Ashley Madison: How it reveals the hypocrisy of both the Church and culture

This article first appeared in Christian Today and can be read in full here – Ashley Madison – How it reveals the hypocrisy and culture

By now most people will know something of the Ashley Madison affair. For those who don’t know the story, a brief resume: Ashley Madison is an online ‘dating’ agency set up in Canada in 2001 in order to facilitate adultery. Its message is summed up by the simple phase ‘life is short, have an affair’. It has an astonishing 37 million users and gets 125 million visits per month. In July of this year, a hacker group called Impact Team warned Ashley Madison that they had hacked the details of all their customers and that if they did not close down the site, they would put these in the public domain. The site was not closed and the information has been released. Any story that involves sex, the internet, hacking and the media is going to be well covered and well commentated on, but it seems to me that much of the commentary, whether Christian or not, is missing the point.

1. The Ashley Madison Affair shows up the Hypocrisy and Stupidity of much of our Culture – in many ways. The Toronto police warned that they are concerned about the social implications of the leaks, and suggested that two suicides ‘may’ have been linked to them.
 Police Superintendent Bryce Evans declared, “This hack is one of the largest data breaches in the world. This is affecting all of us. The social impact behind this leak, we’re talking about families, we’re talking about children, we’re talking about wives, their male partners.” Those within government, media and even the Church have echoed this comment, but they are sheer hypocrisy. There is no doubt that the discovery of marital unfaithfulness has a devastating impact and may have severe consequences. But if the police and politicians are genuinely concerned about the social and economic impact of the hack, perhaps they could take time to express their concerns about the vastly great social and economic consequences of adultery? How many lives have been ruined, suicides attempted and homes destroyed because of the sick, selfish and stupid ‘life is short, have an affair’ mentality? If the police and politicians are really concerned about illegal activities that will not be tolerated, why don’t they make websites like AM which encourage lying, cheating and adultery illegal?

In my own city of Dundee, the local newspaper carried a centre spread analysing the impact upon us. In Dundee there were 2877 men registered with AM, and 277 women. My small area of the city was the worst – with 577 men and 63 women. I hasten to add that my name (as far as I know!) was not on the list. The NHS put out a warning that “concurrent relationships” could lead to sexually transmitted diseases.

And here again is the hypocrisy of our culture. We profess to care about people’s health, yet we foster a culture in which adultery – which is harmful to physical, mental, emotional (and economic) health – is not only permitted, but in many ways encouraged. We have become so enslaved to the notion of personal autonomy and happiness, and so enamoured of the idea that that sex is a key to both, that we will only deal with the symptoms of our sickness, not the causes.

And there is the misogynistic hypocrisy as well. We are all for gender ‘equality’ and yet we foster and encourage a website where women are treated like sex slaves, to be bought and purchased by men. Men pay for ‘credits’, but women get them for free. Why? Because 90-95 per cent of the genuine customers are male (many of the female profiles are fake) and the owners will not get money if there are not enough women, so they ‘buy’ them by offering free credits. And the hypocrisy continues – AM also run a site called Established Men which links young female ‘students’ with sugar daddies. In other words, they are pimping.

The CEO of AM has the nerve to declare “It is an illegal action against any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities…we will not sit by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world.” The irony is that it is AM who are seeking to impose their ideology on citizens around the world. That is how they make their money. They wish to encourage a sex obsessed, misogynistic culture in which the poor and women especially can be bought and sold by the wealthy.

2) The Ashley Madison Affair shows up the Hypocrisy and Stupidity of much of the Church. The founder of AM, Noel Biderman, seemingly does not have a high view of Christians. In 2012 he even made an offer of $1 million to the first woman who could prove that she had slept with celebrity Christian athlete, Tim Tebow. Apart from being a cheap marketing stunt, it shows the cynical view that many non-Christians have of Christians. And it turns out not without reason.

