Ashley Madison: CNN snips some grace out of story on seminary professor's fatal fall

It may seem strange to start a GetReligion post with a verse from the Bible -- the Gospel According to St. Luke, in this case -- but it seems appropriate in light of a morality tale that continues to unfold in the mainstream press.

Thus, let's turn to the 12th chapter of Luke, verse 3 to be specific.

Let us attend, especially readers who are clergy or who hold positions of power and prestige in religious institutions, such as seminaries or ecclesiastical bureaucracies.

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

This leads us, of course, to the infamous Ashley Madison website used by legions of people who were -- they thought -- anonymously seeking sexual affairs. They didn't expect hackers to shout their sins from the digital rooftops.

This is especially true for clergy, people in a line of work that includes just as many stressed-out sinners as any other. Journalists, if you want to get the big picture on the impact of this scandal in pulpits, check out the recent Christianity Today essays by the online evangelical maven Ed Stetzer, who has been on fire writing about this tragic situation.

The scandal has claimed many victims, but the story GetReligion writers have been hearing about is a CNN report on the case of the Rev. John Gibson, a pastor and professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In his case, this fall from grace left him shattered. The result was suicide. Gibson's wife, Christi, discovered his body.

In his suicide note, Gibson chronicled his demons. He also mentioned Ashley Madison.
"He talked about depression. He talked about having his name on there, and he said he was just very, very sorry," Christi said. "What we know about him is that he poured his life into other people, and he offered grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone else, but somehow he couldn't extend that to himself." ...
Gibson said her husband was likely worried he'd lose his job.
"It wasn't so bad that we wouldn't have forgiven it, and so many people have said that to us, but for John, it carried such a shame," she said.

Focus on that first quotation from Christi Gibson. There isn't much faith content there, but what is there is crucial. This leads to a note from a very observant GetReligion reader. Several readers wrote me about this, including a pastor. The reader notes:

In the article there is a quote from the interview: "What we know about him is that he poured his life into other people, and he offered grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone else, but somehow he couldn't extend that to himself." In the video the middle is edited out so that you hear "he poured his life into other people ... but he couldn't extend that to himself."
Even the full quote has a pretty big holy ghost floating around. It seems like so much more discussion of his faith was needed for this article to have context. This is especially true since some Christian denominations view suicide as unforgivable. It seems pretty relevant to know what denomination he was a part of, since he did teach at a denominational seminary, and maybe some info on their view of suicide.

Several excellent points there. In fact, one reader sent in this URL with comments focusing completely on the lack of faith content in this CNN report -- period.

In part, that could have been caused by the focus on the TV interview material. Reporters who dug deeper into this family's tragedy drew on other sources of material -- such as remarks at Gibson's memorial service.

In particular, readers will want to look at this report from Baptist Press and, in the mainstream, this "Acts of Faith" feature from The Washington Post. There is quite a bit of theology implied, for example, in this one Post quote:

“My dad reached such a point of hopelessness and despair that he took his own life,” his son, Trey, said during his eulogy late last month. “When he closed his eyes, he opened them and felt only the warm embrace of his savior.”

One style comment: Under Associated Press Stylebook rules, should't that be "Savior" -- a reference to God -- rather than "savior," with a small "s"?

Just asking. Click here for a recent Bobby Ross Jr., post on that topic.

I have a similar kind of God-talk question about the quotation at the end of the CNN piece.

Since his death, his family has made a pact to be more transparent with one another about their struggles. Christi Gibson has a message for the 32 million people exposed and their communities.
"These were real people with real families, real pain and real loss," she says. But "don't underestimate the power of love. Nothing is worth the loss of a father and a husband and a friend. It just didn't merit it. It didn't merit it at all."

Raise your hand if you think there is a larger context to this brave woman's reference to "love." Clearly, in the interview, she is talking about the love of this man's family. But is that all she is talking about? I don't think so.

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