In August 2015, R.C. Sproul Jr. posted a confession on his website titled Judgement and Grace in which he acknowledged visiting Ashley Madison one year earlier. Ashley Madison is a perverse website used to arrange illicit relationships for the purpose of fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and lesbianism.
“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.” (R.C. Sproul Jr., “Judgment and Grace,” August 31, 2015)
At the time of his acknowledgement, he held three powerful and prestigious positions in Ligonier Ministries. More than anyone else in the organization. First, he was the esteemed Rector and Chair of Philosophy and Theology in the Reformation Bible College.
Second, he was a prestigious Teaching Fellow in the ministry along with Sinclair Ferguson, W. Robert Godfrey, Steven J. Lawson, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Stephen J. Nichols, and Derek W. H. Thomas – all heavy hitters.
Third, he was on the twelve-member Board of Directors that includes his father and mother. His father is R.C. Sproul Sr., a renowned writer and theologian and also the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries.
For his “visit” to Ashley Madison, he was suspended from these three positions for ten months.
“With the revelation of the hack has come the revelation of my sin. I recently informed the board of Ligonier Ministries, which has handled the matter internally, having suspended me until July 1, 2016. I also informed my presbytery which is also handling the matter internally.” (R.C. Sproul Jr., “Judgment and Grace,” August 31, 2015)
He was also suspended from pastoral ministry by his presbytery (i.e., the ruling body of elders over his denomination) at Ascension Presbyterian Church in Longwood, FL and Heritage Church in Centerville, TN.
As expected, R.C. Jr. was restored to all these positions on July 1, 2016 but there was no mention of it by the two churches, his presbytery, or Ligonier Ministries. Nor have I found anything written about his reinstatement for example in WORLD magazine or Christianity Today. His return happened silently and stealthily. They didn’t want any public attention drawn to it.
The same approach was used when R.C. Jr. was initially suspended last year. The two churches, his presbytery and Ligonier Ministries did not even cite his suspension until I got involved and challenged them. Otherwise, they would never have referenced it.
R.C. Jr. acknowledged his August 2014 “visit” to Ashley Madison in August 2015. In September 2015, I was contacted by a former friend of R.C. Jr.’s who provided me information about the bogus nature of his acknowledgement. He called it an “utter fraud.” I began investigating and came to the same conclusion.
My investigation included contact with R.C. Jr.’s pastors, presbytery and Chris Larson, who is the president and CEO of Ligonier Ministries. To them I made my case. I hoped these men would reprove R.C. Jr. for his fraudulent “confession” in “Judgement and Grace.” They did not.
Before contacting any of these men, however, I first contacted R.C. Jr. and appealed for his repentance. I wrote him a thoughtful and compassionate 11-page letter on October 19, 2015. You will find it at the end of this post.
Here are some of my main points.
1. R.C. Jr.’s acknowledgment did not result from any previous conviction of sin. Hackers into Ashley Madison were releasing information about those who had salacious accounts. Only under those circumstances did R.C. Jr. acknowledge his “visit.” He feared getting caught.
2. He set up the account with Ashley Madison in August 2014. He claims he left the site and did not use the site after setting up the account. That is unproven. Whatever the case, he never told his fellow pastors, presbytery, Bible College faculty, teaching fellows, or board members about his illicit activity until August 2015. That was a year later. He hid it from them until he was about to be exposed. He was not in fellowship. He was not accountable. He did not share these temptations and sins with fellow leaders.
3. R.C. Jr. never identified his sin in biblical terms or categories. All he acknowledged was “I visited Ashley Madison…to fan the flames of my imagination.” Instead, he excused his sin (“in a moment of weakness”), justified his sin (“in a moment of…pain”), relegated his motive (“an unhealthy curiosity”) and hedged his goal (“to fan the flames of my imagination”). These words do not show the earmarks of biblical repentance.
4. He claimed, “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.” These three sentence contain three lies.
First, “I was there long enough to leave an old email address.” False. He was there long enough to leave all kinds of information. For example, he provided specific information about whether he wanted to have sex with women or men, single or married, and heterosexual or homosexual.
Second, “And within minutes I left.” False. Registering the account and then going to the account involved more than a few minutes. There were a lot of questions, requests, and an agreement to which he had to respond.
Third, “I did not sign up for their service.” False. He agreed to the terms and conditions set by Ashley Madison and signed up for their service. Leaving an email address was the final piece of information he was required to provide in order to open an account. It came after he answered all of the previous questions, etc. Read my letter to R.C. Jr. for more details and documentation that prove my point.
5. R.C. Jr. also lied about how long he knew about Ashley Madison. In July 2015, he said he “only recently learned about” Ashley Madison. That too was a lie. He signed up for an account 11 months earlier in August 2014. Christianity Today pointed out this “apparent misstatement.” It was not a misstatement. It was a fabrication and I raised with R.C. Jr. in my letter.
