R.C. Sproul Jr's Ashley Madison Scandal
R.C. Sproul Jr's confession to "visiting" the affair web site Ashley Madison has been widely reported, both in the mainline news media and by bloggers. Once again R.C. Sproul Jr has brought great shame to the body of Christ, giving cause for unbelievers to mock the name of our Lord, along with the conservative family values he espouses.
For his Ashley Madison "visit" Ligonier Ministries suspended R.C. Sproul Jr until July 2016. As of this date R.C. Sproul Jr. is still listed on staff as a Pastor of Ascension Presbyterian Church in Longwood, Florida. Some have openly questioned whether Sproul's Ligonier Ministries suspension was too severe a punishment for what, on the surface appears to be, a rather harmless action. This article will prove just the opposite is the case.
R.C. Sproul Jr, the savant of spin, has long been a careful observer and pundit of political strategists. He well knows of Lanny Davis, special counsel to President Clinton, who counseled the President and White House staffers, "Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself." With his imminent outing in the Ashley Madison hack R.C. Sproul Jr. appreciated the wisdom of "tell it early, tell it yourself." In outing himself he was able to control the story and limit the extent of the damage (Josh Duggar could have learned something from Sproul). Unfortunately, Sproul fell far short of "tell it all."
It was right that Ligonier Ministries suspended R.C. Sproul Jr for a year. However, as this article will explain, his "suspension" hardly qualifies as punishment, and his "confession" is a sham intended to garner sympathy, and even admiration, by feigning humble contrition. R.C. Sproul Jr has spun his Ashley Madison scandal very much like he did when he was defrocked from the ministry in 2006. He has yet once again put the best possible face on a scandal of his own making, even turning it to his own advantage.
The last thing the church needs is another spinmeister. In coming weeks and months we're likely to hear of other pastors and ministers, and perhaps hundreds of them, whose names will come out for having Ashley Madison accounts. My fear is that they'll follow R.C. Sproul Jr's example of faux repentance, garnering sympathy and even admiration they in no way merit, and offering themselves up for a golden parachute "suspension."
Contrary to the opinions expressed by many, R.C. Sproul Jr's example is anything but laudable. Let's start by taking a look at a portion of R.C. Sproul Jr's Ashley Madison confession:
"In August 2014, in a moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity, I visited Ashley Madison. My goal was not to gather research for critical commentary, but to fan the flames of my imagination. There I found two gracious judgments. First, I felt the grace of fear. Second, I felt the grace of shame. I was there long enough to leave an old email address. And within minutes I left, never to return. I did not sign up for their service or interact with any clients. I have always remained faithful to my wife even after her passing."
This language is remarkably similar to the faux repentance and saccharine religious rhetoric he used to announce his defrocking in 2006. In almost 10 years nothing has changed, and just like in 2006 he seeks to diminish the seriousness of his sin with terms like, "unhealthy curiosity." Why not just call it what it is? Lust. What better way to pursue one's lust than through the privacy of the internet? According to porn watchdog organization Covenant Eyes, 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women admit they're addicted to porn. The figure for pastors is no better. Not all porn addicts go on to arrange affairs, but porn can serve as a gateway to it, as even Josh Duggar confessed is true of himself. So based on statistical probabilities R.C. Sproul Jr has a 50% likelihood of being a porn addict.
Porn is a huge problem in the church and growing worse. However, what far fewer Christians struggle with (I trust) is being compelled to take actions which will lead them headlong into an affair. R.C. Sproul Jr's actions on the Ashley Madison site clearly demonstrate that he intended to arrange an affair. Apparently he stopped just short of finalizing a rendezvous. However, his intentions, and taking the first steps in acting on those intentions, should be of far greater concern to the church than many bloggers have demonstrated thus far. If they're so willing to give Sproul a pass than where will they draw the line with the many other pastors who are likely to also be outed in coming months?
Contrary to the opinions of many Christian bloggers who have covered this story, an "affair" is not limited to cheating on one's spouse. Unattached single people also have affairs. An affair is properly defined as, "A secret sexual relationship between two people, generally of a short term nature." Ashley Madison advertises itself as "the number one service for people seeking discreet relationships" and they arrange affairs for marrieds, singles, and gays. Given that His wife passed away in 2011, no one would have faulted R.C. Sproul Jr had he registerred for a Christian dating site account like eHarmony or Christian Mingle. But Ashley Madison isn't a dating site. It's an "affair" site and no one could fail to miss that.
For the most part R.C. Sproul Jr's "confession" has been accepted, at least by Christians, with nary a doubt as to his sincerity and honesty. Indeed, many have commented that his confession was humble, contrite, thorough, and even admirable. Such a response only demonstrates remarkable naiveté. With very little effort R.C. Sproul Jr's story comes crashing down like a house of straw.