It’s not just the high profile celebrity Christian hypocrites such as Josh Duggar, but the more ‘ordinary’ Christians as well. It is astonishing that in the US the largest group of AM customers (25 per cent) define themselves as ‘evangelicals’. (atheists by contrast are apparently 2 per cent!). One wonders what their motto is – “life is short, Jesus is gracious, I’m going to heaven anyway, have an affair”?

I think this illustrates the cancer that is in the body of Christ. We have used the grace of Christ and the fear of legalism to enable a hypocritical lack of holiness. Rather than being set apart for Christ, we have lived as pagans with a Christian veneer. We have undermined the authority of the Scriptures – “Well we don’t know what the Bible really says, it’s not all true and a bit dated and anyway the Lord guides me through his Spirit “(i.e. my feelings). We say to ourselves, “It’s ok, if I’m caught I can just play the ‘don’t judge me’ card’, followed by the ‘I’m sorry, now you have to show me grace’ card”. We forget the Word of the Lord, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. Of course there is grace, but it is not cheap grace; of course there is forgiveness, but only for the repentant, not for the abusers; and of course adultery is not the only or even worst sin. That is reserved for spiritual adultery, where having forsaken our first love of Christ, we return to the cesspit of the world. We are, as Peter says, like a dog that returns to its own vomit, or a sow that is washed wallowing in the mud. Indeed, 2 Peter could have been written for Ashley Madison and those Christians who thought the anonymity of the internet hid them from the omniscience of God. “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood…These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”

Freedom in Christ is freedom to be faithful, not to commit adultery. It is freedom to love and serve our families, communities, churches and Lord, not to indulge our lusts, egos and selfishness. Maybe its about time the Church rediscovered the truth of ‘life is short, prepare for eternity and live for Christ’?

Finally, Ashley Madison is a great illustration not only of the fact that one day we will all have to give account for every careless word and sinful action, but also of the falsehood of the promises of this world. It turns out that most of the men having conversations on AM are talking to people who don’t exist. This article demonstrates that most of AM’s female ‘customers’ are fake.

Men are betraying their partners for a fantasy. The devil is the father of lies and he seeks to convince human beings made in the image of God that they would be better of following his fake fantasies, rather than the truth of Jesus Christ. The Gospel hacks into his system and brings the virus of the good news. The light has come into the world. Shine, Jesus, shine!

David Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a regular contributor to Christian Today.

Can the Church in Scotland rise again? Article for Premier –

This is an article I wrote for Premier – you can get the full original here –

Can the Church in Scotland rise again?

By: David Robertson | Aug 2015
The dour Scot, Private Fraser in Dad’s Army, has nothing on some of those commenting on the latest figures on church life in Scotland: ‘Doomed, doomed, you’re all doomed!’

Almost half of adults in Scotland do not identify with any religion, according to official figures. Some Christians are discouraged by this news and some of the more militant atheistic secularists can hardly contain their glee. The latest Scottish Household Survey (SHS), had 47% of people describing their ‘faith’ as none’. The proportion has increased from 40% in 2009.

27.8% identified themselves as Church of Scotland, 14.5% as Roman Catholic, 1.4% as Muslim, other Christian as 7.7%, Buddhist (0.3%), Sikh (0.1%), Jewish (0.1%), Hindu (0.3%), Pagan (0.1%), and other religion (0.5%). There has also been a corresponding decrease in the proportion describing themselves as ‘Church of Scotland’, from 34% to 28%. One always has to be careful about figures. The sample size (1,000 households) is not massive.

For every 1,000 people there is only one pagan, one Jew, 14 Muslims and 470 ‘no faith’ (incidentally this latter description is false – most of this group will have great faith – just not faith in God or gods!).  So what does this all mean? Is the church on the way out? Is Scotland progressing into an atheistic secularist nirvana, or regressing into a pagan mess?

Although the majority of people in Scotland (just) would still claim some kind of Christian faith, the fact is that the number of those attending church and engaging in any kind of Christian practice is declining.

