By now, most people have probably heard the news that broke earlier this week regarding the allegations against Josh Duggar for molesting 4 of his younger sisters along with a family friend when he was a young teenager. If you haven't caught this story yet you can catch up here.
I'm not here to attack the Duggars. I find it at least slightly encouraging that it appears they tried to do the right thing by reporting it to their church leadership and by later reporting it to a family friend who was a state trooper. The fact that their family friend took no legal action and later turned out to be hooked on pornography which sent him to prison doesn't speak well for the outcome of that situation, but it also doesn't necessarily speak to evil intentions on their part either.
As a parent, it would be incredibly difficult to hear from your daughters that their older brother had preyed on their sexual innocence while they slept or while he read to them. I cannot imagine the pain or confusion that specific situation would cause. I won't pretend to know how they felt in that scenario. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, let's say they tried to be as transparent about it as they could and still protect their family. However, even with all of those disclaimers, that still leaves us with quite a few things left largely unsaid by the Christian majority of the population of the country. More must be said, if only because of the very public nature with which they have decided to run their family and its overarching belief structure. Let's begin.
Abuse is never simply a "mistake"
One of the most common responses I'm seeing pop up online from Duggar supporters in the conservative Christian camp, and even from those who would land squarely in the "I wouldn't agree with how they run their family, but..." camp is something along these lines:
Teenagers make mistakes. I sure wouldn't want people to dredge up stuff from when I was a teenager and hold it against me. Know what I'm saying?
That sounds on the surface like a fair-minded and reasonable response, but let's put it in perspective. This is not a broken window or a fender bender we're discussing. This is devastating, life-altering abuse of young, vulnerable girls who were under the care and protection of these same parents who from all appearances put the most priority into salvaging the life of their son, rather than focusing on protecting their other children. This is a pattern of conscious choices made by a young man old enough that he should know not to be touching his younger siblings in their private areas. If he did not know that was wrong, then he should have. Either way, that is a major failure.
Abuse is never a mistake.
It is a conscious choice that steals the power to choose from the victims
and leaves them with the consequences of the perpetrator's sin for years to come.
These sisters and this family friend will have to deal with the fallout from Josh's decisions for the rest of their lives. It is admirable that he apologized rather than denying it, but the fact that he decided to change rather than risk letting it "ruin the rest of his life" without necessarily connecting the fact that he had already done major damage to at least 5 other lives speaks to the perspective he took coming out of this tragedy.
I do not say this to vilify or crucify Josh Duggar, but I think it does great disservice to abuse victims when abuse is referred to as "mistakes" specifically as "teenage mistakes" as his wife called it. Forgetting to bring your homework to school is a mistake. Molesting your sleeping sisters multiple times is NOT a mistake. Calling it that is dishonest and cheapens the matter.
Excessive Focus on Externals
Anyone who follows the Duggar saga (when they're not knee-deep in a nationwide scandal) is aware that the Duggars focus heavily on external rules and strict dress codes. They don't have a television set, their girls have strict guidelines for what they're allowed to wear, they restrict hand-holding to after engagement, kissing starts at the wedding, etc. It is very common to hear people all over the country commending them for providing "wholesome" entertainment at a time when there's practically nothing else good to watch on television. While it might be tempting to dream about a Christianity that cordons itself off from the world (and even the outside church) through homeschooling, extremely filtered internet, special clothing, special courtship guidelines, and friendships that are carefully vetted, I have a hard time choosing the word "wholesome" to describe that. I think it needs to be said--frumpy does not equal wholesome. Extreme separation from everything and everyone you disagree with, does not make you wholesome. Obviously, there was more going on behind the scenes with Josh and his sisters that was not wholesome, and the dress code, the courtship rules, the buddy system--none of that kept sin from entering the picture. Sin is possible wherever people are.
