Confessing your deepest, darkest sins has become the latest craze, at least on the Internet. Recently, a new wave of websites have popped up, calling all sinners to come forward—anonymously, of course.
Greg Fox, a writer and director for Walt Disney Co., launched one such website as personal therapy, after he became disillusioned by the fake cheeriness he saw all around him at Disney. Fox claims his website is cathartic for those who need to come clean—whether to confess to an eating disorder, pornography addiction, or adultery.
While some stop by to confess, others stop by to read other people's confessions, maybe just to feel better about their own wrong-doings.
"It's kind of the car wreck you're driving by," Fox explains. "You can't help but watch."
One visitor to the site writes:
"I'm totally addicted to this site! I can't even get any work done during the day. I love to read about all the adultery, cheating, and crazy stories, they absolutely fascinate me! Everyone, in one way or another, is completely messed up and I love it!"
I find this appalling. Websites like these are sensational and voyeuristic at best. But what alarms me even more is that the Church seems to be buying into this trend, albeit with the noble goal of trying to teach people about true confession.
On Easter Sunday, one Florida church launched a website to help people open up about their sins and learn from their mistakes. Visitors to this website have confessed to drug abuse, self-harm, and abortion. One person even confessed to stealing $15,000.
The pastor of another church that launched a confessional website says that the purpose of the website is to help people begin the confessing process. He warns visitors to the site not to confess to the computer, but to confess to God and discover true forgiveness.
I'm sorry, but "virtual confession" is a complete distortion of the idea of confessing your sins before God, and certainly falls short of James's admonition to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
Creating websites where people share their deepest, darkest secrets with each other—anonymously—does little to edify the body of Christ or to hold the repentant sinner accountable. At best, online confessionals merely relieve the so-called "penitent" of guilt feelings—perhaps. At worst, they provide sick entertainment for the curious onlooker.
Perhaps even more disturbing is this: these online confessionals are a symptom of the increasing individualism within the Church itself. God did not create virtual human beings. He created flesh and blood bearers of His image and has called them to physical community, not to isolation. This is why the writer of Hebrews urges us not to "give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing."
Church is where we meet together to hear the Gospel preached, to sing praises, to be discipled, to be held accountable, and to participate in the sacraments and ordinances of the church.
True confession is not an end in itself. It is a springboard to repentance and restoration, reconciling ourselves with God and with those flesh-and-blood neighbors of ours.
Posting our anonymous confessions on a website and patting ourselves on the back is no substitute.
From BreakPoint®, May 15, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries