When I first read the story about the New Jersey pastor who told his church leadership to delete their Facebook accounts in order to avoid an extramarital affair, I was all set to write about the wisdom in going to get lengths to avoid temptations, but that legalism is not the best solution. Then, it came to light that Rev. Cedric Miller had admitted to having an affair himself, before Facebook was launched.
It didn’t take many long to mock Miller and conclude his Facebook stance was ill-advised. For his part, Miller wanted to avoid talking about it: “This was resolved at that time and accordingly we will not allow it to detract from our mission at hand to save as many marriages as we can.”
While I believe Miller is wrong to ignore what happened in the past, his critics are wrong to ignore the message by focusing on the faults of the messenger.
A faulty messenger does not necessitate a faulty message. Simply because he committed adultery, in a strange, complicated way, Miller is not then automatically giving bad advice for married couples. Hopefully, he learned from his mistakes and is trying to help others not follow in his footsteps.
Working with teenagers, I have heard this kind of thinking a lot from parents. “Well, I messed up in that area, so I don’t feel right telling my teenager they can’t do it, since I did it.” Honestly, how stupid! Do you want your kid to make the same mistakes you did? Do you want them to suffer the same consequences? Be honest with them about your own struggles, letting them know that you regret decisions you made.
Miller made marital mistakes, but he is right that Facebook and social media present new temptations to married couples. There can be the temptation to rekindle old flames or start new ones, but those predominantly come about when one or both of the spouses are somewhat open to exploring life outside their vows. It may start innocently, remembering what it was like to flirt with someone or the excitement that comes from new possibilities, but it can spread and hurt everyone involved.
What Miller does not seem to understand is that Facebook is not the culprit. Facebook is the tool. Affairs happened before social media and they will happen long after the next big thing in internet usage comes and goes. Deleting a Facebook account will not insure your marriage is safe.
Couples should take steps to build trust and eliminate unnecessary temptations, while still recognizing the individuality of the two people involved. The way that plays out in the social media world will be different for each couple. Here’s where Miller loses focus. The point is a healthy marriage. That can be achieved through varying means for different couples. Some have a joint Facebook account. Others, like my wife and I, know each others passwords and can check their spouses account at any time. For some it may require a commitment like Miller has made, to get rid of Facebook completely.
His goal, protecting marriages in a social media age, is a lofty one. His message is counter cultural, but one that needs to be heard. His methods, however, are too narrow. He, as the messenger, is probably not the best one to convey the warnings, but he can still deliver the message despite his own personal failings.
Miller’s adulterous relationship complicates the advice he wants to give married couples, but it does not refute it. Those who have had to suffer the consequences of an action are often effective teachers on the dangers involved. Miller needs to be honest and forthcoming about his past, but he should not let that deter him from bringing to cultural awareness the temptations that are prevalent in social media.