In the midst of all the controversy, I want to reflect on the Duggar dilemma for what it is worth.
I don’t want to spend a great deal of time rehashing the events surrounding Josh Duggar’s fall from conservative evangelical mouthpiece to sexual predator and adulterer. Instead I think it is important to discuss how this happened in the first place, the ways in which the Josh Duggar fiasco reveals a larger problem within evangelical culture.
I believe in radical grace, grace that extends even into this situation. However, grace DOES NOT mean we turn a blind eye, we owe it to his victims and to his wife and children to do our due diligence
We must begin by recognizing Grace comes only through the cross of Christ, which exposes the abuses of the perpetrator and uplifts the victim, embracing their suffering and giving them voice, identity, and healing. Yes, there is also room for forgiveness and healing for the abuser, but as I will discuss below there is no evidence that Josh Duggar has engaged in any process which could honestly arrive at such an outcome. Instead, his assault victims were silenced, shamed, and further abused by a system of belief which sheltered their abuser from any serious ramifications. Then, while claiming to have repented, to have set sexual sin aside, Josh Duggar carried on a secret life in which he maintained a pornography addiction while actively seeking extra-marital affairs.
Before I analyze this further, I want to reiterate, this situation is heartbreaking. My goal is not to push an agenda, but to honestly engage evangelical cultural complicity in these scandals. I am not looking to expose a speck in Josh’s eye, but the plank in my own, as an evangelical Christian.
In order to understand how these events have taken place, it is imperative to understand who the Duggars are and what they believe. The Duggars have intentionally cultivated a public persona to milk money from the American public. They have created a brand as THE wholesome, American conservative Christian family and peddled their wares everywhere from Oprah to Capitol Hill. They have set themselves up as model citizens of the Christian right and preached a holier than thou message, which includes accusations against others that hit a little close to home now. They have demonstrated nothing resembling humility or love towards those with whom they disagree and it has bitten them squarely.
The Duggars follow the cult-like teachings of Bill Gothard, a rather glaring irony given their darling status as Christian conservative elite. Gothard is a sexual predator whose teachings have been shown to be designed as grooming techniques for underage victims. Among these teachings is the belief that a sex assault victim has to recognize their own fault in any incident of abuse and repent before God. The victim is told they are responsible, not surprising given Gothard molested dozens of teenage girls at various camps during his time in ministry. Some of these events were attended by Josh Duggar and his family, where they were taught these things by Gothard himself.
The issue is, this hasn’t been some big secret. Bill Gothard has actually appeared on several episodes of the Duggar’s now canceled show. For years, even before his sex abuses were discovered, former Gothard followers were exposing his deceit. Yet, the Duggars stood behind Gothard and we stood behind them. For years people have been pointing out warning signs within the Duggars own family and beliefs, for years we have insisted they were models of Christian piety.
To show how harmful Gothard’s teachings are, and how glaringly unbiblical the Duggars belief system is, I have provided the above document. This is an internal document of Gothard’s ministry which shows the type of “counseling” Josh’s victims would have received from their faith leaders. They were told that what had occurred was wrong, but they could have avoided it had they not in some way enticed their abuser by some means. They would have been forced to apologize to their religious elders, their parents, and God for their part in their own abuse. This is revictimization and spiritual abuse that was only compounded by two further factors: (1) Josh faced no actual consequences and (2) they were forced to continue to live with him and/or have regular contact with him.
To put perspective on the second point, let us consider a particular incident listed in the police reports that were leaked. In one incident, Josh snuck up behind a victim (likely a sister) in his family’s home, physically restrained her with one arm, and used his other hand to lift her dress and assault her with his fingers. This behavior was predatory and indicative of forethought, as every incident indicated he knew of times when his victims would be alone. Now, imagine thinking you had in some way brought this on yourself and being forced to live with the person who perpetrated the assault! Would you ever feel safe, like you were not in some way maybe inviting another attack – as twisted as that mentality is.
