'If you are on the Ashley Madison list, there still is grace,' one Christian responds – even as porn companies run scared

by Michael Foust |

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) -- For years Christian leaders have expressed concern over the anonymity of pornography – the fact that what once required a visit to a store in a public setting now can be practiced on the Internet in the privacy of one's home, without anyone ever knowing.

But as the Ashley Madison hacking scandal has proven, nothing is private anymore – not even data stored by a company that guaranteed its married users a "private" affair.

Amazingly, even users who had paid $19 to have their name and information "scrubbed" from the system were also part of the data dump that included some 37 million names.

The company had a slogan meant to shock: "Life is short. Have an affair."

Yet Ashley Madison users aren't the only ones who are distressed. Internet pornography companies – who, combined, have far more than 37 million names on their records – are also worried about their future in a new cyber-world where customers increasingly don't trust businesses with their data.

Larry Flynt, the businessman who has made millions selling pornography, said it's a new era for the porn business.

"Don't do or say anything you wouldn't want to read about on the front page of The New York Times," he told Reuters.

Of course, Ashley Madison isn't the first company to suffer a major security breach. J.P Morgan Chase, Home Depot and Target all were hacked in the last two years. But no one is embarrassed to say they do business with those three companies. The same cannot be said of Ashley Madison or other "adult" websites.

Internet porn accounts for more than 10 percent of all web traffic.

"I don't know anyone that's prepared for something like this," pornographer Joanna Angel told Reuters. She has tried to double down on security for her websites but isn't sure it is enough. The hacking of Ashley Madison's website, she said, could impact the entire porn business.

"It could end up affecting a company like mine," she said. "It will make people more paranoid."

Ashley Madison isn't the first "hook-up" website to suffer a hack. Earlier this year Adult Friend Finder watched helplessly as more than 3.5 million customer names were released due to a hack. The website boasts 64 million members.

"Privacy no longer exists," Flynt told Reuters, "and it hasn't for some time."

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY RESPONDS

The scandal has also affected the Christian community.

"Seeing one family after another torn apart by the Ashley Madison scandal," tweeted Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Another one tonight. Awful and wrenching."

Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said he also has heard disheartening stories

"I've been told that pastors I know, people in my neighborhood, members of my extended family, and prominent Christian leaders have found out they have been found out," he wrote in a Christianity Today column. "At the very moment I am writing this, I sit in a group of pastors who have ALL received news that someone they know is on the list. For many, today, their secret sins are now public information."

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, said that even before the data breach, he had counseled individuals whose spouses used Ashley Madison.

"For most men, adultery is generally about the proverbial thrill and chase of the sexual conquest. So-called one night stands, business trip dalliances and office flings comprise the vast majority of husbands' unfaithfulness," Daly wrote. "Men are particularly vulnerable to temptation within the first few years after the birth of a child when marriage dynamics inevitably adjust, leaving many men feeling secondary to their dependent infant."

Daly wrote that for women, the dynamics can be different.

"For most women, adultery is primarily about seeking emotional connectivity and romance; thus they are more likely to engage in emotional affairs," Daly said. "Diminished self-esteem resulting from feeling emotionally neglected, under-prioritized and/or taken for granted by their husband can increase their temptation to look elsewhere to feel special, appealing and desirable."

The way to avoid affairs, Daly said, is to keep investing in the marriage.

"The truth is, wise farmers (and spouses) keep seeding, watering and fertilizing to reap a bountiful harvest. Loving feelings are the result of loving actions," Daly wrote. "... When we neglect our spouse's marital needs, we inadvertently make them feel vulnerable and unfulfilled. Yet both spouses are singularly responsible for their own commitment to the marital covenant, which explicitly promises to 'forsake all others' and stay unconditionally committed to the other person no matter what."

Meanwhile, the hacking scandal apparently has led to at least two suicides, supposedly by men whose secrets became public, according to the BBC which attributed the information to Toronto, Canada police.

Griffin Gulledge, a Christian blogger at several websites, offered a word to those caught in the scandal.

"If you are on the Ashley Madison list, there is still grace," Gulledge wrote. "Even adulterers can be atoned for and restored to vibrant life in Christ."