I made many other points in my letter to R.C. Jr. about his duplicity and hypocrisy. His acknowledgement about innocently visiting Ashley Madison was a complete con. He created a false narrative in order to deceive his audience and minimize his sin all the while appearing contrite and spiritual.
I followed up with R.C. Jr. in two more letters. Predictably, he did not respond. At this point, I contacted the pastors in his denomination on November 8, 2015 and provided them all the evidence. I also made eight recommendations. It all fell on deaf ears. No one was willing to live Coram Deo.
1. Carefully review all I have written.
2. Enumerate the issues and cover them with R.C.
3. Reprove him for sin.
4. Lead him to repentance.
5. Publish a confession.
6. Indefinitely remove him from ministry.
7. Follow up with Ligonier Ministries.
8. Follow up with me.
The leaders and pastors in his small denomination circled the wagons around R.C. Jr. Never did they respond to my questions or refute any of my charges. Instead, they collectively covered up for R.C. Jr. because he was and is their claim to fame. He is also the son of his famous and powerful father.
I was also interacting with Chris Larson regarding R.C. Jr. and other important matters. Chris is the President and CEO of Ligonier Ministries. Here’s are a few excerpts from my letters to him.
From: Brent Detwiler [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 9:59 AM
To: Chris Larson firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Help Regarding a Couple Questions
I am sure this is a difficult time for you given the suspension of R.C. Jr. In that regard, I am being asked a lot of questions and I could use your help in answering them.
In his August 31 confession, R.C. Jr. said “I recently informed the board of Ligonier Ministries, which has handled the matter internally, having suspended me until July 1, 2016.” Is that a true statement? I assume so but I’ve not found any statement put out by Ligonier Ministries confirming its accuracy. Could you please point me in the right direction? I’d like to provide people with an official statement from you or the ministry. …
From: Brent Detwiler [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 12:46 PM
To: Chris Larson firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: RE: Help Regarding a Couple Questions
I don’t know who is caring for R.C. Jr.’s soul but I think he needs help applying the doctrine of sin to his heart so he can see the root issues of lust, intentionality, and hypocrisy more clearly. I think that kind of illumination by the Holy Spirit would result in deeper repentance, alter his confession and bring it more in line with Scripture, and effect greater change in his life and thinking. …
There is one other matter I’d like to raise with you. I am increasing concerned for R.C. Sproul Sr.’s support of C.J. Mahaney as illustrated by his participation with C.J. in Together for the Gospel 2016. …
In particular, I referenced a post I wrote in March about the use of a “hush fund” to silence the family of a sex abuse victim. There is nothing hearsay about the evidence it contains. All of it comes from primary sources and serves as a vivid example of the corruption that characterizes Sovereign Grace Ministries. Nor is it an antiquated example. It stems from events that occurred in 2013 while C.J. was President of SGM. …
Would you also do me another favor? Please forward this email to R.C. Sr. and ask him to read the piece on the “hush fund.” I’m afraid he has been deceived by C.J.’s spin and pretensions for quite some time. Furthermore, his support of C.J. translates into Ligonier’s support of C.J. and that is not good for Ligonier Ministries.
I’d also like to ask that the Ligonier Board be apprised of these matters and request that R.C. withdraw from participation in Together for the Gospel 2016. In making this suggestion, I have your best interests at heart.
From: Brent Detwiler [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2015 10:52 AM
To: Chris Larson firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Follow Up on R.C. Jr. & R.C. Sr.
… In light of the above [i.e., my 11-page letter to R.C. Jr.], I must also ask if you are encouraging R.C. Jr. to make an open and honest confession that addresses the issues?
When R.C. Jr. wrote about his “visit” to Ashley Madison, he noted his suspension by Ligonier Ministries but he did not specify from what he was suspended.
“With the revelation of the hack has come the revelation of my sin. I recently informed the board of Ligonier Ministries, which has handled the matter internally, having suspended me until July 1, 2016. I also informed my presbytery which is also handling the matter internally. And now the world is informed.”
As it turns out, the board suspended him from his position as rector of theology and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology to which he was assigned in February 2014. He was not suspended from the faculty of Reformation Bible College. More significantly, he was not suspended as a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries and he was not suspended from the Board of Directors for Ligonier Ministries. To be honest, I don’t understand why would he be suspended from his role in the Bible College but not his more significant roles in Ligonier Ministries? From my perspective, he should have been suspended from all three positions given the seriousness of his sin. …
In my last email to you, I included an important article I wrote entitled, Hush Fund Set Up by Top SGM Leaders to Meet the Demands of a SGM Pastor Whose Son Was Sexually Abused. I asked that it be forwarded to R.C. Sr. and the Board of Directors. I further asked that the board have R.C. Sr. withdraw from his participation in Together for the Gospel 2016. …
Chris wrote back but only answered one of my three questions. He explained that R.C. Jr. was suspended from all his positions at Ligonier Ministries. That was news to me. He did not answer my questions about the need for a public confession or whether the board directed R.C. Sr. to withdraw from the upcoming Together for the Gospel. I followed with a second letter. Here is an excerpt.
