Ashley Madison who?
Seriously, I don’t know any Ashley Madison. Baby, wait…my frat buddies and their pranks, right? Baby? Babe? I was hacked! Umm…
Let’s all go ahead and stipulate a few things here, shall we?
– We all sin, sometimes horribly. We have much in common with the users of Ashely Madison (known by its company initials, ALM), starting with our own frailty and sinful natures.
– Evil will out. Sooner or later, many of our mistakes, sins, and crimes rise to the surface. There’s a biblical precedent for such a notion, one that human experiences often substantiates.
– If you’re going to commit a moral infraction like adultery, then perhaps being outed is something you just might deserve…maybe. There are still innocents attached to you (wives, husbands, children) that don’t deserve to share in your shame.
Everyone fairly content? Great. Let us then set aside the emotions of the ALM case and examine the ethics of hacktivism against AVM.
Most of the outrage in the Ashley Madison case seems centered on the illicit behavior of ALM’s client base. Paying customers knowingly registered for services from a company whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.” They provided confirmable email addresses, credit cards, physical addresses that match the billing information for those cards, and basic romantic preferences. ALM invited their patrons to include as much personal data as possible in order to obtain the best possible match; sexual preferences, proclivities, fetishes, photos, and descriptions of every type. Non-paying customers registered using an unconfirmed email address in exchange for limited access to the site, but upon deciding to become full members they had to use a legitimate email address like the rest.
*Important caveat: unconfirmed email addresses can be fake, misspelled, stolen from others, etc. An unconfirmed email in the data dump means almost nothing, but the email address package on the internet apparently does not differentiate between confirmed and unconfirmed. Additional personal date is necessary to prove the existence of a real account associated with a specific email address.
The Life Impact team hacked ALM’s database in order to blackmail Ashley Madison’s owners into shuttering the site. When ALM declined to cave under the pressure, Life Impact dumped the customer data onto the Internet for anyone to download and view.
Just to be clear: ALM encouraged sexual sin. Customers signed up for it. Life Impact stole (burgled) the data.
And now we’re all sitting here with internet connections and curiosity, wondering what the next step for Christians and Southern Baptists is supposed to be. As I see it, we have some options.
Fruit from the poison tree: We can choose to ignore the data out there. Life Impact clearly violated laws in order to acquire the data. Would we watch the Super Bowl on a stolen television? Make hiring decisions after reading documents stolen from applicants’ bedrooms? No? Then perhaps we should mourn the loss of sexual ethics and move on.
Ostrich: We assume no one associated with the church could ever do that. Some folks prefer to assume their members, leaders, and heroes would never do this sort of thing. We wonder about our judgment skills when the objects of our admiration stumble, and as such we possess a powerful internal justification system that explains away the sins of those we love. Understandable. Taken to extremes, though, we become willfully ignorant and blind. Can we afford to do that in this situation?
Don’t ask, don’t tell. We could act on what we find out so long as we do not seek it. As long as we do not aggressively acquire the information, we’re comfortable using what others hand us. Once we know of someone whose name is on the list, we pursue it as we would a not-yet-substantiated claim of sexual impropriety.
Deep Throat. We wait for a knowledgeable source to feed us what we want to know without ever openly admitting we’ve been asking around. After all, we didn’t steal the data ourselves…
Magnum, P.I. Putting our Hawaiian print shirts on over our manly (can I say that?) chests, we leave no stone unturned in our quest for truth, defending especially those who lack our training, knowledge, and fantastic, evangelical mustaches. (We need a solid female P.I. for pop culture reference. Suggestions?) Placing our reputations on the line, we – in purity -seek out stolen property via a bogus account we bravely set up at the library.
Do we chase immorality at all costs? Does the frequent biblical admonition in both testaments about eliminating evil from within the community of God flinch at possession of stolen property and blackmail? Are the fascinating discoveries made while searching domain names things that should be chased, or do we say “Unconfirmed! Unsubstantiated! Assume the best about our siblings in Christ!”?
What if our ministerial role is one of oversight; does that change our response? The average guy in the pew may prefer the Don’t Ask route. Doesn’t want to know, but would grudgingly admit that knowledge of sexual sin must be addressed. A dean at a Christian college, though, carries responsibility for a certain degree of moral oversight and the student body knows it. Should he search domain names for the college – only – and then move onward?
I guess the bottom line is this: how far is too far when we are working at removing immorality from the body of Christ?
But wait….there’s more.
Today we stand in silent approval of Life Impact’s actions. We do not affirm illegality, but they called out a bunch of adulterers and fornicators who had it coming, by golly. The only reason we implicitly approve, though, is because of our distaste for Ashley Madison’s morals. What happens when someone decides a seminary needs to close? Or a church has too much money? How long would your youth program live if someone with an agenda found a registered, repentant, willingly-monitored sex offender on your membership rolls and blackmailed you into disfellowshipping him?
Let’s hear some suggestions, folks, but please play nicely.