What’s Wrong with Our Response to the Ashley Madison Data Hack

As a fellow sinner, I don’t categorically condemn those who use this affair site.

Give us all your personal information — name, address, phone number, email, credit card — and we will help you have an affair. We won’t tell a soul. We promise.

That’s the premise of Ashley Madison, because hey, “Life is short. Have an affair.” And this made total sense to millions of people. Until one day, it didn’t.

That day was the day hackers known has the Impact Team posted the personal information of some 30+ million users. When that happened, it made sense to no one. Including lots of people who had no idea what Ashley Madison was 24 hours before, but were quick to have an opinion when news of the data hack broke on their Facebook feed. Those opinions fell into one of two camps:

The “How Can You Be So Stupid? Serves You Right” School

This school boasts alumni who can’t fathom adultery (or at least won’t admit it publicly). They are proud to tell you how they would never do anything so stupid. They confidently and categorically condemn those who have been caught and celebrate the consequences that will come their way.

Those who graduated from this elitist school of thought will go on to defend their view with black-and-white statements like, “That’s the problem with America” or “That’s what happens when people don’t understand marriage.” They will talk of the “good ol’ days” when marriage was a commitment that meant something and God was still at its center.

While this school isn’t wrong, I don’t know that it is right, either. Even though I would agree with some of its sentiments, its ethos lacks a certain sense of empathy. It lacks any sense of the grey that is so common in life. It lacks any sense of compassion. It lacks any sense of curiosity as to why one would want to sign up for this service to begin with.

As a result, their message to the exposed is simple: “You were stupid. Serves you right.”

The “How Can You Be So Stupid? Make a Better Plan” School

This school is your “party school” of thought. It’s full of people who celebrate one’s choice to “get yours while the gettin’ is good.” They are proud to tell you how they would never be so stupid as to get caught.

Those who graduated from this school speak of the art of not getting caught and the right to cheat. As if trained spies, these grads tell you all the ways they get around being caught when getting a little extra play: use a fake email, open a ghost credit card account, don’t share your passwords (or make a habit of regularly changing them for “security”). Or they’ll tell you to think like NASA: redundancy, redundancy, redundancy, redundancy, redundancy, redundancy.

I’ll admit, there isn’t much about this school of thought that I like. I don’t think a person has the right to cheat; I believe marriage is a commitment, for better or worse. I believe, even if it’s only anecdotal, that often people don’t realize that they get engaged to the best of someone, but marry the worst of them. But there are many, many people who disagree with me.

The message of those people to the exposed is: “You were stupid. You have to make a better plan.”

How one small decision can escalate

My first thought when I first heard about the hack — if I’m honest — was, “Oh Crap! Did I ever visit that site just to look?”

I didn’t have that thought because I’ve actively looked for or desired an affair — I absolutely have not and do not. I had that thought because my struggle with pornography has covered many more years — and sites — than I care to admit.

What started as a curiosity about girls turned into seeking answers from Google and Napster (which was a TERRIBLE idea) and very quickly snowballed into a full-fledged (and very private) addiction.

If I’m honest, I can understand the reality that people really like sex and often get bored in marriage. I don’t agree with it, but I intellectually understand it. But I also understand that, as it turns out, sex is an awful cornerstone for marriage.

If I’m honest, I get how quickly one small decision can escalate into a huge mistake.

Since I’m being honest, I would like to announce that I am making an official commitment to a third school of thought:

The “That Was Really Stupid . . . But Then Again, I Do Stupid Things, Too” School

This school of thought recognizes two really important things.

First, we realize that every person is one bad decision away from the worst day of his or her life. No one is exempt from a bad decision. Anyone, no matter how faithful that person is to a spouse, faith, or a commitment, is susceptible to infidelity. It’s one of the reasons many pastors subscribe to the Billy Graham rule: never be alone with a person of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse. Ever.

But this is about much more than marital faithfulness. Any number of choices could escalate at any point and ruin someone’s life. In a moment of anger or frustration — righteous or not — you could react in a physical way toward someone younger than you; you might type something you shouldn’t really even be thinking and send it to the wrong person; you may have a genuine, and innocent, question or desire, and you find the answer in the wrong place.

A core value of this school of thought is empathy. It seeks to understand before it seeks to be understood. It asks “Why?” before it offers judgment. It understands that the difference between the consequences of your choices and those of mine are much closer than we care to admit.

The second thing this school understands is that there are real consequences for real choices. Just because we recognize that we aren’t exempt or we seek to empathize doesn’t mean we excuse sinful choices. Not by any means.

Rather, in the midst of the consequence we turn our focus from the sin of the person — which they are well aware of — to the love of the Savior — which is truly Good News. As people who have been forgiven of much, the alumni of this school, work not for a “serves you right” moment or the moral high ground, but for restoration of the broken and rest for the weary.

The message of this school to the exposed is, “I may not know this exact situation, but I know what it is like to have my sin exposed. I know what it is like to hit rock bottom. And I know One who can do something about it. Can I tell you my story?”

A better response: How can I serve you?

It is wrong that Ashley Madison was hacked. It is wrong that people did what they did through Ashley Madison. But it is also wrong to categorically condemn them.

I am from the school of thought that says:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye (Luke 6:39-42).

I follow a teacher who doesn’t ask us to avoid confrontational conversations about sin, but instead to bring loving, non-hypocritical judgment to it, not for the purpose of proving you are right and they are wrong, but to make the wrong in their life right again.

My message to the exposed, “I’ve been there. How can I serve you?”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Stephen Mackey
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