From Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist Convention leader who absolutely never gets anything seriously wrong about his religion, his denomination’s membership, or his denomination’s future, comes this fascinating blog post declaring that “at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday” because their names will be or have been found on the Ashley Madison customer database hack. (The site has a couple of other pieces linked therein advising Christian women about what to do if their husbands turn up on the list and advising Christians generally about what to do if they are on the list. These are exactly as useful as you might imagine they are.)
I’d be very surprised to learn that that many ministers would need to resign.
I’d be surprised they even needed to go onto a website to find sex partners.
From everything I’ve personally seen and heard about, ministers already have a dock from which to fish–one that fits the bill perfectly for someone seeking to be a hypocrite violating his (or her, but this is Ed Stetzer of the SBC, so he means “his”) marriage vows. Going to a site like Ashley Madison is fraught with risks that simply don’t exist in a church environment: the women on such sites are unlikely to have spent a lifetime being indoctrinated with the Christian Purity culture myths that keep their church-going sisters compliant, worshipful, discreet, obedient–and scared. Further, fundagelical men–especially older ones–seem to fetishize younger women and virginity to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine them wanting to meet women their own age who are already married and sexually experienced. Women on these sites, as well, may have far less to lose by exposure than women in these ministers’ own churches, who face not only general censure and the loss of their marriages but also possible ostracism and religious condemnation. So I’m not seeing what the draw would be for clergymen who have established congregations.
Sure, out of the many hundreds of thousands of ministers in the country according to this site, a comparative few might have ended up on Ashley Madison. People pay for porn subscriptions, don’t they? So why wouldn’t some ministers pay to be members of an infidelity website? My guess is that any such ministers will be too young to have attracted a serious following, belong to denominations that do not subscribe to
misogyny-as-the-bonus-plan er complementarianism, or lack a physical congregation at all.
So who’s actually been publicly outed?
* Josh Duggar, of course, is there. His ongoing saga of sex scandals does not appear to be letting up even a little. (Latest news? An exotic dancer claims he paid her for sex. Twice.) He’s now entered rehab for sex addiction. Let’s hope it’s real rehab this time and not just–oh wait. It’s another Ultra Christian Ministry that is masquerading as a real treatment center. You know, like the one his parents shipped him off to in his teens–that worked so well! Well, hell. The leak doesn’t appear to have done much more than accelerate what was already happening to this high-profile hypocrite.
* Sam Rader, a YouTube video blogger (“vlogger”) who talks a big game about his Christian faith, is also there. I still think he’s a mostly-harmless example of the Liar for Jesus: someone who presents himself as far better able to live his message than he really is, who exaggerates aspects of his life to make it look more like the Happy Christian Illusion on various fronts, and who wants to convince others to adopt the philosophy he himself cannot manage. He released an obligatory video defiantly declaring that he was forgiven by both Jesus and his wife so nobody’s allowed to be mad still. After his removal from a vlogger convention in Seattle last week for threatening people with violence, he finally decided to take a break from YouTube for an unspecified period of time. From the sound of that link, his wife is way angrier at him over getting their asses tossed from the conference than she is about him being involved with Ashley Madison. (Interestingly, Sam Rader also referred to the day he got kicked out of the vlogger conference as “one of the hardest days of me and Nia’s life, by far”–but compared to losing an eagerly-wanted pregnancy just a couple of weeks earlier, wouldn’t getting thrown out of a conference be small potatoes? It’s hard not t owonder if he’s using that phrasing because the conference actually happened.) He might or might not be back; the leak didn’t single-handedly cause his downfall, but it’s definitely a large nail in the coffin.
* Various fairly minor judicial and political figures have shown up on the list, such as Florida State Attorney Jeff Ashton and the Executive Director of the Louisiana GOP Jason Doré (who claims he joined to do “opposition research” before sniffing that joining had “ended up being a waste of money and time”–I’m doubting the first claim, but inclined to completely believe the second). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that a couple dozen local government domains have been identified in the data dump. And here is some more info about other government employees who’ve been caught. So far, nobody especially national-level seems to have turned up.
* American military authorities reveal that they’ve tried to subpoena Ashley Madison’s customer records in the past to bring adultery charges against their enlisted personnel, but there’s no word on how that went or what they’re planning to do now with the many thousands of official .gov and .mil addresses that have turned up in the leak.
* There’s a police captain in Texas whose recent suicide may be linked to his presence on the Ashley Madison list. Canadian authorities report two suicides there. I find these deaths heartbreaking, obviously, and note that they’re about the only really serious fallout from the leak so far.
