Discreet encounters promised but in reality, embarrassment was delivered. "Ashley Madison" has a motto that will make your skin crawl: "Life is short. Have an affair." It's the number one dating website for cheaters seeking affairs.
A group of hackers, who call themselves "The Impact Group", are demanding the site and other hook-up sites including Cougar and Established Men shut-down. If they are not, they are promising to release the full details including – names, addresses, and sexual fantasies – of Ashley Madison's 37 million users. Before getting discouraged by such high numbers, consider their claiming to have "37 million users" as a marketing technique (read: potential lie). In reality, it isn't known how many of the users active or even real people. And of course, the site functions on the basis of deception. So it would be unwise to trust any of their claims.
As Christians, it's interesting to see that culturally while our sexual ethics may be evolving – our thoughts on cheaters and adulterers remain steadfastly negative. A recent Gallop poll showed that in the last fifteen years, moral support continues to grow for once taboo subjects including divorce, having children outside of wedlock and polygamy. Yet, in the eyes of many Americans, adultery remains a moral taboo.
The hack raises the obvious issue of identity fraud but also illustrates Luke 8:17 which reads,
"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open."
Those versed in cyber security know that claims of internet discretion aren't based in truth. The reality is people leave a digital footprint online; essentially, what is done in secret can be exposed. For example, Ashley Madison offers a feature that claims for the price of $19, all your information, including messages, illicit pictures and details can be removed. Of course, since there is a fee associated with deleting your membership – the trail of a credit card means a user's past sins remain traceable.
So, how can the church respond? This is a great opportunity for the church to have an honest conversation about integrity, fidelity, adultery, and the rise of pornography usage. There is a saying that "the true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching."
The church has lately been focused on gay marriage – perhaps to the neglect of helping heterosexual marriages. Affairs are a problem in the church. In fact, there have been a number of high-profile pastors who have been asked to step down following the discovery of an affair. The latest being Billy Graham's own grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor of Fort-Lauderdale mega-church, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Tchividjian resigned after public acknowledgement of an affair this June. The circumstances surrounding his admission of an affair on the heels of discovering his wife was having an affair are heart-breaking and serve as a reminder the Bible is essentially a who's who of sinners – with King David – a man after God's own heart as the most infamous adulterer.
This is an opportunity for the church to foster a dialogue about adultery, lust and the root issue of selfishness. It's an uncomfortable conversation but a necessary one. Let's hope churches can utilize the hack of Ashley Madison as an occasion not to cast stones but instead come together and facilitate a vulnerable and transformative discussion about sexual brokenness. Perhaps then the gospel will be center stage as the church works towards wholeness in the pursuit of the life Christians are called to lead. This is a moment in time for honest conversations, accountability, forgiveness, the importance of repentance, submission to God and letting the Lord's grace transform us from the inside out.
This column originally appeared in Juicy Ecumenism.