More Than a Mistake

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

As the Duggar family’s saga continues to play out beneath the gaze of the public eye, I am amazed at some of the responses to the situation.

Not the responses of non-believers. I expect a certain amount of schadenfreude.

From both without and within the faith, I expect articles to be written discussing that this mess is a very real and possibly far-too-common consequence of fundamentalism’s insistence on the rigid repression of absolutely every little bit of sexuality before marriage. I expect people to point out that, perhaps, isolating children from the rest of the world is not, in fact, a good thing, as they do not have a chance to develop healthy relationships with their peers of both genders. I expect people to wonder at how this was hushed-up and seemingly never appropriately addressed.

What I did not expect are the responses of some of my fellow Christians. An ugly attitude among the people of God reveals itself yet again.

Let us be clear: There is no sin that God cannot or will not forgive if we but ask. We have trouble embracing this fact in cases like this, but it is nonetheless true. If Josh Duggar truly repented, then he is forgiven. Only he and God know the truth. But let us be equally clear: What Josh Duggar did to his sisters was not a “mistake.” This was not a couple of little kids playing “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” It was not a “youthful indiscretion.” He did not take the car for a joyride or sneak a beer from the fridge. He didn’t kiss the similar-aged babysitter and cop a feel.

Duggar made a decision. He chose to fondle the breasts and genitals of his sisters. He chose to do this at an age when he knew that this was wrong. He chose to take advantage of children.

It’s wrong to minimize the situation or downplay the facts. It’s wrong to shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, we’re all sinners.” Yes, of course we are. And of course all sin separates us from God and of course it’s all the same in His eyes. But for us, people living on this day, different sins impact us and others in varying ways. The damage in a family as the result of a child shoplifting is not equal to the damage in a family as the result of children being molested.

Church, the world is watching. They notice when we uncritically support those who should be rightly scrutinized and questioned. They notice when we fail to support those who have been victimized. They notice when we shift the blame, however subtly, onto their shoulders. While I don’t think that anyone in the Duggar family needs to be put before a firing squad, I do think that we should accept that what happened was more than a mistake or an indiscretion. It was a grievous sin with lasting consequences. This is not an inappropriate judgment. This not the cry of blood-lust. (It’s also not a left-wing conspiracy or a movement to “take down” Christianity in America, but that’s beside the point).

I sincerely hope that Josh Duggar has repented and that whatever counsel he did receive was godly. I hope that he went to each person he hurt and apologized with humility and brokenness. I hope he vowed never to do it again and kept that vow. I hope each of the girls has found a way to heal and move on with their lives.

I also hope that we, the Church, can finally come to a place where we recognize that sexual abuse of any form is not okay. I know too many who have been hurt in this way and it does them no good when we can’t or won’t confront and acknowledge the full horror of their experience. It does them no good when we blow smoke or coddle the perpetrators.

It cannot be defended. It cannot be justified. It cannot be ignored.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sex and the Christian Family

What are you telling them- (8)

Gentle Reader,

Reality TV star Josh Duggar’s admitting to molesting five underage girls (he was also underage at the time), four of whom were his own sisters, has set the internet on fire. According to the police report, Duggar and his parents were questioned about the incidents, though charges were never filed. The family claims that he and his victims all received counseling, though what form this took is questionable at best as no professional therapists or pastors with counseling training appear to have been involved in the process.

I’m not about to launch into a tirade against the Duggar family. Clearly they have enough problems without every blogger in the land picking up a pitchfork and a torch. I think it’s good that TLC has pulled 19 Kids and Counting from the schedule. This family needs to get out of the spotlight. Maybe they really have addressed and dealt with Josh’s issues and his sister’s suffering. Maybe they haven’t. Either way, continued exposure not only looks bad (like they’re trying to either ignore or use the controversy) but I believe it would actually be bad for them. Let the kids be kids, away from the cameras and the microphones. Let the adults and teenagers get whatever help they might need. I hope and pray they do.

The whole thing has me shaking my head at the continued mishandling of sex in the Christian community. Certainly Duggar may have molested those five girls even if his parents had been raging liberals. Abuse happens in all kinds of families. However, the Duggars have made their views on dating, marriage and sex very clear, and those views are held to a certain degree by both fundamentalists and so-called “mainstream” conservative Christians.