And that’s about it for now.
So who are these 400 ministers Ed Stetzer darkly predicts will be resigning on Sunday? It’s Friday now, so I guess we’ll just have to wait to see. I don’t think we’ll see a lot of really big-name people turn up, despite Mr. Stetzer’s ominous hints. He’s been on a No True Christian kick of late trying to spin-doctor his religion’s dramatic drop in membership, so I’m not sure his prediction will come true. Even if a somewhat-prominent minister does turn out to be on the list, I don’t see that it’d necessarily result in a resignation; Christian leaders–especially those heading conservative groups–have been working hard for decades to create a church culture in which abusers, liars, predators, thieves, conjobs, and hypocrites can get nearly-unlimited “second chances” from flocks with shorter and shorter memories. The list of unforgivable crimes for that lot is growing shorter and shorter every year.
If you’re waiting for a Pat Robertson or a Ray Comfort to show up on it, don’t hold your breath. I imagine we’d already have heard if that was going to happen. Josh Duggar and Sam Rader are on that list precisely because they don’t have ministries of their own with real-life adherents attending them in person every day. They don’t really have any other way of finding suitable partners than sites like Ashley Madison. But Southern Baptist ministers like the ones Ed Stetzer is waving around like Joe McCarthy’s “laundry list” of Communists are in a whole other ball pit (and not a fun one with Sir Patrick Stewart in it).
If Ed Stetzer and his cronies weren’t doing everything they can to pretend they’re the arbiters of all that is good and moral, nobody would really care what they do one way or the other. Nobody really gets hung up on non-fundagelicals doing this stuff because non-fundagelicals aren’t making a screaming big deal out of their supposedly superior moral code and some supposed god dwelling within them and informing their every move and opinion (except when he isn’t and doesn’t–at which point they’re “not perfect, just forgiven,” as the old Christianese goes–can’t lose for winning, really). Nor are non-fundagelicals trying to force anybody–even fundagelicals–to live by any particular moral code. Some Christians may well equate being required to show respect to other people’s boundaries and rights to being summarily executed as martyrs for their faith, but out here in reality-land, nobody’s buying that line of bullshit and it’s just backfiring on those Christians worse when they trot it out around people outside their bubble.
There has been one high-profile resignation.
Noel Biderman himself, the CEO of Ashley Madison’s parent company, has had to resign his post over the leak and his various infidelities, but I don’t think that’s the mass exodus from pulpits that Ed Stetzer had in mind. Maybe any pastors revealed in the leak can join in with the various lawsuits being filed against the infidelity clearinghouse. I can’t say I’d blame them if they did. It isn’t awesome to cheat on one’s spouse, but the situation just gets worse when someone caught cheating also turns out to be a pawn in some religious leader’s morality crusade.
The only real semi-bright spot so far for Christians is this: I’ve seen that news about how Alabama leads the nation in spending on the site per user, but I don’t think that implies anything about Alabama. Though we know that very fervent Christian states lead the nation in paid porn subscriptions, in this case the link between Alabama and Ashley Madison spending might be a false positive; as folks are pointing out, Alabama may simply be the first choice users encounter when asked to create their profiles. The next states on the list are generally traditionally secular ones, with the traditional Christian-heavy states trailing them in spending. So the users in those Christian-heavy states are either not actually going as far as buying anything, or they’re spending way less than their more-secular brethren. But that’s about as good as it gets so far for the righteous arbiters of all that is good and moral, the holy paladins of the “one true God.”
Look, if folks fail their own personal code of conduct that’s between them and whoever is directly affected. But if those folks are lording it over me, saying I’m less moral than they are because I don’t subscribe to the same code they do and that I’m less capable of handling a relationship because I don’t believe what they do, and worse if they’re trying to impose their repulsive values and outdated code of behavior on me because they think they can handle running my life better than I can, then I think it’s fair for me to point out when they demonstrate that they are categorically incapable of following the code they want to force on me–the code that they claim makes them better than me. Aside from that, I don’t think someone’s personal life is my business. Ed Stetzer has made his group’s inner workings my business, and it’s perfectly fair for me to examine the lives of those imposing on me and proposing to rob me of my rights to see if they’re even following the code they want me to follow. (Spoiler alert: they’re not.)
So I’ll be paying attention on Sunday, but I don’t think we’ll see a lot of mass resignations. I wonder what Ed Stetzer will do in that case, considering what the Bible says about false prophets?
We’re going to talk about bait and switch tactics next, speaking of which – see you then!
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