That's "registered an Ashely Madison account" not "visited"
Let's start with, "I visited Ashley Madison... I was there long enough to leave an old email address. And within minutes I left..." The fact of the matter is that R.C. Sproul Jr left far more than "an old email address." He did not just "visit." One cannot leave an email address with Ashley Madison without registering an account. R.C. Sproul Jr very cunningly and deceptively substituted the innocent and benign "visited" for the far more egregious "registered." Why does this distinction matter? Let's start the process of registering an Ashley Madison account to find out.
The Ashley Madison homepage presents "visitors" with a "Select" list. If you never go beyond the Ashley Madison home page it would be reasonable to say you only "visited." If you go beyond this point you are "registering for an Ashley Madison account":
To get beyond this page you must select a "relationship status." One would presume that R.C. Sproul Jr selected "Single Male seeking Females." This is where many bloggers and blog commenters have gotten themselves confused. They believe that Ashley Madison is only for married people seeking to cheat on their spouses. RC Jr isn't married (his wife passed away in 2011) so, therefore, no harm no foul. Right? Wrong. Ashley Madison is for everyone, married, single, and even gay. The objective is to "have an affair" and single people have affairs too, whether they're attached or not. Furthermore, the probability is high that any women R.C. Sproul Jr would have rendezvoused with through Ashley Madison would have been married. By registering for an Ashley Madison account he was giving a green light for married women to break their marriage vows. So much for his commitment to "family values."
Once you select an item from the list you're taken to the next page where you're presented with the following list to fill in and items to select. This is where R.C. Sproul Jr gave Ashley Madison his email address, as well as additional information.
Immediately below the "I Agree" button it states: "To help you have a successful affair, Ashley Madison and its affiliated entities will periodically notify you of potential matches in your area, new matches you've received, changes to the service and other services that may be of interest to you." How would Ashley Madison contact R.C. Sproul Jr to notify him of "potential matches" to "have a successful affair"? Through the email address that he registered his account with.
Perhaps the most disturbing selection field is affair "Limits":
Like every other field on the page "Limits" isn't an optional item. You have to select one of the above, as well as fill in all the other fields, in order to select "I Agree" and have your information saved to register your Ashley Madison account. So which of the above affair "Limits" could R.C. Sproul Jr select and it not be highly problematic? That's right, none of the above. In the context of "Life is short, have an affair," they're all bad.
"I did not sign up for their service"
R.C. Sproul Jr claims "I did not sign up for their service." This is just more spin. R.C. Sproul Jr registered for an Ashely Madison account. He did far more than merely "visit" the site. In registering for an account he most certainly did "sign up for their service." What he apparently didn't do is give them a credit card and order something like the Ashley Madison "Affair Guarantee" package like Josh Duggar paid $249 for. The fact that he may not have given them a credit card doesn't in any way diminish the severity of his sin, particularly in light of his having to specify his affair "Limits."
"I only recently learned about" Ashley Madison
In a July 22, 2015 article entitled Hacking Ashley Madison, R.C. Sproul Jr stated:
"I hope, however, that my children still don’t know about Ashley Madison, a website that I only recently learned about."In the context of his article, "recently" more than implies that R.C. Sproul Jr hadn't ever heard of Ashley Madison prior to the media publicity about their being hacked. Yet with his subsequent August 31 2015 "confession" it became clear that he'd not only known about Ashley Madison for at least a year, he'd even opened his own Ashley Madison account the previous year in August 2014. He stated:
“In August 2014, in a moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity, I visited Ashley Madison.”Yet his August 31 2015 "confession" gave no explanation for this glaring disparity in his stories. Once again, R.C. Sproul Jr did not "confess it all," not even close.
In that same article he says of Ashley Madison,
"It is a website which exists to facilitate adultery."Yet, knowing that, he'd signed up for an account himself anyway. He goes on to say,
"They’re actually threatening that if Ashley Madison does not shut down they will publicly release all the names of those who have sought the services of Ashley Madison. I suspect that there are a lot of people privately sweating, 37 million of them, probably."He was among the 37 million sweating, losing sleep, stressed out. Like all the other 37 million Ashley Madison account holders R.C. Sproul Jr was asking himself, "What do I do?" He had to formulate a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan B was for the worst case scenario of the hackers releasing the files. No doubt he hoped the hackers wouldn't release the files, and that would be his Plan A, which was to forget all about it and do nothing. If the hackers hadn't ever released the files would R.C. Sproul Jr ever have confessed? No way! And this goes to prove the point that his "confession" was a sham. It was forced, and not by the conviction of the Holy Spirit working on his conscience. He "confessed" only because he knew that if he didn't out himself it was inevitable someone else would and the resulting damage would have been far worse.