From: Brent Detwiler [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2015 2:29 PM
To: Chris Larson firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: RE: Follow Up on R.C. Jr. & R.C. Sr.
The “suspension disclosure” was made by Dr. Sproul Jr. on his blog in August . It was one sentence long and undefined. The only thing changed on the Ligonier Ministries website in consequence was the removal of his title as rector and chair. His other roles and responsibilities remained unchanged on your website.
Eleven weeks later, that is still the case. He is presently listed as a Faculty Member, Teaching Fellow and Board of Director.
If he was removed from “all posts” in August, why hasn’t that been made clear by you as President and CEO of Ligonier Ministries? And why is he still listed as a Teaching Fellow and Board Member? No one but insiders know he was removed from these positions. For example, I just found out from you! And of course, the website leads donors and followers to believe the complete opposite is true. Chris, this is unacceptable.
I did not hear back from Chris. That was November 19, 2015. Fast forward to March 17, 2016. Here is an excerpt from my last letter to Chris.
From: Brent Detwiler [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2016 2:36 PM
To: Chris Larson firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: An Invitation to Repent
I last wrote you on November 19, 2015. Soon thereafter came Thanksgiving, Christmas, an orthopedic surgery, rehabilitation, and new developments with C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. The latter needed to be covered (see below). Only now am I able to write again. I regret the delay. …
The next day, November 20, 2015, I checked the Ligonier website to see if you took responsibility for not making a public announcement, not changing the website and not being honest with the public regarding R.C. Jr.’s deception in his post, “Judgement and Grace.” Here’s what I saw.
Our Board of Directors
Mr. James Campisi
Mrs. Pat Dizney
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Mr. Chris Larson (ex officio)
Dr. Steven J. Lawson
Mr. Stephen Levee
Mr. Gregory Miseyko
Dr. Archie Parrish (emeritus)
Dr. R.C. Sproul
Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr (suspended until July 1, 2016)
Mrs. Vesta Sproul
Mr. David Stoltzfus
R.C. Sproul Jr.
Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. is a gifted teacher and frequent conference speaker who has served in various ministry roles both inside and outside the church. He is the author of several books, including The Call to Wonder, Biblical Economics, Tearing Down Strongholds, and Believing God. Suspended until July 1, 2016.
I immediately noticed that “suspended” was added and linked in both listings. I felt some elation thinking you were finally giving a truthful explanation for R.C. Jr.’s suspension. I clicked and to my utter dismay it connected to “Judgment and Grace.” I was stunned beyond belief! I couldn’t believe you were directing people to a statement you knew contained false and misleading information. In that moment, I realized you, and I must assume Dr. R.C. Sproul Sr. and the Ligonier Board, were committed to covering up for R.C. Jr. by promulgating his false narrative! …
In your T4G [Together for the Gospel] statement you state the need for a “rising generation of biblically faithful pastors and theologians” because “the church is in a moment of spiritual crisis.” I completely agree! But this crisis is brought on not only by doctrinal heresy or incompetence; it is brought on by leaders who act corruptly. I believe that is what you are doing. By corrupt, I mean in this instance “having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for [ministry] gain.” R.C. Jr.’s statement in “Judgement and Grace” is dishonest. Promoting it is therefore dishonest when you know it to be the case.
Chris, I really am stupefied! R.C. Jr.’s “confession” is biblically unsound, terribly deceptive, and horribly hypocritical. Read my 11-page letter again. It should have been removed by you after it was denounced by you. How can a ministry known for its teaching on the holiness of God promote something so unholy? I find it truly incredulous!
Furthermore, I see that my concerns for R.C. Jr.’s lack of integrity are not new concerns. In fact, he was once before removed from ministry in 2006 by the Westminster Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly for numerous reasons including ecclesiastical tyranny, a consistent pattern of duplicitous actions, and the fraudulent use of a Federal Employer Identification. I find the evidence compelling and the proceedings just but I would welcome your perspective. …
Chris, I invite you to repent by the grace of Christ. Then I hope you will be used of God to lead R.C. Jr. to repentance along with all the related parties who have covered up for him. By “covered up” I mean not exposing his false narrative but instead promoting it. The evidence of repentance will be a public confession by R.C. Jr., you and the Ligonier Board.
I write most sincerely and with your very best interests at heart. I look forward to hearing back from you and seeing a contrite response in public.
I never heard back from Chris.
During the suspension, R.C. Jr. was forbidden from posting on his blog. He returned on July 1, 2016, the day his suspension was lifted. He knew he had to say something with the blog’s resumption but he didn’t want to say too little about his sin or too much about his sin, so he said NOTHING about his sin. Instead, he quoted King David’s penitent Psalm 51 which includes, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts … create in me a clean heart, O God.”
But unlike David, R.C. Jr. is not interested in inward truth or a clean heart. He is only interested in putting out a crafty statement that would not “put [his] sin back in the public eye.” That is the fear (i.e., idol) that controls him.
