The hacking of the extramarital dating website Ashley Madison and the release of user information has caused many men and women who have registered with that online company to tremble in fear. They know that once their adulterous affairs are uncovered, this could lead to many dire complications in their lives.
Millions of people of varied professions were found to have patronised the website. Reports said they include about as many as 400 church leaders, including pastors, elders, staff, and deacons. These supposed guardians of morality may be forced to resign from their posts if their secrets are revealed.
"To be honest, the number of pastors and church leaders on Ashley Madison is much lower than the number of those looking to have an affair. Yet, there is still much that we must consider in the midst of the embarrassment," Christian missiologist Ed Stetzer wrote on his blog.
It might be difficult for Christians to see their church leaders fall, and it would be a devastating blow to the church if some of their leaders are on the Ashley Madison list. Stetzer even wondered "what happens to the sheep when the shepherd is disqualified from pastoral ministry?"
"This is not the only issue, and perhaps not the first to be addressed. Spouses have been betrayed, children's hearts crushed and more," he said, adding that some Ashley Madison users may now be considering suicide rather than face the consequences of their sin.
The issue is not something that should be ignored. As such, Stetzer came up with a list of things that Christians can do when they find out that their pastor is "outed" on the Ashley Madison list.
According to him, the first thing that needs to be done is to focus on God who does not fail. It's important to maintain a balance of not alleviating the pastor's guilt but at the same time not dwelling on it, Stetzer said.
The second thing is to support those who struggle more than others. "Some in your church will struggle more than others with an admission like this. Some will be tempted to 'quit church' altogether because 'the pastor was a hypocrite,'" he warned. "For some, this is a weight they are spiritually unable to bear alone. Come alongside them, bear their burden and so fulfill the law of Christ."
The third thing Stetzer suggested is to care for the pastoral and staff family. They might not have been betrayed the same way the spouse has been, but they still need healing.
The fourth thing is to express love to the condemned pastor publicly and privately, with grace and truth. "Be consistent in your love for your pastor, who has self-destructed before you and whose world has just crashed. No doubt it is a self-inflicted wound, but even those need care. Speak honestly, but lovingly," Stetzer urged.
The anger might be there, he reasoned, but that does not mean anger should not be delivered with grace and with truth.
"Love your pastor for the ministry you previously received, and love your pastor and church leaders through the ministry they need now. Remember the grace you have been given in Christ, and do not forget your broken pastor has been afforded that same grace. The same holds true if it's a pastor, elder, deacon or other church leader," he said.