"This, after all, is quite a moral train wreck."
On June 4, 2015 R.C. Sproul Jr posted an article on the sex scandals of Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert. In it he stated:
"We, of all people should be the people quickest to repent, quickest to acknowledge our sins. We should be the ones saying, 'I am not holier than thou.' But we’re not. I wonder if perhaps we might silence our critics, if we might quit the baying of the wolves if we would instead regularly, fully, and fearlessly confess our sins."One might suppose such an article came from a sincere heart. If it had been sincere Sproul would have promptly informed the church where he pastors, and Ligonier Ministries, that he'd registered an Ashley Madison account. But he didn't. Instead he only posted pious sounding articles about what a terrible thing it was that anyone could have an Ashley Madison account. When he ultimately did "confess" three months later his confession was anything but "fully and fearlessly." He only did so after it became publicly known that Ashley Madison's site had been hacked and that the database files containing the names, email addresses, etc., of all 37 million Ashley Madison account holders were publicly available.
Only a few days prior to R.C. Sproul Jr outing himself he posted How Should We Respond to the Recent Scandal Regarding Josh Duggar? He immediately responds to this reasonable question with:
"We shouldn’t. Sorry to burst the bubble, but unless you are his family, his employer, his elders or his church, it’s none of your business. I am none of those things. Yet I find myself reading about it, praying about it, thinking about it. I get that people are interested. This, after all, is quite a moral train wreck."Bear in mind that R.C. Sproul Jr was defining Josh Duggar as a "moral train wreck" shortly after Duggar was outed for having 2 Ashley Madison accounts, but before it became known on August 26 that Duggar had used his Ashley Madison accounts to successfully arrange affairs, including an affair with stripper and porn whore Danica Dillon.
One might reasonably surmise from his August 25 article that R.C. Sproul Jr was dictating the terms for how Christians are permitted to respond when he, only a few days later, would out himself for his own Ashley Madison account. Rather than acknowledging that he too exhibits some signs of a moral train wreck, he very innocently chalks it up to an "unhealthy curiosity." So much for "fully, and fearlessly confess our sins." Clearly R.C. Sproul Jr had a serious moral conflict of interest and he had no right offering up any commentary on Josh Duggar, and particularly telling anyone else, "It's none of your business."
R.C. Sproul Jr Suspended
"I recently informed the board of Ligonier Ministries, which has handled the matter internally, having suspended me until July 1, 2016."On the face of it, this would appear to be an appropriate disciplinary action for Ligonier Ministries to take. But hang on a minute! Is R.C. Sproul Jr's suspension from Ligonier Ministries really discipline? Only if he were to have been suspended without pay. That would indeed be a punishment. However, from all accounts R.C. Sproul Jr has been suspended with pay. If this is true then it's no better than what often happens when a bad cop is suspended over charges of police brutality. Suspending a bad cop with pay is like rewarding him for bad behavior. It's a paid vacation, and it only reinforces the public perception of police corruption. That's apparently what's happened with R.C. Sproul Jr and it reflects very poorly on Ligonier Ministries.
In 2013 R.C. Sproul Jr received just over $120,000 in combined compensation from Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Bible College (his salaries in 2014 and 2015 are likely much higher). This means that R.C. Sproul Jr is receiving at least $10,000 a month for the next year to stay home and do nothing. R.C. Sproul Jr's "suspension" is a golden parachute -- a one-year paid vacation at the expense of Ligonier Ministries' donors. Ligonier donors should be outraged. They probably would be if they knew, but Ligonier has done nothing to inform their donors of the suspension, let alone that R.C. Sproul Jr has been suspended with pay. If you search Ligonier's web site you'll not find one mention of it. For all practical purposes R.C. Sproul Jr. is being rewarded for his sin and his sham confession. This is similar to how Ligonier Ministries rewarded R.C. Sproul Jr in 2006 after he'd been defrocked as a pastor by his Presbyterian denomination.
In his July 22 article R.C. Sproul Jr stated:
"The irony of the gospel is that our sins are only covered in so far as we expose them. In order for them to be covered by the blood of Christ, they have to be confessed by the ones committing the sin."To "confess" means "to come into complete agreement with." As it concerns R.C. Sproul Jr's Ashley Madison scandal his confession is not in agreement with the facts. He's concealed far more than he's revealed, and he's even contradicted himself. As can be seen in this article R.C. Sproul Jr has only confessed in part and lied about the rest.
I hope for his sake RC Jr's sins are covered by the blood of the lamb. But according to his own doctrine of how we receive the remission of our sins, these particular sins of his are not under the blood.