Salvation: Just click and confess
Confession websites have become popular places to post your sins -- or to read about the transgressions of others.
A woman kept her secret for nearly two decades.
Finally ready to confess, she turned not to a minister, but to her computer.
''I am sorry God for not keeping that baby,'' her anonymous confession reads. ``I had an abortion and had kept that secret for over 18 years. I feel so ashamed. Please forgive me!''
The confession appears at ivescrewedup.com, a website launched by the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City. It's one of a growing number of such sites across the country -- some secular and others church-sponsored -- that offer a place to spill out ugly secrets or just make peccadilloes public.
''I think it helps people understand . . . that we're not here to point out people's screw-ups, that we're here to help them,'' said lead Pastor Troy Gramling, whose nondenominational church launched the site on Easter weekend. ``The church is made of skin and flesh and people that have made mistakes.''
The 6,500-member church created the site as part of a 10-week series on the ways people mess up -- in marriage, parenting, finances and more. The goal of the series is to help congregants learn from their mistakes.
1,000 HITS A DAY
So far, more people are reading the confessions than posting them. The site gets about 1,000 hits a day, with about 200 online admissions.
Lust, pornography and a litany of sexual transgressions top the sinners' hit parade. Theft, lying and alcohol abuse also make frequent appearances.
One person confesses: ''I have done enough drugs to make Keith Richards envious!!!!!'' Another admits wishing death on her enemies.
The posts are poignant and heartbreaking and occasionally frightening, like the accounts of teenagers ravaged by eating disorders and others who have contemplated suicide.
A 23-year-old man who posted on the site told a reporter in a telephone interview that he was struck by how many people wanted to spill their ``dirty little secret.''
''I think there's a feeling that you're not the only one that's out there that has messed up before and there's other people,'' said the man, who declined to reveal anything about himself or his confession.
The Miami Herald contacted the church, seeking confessors, but found none willing to be identified in print.
The 23-year-old who gave the interview said he is a Protestant who doesn't belong to the church but was turned on to the website by a friend who is a member. ''It was very cathartic,'' he said.
The anonymity of the site is key to its appeal. He said he hadn't turned to anyone in his church about the confession he posted and wasn't sure whether he would feel comfortable.
''When you don't know someone, you can't trust them; it takes time,'' he said.
Online confessionals are a natural outgrowth of Internet chat rooms ''where people have this habit of telling secrets to strangers,'' as well as blogs and MySpace pages, said Janet Sternberg, associate chairwoman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York.
''Online was made for this stuff,'' Sternberg said. ``It's the perfect environment for people telling secrets anonymously.''
LifeChurch.tv, an evangelical church that broadcasts services to 11 locations, including one in Palm Beach County, started the site mysecret.tv nearly a year ago.
More than 6,000 people have posted confessions and millions more have logged on to read the stories, said Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader at LifeChurch.tv.
The church has received some criticism, Gruenewald said, from people who think that ``we're trying to encourage people to confess to a computer instead of God. We just believe it is a catalyst to have people open up to family and friends and God. I think sometimes it can be misunderstood.''
A recent redesign gave readers the option to post prayers or responses to the confessions.
The Catholic Church is among those who reject the idea of confessing online.
Confession is ''the opportunity to confess sins to someone ordained as a priest who is a representative of Christ,'' said Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
The websites, with their voyeuristic appeal, may fulfill people's need to feel better about their own behavior or moral values.
'What makes it so popular is not so much the people confessing but people going to read all these things, saying, `My life's not so bad,' '' said Greg Fox, who runs the site dailyconfession.com.
``It's kind of the car wreck you're driving by. You can't help but watch. It's kind of the car wreck of life.''
Fox started the site in 2000 while he was working as a writer, producer and director for The Walt Disney Co. The launch was ''my therapy,'' he said.
''Everything was pixie dust and fun and nice and nothing bad ever happens,'' he said. The site, which averages about 1.3 million hits a day, was ''my way of getting back in touch with reality,'' he said.
People have written on the site about contemplating suicide and abusive relationships, and Fox said he has tried to give those people the resources to get help. Others have threatened the president, prompting Fox to call the U.S. Secret Service.
He reviews all of the posts before they make it to cyberspace and has a backlog of about 4,000 confessions. Fox said the confessions are completely anonymous and that he has no way of tracing them.
'What I hear is it's a lot easier to tell the `truth' in complete anonymity. You can get feedback and find out you're not so weird. You're not the only one who feels that way or has this phobia.''
Salvation: Just click and confess - 04/29/2007 - MiamiHerald.com