GRAPEVINE, Texas — In a series of programs over the next several weeks, ABC's Nightline will examine the place of the Ten Commandments in a post-modern world.
On Thursday night, before a packed mega-church, Nightline did not start at the beginning.
Instead, the topic at Fellowship Church was commandment No. 7: the one forbidding adultery.
In what the program called a "face-off" format moderated by anchor Cynthia McFadden, two ministers, including Fellowship’s pastor Ed Young, confronted two others with a decidedly different take on the issue.
One was author Jenny Block, who advocates open marriage, and Noel Biderman, the founder of a dating Web site for people who want to have affairs.
Not surprisingly, fidelity carried the day in the sanctuary, which holds more than 4,000. But during an often-pointed debate that stretched on for more than an hour, the audience was restrained and respectful.
At one point, Young drew loud applause when he referred to the slogan of Biderman’s Web site, ashleymadison.com.
"I agree with Noel," said Young, who last year made national news by urging his congregants to have sex every day for a week. "Life is short, have an affair. I would add three words: 'With your spouse.’ "
The Nightline episode based on Thursday night’s debate is scheduled to air on ABC next Thursday.
The producers were clearly seeking the most provocative kickoff for the commandment’s series — bringing a debate on sex, adultery and marriage before a church audience in the heart of the Bible Belt.
For Block and Biderman, there was no escaping the lion’s den analogy. McFadden even introduced herself to the audience as the "lion tamer."
"I recognize they might not have the home-field advantage," Nightline executive producer James Goldston said earlier Thursday.
The Nightline set included a large bed in the background and several large TV screens bearing the words "Born to Cheat?"
Minutes before taping began, McFadden met Biderman off-stage, joking about the lion’s den but saying she had prepared difficult questions for all of the panelists.
"The real point is not to have people yelling at each other," McFadden said.
"Now she tells me," joked Biderman, who has been ridiculed on several national talk shows. "I’ve never had the home-field advantage. Well, maybe when I was on Howard Stern."
During the taping, Young and Jonathan Daugherty, a self-professed recovered sex addict who counsels people with sexual problems, stressed the biblical admonitions of fidelity in marriage.
Both also spoke of their own experiences.
"I’ve been on both sides of this equation," Daugherty said. "Faithfulness and fidelity to one spouse wins."
Citing the divorce rate and rampant infidelity in the culture, Biderman and Block argued that Christian commandments and contemporary views of marriage might be antiquated. Block said she lied early in her marriage after an affair. Now, her husband is aware of and approves her sexual relationship with a woman.
"I have a very good relationship with God," Block said. "I did ask for forgiveness for lying. I would never ask for forgiveness for [her current relationship] . . . . We’re coming from different places, and that’s a tough place to start."
At one point, the debate turned to what constitutes sin. Under McFadden’s prodding, Young said carnal thoughts about someone other than a spouse is sinful behavior.
"This is an honest audience," McFadden said, turning to the congregation. "Whoever has those thoughts, raise your hands."
Most hands in the congregation shot up.
"Sinners!" McFadden said to loud laughter.
But the night’s most emotion-charged moment did not come from the anchor or panel members.
When McFadden went into the congregation for questions, a teenage girl spoke of being raised by her brother because adultery destroyed her parents’ marriage.
"Think about that," the girl said to Block and Biderman. "You don’t know what it feels like when children are torn apart because of adultery. I don’t know why you can continue to encourage that!"
Her comments brought a standing ovation and the loudest applause of the night.