As a Baptist pastor, John F. Gibson Jr. preached that anyone with faith in Jesus Christ could redeem himself and find forgiveness. His widow says her husband would have attained that forgiveness, from his family and anyone else who mattered.
Instead, Gibson, 56, a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, took his own life Aug. 24, less than a week after discovering his name on a published list of account holders at Ashley Madison, a website that purports to facilitate adulterous relationships.
“I do believe that John thought if people saw his weaknesses and his flaws, they wouldn’t love him,” said his wife, 54-year-old Christi Rogers Gibson. “He didn’t seem to make that connection — that he could fail and receive the same grace that he gave others.”
The seminary would not comment directly on what Gibson’s employment status was shortly before his death, but its president said Baptist leaders are required to live according to biblical values and would be expected to step down as a result of any serious infraction.
Gibson’s death is the most striking instance known so far in New Orleans of the fallout from the Ashley Madison scandal, which has — accurately or not — implied adulterous intentions among millions of Internet users who paid to browse the accounts of married men and women supposedly interested in extramarital affairs.
Gibson left behind his wife of 30 years; a son, Trey; a daughter, Callie; and a reputation as a theology teacher who reached his students through humor and often doubled as a skilled mechanic for a friend or neighbor with car trouble.
Gibson served as a minister at several churches in Louisiana and Mississippi during his career.
Beginning about 20 years ago, he led the New Orleans seminary’s student enlistment department and served as its director of alumni and church-minister relations.
With master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from NOBTS, he joined the seminary’s faculty in 1998, teaching there for the last 17 years of his life.
During an Aug. 28 memorial service, Gibson’s son remembered how his father would crack a self-deprecating joke to put his students and congregation at ease.
“My name is John Gibson, and I am the ugliest bald-headed preacher you will ever see,” Trey Gibson recalled his father saying whenever he walked up to a pulpit and introduced himself. “I used to use Head and Shoulders, but now I use Mop & Glo.”
Pupils responded enthusiastically to Gibson’s teaching style, said Chuck Kelley, president of the seminary.
“Students loved his approach to teaching,” Kelley said. “His smile and outgoing personality could light up a room.”
Gibson, who lived in a house on campus, was equally renowned for one particular type of benevolent deed: fixing the cars of students, neighbors and fellow teachers.
“It was unbelievable,” said Bob Stewart, a fellow professor. “It took a while when I moved across the street from him to get used to the number of cars that were in his driveway and down the street and in front of my house.”
Stewart said Gibson not only made repairs for free but often paid for new parts out of his own pocket.
“He just delighted in helping students, helping faculty,” Stewart said. “He was just a wonderful guy.”
Privately, Gibson struggled with depression for years, his family said. He was still trying to manage that depression when hackers attacked Ashley Madison in July, obtained the personal information of millions of account holders and then released that data to the public Aug. 18.
Gibson’s name showed up alongside the seminary’s address. Six days later, about 5:30 p.m., Christi Gibson arrived home from work and found her husband unresponsive.
Paramedics arrived a short time later and pronounced Gibson dead at the scene. The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office on Wednesday said Gibson’s precise cause of death remains under investigation, but family members have acknowledged that he took his own life.
Asked whether it was possible that Gibson feared losing his standing or job at the seminary because his name was on the Ashley Madison database, Kelley wrote in an email: “I can say this. The common expectation in Baptist churches and institutions is for those in leadership roles to live moral lives reflecting biblical values or leave their position.
“In those rare instances when we have to deal with a member of our seminary family who has made choices not reflecting the values and standards of Southern Baptists, there is always a financial safety net and the offer of assistance in working through whatever consequences an individual faces. They never stop being our friend.”
Kelley added that the seminary hosted a chapel service as well as a memorial service for Gibson following his death. Both were well-attended, and Kelley said they gave an idea of the seminary’s attitude toward Gibson.
Gibson’s relatives said they were ready to support him. They only wish he had given them a chance to show that.
“The Lord did not create us to fight battles alone,” Trey Gibson said during his eulogy. “One lie that the enemy will tell you is that the truth — no matter how big or small — will lead to your destruction instead of salvation.”