Men and women cheating on their spouses is nothing new. Yet with the hack of affair-matchmaking site Ashley Madison and subsequent release of information identifying its users, adultery is in the public eye in a new way.
Those fearful of discovery are seeking to know if their information was part of the leak. Prominent Christians such as Josh Duggar were found among the paid users, as was Sam Rader, a Christian YouTube star whose surprise pregnancy announcement to his wife went viral. On a public policy level, federal agencies are trying to sift through the data dump to determine what steps need to be taken against employees who violated federal policy and used their government-issued email address to register for Ashley Madison.
Much could be said about the call for Christians to do critical self-evaluation in the wake of the Ashley Madison hack. Jesus’ commands on adultery are crystal clear: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Marriage is a covenantal commitment in which two people agree to give of themselves wholly and absolutely. We cannot shy away from boldly and prophetically calling our own church families to faithfulness in their marital bonds and to the celebration of a holistic image of sex as a gift to marriage that celebrates the “joyful embrace of the whole person.” At the same time, we should be prepared for the very real possibility that more than one household in our church is reeling after the discovery of a spouse’s name on the list of users. Even as we are called to faithfulness, we should also be ready to offer hope to the hurting marriages in our communities.
In the public outcry we have stumbled upon a healthy celebration of the vows of marriage.
Yet something else has been revealed here. While we should mourn the brokenness of sexuality and repent of the ways this has crept into our churches, there is also good news. In spite of a world that seems to flaunt its disdain for a Christian view of sexuality, there has been widespread lament over the Ashley Madison hack. The predominant reaction - even beyond the church - is that marriage is to be sacrosanct between spouses. Articles offering advice on what to do if your spouse finds out about an Ashley Madison account recognize the utter devastation the information will have on countless marriages. At the same time, they provide suggestions that can lay the groundwork for rebuilding a relationship: “Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?” Divorce lawyers are even referring to the Ashley Madison leak as “Christmas in September” in anticipation of a wave of divorce filings from spouses of registered users. Despite the ways in which our world has contorted a healthy vision of sexuality, it seems that in the public outcry directed at Ashley Madison users we have stumbled upon a healthy celebration of the vows of marriage.
As Christians strive to articulate a vision of sexuality that is rooted in the love of our covenantal God, the Ashley Madison hack offers us the opportunity to describe adultery as a violation of something sacred. Equipped with a view of grace, we also find ourselves able to better meet those who come to church broken by the unexpected discovery of an unfaithful partner and those who come ashamed and afraid of what the future may hold. In this way we can speak a message of hope, based in the love of our ever-faithful God.