Therefore, he once again pretends contrition and repentance like he did in “Judgement and Grace.” This time by referencing King David’s contrite, humble, and transparent confession when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed in battle. R.C. Jr. “allows [David] to speak” for him and uses the 51st psalm on his 51st birthday as though it characterizes him. He calls this coincidence a “blessing.” No, the use of Psalm 51 is nothing but manipulation.
R.C. Jr. titles this post, “Rejoicing Bones.” That is very odd since the title has no connection to the contents. It is not about rejoicing and it is not about bones. It is most certainty not about rejoicing bones. Nothing in the title gives any clue that R.C. Jr. is returning from a ten-month suspension from ministry for “visiting” Ashley Madison. That is likely intentional.
R.C. Sproul Jr.
Friday, July 1, 2016
I have had a great deal of time [ten months] to think about what I would say when I would again be at liberty to post a piece. I’ve been afraid I might say too little, and spark a curiosity that would put my sin back in the public eye. I’ve been afraid I might say too much, and spark a curiosity that would put my sin back in the public eye. One thing, however, I realized early on, was that there might be someone who could speak far better than I ever could to the occasion. And what a blessing it is for me to be able, on the occasion of my 51st birthday, to allow him to speak. [Psalm 51 follows] Of course I am not David. We are, however, related—we have the same elder Brother. I am grateful for your prayers, even as I am grateful for His grace.
King David, in contrast to R.C. Jr., was not concerned about how people viewed him. He was unconcerned that his sin might “spark a curiosity.” He was only concerned with how God viewed him and whether the Holy Spirit would be taken away from him. In fact, you can read all about David’s sin in 2 Samuel 11 and about his to response to Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12 because David provided the details. No one was curious about his sins because he was honest about his sins.
R.C. Jr. has nothing in common with King David. He has not responded to rebuke. He has not come clean and confessed his sins. He continues to cover up and pretend. It is nothing but cunning for him to quote Psalm 51. There is no comparison between it and “Judgement and Grace” or “Rejoicing Bones.”
R.C. Jr. wrote 14 more posts on his blog during the month of July. I read them all and he says nothing about his sin, the ten-month suspension, why he was not at liberty to blog, or his restoration to ministry. I also scanned his posts from August to the present. I see no reference to his situation. He is silent in all respects. This reminds me of C.J. Mahaney when he had Dave Harvey remove his “confessions” from the Sovereign Grace website. See A Few Bible Thoughts about Online Confessions. It is an erasing of history in order to rewrite history.
The same is true with Ligonier Ministries. Without comment, the Board reinstated R.C. Jr. as Rector of Theology and Professor of Apologetics in the Reformation Bible College, as a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries and as a Board of Director on July 1, 2016. In the August edition of Tabletalk magazine R.C. Jr. also resumed his regular column and wrote an article on “Jesus’ Brother and Mine.” He was also listed as a speaker at the Ligonier National Conference in March 2017.
Unlike his father, I’ve infrequently found the writings of R.C. Jr. spiritually inspiring or theological insightful. In fact, I’ve frequently found his musings odd and on occasion I’ve found his teaching aberrant (e.g. paedocommunion – giving communion or the Lord’s Supper to infants and young children).
To be honest, I don’t know why he was put in these positions or returned to these positions based upon his gifting. That is just my opinion but it seems to me a case of nepotism. That is “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.”
Furthermore, R.C. Jr. doesn’t not have the requisite theological training to be the Rector (i.e. head) of Theology or Professor of Apologetics. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree (D.Min.), not a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) research degree. There is a world of difference in academia between a D.Min. and a Th.D. or Ph.D. Pastors sometimes get a D.Min. Theologians and professors earn a Th.D. or Ph.D. This too points to nepotism – that is, giving R.C. Jr. titles and positions for which he does not hold proper academic credentials. I’m sure this is not lost upon his learned father.
My greatest concern for R.C. Jr., however, is not his lack of academic training or apparent lack of gifting. It is his lack of personal character. In particular, his lack of integrity. “Judgement and Grace” is fiction. It is not the truth. And there are many other issues with R.C. Jr. that have been raised by his former friends, church members and fellow leaders. For example, see http://rc-sproul-jr.blogspot.com/.
And as I told Chris Larson,
“I couldn’t believe you were directing people to a statement you knew contained false and misleading information. In that moment, I realized you, and I must assume Dr. R.C. Sproul Sr. and the Ligonier Board, were committed to covering up for R.C. Jr. by promulgating his false narrative!”
I genuinely appreciate so much of the teaching material put out by R.C. Sproul Sr. and Ligonier Ministries. I’ve read their books and attended their conferences for decades. I have every issue of Tabletalk going back to July 1989 on “Why Study Theology?” That’s why I am holy angered by their deceit. I don’t want them to meet with God’s opposition. I say this in the fear of God, R.C. Jr. is not good for the future of Ligonier Ministries.
