I rarely comment on current events. I prefer to simply stick with the basics of scripture—loving God, loving others as we love ourselves. I don’t want to be guilty of throwing gas on a fire, stirring up division in the body.
But this time is somewhat different.
We’ve been inundated with the hack on the Ashley Madison dating site, an online dating site specifically for married people seeking extra-marital affairs. First, it was the theft of users’ information. Now, as names of high-profile users have begun to leak out, we are seeing first-hand the damage, witnessing an overwhelming number of betrayed spouses.
Many of you, just like me, know exactly what those spouses are feeling. You know the hurt, the shame, the humiliation. You know the depth of betrayal, how everything they believed suddenly feels like a lie. You know the gut-wrenching pain that fills every inch of their being. You know the long-term consequences of having your trust broken, wondering if you can ever trust another human, ever open your heart to another being.
The very existence of the Ashley Madison site is a sad commentary on our culture, on just how sex-saturated our culture has become. To have a website that openly markets itself to married members is—to me—mind-boggling. Why does someone marry if they want to have an “open” relationship? What has happened to the sanctity of marriage? Why can we no longer honor commitments that we have made?
Let’s be honest: adultery is as old as mankind itself. You don’t have to read very far into scripture to find spouses who wandered from their commitments. There’s the story of David who lusted after Bathsheba and then murdered her husband (2 Samuel 11). Then there was Judah who propositioned a prostitute, who was actually his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38). I’m sure we could go on with examples of sexual promiscuity from scripture.
Of course, we also have to take into consideration some cultural considerations in scripture. First, women were property to be purchased and sold at will. Men were able to simply write divorce papers and cast aside any woman they found unacceptable for any reason. Second, men were allowed to have multiple wives. Sadly, some of those wives were loved; some were despised. Not much has changed in that regard.
But, Christ came to elevate women to a status of equal. He came to change the way men treated women. He said men were no longer able to just cast women aside with a certificate of divorce without reason. Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Sexual immorality is as old as man itself. But why is it so prominent among Christians? Why are we seeing so many prominent Christians taken down by extra-marital affairs? Why are we falling to temptation, failing to live up to our commitment to our spouse? Why are there so many wounded and betrayed spouses left to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to rebuild their lives?
As I have said many times, I had a front-row seat to the action. I have seen an affair from start to finish. I have witnessed the change in one’s heart and seen the one I loved travel that road, the road from a Christian trying to do things right to one so trapped in sin and deceit that he can’t find his way out. As I try to wrap my mind around the Ashley Madison scandal, here are a few insights on what leads one to an adulterous relationship.
Failure to abide in Christ daily. When my (now ex-)husband first graduated from seminary, we joined the staff of a large church. We hadn’t been there long when we discovered that the pastor was having/had an affair. We were devastated. This man had been a friend, a mentor, a hero. To see his moral failure was absolutely devastating to us.
But, we learned a very valuable lesson: if we failed to abide in Christ daily, we could one day be a statistic. We often pointed to that lesson as an illustration of how easily we could fall prey to sexual sin. We felt that God had given us a glimpse of what could be if we were not careful to walk closely with him.
And it truly was a glimpse of what our future held.
We were busy with church and kids and so many things. I know that I was at a point where kids and ministry often overtook my relationship with Christ. My heart was always his, but my time was filled with activity. And, my husband’s “abiding” was throwing a sermon together. We allowed so many things to replace our relationship. We failed to abide daily.
And failing to abide was the first step to a failed marriage.
One bad decision. My husband was initially open about his feelings toward this other woman. He told me of his attraction to her. My response? Temptation is not a sin. Even Jesus was tempted. It’s when you act on that temptation that we have a problem.
I watched as my husband made one bad choice after another, slowly leading him farther away from God and me and closer to giving into temptation. It was the decision to indulge in pornography. It was the decision to counsel her about her marriage (without me present). Then it was the decision to go to kids’ camp as a counselor with her (against my wishes). Then it was the decision to ask her advice on various situations (against my wishes). Then it was the decision to meet her for lunch (against my wishes). Then it was the decision…
One decision after another. One bad choice after another. Getting closer to the fire with every step. Turning a blind eye to the danger. Rationalizing his choices. Quenching the Spirit.
In the words of the Casting Crowns song, “It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away. It’s a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray. And thoughts invade, choices are made, A price will be paid When you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day. It’s a slow fade.”
Failing to protect your mind. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” But it all begins with the mind, what we allow our minds to consume.
Josh Duggar, one of the many caught in the Ashley Madison scandal, admitted (initially) that pornography played a role in his choices. My ex-husband had dabbled in pornography our entire married lives (I now believe there was a lot more than “dabbling” in pornography).
Allowing those images to enter our mind changes the way we think and view life. We begin to devalue the beauty of sex, something God created for a husband and wife to enjoy, to reflect the oneness for which he created us. We devalue other humans and see them as only a means of satisfying our own selfish desires.
Pornography is often a starting point, that first “one decision” that leads us down a road toward adultery.
Thinking we are above sexual sin. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 makes it clear: “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.” Have you ever been there? Have you ever thought you were above a certain sin? Been there, done that.
I truly believe my ex-husband thought he was above sexual sin. I thought I was above sexual sin. Truth is, none of us is above any sin. If we think we are, we are dangerously close to falling. We are one bad decision away from beginning the path to an affair (or any other sin). The decision to encourage someone of the opposite sex. The decision to go inside for a few minutes after a date. The decision to watch something that we know is not pleasing to God.
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The clarion call to all Christians. You are not above sin.
But by the grace of God go I…
There are so many things to consider, so much hurt and pain, so much sexual temptation all around us. So how do we respond to the Ashley Madison scandal—and every other sexual scandal in the church? We pray. We pray for the devastated spouses. We pray for those who have been taken captive, trapped in deceit. We pray for those trapped in addictions to pornography and other sexual sins. We pray for God to pour out his Spirit, to set the captives free. We pray that those who think their lives are over instead see the opportunity to be healed, to use their failures to show the world God’s redeeming power. We pray that we don’t allow ourselves to become trapped, to begin that walk down the path where we would fall ourselves. We pray that we have the courage to escape temptation, to avoid being a statistic ourselves. We pray that we would stay in perfect communion with him so that we can remain pure. We pray that God would show himself strong in our own weakness.
We pray. We seek his face. We seek to abide. When necessary, we recognize that we are walking down the wrong path and we make mid-course corrections. We admit that we are not above sin. We seek accountability. We know that in every temptation, God provides a way out.
We know that God is bigger…and able…to deliver…to redeem.