When news broke out recently that former “19 Kids and Counting” star Josh Duggar had not one but two accounts with Ashley Madison, a website that promotes extramarital affairs, the finger-pointing began.
Some fingers appropriately pointed at Josh. Others blamed his parents and their “oppressively strict religious upbringing.” Some criticized his wife for being too submissive and wanting to stick it out in their marriage rather than divorce his sorry self. Still others blamed “culture” for creating an atmosphere of acceptance that would allow a website the likes of Ashley Madison even to exist.
Let’s be clear, the sole blame for this sad tale belongs to Josh, who succumbed to his sexual temptations and willingly sought out adulterous relationships under the assumption that he would never be caught. The “secret sin” of pornography chipped away at his resolve for years, and then he deliberately acted on those fantasies. (James 1:14-15)
As the Scripture says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.“ (Galatians 6:7-9)
It’s easy to rush to judgment. Many gloat as Josh reaps what he’s sown—a confirmation of their distaste for his seemingly wholesome upbringing. Even Christians are tempted to self-righteously wag their fingers. But our genuine response should be brokenness for him and his family. Even though he issued a public apology, life will never be the same for his family.
Yet, Josh Duggar is not alone. The Ashley Madison data leak is not just a distant, pop-culture story. More than 30 million accounts were exposed, sending shockwaves around the country, as chilling reports surfaced of some who chose to end their lives rather than face the guilt, shame and consequences of their sin.
Painfully, the embarrassing ripple effects have also splashed against our churches, as the accounts of self-professing Christians are brought to light. LifeWay Research Executive Director Ed Stetzer even estimated that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, deacons, staff, etc.) would be resigning on one Sunday as a result—some publicly, some quietly.
Families wrecked. Ministries ruined. Churches broken.
Actually, this could be a lot worse. What if it wasn’t just Ashley Madison accounts that were exposed? What if Internet browsing histories, Netflix viewing records, texting conversations and flirtatious work relationships were broadcast for the world to see? I fear that an exponentially larger number of church members and pastors would be implicated.
Sexual sin is a pervasive evil. Internet pornography and websites like Ashley Madison promise anonymity but those promises are empty. As the Scriptures say, “your sin will find you out.” Any of us is susceptible to such sin. If you think you’re impervious, you might be the most in danger.
So how should Christians respond? Here are at least five ways:
- Examination – Scripture is clear that we must constantly be on guard against sin getting a foothold in our lives. Every one of us needs to ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal any areas of sin.
- Repentance – If you have an Ashley Madison account or are caught up in some other “secret sin,” you need to repent immediately. You also need to confess it to others—your spouse; your pastor; your church, as appropriate.
- Forgiveness – You may find yourself on the other end, bearing the pain of a friend, a pastor, a spouse or a family member who has fallen to sexual sin. If they are truly repentant, you must forgive them as God forgives them. Yes, there are consequences. Yes, it will take time to rebuild trust. But Christlike love demands grace.
- Accountability – Those who fall must be held accountable for their actions. At the same time, Christians must establish accountability relationships with one another, where we dig into one another’s lives, in order to encourage holiness and protect against sin.
- Prayer – Pray diligently for yourself, your family, your friends, your pastor and your church. Satan is prowling around, seeking to take down believers. We must stand in the gap for one another and ask our Father to “deliver us from the evil one.” Prayer is our greatest tool against the lure of sin.