That’s why I worked behind the scenes for months trying to bring about his repentance and that of his pastors, his presbytery and Ligonier Ministries. It was all for naught. Finally, I had to write Ligonier Ministries Covers-up the Truth about R.C. Sproul Jr.’s “Visit” to Ashley Madison Despite Many Appeals in April 2016. It is 60 pages long and tells the whole story in greater detail and with far more documentation than this current post on his suspension being lifted.
There is so much corruption among national leaders who have supported and defended C.J. Mahaney despite thousands of pages of carefully documented evidence that clearly shows he is disqualified from ministry. I hate to say it, but it is no wonder R.C. Sproul Sr. is covering up for R.C. Sproul Jr. because that is what he has done for C.J. Mahaney. In both cases, he has transgressed his excellent teaching on the holiness of God. Such hypocrisy is deeply offensive to the Holy One.
C.J. took a seven month leave of absence. R.C. Jr. was suspended for ten months. Neither man repented of their lying or hypocrisy. Both were returned to ministry. A temporary absence from ministry with pay means nothing unless it results in the confessing of wrongs and the righting of wrongs. In the case of C.J. and R.C., their time off only resulted in further deceit.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be writing about corruption in other nationally recognized ministries with whom I have interacted in private for a long time. None have been willing to acknowledge their clearly documented lying, deceit, lording or hypocrisy. The truth about the conduct of these men is shocking and hard to imagine.
The work I do is not fun or easy but it is necessary. Would you please consider a gift or donation and read my recent Personal Update here? Even more importantly, would you read my original letter to R.C. Sproul Jr. below and pray for his true restoration, not to ministry, but to the Lord Jesus Christ.
From: Brent Detwiler [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, October 19, 2015 9:33 AM
To: R.C. Sproul Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Ashley Madison
We have not met but I know many of your father’s friends and colleagues. I first met your father in the mid 1970’s. He’d drive up from Ligonier [PA] to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to teach for The Coalition for Christian Outreach. I was doing my undergraduate work and leading a campus ministry at the time.
I am so grateful to God for the work and impact of Ligonier Ministries. Your father’s writings, Tabletalk, the conferences, etc. have benefitted me greatly for nearly four decades.
With this in mind, I am writing to you with mercy and kindness. I want you to prosper in the Lord. You were given a much greater role in the ministry when appointed Chair of Theology and Philosophy in the Reformation Bible College [in Feb 2014]. If the Lord wills, you will return to that position after your suspension. In the future, you could replace your father as Chairman of Ligonier Ministries when it is time for him to go home to be with the Lord. And yet, now is a time of God’s dealings in your life. How you respond will likely determine your future under the providence of God.
I’ve taken some time to review what you have written and confessed in relation to your involvement with the Ashely Madison website. In fact, I wrote a post on the subject the beginning of September . I’d recommend you read it. It was mostly complimentary.
Since that post, I’ve taken more time to study what you have written and confessed. As a results, my concerns for you have significantly increased. I want to help if you’ll allow.
For many years, I was the number two leader in Sovereign Grace Ministries after C.J. Mahaney. I helped start the ministry in 1982 and served on the Board of Directors for 25 years. For over a decade, I tried to help C.J. in private overcome sinful patterns of serious sin. Finally, I was forced to leave in 2009 and go public in 2011 because corruption and spiritual abuse in SGM had become so great under his leadership.
C.J. and SGM continue to deceive and refuse to humble themselves. See for example, Hush Fund Set Up by Top SGM Leaders to Meet the Demands of a SGM Pastor Whose Son Was Sexually Abused. As a result, God’s opposition continues. SGM has been judged like Israel and Judah after the reign of Solomon. Forty churches, hundreds of leaders, thousands of members, and millions of dollars have left the organization due to its ethical and spiritual decline. In pointing this out, I am not comparing you to C.J. or Ligonier Ministries to Sovereign Grace Ministries but I think you can learn from both of them.
Therefore, let me share some observations and ask some questions.
In your “Judgement and Grace” confession on August 31, 2015, you said,
“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.”
Of course, the first question is why did you wait a full year to make this confession? You visited Ashley Madison in August 2014. You acknowledged it in August 2015 but only after hackers started releasing names in July 2015. You obviously hid this information from Ligonier Ministries and your regional presbytery until forced to reveal it a year later. In other words, you came forward because you were caught in sin, not because you were convicted of sin. That is a great concern.
As you said,
“With the revelation of the hack has come the revelation of my sin. I recently informed the board of Ligonier Ministries, which has handled the matter internally, having suspended me until July 1, 2016. I also informed my presbytery which is also handling the matter internally.”
From my perspective, you should have made two things clear in your August 31  statement. One, your confession did not result from any previous conviction of sin. Two, you were not open, honest and accountable with the board and presbytery.
In Acts 20:28, elders are commanded to “pay careful attention to yourselves” (ESV), “be on guard for yourselves” (NASB), and “keep watch over yourselves” (NIV). You set up an account on a salacious website created solely for the purpose of immorality but never told your fellow elders so they could guard you, watch over you and pay close attention to you. That was serious mistake. Elders must share their sins and temptations with one another. You did the opposite.
