The past few weeks produced one of the greatest number of forced confessions in history. From Snooki’s husband to the oldest son of the Duggar family, people across the nation and the world were admitting their Ashley Madison membership. Internationally, Sao Paolo, Brazil at 374,542 had the most registered customers. Nationally, New York had 268,813 and the three top states were Washington, DC with a percentage of 2.8% of their residents, followed up by Connecticut and NJ with 2.5. Statisticians and other social scientists had a field day as they tried to decipher this tantalizing phenomenon that had over 37.3 million subscribers with more than 20 million on active status. Every profession was involved from lawyers and theologians to bankers and teachers. There were news reports about the devastation that has struck those who had to confess to their wives and long term girlfriends that they have used the services of the Ashley Madison Agency. Some received forgiveness, some were shown the door, and some are trying to put back together the brokenness they have caused.
In addition to the confessions, there were many reflections about people who have sued the company for not having a better system to protect their clients and the reported suicides of those who could not face their names being revealed in public. There were those who saw this whole thing as the vestige of Puritanism since other cultures such as the French or Spanish would not have winked at such disclosures.
As the news coverage continued, I was looking at the advertisement of Ashley Madison – Life is short! Have an affair! It is brilliant advertising! All sorts of biblical verses came to mind. “The sons of the world are smarter than the sons of the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 16:8) There is also the verse written by someone who knew the Bible well and was leaving a one night adulterous relationship: “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave” (Prov. 9:17-18) or the one describing a young man who goes to the house of a prostitute “like an ox ready for the slaughter” (Prov. 7:22).
The truth of the advertisement is that life is short. The Bible tells us that it is just a vapor, a piece of grass – here today and gone tomorrow. The psalmist prays that God will teach him to count his days so that he will gain wisdom. The entrapment or the falsehood of the advertisement is that one should have some affairs or at least one affair to spice up the drabness of life. (One popular quip about granting same-sex marriage was that we will all suffer equally!)
Marriage or sexual purity before marriage and during marriage has taken a beating in the last 50 years in the American life. From fallen marriages of Christian TV leaders such as Jimmy Baker and Jim Swaggart, to politicians in both parties such as Newt Gingrich (Republican) to Bill Clinton (Democrat), to Hollywood’s Ben Affleck’s affair with his nanny and Madonna and Elizabeth’s Taylor’s many husbands, marriage has suffered. From high schools that provide condoms and services to various clinics for abortions, to bars and offices where one night stands are the norm, to frequent marriages before the divorce ink is dried, faithfulness in marriage is taking a beating. Life is too short for faithfulness – have an affair while you are in the city or in the country; have an affair in the loneliness of your apartment when you can confide in the services of Ashley Madison; have a couple of affairs when you are married or in between marriages!
While it is true that there is a battle to achieve parity in many places, when it comes to unfaithfulness, men are still leading in this department. There may be a service similar to Ashley Madison for women, but at least for now it has not received the publicity and the notoriety that Ashley Madison has received.
In the requirements for church leadership, there is this expression “the husband of one wife” in the King James Version. Many have interpreted this verse as a condemnation of polygamy. However, some of the church fathers have interpreted this verse as having one single wife during the husband’s life. In the Eastern Orthodox church, if the wife of the priest dies he is given a choice – to marry for a second time and leave the priesthood or to stay a widower and continue in his calling as a priest.
Will we ever return to the biblical moorings of one husband to one wife for our short lives here on earth? My experience in premarital counseling is that the majority of couples desire this unity, this oneness, this faithfulness. However, we have to admit that, in the words of the Song of Songs, we have allowed small foxes to destroy our vineyards. This means that we are so busy looking for big problems in our marriages that we forget to do the small work of strengthening our relationships. Before the advertisement of Ashley Madison declared that it is ok to be unfaithful and have an affair while one is married, we have told our children that it is ok to have multiple affairs and multiple sexual partners before they get married. We have created a foundation that is not godly and then we are wondering why our marriages do not last. Maybe it is time to say, “Life is short! Do not poison it with one affair! Be faithful to the one you love!”