New Orleans pastor and seminary professor John Gibson loved cars and he was always game to rescue a stranded family member on a highway should theirs ever break down. A self-taught mechanic, he turned a hobby into a skill that would save cash-strapped students a trip to the auto shop.
He also struggled with a sexual addiction, depression and the shame of having been exposed as a user of the infidelity Web site Ashley Madison.
On Aug. 24, Gibson’s wife, Christi, came home from work and immediately knew something was amiss. John would have been in the kitchen preparing supper by then. Usually, when she opened the front door, he would call out to her.
Later, she found him, and emergency personnel pronounced him dead at the scene.
“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.”
Since hackers released troves of data on users of the controversial Web site, which promotes itself as a secure and secretive facilitator of extramarital affairs, the revelation has threatened the reputation of millions of people. It has also been linked to suicides, lost jobs and broken marriages.
The Impact Team, the group claiming responsibility for the hack, exposing Ashley Madison user data was about exposing its cheating users and the “fraud” of the company that enabled them.
“Learn your lesson and make amends,” the hackers wrote in a statement directed at Ashley Madison users.”Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.”
Some, like Gibson, never got over it.
Gibson can now be counted among the casualties of the Ashley Madison fiasco, and according to his wife, it illustrates the real and unnecessary human toll.
“I know they view my husband and all these other people as a commodity and not as people,” Christi Gibson told The Washington Post in an interview.
For 25 of their almost 30 years of marriage, Gibson and her husband struggled with his sex addiction. She knew that he struggled and had relapsed over and over again. She did not know that he had used Ashley Madison until she read his suicide note, however. In it, her husband talked about his depression and his deep remorse and shame over having his name be among those found in the adultery Web site’s database.
“He struggled with addiction and with depression and those were two things that he couldn’t — as much as he was willing to help other people and do for other people — he couldn’t conceive that somebody would help him and do it for him in that kind of situation,” Christi said. “The shame of this really was just more than what he could take.”
As a minister and a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the possibility that his secret life might have been exposed in the leak was simply too much.
And it was for that reason that Gibson and her children decided to go public with their family’s once-private shame and tragedy.
“The shame is in the secrecy and the hiddenness and the lie of this,” Gibson said. “Ashley Madison doesn’t advertise, ‘Hey come have an affair and let’s make it public.’ The whole idea, the allure of a site like this, is the anonymity and the darkness and the hiddenness of it.
“We believe that there’s freedom in the truth,” she added. “If we can speak out and say ‘find a safe person and talk to them, get help with what you’re going through,’ then it doesn’t make our pain go away, but it redeems it.”
The shame is particularly acute for members of church leadership who build their lives on guiding followers in moral, and in John Gibson’s case, Christian lives. Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer called the leak a “significant moment of embarrassment for the Church,” and estimated that hundreds of pastors, clergy and staff could be caught up.
According to Christi Gibson, her husband wasn’t immune to the double burden of both sin and hypocrisy.
“I think what happens to someone who is a minister is that they start thinking of themselves as having to be perfect,” Gibson said. “They start believing that in order for them to help others, in order for them to lead others and minister to others, they have to be flawless themselves.
“It’s wrong thinking,” she added. “Every single story in the Bible of a leader or someone that God really used is a story of someone who is really flawed.”
So, could she have forgiven him?
“I think,” she said, pausing for a moment. “And I hope that John and I would have been able to work through this together had he come to me and said, ‘I’ve done this. I’m so sorry. Can we work through this together?’ I’ll never know because he didn’t let me do that.
“I don’t want to get out here and say, ‘Oh yeah, I could have forgiven it,’ and make myself look like a person who can do anything, because I don’t know,” she added. “I hope and pray that I would have been able to forgive because in the past, God’s given me the grace to be able to do that.”