You said in your confession, “The grace of God’s judgment bore its fruit, and by His grace I repented of my sin [and] received His forgiveness” but you never went on to identify your sin in biblical terms or categories. All you acknowledged was “I visited Ashely Madison…to fan the flames of my imagination.”
In fact, you excused your sin (“in a moment of weakness”), justified your sin (“in a moment of…pain”), relegated your motive (“an unhealthy curiosity”) and hedged your goal (“to fan the flames of my imagination”). I say this kindly. You need help applying the doctrine of sin to your heart and mind. These words of do not show the earmarks of biblical repentance.
I think you need to face the fact that you went to a manifestly evil and perverse website that caters to homosexuals, lesbians, fornicators and adulterers, not just adulterers. In so doing you chose to disobey countless Scriptures. I need not quote them because you know them. Yet, you confess no transgression against God’s holy commands. That is the starting point for your repentance.
Furthermore, you set a terrible example in what you wrote. “Weakness” and “pain” are common excuses for viewing pornography and committing immorality and adultery. I think of Tullian Tchividjian. “Heartbroken and devastated [by his wife’s adultery] … I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself.” His “inappropriate” relationship was likewise an adulterous relationship which he hid from church leaders until confronted.
Here’s the problem. Who isn’t weak? Who doesn’t experience pain? Does this mean sexual sin or fanning the flames of a sinful imagination are understandable when we experience “a moment of weakness, pain?” The answer is obvious. You should retract these excuses because others are led astray by them. Instead, I’d encourage you to ruthlessly deal with your excuses and reissue a clear confession of actual sin without qualification.
Furthermore, pornography, immorality and adultery are not pain killers. They are people killers. Nor, do they provide comfort. Only sinful pleasure. God the Holy Spirit is our Comforter and he brings joy in the midst of our suffering and provides strength in our perpetual state of weakness. It is not a momentary condition. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Therefore, weakness is never an excuse for sin in the Bible. It is the means by which we experience God’s power to overcome sin and flee temptation. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” You should make this clear in a retraction. Your temptation was common (1 Cor 10:13) and his power was available to you in abundance (2 Cor. 12:9). You chose not to walk by or be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16, 18).
Your confession was also indistinct. You visited Ashley Madison “from an unhealthy curiosity” in order “to fan the flames of my imagination. That raises questions. About what were you curious and why did you call this curiosity “unhealthy” instead of ungodly? You don’t say.
Similarly, what were you imagining? What were you thinking about? What ideation were you fanning? Having sex with someone in a clandestine manner like Josh Duggar? That is the goal of Ashley Madison. You don’t say. Your confession was nebulous. This easily gives the impression you were simply curious about how Ashley Madison operated but had no intention of using the service. I find that hard to believe.
When you wrote Duggar and Hastert in June , you said the following about confessing sin.
“We, of all people should be the people quickest to repent, quickest to acknowledge our sins. … I wonder if perhaps we might silence our critics…if we would instead regularly, fully, and fearlessly confess our sins. … Beloved, we have been given the true cover for our sin. We cover that covering, however, when we seek to hide our sin from the world.”
I agree with your counsel but I don’t think you are following it. It seems you are hiding your sin rather than “fully and fearlessly” confessing your sin. What sin are you confessing, renouncing and forsaking? Jesus didn’t die for an unhealthy curiosity. He died for ungodly cravings. He didn’t die for a morally neutral imagination. He died for sinful thoughts. You get the point.
When you wrote about Hacking Ashley Madison in July, you also said the following about exposing and confessing sin.
“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.”
Once again, I hope you will follow your own advice.
When I wrote What C.J. Mahaney & Gene Emerson Can Learn from R.C. Sproul Jr.’s Visit to Ashley Madison in September, I qualified my compliments with this caveat.
“Thus ends my critique of R.C. Sproul Jr. because we can learn from him provided he is telling us the whole story.”
That brings to my most important point.
In your “Judgment and Grace” confession (if we can call it a confession), you said the following about the extent of your visit to Ashley Madison.
“In August 2014, in a moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity, I visited Ashley Madison. … 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.”
What do we learn from this explanation? Your visit was momentary. Fear and shame deterred you. You left in minutes. No harm, no foul. Nothing of import transpired. All you did was leave an email address - supposedly.
It is at this point that you are not “telling us the whole story.” As you know, you left far more than an email address. And in leaving an email address you agreed to the terms and conditions set by Ashley Madison and signed up for their service. This gave you access to the internal workings of how to find and hook up with fellow “clients.” All of this took and involved more than a few (implied) minutes. Your description above is terribly misleading.
Here’s what transpired in reality according to the website.
In order to register an account, you had to indicate your “relationship status.” Six options were given.
- Attached Male seeking Females
- Attached Female seeking Males
- Single Male seeking Females
- Single Female seeking Males
- Male seeking Males
- Female seeking Females
Furthermore, the seeker is seeking plural (i.e. multiple) females or males.
