Ashley Madison. It’s got to be some woman’s name—probably several. And yet she’s not the one we think of when we hear the name. I feel a little sorry for her at this time. It’s not as bad as having the last name Hitler, but for a while those women will endure the onslaught of petty jokes.
The Ashley Madison we think of at this particular time is the website for “cheaters” to connect with other “cheaters” and have a sexual encounter. Apparently there is a lot of money in hosting a site for this sort of thing. Ashley Madison isn’t the only such site. And, of course, there’s a plethora of other such sites that cater to people and their sexual desires.
There has been some fallout related to the hacking of the Ashley Madison site as recognizable names are found—politicians and others, even pastors—and are identified as…well, cheaters.
I can’t help but think of the passage in the Gospel of John that was a later addition to the book (thankfully!) about the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus to be stoned. He acknowledged her sin and the consequences and then invited the one without sin to cast the first stone. Of course, we all get it, just like they did. No one is guiltless and therefore our judgments are skewed and self-serving.
The media response to the Ashley Madison website hacking is a sort of mob dragging the adulterous woman out into the open for her justice. What hasn’t been mentioned is that whether or not the rest of us are on the Ashley Madison website or any other website for indulging our lusts we are still cheaters of one sort of another.
Let’s take a simple example as an illustration. I’ve gotten speeding tickets. Yes, that’s plural. I’m 55, well on my way to 56, which means that I’ve been driving for 40 plus years. I don’t know how many tickets I’ve received, but it’s less that I can count on one hand, or at least close. I’ve had conversations with people who tell me they’ve never received a ticket for speeding, to which I have responded “have you ever sped, broken the speed limit?” To which they say “yes” and I then say “you’ve just never been caught.”
Is the point about obeying the speed limit or not being caught breaking it?
If we start hurling our stones at the woman caught in adultery or the names exposed on the Ashley Madison hacking then we’re saying the point is not being caught. Being caught is what people end up being punished for, not breaking the law or cheating or doing whatever else we frown upon in public but then snicker about in private. If the focus was on the breaking of the law or some ethical or moral standard, then our response would be quite different. Indeed, perhaps the response to anyone else’s exposed sin ought to bring us to our knees in repentance and acknowledgement of our own sins and transgressions. It is a sign of sin, I think, that when I learn of someone else’s sin I do not immediately plead for mercy and forgiveness—no matter whether I’ve done what they’ve done or not.
Certainly there is a need to address the transgressor and his/her transgressions when they become evident, since if we don’t then we are likely to create a worse mess than we have, but in doing so we must make the sincere personal effort to be honest about ourselves and our own history or lapses as well as the brokenness of our social context and political system—it should produce huge amounts of humility instead of the ranting and finger-pointing that we have.
In regard to the religious rules, I have come to believe that they are about our protection, rather than prohibition. By engaging in the “sin” we are exposing ourselves and others to serious harm and hurt. The “rules” aren’t because we’re naughty, but that we’re loved. Julian of Norwich wrote “Sin has no substance itself, it is only known by the pain that it causes.” That’s a rough translation, but the point she recognized was that we only know of the sins by the damage done to our hearts—and others.
The Ashley Madison website hack has been terrible for a lot of people—the least of which are those who make money from providing the service. There are a lot of families and partners and children, congregants and constituents who feel betrayed—but that brokenness is just the tip of the iceberg. The harm was there already, long before the hack exposed it.
Here’s a poem I wrote last year about the passage in John I mentioned.
A woman was brought before Jesus one day
“Adulteress! Stone her! For her sins she must pay!”
Kneeling to the ground, his finger in the dust
Scribbling something mysterious and convicting, I trust
For he captured the hearts of accusers and accused
And changed the hearts of both abusers and abused
He stood and looked in eyes filled with rage
Seeing the wounded people locked in a cage
Stone her, yes, he said, this is the law
So let the stone fly first from the one without flaw
The silence was louder than their shouts had been
For each knew their lives were not free of their sin
A thump on the ground was the first sound
Then stone after stone dropping was heard all around
Like thunder it sounded for a moment or two
The people convicted, their lies he saw through
Though foolish, they knew better than to challenge his word
For grace was whispered and forgiveness was heard
Not only for the woman, but all who were there
They knew the law was a burden too great to bear
So what about you? Are you holding a stone
Ready to hurl until you’re standing alone?
Those judgments we point to, convinced we are right
Forgetting the log in our eye, impairing our sight
The mercy is for all, the grace is a gift
No more need we cast stones or rocks need we lift
We all are the woman as well as the crowd
So listen quite closely, for the whisper quite loud
God loves each one of us, both sinners and saints
No sin stains so deeply, or vice endlessly taints
There’s nothing to do since do something we can’t
An operation is necessary, a new heart transplant
And this is what the people and the woman receive
And we each do too, if we simply believe.
© Stephen Carl, 2015