Church & Culture
Ashley Madison and the Danger of Glamorizing the Sin We Denounce
Exposing someone to a previously unknown opportunity to sin makes us foolhardy at best, and co-conspirators at worst.

When did you first hear about Ashley Madison?

If you're like most people, it was in the past month as the email hacking scandal was breaking.

Not me. I’ve known about Ashley Madison for a couple of years. Where did I learn about the notorious website for people who want to have an affair? On cable news and Christian blogs.

I wasn’t looking to have an affair. I was just keeping up on the news. But suddenly, thanks to a Christian blog, I knew about a website that told me "Life is short. Have an affair." And the front door was literally at my fingertips.

Relax, this is not a confession. I didn’t go to the website. Not even for “research” or “to know how to pray better.”

I have a happy marriage and I've never even considered cheating on my wife. The very idea makes me nauseous.

And even if it didn't, I wouldn't.

Does Emphasizing Sin Unintentionally Promote Sin?

Yesterday I read the tragic story of a pastor committing suicide after his account was discovered on the now notorious email list.

My heart broke. For him, his church, his family and especially his wife who now has to live with a double horror.

But it also made me wonder. Where did all these pastors, and many other seemingly upright family men, first hear about a website for cheaters?

I’m guessing most of them didn’t suddenly decide to Google “website for married men who want to have an affair." Some of them must have heard about it like I did. Through blogs and news outlets warning us about this sleazy, but obscure website.

They probably tsk-tsked it along with the TV host or blogger – raising Ashley Madison's profile with every tsk.

Then, alone one night in a moment of sinful weakness, they remembered the blog or news video, so they went back to it and grabbed the website address.

When it comes to sin, especially sexual sin, the old saying is true: there's no such thing as bad publicity. Until the email list is exposed.

Be Careful How We Talk About Sin

If the first time most of the audience is hearing about a sin is from us denouncing it, we may not need to bring it up.

Here's a thought. If the first time most of the audience is hearing about a sin is from us denouncing it, we may not need to bring it up.

Telling people about Ashley Madison before this recent scandal broke was like walking into an AA meeting and yelling, “Hey! There’s a new liquor store three doors down, having a two-for-one sale! Isn’t that awful?”

That’s what the blogs and newscasts did. They showed me how to cheat on my wife. The fact that they followed it with “isn’t this awful?” didn’t change the reality that I wouldn’t have known about it if they hadn’t told me.

(Yes, I'm aware of the fine line I'm walking here. If this scandal wasn't so well-known right now I wouldn't risk telling you about it, either.)

The Dangers of Exposing the Sins of Others

When we preach against sin we need to be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16).

We need to ask questions like does this really help people? Or are we just fishing for TV ratings, blog readers or congregational "amens" without regard to the side effects?

Sin is real. It should never be ignored or soft-pedaled. And the blame for the sins of those who visited Ashley Madison to have an affair cannot be placed on the shoulders of anyone but the men who did it.

But, as Christian leaders, let’s all use this horrible episode to learn something.

Exposing sin is dangerous business with many unintended consequences.

It’s like the old illustration in which a speaker tells the audience not to think about a pink elephant. All it does is make you think about a pink elephant.

Something similar happens when we constantly talk about sin.

Calling out a known and active sin is a biblical imperative. But exposing someone to an opportunity to sin that they weren’t previously aware of makes us foolhardy at best, and co-conspirators at worst.

But I see it all the time. A pastor will get on Facebook and link to a news report about some terrible thing that’s happening.

They’ll get a chorus of comments like, “Oh my, we must pray!” and “What is this world coming to?” But how many people will actually be turned away from that sin by exposing it in such a way? Few, if any, is my guess.

That’s one of the dangers of emphasizing sin. We’re often reminding more people about the sin than stopping anyone from doing it.

There’s no danger of that when we talk about Jesus. So let’s do that. Yes, talking about Jesus is dangerous business, too. But it's not that kind of danger.

We need to emphasize the saving grace of Jesus over the sins of the culture.

We need to emphasize the saving grace of Jesus over the sins of the culture.

Let’s not be guilty of glamorizing sin, even as we tsk-tsk it. Give God's grace the headlines, not the world's vices.

Want an angry crowd? Denounce sin. But be aware of the unintended consequences.

Want a healthy church? Magnify Jesus. There's no downside to that.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

September 09, 2015 at 10:25 AM

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