The way we express those views? It’s not working.

The Bible is clear. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only legitimate context for sex. I don’t deny that at all. I just don’t think the conversation can stop there. The Bible also speaks of men and women falling in love. An entire book celebrates the physical expression of love in sex (Song of Solomon). Prostitutes are redeemed, Jesus saves an adulteress from stoning, Paul enjoys the single life. There’s more to sex in the Bible than “just don’t.”

We’re falling down on the job in a major way. We tell people “don’t, don’t, don’t” and they “do, do, do,” sometimes with awful and twisted consequences. Parents are on the front lines here. They are the ones teaching the next generation. They need to move beyond “don’t.” Now, someone out there is going to say, “You’re not a parent, so what do you know?” I know enough. I know plenty of people who have been abused. I know people who maintained every shred of their purity before marriage and I know people, myself included, who didn’t. I know that kids have questions and we need to get better at answering them, in age-appropriate ways.

In no particular order:

Move beyond “don’t” and into “why.” It’s not enough to tell anyone not to do something without explaining why. God Himself doesn’t even do that. He either spells it out clearly or reveals the reasons through events. So it must be in our conversations about sex. Kids need to know why saving sex for marriage is the right thing to do, especially as they get into those years of raging hormones. They need to know about more than STDs and abortion. They need to know about emotional attachments, spiritual dulling and baggage. They need to know about long-term consequences.

Kids need to be told that they are normal. It’s normal to be curious about the body, both your own and others. It’s normal, as we age, to develop crushes and have desires. There is no shame in that. God designed us this way.

Boundaries. In telling kids that they are normal, the importance of boundaries must be emphasized. They need to know that their curiosity doesn’t give them license to do whatever they want. They also need to know that their “no” means something and it’s not right for their “no” to be ignored.

– An explanation of boundaries must begin at an early age. Kids need to be told that it is NEVER okay for anyone to touch them anywhere in any way that they don’t like, and certainly never okay for anyone to touch their intimate places. They need to know that they should and can IMMEDIATELY tell their parents or other trusted adults if something inappropriate has happened.

– If your kid comes to you and tells you that she has been violated, you need to take action. Not tomorrow. Not later. NOW. If you don’t, you communicate to him devastating things: You don’t believe what he says. You don’t value her. You think that it’s fine for him to be abused.

– If the perpetrator is your own kid, he or she needs to receive immediate help. (He/she should also be removed from the house if he/she is abusing the other child/ren). You cannot deal with this on your own. You need the services of a professional therapist or a pastor with extensive counseling training.

– Boundaries within dating should be discussed. I don’t believe that God frowns when a kiss or a hug is exchanged, but those kisses and hugs can escalate quickly. What safeguards will dating children have in place? The point is not to be legalistic, but to develop a realistic standard based on God’s word and the maturity of the child.

Teach them the correct words. Vagina. Penis. Breasts. Testicles. Uterus. Ovaries. Orgasm. And my computer isn’t bursting into flames!

Responsibility. This is one area in which I think we fail most consistently, in several ways:

– Kids need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that it is NOT their fault if someone chooses to abuse them. All the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.

– Young ladies need to be told that they are not responsible for the actions of men. I do believe that women should dress with both modesty and attractiveness, understanding that they are beautiful, intricately designed daughters of the King. We should dress in a way that honors the Lord by honoring our bodies, not putting them on display for any and all to see. But even the loosest turtleneck made of the heaviest fabric will not keep a man from lusting if he has a mind to do so, and this is not the fault of any woman.

– Young men need to be told that Jesus never advocated lust management or blame-shifting. Marriage was not meant to be simply an outlet for a man’s sexual desire. It is not fine for a man to indulge his lust with his wife. Sex is meant to be an expression of love and an avenue for deepest connection. If a man struggles with lust, he must recognize that as his struggle. His struggle is not made easier by the availability and increasing mainstream acceptance of pornography, nor is it made easier by a woman’s lack of understanding her own dignity in the way she dresses. Nevertheless, his struggle is not to be blamed on any woman. His choices and thoughts are his own.