Crisis in the Church?

The Church reached a numerical peak in the 1950s and it has been downhill ever since. Rather than that decline bottoming out (as for example in London), in Scotland it seems to be accelerating. The Church of Scotland has dropped below 400,000 members (it is doubtful whether more than 100,000 actually attend church each Sunday – meaning that less than 1% of Scotland’s population are actually in the Church of Scotland on any given Sunday) and is continuing to lose 20,000 members each year.

The Church is also facing a major financial crisis and above all a ministerial one, with only a handful of the required 30-40 ministers being trained each year. The picture is of a declining church in a declining culture. The Catholic Church is still struggling to recover from the child abuse scandals, and there is little evidence that other Protestant churches are making much of an impact.

As a result of the new moralistic philosophy of secular humanism being adopted by the metro-elites and governors of our culture, and the lack of a coherent and strong ‘salt and light’ Christian church, our culture has become increasingly confused.

There has been a general dumbing down. Things that would have been unthinkable a decade ago (such as same sex ‘marriage’) have now become the norm of the new morality. Things that are unthinkable just now; infanticide, involuntary euthanasia, polygamy, paedophilia could easily become the new ‘norm/human right’ in a world where the rich and powerful determine what the moral values are. We are a society that has ‘equality’ as its mantra, but yet we are becoming more unequal.

In one of the richest societies in the world we have tens of thousands who are relying on food banks. Our politicians say they want to support ‘the family’ but are unable to define what that actually is, and as a result many of their actions end up undermining the family. That is the environment which the Church in Scotland finds itself.

Encouraging news

Although overall the Church in Scotland is in decline, it is not all bad news. I see three areas where there is encouragement and renewal.

Firstly in the independent evangelical churches associated with FIEC – e.g. Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and the work of Twenty Schemes in Niddrie and elsewhere are beacons of light.

Secondly there are other biblical churches who have Christ and his Word at the centre of their lives and message who are seeing growth and development – some will be in the Church of Scotland, others associated with CLAN or other charismatic and ex-Brethren networks and some in the Baptist and Anglican churches. And how can anyone who believes in a Sovereign God exclude the possibility of him yet working in and through the Catholic Church?

We are also seeing the first signs of a renewed and reinvigorated Presbyterianism in Scotland in my own denomination, the Free Church. New churches are being planted, people are being converted and membership is increasing. The Free Church College has been relaunched as Edinburgh Theological Seminary, and there is a new leadership rising.  I came to my current church (St Peters in Dundee) in 1992 when the attendance was in single figures. Now there are over 250 (many of them young people), we have planted a new church in St Andrews and are planning a couple more.

In a hostile and increasingly militant secularist environment, traditional, liberal, nominal Christianity cannot survive. But those churches that have deep roots in the gospel will I believe see growth and renewal.

So we have a paradox. We have an increasingly atheistic secularist culture, marked by a rapid decline in Churchianity, along with an increasingly alive and growing biblical Christianity. It is the latter that turned the Roman empire upside down and indeed turned Scotland upside down before. All we can pray is ‘Lord, do it again’!

Politicians Intimidated about their Christian Faith

The Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland has echoed sentiments from a prominent Highland MSP who said that Christian politicians were pressurised into “hiding” their faith.

Dave Thompson, who steps down as Scottish Parliament representative for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in May, made the comments last week ahead of a debate at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Sunday (23 August).

He is being backed by Free Church Moderator Rev David Robertson, who said there was “a culture of intimidation and bullying” against those seeking to stand for Biblical values.

Mr Robertson said: “Dave Thompson is absolutely correct. There is a culture of intimidation and bullying which does not reflect well on Scottish society.

“In a society that is supposed to be about ‘equality’ it is incredibly sad that Christians are so discriminated against that they feel pressured into hiding their faith.