As you know, Ashley Madison is not limited to married couples. You imply otherwise in “Judgement and Grace” and state otherwise in “Hacking Ashley Madison.” This gives the false impression the site was of no relevance to you as a single man.
You also had to “complete your profile” before you could “start searching.” Therefore, you had to provide answers to all the following.
- Date of birth
- Body Type
Under “Greeting,” I assume people leave an alluring message in order to attract persons of their liking (e.g. married, single or homosexual) in order to have sex with them.
Under “Limits,” you had to select one of the following.
- Something Short Term
- Something Long Term
- Cyber Affair / Erotic Chat
- Whatever Excites Me
- Anything Goes
In your statement, you said “I was there long enough to leave an old email address.” Leaving an email address was the final piece of information you were required to provide in order to open an account. It came after you answered all of the previous questions.
Lastly, you had to certify the following by agreeing with this statement.
You were also provided this notification.
“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 have received, changes to the services and other services that may be of interest to you. We will never share or sell your email address to any other organization or individual.”
Having provided all the personal information necessary for arranging a “successful affair” you clicked the “I agree” button so you could “continue and search” and be notified of “potential matches,” “new matches you have received,” and “other services” by “Ashley Madison and it affiliated entities.” If this were not true, you had absolutely no reason to fear exposure by the hack because none of this information would have been transferred to Ashley Madison.
As Christianity Today pointed out in their article about you on August 31, “The Impact Team” hackers were releasing “user’s account information.”
“Two weeks ago, a group identifying itself as ‘The Impact Team’ released 25 gigabytes of stolen data from Ashley Madison, including millions of users’ account information.”
Before this on August 21, Joseph Cox gave a more precise detailing of the “customer information” released to the public in his article, Ashley Madison Hackers Speak Out: ‘Nobody Was Watching'.
“The hackers behind the breach, who call themselves The Impact Team, first released snippets of the data back in July. After nearly 30 days, they then dumped 10GB of customer information, shortly followed by another 20GB of internal data. Minutes ago, the hackers also posted a third data dump.”
You did far more than “visit Ashley Madison” in an innocuous fashion. You filled out and submitted all the information necessary for “a successful affair” including a “greeting”, your “relationship status” and your “limits.” Then you agreed to their policy, terms and conditions in order to search for “matches” and be searched by “matches.” You also signed up for “other services.”
You claimed, “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.”
This claim includes five assertions. Three are false. Two are questionable.
1. “I was there long enough to leave an old email address.” False. You were there long enough to leave all kinds of information.
2. “And within minutes I left.” False. Registering the account and then going to the account involved more than a few minutes which is your implication.
3. “I did not sign up for their service.” False. You did sign up for their service. I hope by now you have cancelled the service.
4. “Never to return.” I hope this is true.
5. “I did not…interact with any clients.” I hope this is true.
Here’s the problem. Three false statements make it hard to believe two questionable statements. I’ve been a pastor for forty years and never come across someone as innocent as you claim to be under like circumstances. All you did was momentarily visit Ashley Madison on one occasion without intending to use the service for immoral purposes. As you said, “My goal was not to gather research for critical commentary, but to fan the flames of my imagination.”
In other words, your goal was to titillate your imagination. You were curious. That’s all. You were not a “single male seeking females.” Men I’ve counseled view pornography to fan the flames of their sinful imagination. Men who open accounts on sites like Ashley Madison do so in order to set up sexual liaisons. You claimed no such goal or aspiration. That is hard to believe.
Given the rather innocuous parameters of your confession, I don’t understand why the board of Ligonier Ministries suspended you as Chair of Theology and Philosophy for ten months or why your presbytery removed you from pastoral ministry for ten months. In my opinion, the penalty does not fit the crime if they believed your confession was wholly true and complete. The penalty seems excessive but perhaps they knew more about the nature and extent of your sin than you are telling us.
If that is true, I wonder why they haven’t corrected your statement and put out a statement of their own. To date, the board and presbytery have issued no statements regarding your sin or why you needed to be suspended. What you wrote is the one and only statement.
You posted “Hacking Ashley Madison” on July 22, 2015. You said,
“I hope, however, that my children still don’t know about Ashley Madison, a website that I only recently learned about.”
You posted “Judgement and Grace” on August 31, 2015. You said,
“In August 2014, in a moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity, I visited Ashley Madison.”
For anyone counting, the math doesn’t add up. You visited Ashley Madison in August 2014, but claimed you “only recently” heard about it in July 2015. If that were true, then “recently” means 11 months ago. And yet you purposely used the adverb, “only,” to emphasize chronological proximity.
Moreover, you used the word “recently” just two paragraphs later in “Hacking Ashley Madison.” It didn’t mean 11 months. It meant in the past week or same month.
“It [Ashley Madison] is in the news recently [the past week], not because it is a new website or a new concept; it is in the news because they have recently been hacked [the same month].”
