Reportedly there have been up to 38 million Ashley Madison users. Ashley Madison, of course, is the organization that sought to facilitate and protect those seeking extra-marital affairs. Their slogan was: Life is short. Have an affair.
Well, Ashley Madison was hacked and its list of users leaked. Apparently upwards of 400 pastors and church leaders were on that list. While I do not condone any pastors or church leaders appearing on that list, let’s keep it in perspective. That’s 400 pastors and church leaders out of a total of 38 million users.
What does the 38 million figure actually represent? It is people who have created a profile on Ashley Madison. It breaks down into approximately 32.5 million men and 5.5 million women. Journalists who have looked at the profiles have noted that a large percentage of people (especially the women) who created profiles never actually used the site. Of that 32.5 million men and the 5.5 million women with profiles who may or may not have used the site, there appears to be only 400 pastors and church leaders. I say, ‘only’ because I’m relieved about that small number. Then I take a slow breath, and of course, that’s 400 too many. Then again, the way some have been reporting it and others have been commenting on social media, you’d think half the church was on the list.
I’ve tried to find the total number of Christian pastors, world-wide, and discover it’s an elusive figure. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are 33,000 Christian denominations. Presumably they have numerous churches headed by pastors and they have associate pastors, youth pastors, and various church leaders. I wonder if that would even come close to 38 million? I seriously doubt it.
Most pastors are workhorses who are overburdened. The public is aware of the televangelists, the prosperity preachers who own their own private jets. These high-profile pastors keep incredibly tight work schedules often preaching for weeks on end without a day off. That is also often the case with the pastor down the street, minus the jet of course. Then you have the bi-vocational pastor whose church can’t afford to pay a salary and he works 8-hours a day as a plumber, stock clerk, customer service rep, or the like. After putting in a full work-day, he prepares his sermon and counsels distressed members of his flock. According to the website “Pay Scale,” the average senior pastor’s salary range is from $27,288 to $89,076. Yearly bonuses range from zero to less then $8K. Many small and even medium sized churches do not offer any retirement and/or healthcare package to paid staff. Just to be fair and balanced, most, if not all of the prosperity preachers do offer their staff these benefits packages.
I do not believe God condones hacking and leaking any more than He condones adultery. However, He can use it to clean house. And I must confess, when I first thought of this, I gave a mirthless chuckle. Yes, I did, out of nerves. I also thought of the 38 million Ashley Madison users and noted that the devil doesn’t protect his own. In fact he used one branch of his empire to strike at another. I couldn’t help but laugh again. Not a funny, satisfying, ha-ha laugh. Not at all, but a laugh nonetheless.
Tomorrow (Sunday) or later this week, four hundred men will resign from their church positions. There will be no laughter in the pews of those churches. It will be heart-rending and excruciating for those men, their wives and children, and for the faithful who sit in the pews. The entire body of Christ must keep them in prayer and remember we are under God’s grace. With God’s grace there is room for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Repentance and forgiveness can be instant. But restoration takes time…months, not days, and many times years. There’s a restoration walk to walk, an open, healthy, and honorable track record to establish. There’s also usually accountability. Those who have transgressed, especially those who are high profile and in leadership, should show a willingness to come under spiritual authority…an elder or leader in their denomination or the pastor of another church who is unbeholden to them should oversee their Christian walk.
It is time to look at this issue and the larger issue of morality in the clergy and in church leadership squarely and without hysteria. Fortunately we have a book that tells us how to do this. It’s called the Bible. Remember, the overwhelming majority of pastors and church leaders are slogging it out in the trenches, often a difficult and thankless job.