“I am personally aware of certain situations where politicians who are Christian have received hate mail, been advised not to mention their Christianity and told that they cannot speak about their Christian values. Dave Thompson’s statement just reflects that.

“It would be good to live in a Scotland where we were free to discuss ideas, have principles and practice our faith, without the intimidation and bullying that seems to be part and parcel of much of Scottish life.

“The trouble is that having dispensed with Christianity we are left in a situation where the State becomes absolutist in everything and those who seek political power do not want any challenge to their absolutist ethos.”

The Free Church Moderator added: “In particular the LGBT lobby are so intolerant that the minute a candidate is selected they demand to know where they stand on LGBT issues- and then threaten them if they don’t conform to their particular views.”

Last week Dave Thompson MSP said that many Christian politicians are “pressured” into either being “very quiet” or “hiding” their faith altogether.

Instead, he called on Christians across society to be more open about their faith.

This report also appeared on Premier and several other media sources.

Quantum of Solas 38 – Cecil the Lion | Planned Parenthood baby parts scandal | Hillary and Trump | China Crisis? | Solas Magazine | Great British Bake Off.

Quantum of Solas 38 – Cecil the Lion | Planned Parenthood baby parts scandal | Hillary and Trump | China Crisis? | Solas Magazine | Great British Bake Off.

Economics, Politics, Ecology, Music, Ethics, Publishing and Baking – and all in 17 minutes…enjoy…

Ambush at High Midnight – Reflections on the Stephen Nolan Show –BBC Radio 5 Live.

The morning after the night before! Last night, in fact early this morning, I had the experience of appearing on the Stephen Nolan show, along with ex Tory MP Jerry Hayes.   You can hear the whole show here – (at least for 30 days) – the relevant part is from 2 hours until the end.

We also have the relevant part here:

I am feeling somewhat shattered and battered. Let me explain why.

  • Slip Ups – I got so much wrong. I knew that as it happened. There is no need for me to agonise over every wrong word or silly remark I made – and there were several.   For example when asked if I thought homosexuality was a sin – I simply answered yes when I should have said that I thought homosexual practice was a sin.   There were many things I should have said and didn’t – and others that I shouldn’t have said. I am sure that the tone wasn’t right at times – mainly because I found the ex-Tory MP (Jerry Hayes) to be smug, condescending, ignorant and patronizing. He thought he was being clever asking if I was a Wee Free and whether we allowed masturbation in the Church. But I shouldn’t have let that get to me.
  • Set Up – Whether deliberately or not, I was set up. I turned up at the studio an hour earlier than necessary, having read and prepared the headline pages of todays newspapers, expecting to be discussing them. Instead we spent 40 minutes discussing transgender! This after a very emotive 30 minute interview with an 11 year old girl who now says she is a boy.   After such a scenario then of course you are coming to come across as some kind of hard-hearted intolerant bigot. Personal story and feeling always trumps fact and the wider situation. Given that we did not start until midnight, I felt like it was an ambush at high midnight!

Sin – However I don’t want to use the late hour, the smug Tory or the set up as an excuse. The reason I got this wrong was simply because I am sinful. James 3:2We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. I am not a perfect man.   I can’t blame other people or circumstances for my own sins and inabilities. If my MP opponent was smug, patronizing etc., I know that in many ways I am worse. If I know Christ and his Word, my sin is greater, not lessened, because of that knowledge.  And that goes for the whole church. One of the most difficult things in appearing on these kinds of shows is that the voice of the church has either been reduced to the shrill and somewhat nutty legalism, or more often the wooly banalities of those who distort and twist the word of God so that they can fit in with the culture. Walking the tightrope between those two views is a difficult balancing act – for a sinner like me!

