Ashley Madison—a name that should live in infamy. The website by this name promotes adultery under the motto, “Life is short. Have an affair.” There is so much about this that is disconcerting, but not the least is that well over thirty million people have signed up for its proffered service to “connect” its clients with fellow adulterers.
The website was recently hacked, and what was supposed to be a lock-sure private service is now daily exposing its clients, unleashing deep heartache, which no doubt will end in divorce court for many. Broken vows, broken hearts and broken homes. And, sadly, broken churches and ruined testimonies of probably many Christians.
Ed Stetzer, a well-known Christian researcher in the area of church growth and leadership development, estimates that eventually hundreds of pastors, deacons and other church leaders will be exposed in this tawdry affair—biting pun intended.
In recent days, two prominent Christian leaders have been exposed for utilising the website. One was a well-known promoter of family values. He confessed to having used the website as a client. He is now undergoing “rehabilitation,” whatever that means.
The other Christian leader confessed the other day to having logged on to the website, one time, out of what he calls an “unhealthy curiosity.” He claims that he never revisited the site after the initial log on and he apparently did not enrol for any of its services. He came forward, confessed, published a statement of repentance, and has willingly submitted to the discipline of his employer-ministry and, I presume, of his local church.
When I read the first account I was distressed by the blatant hypocrisy of a man who made his living arguing for the promotion of family values in the public square. This man confessed, in his own words, to being “the biggest hypocrite ever.” Perhaps. (More on this in next week’s article.) He has certainly brought heartache to his wife and children and to his extended family. He has brought terrible shame to the name of Jesus Christ whom he professes to represent. The media is having a field day with it. Christians should be grieved.
The second case, though not as hypocritical, is equally damaging to the reputation of the church of Jesus Christ. When I read the news I let out an audible groan of sorrow. Nevertheless, I was not as shocked as I would have been a couple of decades ago. Sadly, this kind of story is recounted with different characters all too frequently.
So, what can we do to restore the shock factor to sexual sin in the church? What can we learn from this recent expose of indecent Internet indulgence?
Well, to turn a phrase, Christians needs to adopt the mindset, “Life is short. Be faithful.” Or perhaps better, “Life is short. Have faith.”
Christian, life is short. Perhaps you reach the normally allotted 70–80 years, or a few years beyond that. Moses identified this as grass in the desert, which seems to spring up with lush greenness overnight only to dry up and be cut down the next morning (see Psalm 90:4–10). Life is short indeed. So why waste it with unfaithfulness?
Ashley Madison is a digital ghost that promised (and apparently still promises) fulfilment for the unfaithful in this “short” life. But many of its former “clandestine” client base, having now been outed, are finding that actually their life is not short enough. Though perhaps some who have been exposed couldn’t care less about their immorality being public knowledge, nevertheless many no doubt will wonder if the ignominy will ever end. The Christian theologian recently exposed has been suspended from his ministry for a year. This will prove, no doubt, to be the longest year of his life—and then some. I genuinely pity this brother. And I wish this recently widowed man and his eight children well during the course of his restoration. I trust that one day I will be able once again to benefit from his theological insights as I have in the past. But I am deeply grieved that his fall will make my ministry more difficult.
In a world filled with those who are looking for reasons to not believe on Christ, rather for a rationale to believe on Him, the task of the church has gotten that much more difficult. Many are sceptical about church leaders. I wonder how many will now listen to me with question marks about my Internet usage or my character behind closed doors. Will they miss the message due to cynicism fed by these recent events? I know that such scepticism goes with the territory, but unfortunately unfaithfulness on the part of church leaders often needlessly enlarges such territory of distrust.
A few months ago, another high profile pastor confessed to adultery. Last week, he filed for divorce from his wife. He said initially upon his confession of adultery that he knows he has hurt the witness of the gospel. I don’t know what has contributed to his divorce, but both he and his wife’s busted marriage sets up the very real consequence of marring the gospel picture of Christ married to His imperfect Bride, the church. This is so distressing; it is so sad; it grieves me. Yet I am determined.
I am determined, by the grace of God, to live with the outlook, the worldview, that life is short and therefore, by the grace of God, I am determined to be faithful. I am determined that, rather than “having an affair” with the passing transient fog of what the godless world system has to offer, I will rather seek to have faith in the good and holy God who promises to bless faithfulness. Christian, by the grace of God we can avoid the calamitous pitfalls of the enticements of a world system that is fallen and fading. Rather, let us live in the shelter of the love of the Father and be faithful (1 John 2:15–17). Will it be easy? Of course not. Will it be fulfilling? Count on it. Christian, life is short but eternity is long. Live like you are there already. Be faithful.