Ashley Madison. I’ve seen and heard this name in the news a hundred times in the last week. No she’s not one of my girlfriends or someone I met again at my recent reunion. I can tell you the best of my understanding about what (not who) Ashley Madison is. Ashley Madison is a web site where people can go to sign up to meet someone for an extramarital affair. Money can be paid on different levels depending on what your circumstances and desires are. I guess I knew these types of web sites existed though I never gave them much thought until recently.
You see a few weeks ago a group of computer hackers hacked into Ashley Madison’s data base of customers accessing their names, addresses and even credit card information. The hackers then tried to blackmail the site by threatening to publicly release the names and information of all their clients. When the site refused the blackmail threats, the hackers did just what they said they would do – they released the names of millions of customers along with their addresses and the amounts of money they spent on the web site.
Now the mainstream media, of course, picked up on the salaciousness of all this and peaked our interests. For several days the news reports announced the names of people on the list who were involved in public offices, major corporations and others with some public notoriety. I’m sure they’ve been met with humiliation and embarrassment, not to mention what it’s done to their families. What the media hasn’t talked about are the millions of folks that have no public persona who now have to try to pick up the pieces after their names have been damaged all over the web.
Here’s my take on this whole situation: I’ve seen the lists for two states. I confess to you that I didn’t have sense enough to look away, but instead perused the list of names. As a result I’ve seen no less than six names of people I know in two different states. Some of these folks I know well, others only by association. Each time I saw a name I recognized my heart dropped a little more. My heart aches not only for the one who chose this association, but also for their husband/wives, children, parents and close friends. I can only imagine if I had come across Michael’s name on one of those lists. Or one of my children’s names. And don’t be fooled into thinking it can’t happen to someone you know and love. Don’t think there aren’t believers’ names on those lists too. Because there are. Because believers are people who make mistakes too – who make poor choices, even when they know what the right thing to do is.
And now I’m seeing the great fallout of more hurt and more tragedy as a result. Families are shattering apart. Innocents are paying a great price. And I want to find fault. And twenty years ago I would have – at the top of my lungs, upon my tallest soapbox. It makes me so mad that the web site organizers would ever set up this site to ensnare people. How dare the hackers illegally obtain the information and then choose to spew it to all the world.
But today, more than anything, I feel sorrow and compassion. Mostly my heart aches over those individuals who made the mistake of seeking this kind of relationship, and those close to them. I don’t know what drove them to it. I don’t know what they were thinking at the time. I don’t think it was right. BUT I DON’T CONDEMN THEM. Because mostly what I see is someone who’s had their secret sin announced publicly to the world. And I can relate. You see I have secret sins too. Those things of which I am ashamed of thinking and doing. Those things that I hope no one ever finds out about. Those things I have carried most heavily before God for forgiveness, knowing that He is faithful to cover me with His grace and put my sins away for eternity. Who among us could stand to have our lives spilled out for all to see? No. There will be no judgement from me. And along with that commitment, I tell you there will be no gossip, no snickering and no finger-pointing. I’m sorry I even looked at those lists, because I don’t want that information to be in my head and my heart when I deal with those involved.
God, forgive me when I fail you. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy. Thank you for loving me, in spite of me.