With its story on the hack attack on adultery website Ashley Madison, Reuters stumbles a couple of times onto biblical references. But no worries -- it jumps up, brushes itself off and hurries on.
Ashley Madison, as you may know by now, is for "discreet" hookups for married people -- i.e., Web-assisted affairs. On Tuesday, a shadowy group calling itself the Impact Team cracked the site and stole the info of perhaps 37 million customers -- "nude photos, sexual fantasies, real names and credit card information," Reuters says. Then it uploaded the data on the Internet.
The potential is explosive, if you consider the millions of relationships that could be disrupted. It's even worse when you read that thousands of e-mail addresses belonged to "U.S. government officials, UK civil servants and high-level executives," plus academics at the likes of Yale and Harvard. The sheer bulk of the 43 million-plus news, blog and opinion pieces is another measure of the size of this religio-moral matter.
Unless you're Reuters, that is. Among the five sources in the 900-word story -- two of them unnamed -- none of them is a minister, social ethicist or moral theologian. Instead, we get a divorce lawyer, two government folks and two therapists. I guess the latter are supposed to be the stand-ins for clergy.
Here's the first near-Bible experience in the Reuters article:
Prominent divorce lawyer Raoul Felder said the release is the best thing to happen to his profession since the seventh Commandment forbade adultery in the Bible.
"I've never had anything like this before," he said.
Even that bare mention was born as a gaffe. One of GR's readers told us the article originally said "Seventh Amendment," not "Seventh Commandment." The error was corrected later in the day, but it wasn't the best evidence for the scriptural savvy at one of the world's largest news agencies.
Reuters misses another biblical reference in quoting a psychologist:
Ashley Madison members would likely be best served by coming clean instead of waiting to see if their indiscretion is discovered, said Dr B. Janet Hibbs, a psychologist and couples therapist in Philadelphia.
"Fall on your sword if you want to save your relationship," she said. "Be prepared for them to ask a lot of questions, to not be defensive, to be compassionate."
The phrase "fall on your sword," as Phrases.org and other sites say, means to assume responsibility for your misdeeds -- a rare action in these days of routine lies, deception and blame shifting. It comes from the biblical story on the death of King Saul.
I Samuel 31:4-5 tells of the king's defeat by the Philistines:
Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me."
But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him.
The Reuters story discusses other fallout of the Ashley Madison scandal: the bonanza for lawyers, shrinks and security firms; whether any of the customers could sue the company; general worries about the safety of online storage. Oddly, it says nothing about national security risks, considering the 15,000 e-mail addresses belonging to government and military accounts.
Closest we get to a moral nuance is an attempt at sympathy for both the cheaters and the cheatees:
"These poor people will be dealing with it in such a public way. It will be absolutely devastating," said Michele Weiner Davis, marriage therapist in Colorado and author of Divorce Busting.
For the partners or spouses, the initial shock will likely turn to anger and then a deep feeling of hurt and betrayal, she said.
"It's no picnic for the unfaithful partner either."
Among his insights in that piece, associate editor Richard Clark cautions churchgoers against a "sense of schadenfreude," or a smug pleasure in the misfortunes of others. For one, he says, a fair number of those outed will likely be fellow congregants-- and "the more affluent your congregation, the more likely it is that you will be facing the challenge of pastoring through personal and public scandal."
Dealing with such matters will be hard, Clark acknowledges, because the adulterers have harmed their children as well as their mates. (He could have added that the scandals will also damage the reputation of the whole congregation, as well as Christianity in general.)
Surprisingly, Clark cautions against relying solely on oft-quoted advice by Jesus -- "Let he without sin cast the first stone" -- not if the goal is to heal and restore everyone:
For the minister of the gospel, the challenge is to show grace to sinners and victims of sin alike, never forgetting that we are sinners too. This is not a time to excommunicate first and ask questions later. This is a time for confrontation, grieving, and prayer.
We like to advertise our churches as places for broken people. But when sin and its consequences come to public fruition, it results in a mess we often are tempted to clean up at all costs. Unfortunately there is no quick fix for the disorder caused by sin. The gospel teaches something else: work through the disorder and chaos, and revel in grace.
Agreed, not all of that would fit in a secular news story. But one or two of those insights would help at least as much as business or legal or therapeutic angles. Faith-based appraisals, after all, have something solid to contribute to the future as well as the past.
Photo illustration via Shutterstock.com.