Brace yourself for Ashley Madison's impact on church kids

September 1st, 2015

The recent Ashley Madison hack leaves us watching marriages within the church crumble before our eyes. But the betrayal of an affair doesn’t just affect husband and wife. Children too are devastated by the unfaithfulness of a parent.

An affair drove me and my unsaved family to the cross. For kids whose families are entrenched in the church, an affair could drive them the opposite direction.

Josh Duggar, who formerly served as Family Research Council’s Executive Director, admitted to cheating on his wife Anna after it was discovered he had two separate accounts on Ashley Madison. The young Duggar couple have four small children. No doubt the Duggar children will be tainted by the rejection of their father, not to mention the public scrutiny and devastation of their mother.

Yesterday, Tabletalk editor R.C. Sproul Jr. was suspended from his teaching fellowship with Ligonier Ministries. Christianity Today reports that Sproul’s suspension was a consequence of the ministry leader’s visit to the Ashley Madison website. On his blog, Sproul admitted, “In August 2014, in a moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity, I visited Ashley Madison. My goal was not to gather research for critical commentary, but to fan the flames of my imagination.”

Sproul explained on his blog that he did not sign up for Ashley Madison’s services and promised he was always faithful to his wife while she lived. Sproul’s wife Denise died in 2011 after battling cancer. He has seven surviving children.

Josh Duggar and R.C. Sproul Jr. merely scratch the surface of prominent ministry leaders exposed by the Ashley Madison hack.

In his Christianity Today article, “My Pastor Is on the Ashley Madison List,” Ed Stetzer, the Executive Director of LifeWay Research, estimated 400 church leaders, including pastors and lay leaders throughout the United States and Canada, were looking for an affair through the Ashley Madison website.

However, you don’t need Ashley Madison to have an affair. And you don’t need a website hack to expose infidelity.

For my family, my father’s extramarital affair brought my broken-down parents crawling to the doors of a local church. They were craving just about any help they could get. Here they were introduced to Jesus, who provided their healing and total transformation.

I vividly remember life without Jesus. I remember the screaming and fighting. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night, carried to the car by a crying parent, and driven to grandma’s house because an affair came to light.

As the child of an unfaithful parent, you too feel rejected by the affair. Though the level of rejection is different than your mother’s devastation and rejection, you as the child go through a type of grieving period. You wonder that if only you were smarter, better behaved or prettier, then your parent wouldn’t have temporarily left your family in search of someone else. It might sound strange, but this is the raw emotional devastation that occurs when a parent’s cheating is uncovered.

Thank God of heaven that the affair did drive my family to the cross. Because I then experienced life with Jesus in our family. It wasn’t perfection, but I finally knew peace, stability and the accountability that the church provided my family.

The opposite effect threatens to occur for parents who commit affairs, yet ensure they and their children are at church every time the doors are open. I was devastated, deeply wounded, and developed distrust and commitment issues because of a lost parent’s affair. I can’t imagine how a child whose parents knew Christ yet still had an affair would feel.

Already we see a burgeoning trend among young evangelicals raised in the church who have grown callous towards the traditional Christian teachings of their parents and reject the church. Hypocrisy has certainly played its role. Because they see failure within the church, many young evangelicals have turned Jesus Christ into something of their own making.

In his article, “10 Counterfeit Jesus Figures,” Daniel Darling, Communications Director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, explains that the believers who accept Christ, but reject the church, are worshiping a “Post-Church Jesus.” Darling writes:

“Burned out by the overly political, legalistic church of your youth? The Post-Church Jesus allows you to worship him without all the trappings of the institutional church. In some ways, this Jesus is attractive for those who’ve grown tired of a gospel that sounds more like traditionalism than the gospel of Christ.

“But the real Jesus doesn’t offer his followers the option of following him without being part of the church. The very act of regeneration by faith baptizes the believer into the body of Christ. Christ loves his bride and offers no fruitful path of faith outside of the community of faith.”

Pastors and youth ministry leaders need to prepare themselves now to minister to worshippers of a “Post-Church Jesus.” They will be wounded by the infidelity of their parent and, in turn, distrust those in ministry leadership. They will develop bitterness towards others and live with the expectation of others to eventually betray them.

We recognize that the church is not perfect nor can it ever be on its own. Sin still affects us all and, as Darling points out, the community of faith is not optional. But the impact of the Ashley Madison hack and infidelity as a whole, are further reasons why it is imperative for the church to prove ourselves trustworthy. As Philippians 2:15 instructs, “above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”

There is good news after an affair. The Good News can and must still be shared with those inside of the church impacted by infidelity. This will not be easy. In some ways it will be even harder than witnessing to those unfamiliar with the gospel. But, thank God, our job is simply to share the truth in love. Then we let God take care of the heart-transforming. Trust me, he will.

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This article originally appeared at Juicy Ecumenism and is published here with permission.

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