Do Ashley Madison Cheaters Deserve Forgiveness?
Posted by Mike Foster: (Twitter: @MikeFoster) Last week 37 million Ashley Madison accounts were exposed when a group of hackers released the private data for the entire world to see. Names, emails payment information and sexual preferences were posted indiscriminately on the web.
Embarrassment fell on those who were uncovered. Shame blanketed itself over families. Marriages are now sitting on the rocks. Two suicides are attributed to the leak. A Christian vlogger and a Duggar were all caught up in the scandal. The vice president’s son has been implicated; a prominent Muslim preacher and a famous defense attorney have been accused of having accounts. How far and deep this rabbit hole goes no one really knows.
And of course, with every sex scandal, the vulture culture has run wild with the news. Thousands of stories, tweets and gossip filled conversations have play up the titillating details. We have devoured the juicy gossip and have righteously condemned the unfaithful men.
But what if for a moment we turned the finger around and called ourselves out? What if we realized the real story here is about truth instead of condemnation? What if we found it within ourselves to give every individual who had an Ashley Madison account a second chance? What would happen if we stopped talking about hackers, and cheaters, and sexual fantasies and talked about the importance of forgiveness?
Right now the societal shame machine is on full throttle. The media is locked in the targets. People’s lives are at stake and thousands of marriages now live on the brink. So let me make a few suggestions:
- Be A Cheerleader Of People Who Screw Up...Just Like You.
Every Ashley Madison user has the right to be treated with most basic levels of human decency. These men are not scumbags or evildoers. They are not scoundrels or perverts. They are dads and husbands and sons who have made real mistakes and poor choices.
I get it. Showing respect and giving the benefit of the doubt to these men can be difficult. But it helps to remember that all of us get a chance in our own lives to make really poor choices and do rotten things that hurt people. To believe otherwise is to live with a prideful arrogance and lacking in self-awareness of our own brokenness. We have all had our own worst moments. Everyone gets a chance to be an idiot at least a few times in his or her life. The only difference is we’ve been lucky enough to avoid having our personal disasters splashed on the evening news.
- Let’s Stop Pretending Our Relationships Are Perfect
We’ve all been in relationships where there have been seasons where the love ran out. Every relationship has these dark times. And when it’s dark, we are prone to do dark things. I don't offer this as an excuse, but simply a point of reflection. I’ve been married for 20 years now and I promise you it hasn’t been a perfect 20 years. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns and hot sex and deep connection. At times it’s an all out battle to just keep our marriage on the right track.
So instead of pointing our sharp judgmental fingers at Ashley Madison users, maybe we can take a hard look at the health of our own relationships. Instead of holding these husbands accountable we actually hold ourselves accountable. If our own marriages and relationships feel broken or drifting, lets be brave enough to say, “this isn’t working” and get some help.
- Be A Champion Of Forgiveness And Second Chances.
I was disappointed when I heard Josh Duggar’s brother-in-law publicly called him “a pig” and begged his sister to leave him after his name was found on the Ashley Madison list. I understand the brother-in-laws anger and frustration, especially with the other abuse revelations that came out last month. But honestly, the advice isn’t helpful to his sister. Especially right now. These situations are already loaded with so much emotion and hurt and confusion. I've never seen name-calling and angry advice be overly productive or helpful.
May I suggest we look for ways to be incredibly supportive to the wives right now. We do that by not bashing their spouses and the father of their children. We bring over some Chipotle and write a note saying, “I’m standing with you guys in this storm.” We pray quietly for healing. We remind these couples that the road to forgiveness is a heroic one and an option worth fighting for. We look for miracles in the mess. We share the simple stories of how people just like them have survived infidelity. Bring hope, not angry advice.
In my work at People of the Second Chance, I’m lucky enough to see the actual results of people thriving after failure. It’s a long road. It’s a tough road. It takes a real commitment. But those who are willing to face down the dragons of despair, deceit and deception are the ones who can rise again to live out a new adventure. Or as J.K Rowling once said, “rock bottom can become a solid foundation on which to rebuild your life.” I believe it. I’ve seen it. So let’s champion second chances.
Mike Foster is the founder of People of the Second Chance and the author of Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide To Freedom. He lives in San Diego with his family and fluffy dog.