You may object and say that nobody's perfect, but my point is not looking for perfection. Looking objectively at the vast amount of rules and restrictions the Duggars have placed on their family, it would make sense to expect those rules to pay off with more protection from "temptation" or at the very least to make their children safer, but it hasn't. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere to anyone, because sin comes from the heart, not from wearing the wrong clothing.
When we put our trust in our homemade rules to protect us from sinning,
we deny our desperate need for grace.
If God's divinely-inspired Law could not protect us from our own sin,
how can our own restrictions do what His Law could not?
The Duggars promote a Gospel of dressing in such a way that men will not lust after you. But men regularly lust after ugly women wearing burqas in foreign lands. Men can still choose to lust. They emphasize the need to get all the externals right; they promote courting instead of dating in order to keep parents squarely involved in the marriage process. They boast of their son "saving his first kiss for his wedding day" when they know what he has done behind closed doors to his own sisters. Their standards did not protect their family from abuse. Jesus said that it is not what enters into a man's mouth that defiles him, but what goes out of it. In other words, you are not defiled by eating something unclean. You are defiled because your heart is inclined to be defiled already. Sin is a heart issue that will never be solved through external standards. Relying on externals to protect your family from sins that stem in the heart is like expecting to pass a class simply because you bought the textbook. Externals are not the point, and they will not compensate for lacking in other areas.
Christian Response to the Media's "Attack"
A final thought I would like to address regarding the Duggar situation is how we, as the general Christian population, respond to it. I've seen a lot of comments the last day or so that generally fell into the range of "We support you guys, such a great family, it's a shame the left-wing media and Gay activists are trying to take you down. Don't let them win! Satan always attacks what God wants!"
To me, this is by far the most significant topic to address, but I will attempt to remain civil in my explanation. It bothers me greatly that when Christians learn of sexual abuse coming out in groups or people they admire and respect, their gut response seems to generally be to circle the wagons and assume it's an attack of Satan on great people. The general public calling for accountability in areas of child abuse and sexual abuse--that's NOT AN ATTACK OF SATAN. That's called accountability, but it's something that Independent Baptist don't tend to appreciate very much. Here's the thing, people have acted like this is a private family matter and a private family and they are being dragged through the front pages with scandal as an attack.
This is not a private family. This is a family that has made a fortune out of promoting itself as "The Christian Kardashians" for a good decade or more on national TV. They have written books, appeared on numerous talk shows, and promoted their family franchise shamelessly all while knowing they had secrets lurking in the background. I am not arguing that you have to be perfect to appear on television or to declare the truth in public, but when you set your family up as a public example and "family ministry" to the world showing them what followers of Jesus should look like, you should not do that if you are having trouble keeping your oldest son from molesting his sisters. Rather than assume that unbelievers are always at fault and minimizing the tragic circumstances he put his family in, it would be great if Christians would actually hold each other accountable for once.
If you are going to make a huge profit and franchise out of labeling yourself a Jesus follower, you should be living it out. If your family is struggling in those areas, you should not be flaunting them as an example of holiness and purity. If your daughters have been molested, you should be giving them the privacy and space to heal rather than parading them on TV.
It is hypocritical to expect the world to believe what you say about Jesus when your own way of life has proven that your rules don't fix sin. It doesn't take a religious person to notice the family full of people calling gay and transgender people "child predators" are actually harboring a genuine "child predator" themselves.
It is time for Christianity to stop covering for each other and to start lovingly and biblically holding each other accountable. Rather than assuming "it could never happen here" we should be willing to admit it could happen anywhere. Rather than assuming our strict moral code will protect us, we should be crying out for God's grace and owning up to failure when it happens (not years later when we're caught). Rather than making ourselves the poster children for righteousness, we should be thanking Christ for covering us with His righteousness.
I am hopeful that Josh Duggar and his family can find healing and learn a valuable lesson from this whole debacle, but I am more hopeful that conservative Christianity will learn to take sexual abuse seriously and perhaps take its self-inflicted arbitrary rules somewhat less so. Jesus did not die to give us a dress code. He died to give us grace.