Thousands of users were exposed when hackers released private data from the dating/hook-up site Ashley Madison. A foul smell wafting as closets full of skeletons were opened up; the stench of hidden mistakes and hypocritical promises. With the catchy slogan ‘life is short, have an affair’ it’s hardly surprising the hack has caused shockwaves in communities around the world.
The list of names and emails revealed some pastors and public Christian figures were among those who had used the site to have affairs or indulge fantasies; Christian leaders whose secret sins have been exposed.
How do you feel when you hear stories like this one? I’ve felt rage, sadness, and disappointment; but after those emotions subside the lingering feeling is fear.
It might sound strange to feel fear. But I do.
I fear I might become like them. I’m concerned I might stumble onto the same track and make the same atrocious mistakes.
While it is impossible for me to fully understand what led each of these people to Ashley Madison, I believe succumbing to the same path must mean falling for lies.
Lie #1 ‘It will never happen to me’
I’m tempted to label these exposed leaders as ‘crazy’ or ‘monsters’—dehumanising them. By labelling people in this way I separate myself from them, looking down at them and believing that ‘I am not like them’.
When I believe this lie the warning of their lives loses power. Rather than seeing these people as freaks, I would do better to see their lives as revealing the real and ordinary threats to godliness.
The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church not to forget the mistakes of others in the past, ‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’ (See 1 Corinthians chapter 10).
I’d be a fool to think it could never be me.
Lie #2 ‘It’s best to just keep that to myself’
I fear that I will become a secret keeper.
I worry that part of the issue for people who have been exposed is their secret keeping. It must have started small and over time their secrets and lies just grew and grew.
This is how sin and temptation work. They bubble away for a while before boiling over. The book of Proverbs has wise words for me, ‘Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy’.
While confessing to other people is really hard I have found it to be really helpful in my own life. I pray I would combat secret keeping and nip sin in the bud through accountability and confession.
Lie #3 ‘People think I’m good—so I am good’
I fear I would become comfortable in hypocrisy—seeing faults in others but unwilling make changes in my own life.
I fear I might become a good actor—putting on a show of perfection while cramming a closet full of skeletons. I fear I might allow myself to be an exception—preaching the word of God to others, but harbouring a cold heart towards God.
I fear that I will take the praise of people as justification over what I know God sees in my heart. I wonder whether some of these men allowed the nice words of people to numb their feelings of guilt. I don’t want that to be me. No matter how nice people think I am—I can’t let their opinions speak louder than my conscience.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honours is detestable in the sight of God’. These words should target the heart of anyone who confuses the respect of people with the respect of God. Having the respect of others is not an indicator of what God thinks of me.
From fear to thankfulness
While hearing of the moral failings of some Christian leaders is heart wrenching, I also thank God for the warning their lives provides.
I feel the fear—the real possibility of taking the same route.
But I shouldn’t be overwhelmed. God is faithful. I have forgiveness thorough Jesus and he will help me stand firm – providing a way out of temptation.
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13