Christianity Today pointed this out in their article. It also appears they contacted you about “this apparent misstatement” but you “provided no explanation.” The obvious question is, “Why not?”
“In that July 22  post, Sproul Jr. said he had ‘only recently learned about’ Ashley Madison. But in his August 31  blog, he said he visited the site in August 2014. He provided no explanation for this apparent misstatement.”
Just as seriously you claimed to have “learned about” and “heard of” Ashley Madison from others. They were led to believe you had no firsthand experience with Ashley Madison. No one would ever have suspected you opened an account. That too was deceptive.
“I hope, however, that my children still don’t know about Ashley Madison, a website that I only recently learned about. Ashley Madison, in some ways, is very much like other websites that I have heard of.” [Hacking Ashley Madison]
You also deceived people with this statement. No one would ever think you were one of the 37 million.
“The hackers who broke into their site were able to retrieve mountains of information including millions of names of people who signed up for this website. … 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.” [Hacking Ashley Madison]
After these comments, you proceeded to teach and warn people about hiding their sins even though you were hiding your own sins. That was terribly hypocritical.
“The reality is that nothing that we do is private. Not because of the shocking reach of the Internet, not because of the devious skills of hackers, but rather because all that we do is known by the One who knows all things. The reality is that we all sin before the eyes of the watching God of Heaven and Earth. Not only that, but all of our sins will one day be publicly exposed. On that great day of judgment, there will be no delete; there will be no erase; there will be no way to hide all that all of us have done. It is my hope that this kind of cyber assault might wake us up to that reality.” [Hacking Ashley Madison]
Unfortunately, the cyber assault did not wake you up to that reality. You would have confessed immediately if it had. Instead you covered up your sin until after The Impact Team released all the customer information in public including your own.
You also gave this exhortation in “Hacking Ashley Madison.”
“My prayer is that we, even if we haven’t committed adultery, even if we haven’t flirted with committing adultery, even if we just learned about Ashley Madison, would just recognize and embrace the biblical truth that our sins will find us out.”
This was another example of hypocrisy. You should have said, “My sins have found me out. Let me tell you about them so you can learn from my folly and disobedience.” If you had followed your own counsel, you would have confessed your sin. When we teach something we are not living, we deceive people into thinking we are practicing what we are preaching.
Lastly by way of illustration, you said,
“We are all sinners, and we are all, in ourselves, justly under the wrath of God, and we will all give an answer for all that we’ve done, all that we’ve said, all that we’ve thought, and for every website we have visited. It will all come out.” [Hacking Ashley Madison]
No one reading your post would ever have imagined you “visited” Ashley Madison. You only “heard of” it. You deceived your audience.
On August 31 when you posted “Judgement and Grace,” you also added this addendum to “Hacking Ashley Madison” from July 22.
“August 31, 2015 Update to This [July 22] Article: in light of my public statement here, I believe I should have withheld comment on this matter.”
This was woefully inadequate. You should have provided an “update” that talked about your extensive deceit and hypocrisy. For example, “I mislead and deceived people in what I wrote on July 22 in the following ways… I was also a hypocrite in the following ways… I should have withheld all comment on Ashley Madison, Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert.”
R.C., I don’t know who is caring for your soul but I hope you will get help. The matters covered in this letter must be addressed. First in private, then in public.
In “Grace and Judgement” you exclaimed, “And now the world is informed.” No, the world was not informed, it was misinformed. Actually, I fear it was deceived.
In private, I hope you will take your heart to task before God like King David in Psalm 51 and then go through the liberating steps outlined in James 4:7-10 which end with a wonderful promise.
Then it will be a small matter for you to correct your public “confession.” You will want to reveal, confess and renounce your sins so you can prosper and find mercy in the sight of God and men. That is my desire for you.
If you conceal your deceit and hypocrisy, however, you will not prosper. Most certainly you will be found out according to the teaching of God’s infallible Word.
Proverbs 28:13 (NIV) He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
I also love Proverbs 10:9. Both its promise and warning have kept me from sin on many occasions. It is so good to walk security through life knowing there is nothing hidden that will be found out. I commend it to you.
Proverbs 10:9 (NASB) He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.
In “Judgement and Grace” you talked about the hack being a means of grace that caused you to seek forgiveness. I hope you see this letter in the same light. If I have judged you wrongly at any point please tell me. I hope you will do the same about those matter in which I have judged you righteously. My motive is benevolent and I have your best interests at heart.
In closing, I remind you again of your admonition in “Duggar and Hastert” from June 4.
“We, of all people should be the people quickest to repent, quickest to acknowledge our sins. I wonder if perhaps we might silence our critics…if we would instead regularly, fully, and fearlessly confess our sins. … Beloved, we have been given the true cover for our sin. We cover that covering, however, when we seek to hide our sin from the world.”
I hope and pray this will occur quickly for God’s glory and your good. Please write me. I’d like to hear where the Holy Spirit brings conviction and how you are going to respond in private and public. Such accountability is necessary and intended to serve you.