Now, let us consider Josh’s “punishment”. In initial new reports, it was indicated that Josh received counseling at a camp for troubled youth. However, as the police reports were more closely examined it came to light that during police questioning, Jim Bob could not recall key details about the camp he claimed to have sent Josh to. Eventually, he admitted Josh had not received counseling but only done some remodeling work with a family friend. Also of note is that neither Josh or his victims offered statements to the police, only his parents offered statements further ensuring that only their desired narrative came through. In every way, the parents went about silencing and shaming the victims in their own home, their own daughters, while protecting their son from any actual ramifications for his actions.
Sadly, it didn’t end there. Josh’s past as a sex predator was exposed. His family’s complicity in the abuse, and their attempt to cover it up laid bare. Yet everyone maintained Josh was better. He had received “counseling”, his sisters have “forgiven” him, so we should too. Every report exposed another layer to how dark these incidents were, and every story was met with a large response of support for Josh and his family. Countless people demanded that Grace means we forgive. No one bothered to look deeper, everyone ignored the signs above.
His wife came forward stating she knew everything and that he was a better man now. Josh resigned his prestigious lobbyist job, but maintained he was a changed man. And many, many were satisfied. Until the news broke a few days ago. Josh Duggar was again the center of a sex scandal. And it became increasingly clear. We had not extended the grace of the cross, but a cheap faux grace concerned with preserving the powerful ideologies that make evangelicalism both highly influential, and extremely hypocritical.
We have been exposed. Our desire to hide our own complicity, to cover up the fact that we worshipped a family and bought into their brand, all of it lies, lies out in the open for all to see. The question is, what do we do now? Do we continue to support the Duggars despite a system of belief that is in every way demeaning to women, and blames them as victims even of forcible sexual abuse? Abusive cultures and teachings breed abusers, of which Josh is a victim as well as a perpetrator here.
What does it say about our culture as evangelicals, as Christians, when so many in our midst insisted exposing decades of abuse, silencing, and shame was morally wrong? Why do so many of us care less about setting captives free and more about preserving false idols with empty apologetics? The reality is, we are circle the wagons because it’s more comfortable to be defensive than admit complicity in a defunct Christian celebrity culture.
This culture consistently produces unbiblical role models, yet we elevate them to the status of idols, images of a “God” we claim to worship. Yet we neglect his teachings through Christ by transparent protective strategies and anti-intellectualist responses. We have become a culture of cheap grace and myopic rhetoric hiding behind a facade of polite sensibility.
We ignore the servant leadership of those who invest time in the actual, careful study of Scripture and live it day-to-day, but exalt anyone who can land a reality show. We vilify anyone who dares challenge the disturbingly privileged evangelical “elites”. We reject well studies teachers who questions teachings or advocates a more intellectually honest approach to Scripture. Meanwhile, the celebrities who have nothing but a carefully sculpted television persona time and again prove to be false idols, an image of our own desire to be something we are not.
We need to recognize these types of scandals are created not by the liberal media, but by our own “Christian” culture. If the fall of the Duggars is the work of Satan, then we must recognize this work is being done as a member of the church.
I pray through this that this reality is exposed to the Duggars. I hope they find grace by recognizing the tragedy and not continuing to sacrifice their children to the god of public persona.
I pray that those who have been supporting Josh will recognize their sin. I pray they now support Anna and kids, that they advocate for her freedom from a belief system that will tell her that her husband cheated because she was not beautiful or sexually satisfying enough. I hope they will come alongside her, embodying the healing grace of Christ which gives her voice to speak out against these things and seek God outside an abusive faith system.
Most of all, I pray for forgiveness. Forgiveness for the times I bought the lies and now before these idols. Forgiveness for a past in which I chose apologetics and saving face over grace, rescue and redemption. I pray that I will not be alone in this, that we as evangelicals learn something about the culture we are cultivating. Most of all, I hope we remember that in exposing the speck in another’s eye, we exposed a rather glaring plank in our own.
**Cover image from http://www.rightwingwatch.org/sites/default/files/images/a_story_images/Josh-Duggar.jpg**