  • Spiritual – Many people won’t understand this, but some will. Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Again I state this not as an excuse but this past week has been incredibly tough and intense. Illness, suffering, struggle, people wanting to know more about Christ, being in the ‘pangs of childbirth’ for the church….I was exhausted heading into this. And again that is not to make an excuse. I knew I was in a spiritual battle – I should have put on the ‘full armour of God’. And of course the reaction afterwards has been fierce.
  • Service – I have been through this several times and I can honestly say that whilst I rejoice that a Christian is asked to speak on the BBC, I wonder if it should be me. There was a time when I would have relished being seen as a spokesman for the Christian Church in the UK. That was when I was young and immature and knew little of spiritual warfare! I would love to retreat into my books, family, congregation and personal life. But I long for Christians to speak in the public arena – so my prayer is, ‘Lord here am I, send someone else’. But meanwhile I consider it a privilege to serve the Lord in this way.
  • Sovereignty of God– But – and this is the most important thing. It’s not about me. I hope I am not upset and frustrated because I let myself down – although who can know the human heart? My trouble is that for me this is not a game. I really believe this. I love the Lord and I don’t want him to be diminished or his glory abused because of my behaviour and words. And I love his people and don’t want to let them down.   But I take great comfort in this. God is sovereign. Many are the plans in a man’s heart but it is the Lords purpose that prevails.
  • Sustenance of God – And I love the way that in the midst of the battles this week the Lord has again and again fed me. I thank him for friends, family, the church, John Flavel and most of all, His word. My reading last night when I came home was Luke 18 which gave me the prayer for my night time tossing and turning – ‘God have mercy on me a sinner’. This morning I was fed with some delightful and challenging passages as well as Mr. Flavel. The Lord never patronises or brings false comfort – he goes deep. And although that sometimes hurts – he never wounds without healing.

So back to the battle. I get to speak the Gospel tonight at the CLC conference in the Steeple and in St Peters tomorrow. Onwards and upwards. I leave you with the collect this morning from the Book of Common Prayer.

“O Lord, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen”

PS.  BBC Radio5Live had said they wanted me as a regular contributor.  If that is the right thing please pray that the door would be kept open. I’m not sure that they will want to continue!

The Silence of the Sheep – why is the UK Church quiet about Abortion and Planned Parenthood?

The following is a slightly expanded version of my latest article on Christian Today – you can get the original here.

Why is the Church Afraid to Speak out about Abortion

Having taken a six-week break from social media, the internet and writing, it was with a sense of trepidation that I emerged from my cocoon. What has been going on in the world? In seeking to catch up I read over newsfeeds, papers and websites, and found there is one issue that stands out – mainly because apart from in US Christian circles, the silence has been deafening. I am talking, of course, about the Planned Parenthood videos. I am sure that most readers on Christian Today will be aware of the basics of the story – how the Center for Medical Progress set up a series of sting videos in which representatives of Planned Parenthood discuss selling aborted baby body parts. The latest of these is beyond horrific – describing dismembering a baby as ‘cool’ is a new low in the abortion debate.

What intrigues me, though, is the silence of both the British media and much of the British Church. As I trawled through the news I found surprisingly little about the scandal. There was an excellent article in The Telegraph, but just one news item from the BBC headlined ‘Planned Parenthood Funding target of Senate Republicans‘, which simply leaves the impression that right wing nutcases are up to their usual tricks of being against women. The Guardian, meanwhile, ran a series of articles about the wonderful work that Planned Parenthood does and – just to reassure its readers – gave us a piece from a scientist who “examines anti-abortion arguments”. The fact that the scientist concerned was a physicist (not a biologist) and that he used almost no scientific evidence to deal with the main questions was something that seemed to pass most readers by.