May 23, 2015: After reading this post, a friend of mine pointed out that pornography isn’t just a “man’s issue” and modesty isn’t just a “woman’s issue.” She is entirely correct. Increasing numbers of women turn to pornography (though it may be labeled “erotica”). Women enjoy looking at attractive men just as much as men enjoy looking at attractive women; there’s a reason Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein ad has never faded away.

So, the conversation about pornography and modesty must include both girls and boys. They all need to be taught how to present themselves in a way that honors both God and the body. And while kids should be told that it’s normal to notice and appreciate physical beauty, they must also be told to take every thought captive and battle against fantasizing.  

The conversation must be on-going. Too many parents stop at an explanation of how babies are made. That’s not enough. Kids need to know that they can come to their parents with any questions, any confusion. They need to know that their parents are safe and won’t drag them over the coals.

Your story. Kids need to know how and why you struggled. They need to know why you feel so strongly about this. They need to know when you failed and when you succeeded. They need to know your regrets and what you’re thankful for.

Jesus. From the earliest age, like within the womb, kids need to hear about Jesus. They need to be told about God. They need to hear how wonderful and awesome and holy and perfect and loving He is. They need to know that they can talk to Him about anything. That they can pour their hearts out. They need to be told, in clear and simple terms, about sin and the cross and the Resurrection. They need to know how important it is that they ask Him for forgiveness and ask Him to be the Lord of their lives.

Grace. It must be explained, emphasized and given. Because even the best Bible study, the most comprehensive conversation, the best explanations as to “why,” the most authentic sharing of story cannot keep people from making stupid choices. Kids are sinners, just like their parents. They need to know that stones will not be hurled at their heads. They need to know that the wonderful Jesus you’ve told them about can and will forgive them of anything they’ve done. They need to know that you’ll forgive them. They need to know that they can forgive themselves.

This is far too important an issue. We cannot keep bungling it. Kids cannot keep suffering because we’re too uncomfortable to say the word “penis” or too ashamed to tell them that we had sex before we got married. We, the adults, need to grow up and step up. We’ve got to stop wringing our hands and screaming “no!” We’ve got to stop shaming the next generation because they have the same questions, struggles, longings and desires we do.

We need to do better.

We must.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Follow

Add a little bit of body text (1)

Gentle Reader,

Tonight we spoke of eating our feelings, throwing things and longing for new bodies. We prayed for hurting doggies, discussed my upcoming book “Things That Make Me Cranky and the Food the Makes It Better,” shared Blacklist jokes (yes, that show comes up fairly consistently in conversation) and enjoyed the deep sort of soul-sigh that comes with being in the company of family.

Connected across the miles and denominations and food preferences.

Kate and the gang. We: follow.

Go.

Today was tough. Some stuff was said by some people, which pushed the ever-shortening fuse of my temper closer to the dynamite. I got quiet. (Nobody seems to realize that lack of speech is a warning sign. I might not be the most verbose of persons, but if I’m completely tight-lipped there’s a good chance it’s for the safety of others). I tried to keep my head down and just get through.

But really I wanted to cry.

I hate that. Emotions are so awful.

Of course, they aren’t really awful. They are God-given. I know that. As a person who is very much wired for the head-space and not the heart-space, however, emotions are difficult to handle. Often I don’t know what I’m feeling until the moment has passed. Sometimes it’s hours later.

I felt embarrassed. Publicly humiliated.

So I ate my feelings and put on my sweatpants and chatted with my lovely Twitter friends. All the while, I hear the Spirit speaking into my heart, “Follow Me.”

Why does He say this? I know without having to think. Because my reaction to those feelings was not good. My face was a blank mask (at least I hope it was), but my insides were ugly. I was throwing things. Name-calling. Screaming.

And following Him, while it means not that I ignore the hurt or gloss over the wrong, does involve letting that screaming, cussing, termagant die. It involves killing her. It looks like taking all that pain and frustration and dumping it at His feet. Asking Him to sort through my emotions and help me to feel them in a way that does not bind me tight.

Following Him means releasing the desire to whip around, look at those people and drop a list of their wrongs, failures and short-comings on their laps. It means not retaliating.

Following Him is hard.

So very hard.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)