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.
He committed a crime. And escaped punishment.
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.