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The Ashley Madison Affair(s)

by Wayne Turner

Wayne Turnerfrom the Gospel Herald, October 2015, page 4, Gospel Herald Foundation, 5 Lankin Blvd., Toronto, ON M4J 4W7, Canada.

In July, 2015, the Ashley Madison website was hacked. The company computers were invaded and important business information was stolen. Specifically, the hackers were able to access the names, email addresses and other personal information of people who had registered with Ashley Madison. In case you are unaware of the significance of this, you need to know that Ashley Madison is in the business of helping people locate partners for extramarital affairs. That's why it has been dubbed as the “adultery website.”

Perhaps you have seen one of the Ashley Madison ads which features the partial face of an attractive woman with a wedding band on her ring finger, who is holding her index finger in front of her lips in the well-known gesture that says “shhhh!” Ashley Madison is literally hush-hush. The caption says, “Life is too short. Have an affair.” After they accessed the supposedly protected information of men and women looking for illicit sex, the hackers warned the company that unless the website was shut down, they would begin releasing the personal information from the site. The hackers kept their word. In the days and weeks that followed, much of the information became publicly available. In various media, articles began appearing about celebrities and well-known people whose names appeared on the lists. Other articles noted that business and government email domains were on Ashley Madison.

Shortly after, news items and advice columns became more personal, as people were discovering that their spouses had Ashley Madison accounts. It has been suggested that 30 million people have accounts! Reuters suggests that there have been two unconfirmed suicides. And the seemingly final straw came when the president of the parent company. Avid Life Media, resigned amid stories of his own affairs.

An article on Christianity Today's website cautioned church leaders to be careful how harshly they criticized those using the Ashley Madison website — some of their own members might be included. But, even worse, is the mention of religious leaders. Ed Stetzer, editor of Christianity Today, is cited as saying that he expected at least 400 church leaders to resign by the first Sunday after the release of names from Ashley Madison. As might be expected, disappointment and disillusionment on the part of many members of these churches will follow. People typically look up to and admire their leaders. It could be faith-shaking to discover that they are no different than anyone else.

On one hand, we must recognize that it can be unhealthy and unwise to put anyone on a pedestal. Everyone is human and subject to the same feelings and temptations. Even Jesus was tempted in every way like us, but without sinning. Physical desires and appetites are part of being human. As the Bible shows, it is those desires which become the basis for temptation. The inability or unwillingness to resist leads to sin. The qualifications for elders and deacons show that church leaders need to be people of high moral character. Even so, we are cautioned in scripture to be very careful not to be caught up in another person's sin. A preacher seeking to comfort a woman who is emotionally distraught can easily confuse sympathy with affection and become involved in a sexual relationship. Human weakness and vulnerability have led to innumerable sins.

On the other hand, those who signed up on the Ashley Madison site did so intentionally, relying on the supposed secrecy and anonymity of the internet while hoping to have a sexual encounter with a willing stranger. This cannot be considered merely weakness or temptation. How does this fit in the light of Christ's statement that looking at a woman lustfully was committing adultery in one's heart? For the last few decades, the internet has offered many people, especially lustful men, easy access to pornography, arousing their desires for sin. This has created issues of addiction as well as damaging family relationships. How much more damage would be done by adultery — real or imagined? The horrible consequences of David's sin with Bathsheba should be enough to warn us. Marriage is the most precious human relationship we have. In it, we express our love, desire and trust for one another in a unique and beautiful intimacy shared only by husband and wife — two becoming one. Why would we possibly even consider doing anything that would jeopardize this? The image of Christ and the church is equated by Paul to marriage. Could you imagine where we would be for eternity if Jesus was unfaithful to the church, either in heart or reality?

Ashley Madison has created much hurt. It has broken homes and lives, even ruined careers. It has exposed infidelity and hypocrisy. Our role is not to accuse and shame those who are guilty. They have already been exposed. Rather, shouldn't our role be one of trying to show there is a better way to live — to help bring reconciliation and forgiveness? Broken trust is hard to heal. Human emotions do not easily forgive. However, hearts that belong to Christ can learn. Christians need to model the faithfulness and loyalty of marriage, as well as the grace and forgiveness of Christ.