Abortion is one of those shibboleth issues that is considered a ‘secular’ value and therefore cannot be criticised, which is why the PP scandal has been kept quiet and will be relatively unknown in the UK. But of course, everyone knows that lots of abortion doctors have been murdered by extremist Christians in the US and you can absolutely guarantee that if one was murdered tomorrow it would be headline news in the British media…and Christian columnists would be quick to step in and condemn – rightly so. The only problem is that the total number of abortion doctors murdered is four, with four other abortion providers being killed. Eight is eight too many, but it is not quite the epidemic that the secularist urban myth portrays and there have been none this century. There have, however, been one million abortions in the past year –300,000 of them carried out by Planned Parenthood (the irony of the name seems to have escaped many people). And again the spin-doctors have been busy – PP put out that only 3 per cent of their business was abortion. It is a disingenuous and dishonest claim and was exposed as such by the New York Post.

But enough of the secular media. What about the Church? In the US there have been many Christian commentators who, appalled by the videos, have not been slow to comment. But in the UK the silence has been almost deafening – apart from the Catholic Church and various campaign groups. But what about the rest of us – especially the evangelical church? I have been reflecting on this and would like to suggest the following reasons:

1. We have been affected by the secular media and their agenda of portraying anyone against abortion as being some kind of redneck fundamentalist Christian terrorist. We are too concerned about our own image and building bridges into the secular world. So even though we may disagree with abortion and be horrified, we prefer to remain silent.

2. We are aware of the horrendous difficulties and problems that many women have with unwanted pregnancies and so we don’t want to appear uncompassionate. The horror of pregnancy caused by rape or incest, or the danger of serious harm to the mother are not issues to be lightly skated over. But using the complexity of the problems of evil is not a reason for remaining silent. We should both condemn abortion and seek to help those who are faced with unwanted pregnancies. There are alternatives to killing babies.

3. We buy into some of the arguments put across in the secular media. For example, the view that the Center for Medical Progress was being dishonest in setting up these video stings, or that the videos themselves were dishonest because they were highly edited. This is straining at gnats and swallowing camels. By these standards we would never heed any evidence from sting operations (including by the police!) and we would never watch an edited video. Thankfully the Center for Medical Progress has made the full videos available and, if anything, they are worse than the edited versions.

The truth is that, with some honourable exceptions, while we are quick to jump in and condemn (rightly) the sins that our society recognises as sin (racism, homophobia, slave trafficking), there seems a reluctance to upset the applecart and condemn those things that God says is sin and our society, in its rebellion, says is right. As moderator of the Free Church of Scotland I say quite simply, on behalf of our whole Church, that the killing of babies in the womb is a barbaric sin, as deserving of the judgment of God as the slaughter of babies to Molech was in the Old Testament.

This has profound implications for the Church. Take, for example, the issue of Communion. I would not sit at the Lord’s Table with someone who professes to be a Christian and yet is a racist. If they do not recognise another human being as a believer just because of the colour of their skin, then they are not recognising the body of the Lord. Likewise, those who do not recognise the body and humanity of a child in the womb do not recognise the body of the Lord.  I will not sit at the Lords table with those who support the tearing apart limb by limb of the child in the womb that is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps139).

Does this mean that someone who has had an abortion, for whatever reason, has committed the unforgiveable sin and is beyond the pale? God forbid! The Christian message not only identifies the sin, but also offers the antidote. What I am simply saying is that there is something to forgive. That’s why we thank the Lord that there is a means of forgiveness –the cross of Jesus Christ. I remember one teenage girl who came crying after having had an abortion. “They lied,” she cried, “they lied…they told me that it was just like having a wart removed, but they were wrong…I let my baby be killed”. Doubtless the social worker and the doctor in their ‘non-directive’ counseling thought they were doing the girl a big favour. Instead what they did was abusive. Thankfully, there is a Saviour who atones for our sin and takes away our guilt.

We need also to remember that the children in the womb are not the only people being harmed. The would-be mothers are far too often participating in a process where they have not been given enough information and later come to regret what they have done. Society as a whole also suffers a dehumanisation from this child sacrifice.

Why is so much of the Church so silent about this issue? The lambs are being slaughtered. Will the shepherds speak out, or are we to be left with the silence of the sheep?

David Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a regular contributor to Christian Today.