customer that paid her thousands for a night. But she hoped that “his wife leaves him and takes his children away from him and leaves him a lonely, bitter man.” That may be the response of unredeemed people, but my concern is that it will be the response of those claiming the name of Christ. Regardless of our opinions of Josh Duggar and his actions, to desire his life and family to be torn apart is nothing less than sin. Our most sincere desire should be that Josh and his family will be healed, forgiven, and restored through the reconciliation only found in Jesus Christ. And that is indeed what I hope.
It seems Mr. Duggar is now in rehab seeking the forgiveness and reconciliation he desperately needs. His parents released a statement thanking people for their support and making it clear that they too desire to see Josh change his life:
“We are so thankful for the outpouring of love, care and prayers for our family during this most difficult situation with Josh. As parents we are so deeply grieved by our son’s decisions and actions. His wrong choices have deeply hurt his precious wife and children and have negatively affected so many others. He has also brought great insult to the values and faith we hold dear. Yesterday Josh checked himself into a long-term treatment center. For him it will be a long journey toward wholeness and recovery. We pray that in this he comes to complete repentance and sincere change.”
While many will no doubt scoff at the Duggars and say this is what they deserved, or that they are fake, my hope is that the church will surround them and everyone affected with the grace and love of Jesus. Thom Rainer, writing at his blog, issues several appropriate responses churches and church leaders should take during this time. A couple of hi suggestions I found particularly helpful are:
- We must exhibit grace. To be grace-filled does not mean we minimize the sins of adultery, lying, and betrayal. But it is incredibly sad and tragic when Christians on the list have more to fear and less hope than non-believers on the list. I fear that some Christians will retreat into a mode of legalism and judgment when grace should be pervasive.
- We must respond pastorally and with great compassion. We are already hearing stories of families torn apart, of children terrified about what is happening to their dad, and of the tragedy of suicide. Church leaders cannot respond in their own power. God, however, can provide them all they need to respond in such a time of tragedy and hurt.
I’m not concerned with how those outside the church will respond, because lost people will do what lost people do. I’m concerned with how churches will respond. Will we see the grace and forgiveness we’ve been given offered to those whose names are on the Ashley Madison list? Or will the church once again make headlines for shooting our wounded?
It doesn’t matter what you think of the people that used Ashley Madison to facilitate an affair. What matters is that now is a time when the Gospel can be powerful in the lives of people and families that are hurting. If you are friends with someone that is seeking help and wondering what to do next, take the time to share Jesus and offer His mercy and forgiveness. I can think of nothing else people need more than to know they can be healed and restored.