Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes

In the wake of revelations that Josh Duggar sexually molested five girls in two families as a teenager, I’ve seen some Duggar supporters argue that progressives and liberals don’t have any room to criticize Josh given that . . . well, let me just show you:

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If this boy had been experimenting with girls in a non-Christian family, then he would have been encouraged. I know a family that were proudly showing photos of the their teenage son on a trip to Disneyland unchaperoned with his girlfriend. It’s “normal.”

Sexually molesting prepubescent girls is wrong whether the family is Christian or not. I know an awful lot of non-Christian families, and none of them are okay with preteen girls being sexually molested. Also, sexual molestation is not the same thing as two teens playing around. Yes, there are boys and girls who start dating and experimenting sexually as young very teens (though this is rare—a full 70% of high school students are virgins), but that is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a teenage boy sexually molesting prepubescent girls while they are sleeping.

This isn’t the only place we’ve seen this, either:

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Case you hadn’t noticed there are a few articles on the subject today. Hit pieces masquerading as “I want you to have reliable information” pieces is another. It’s astonishing how promptly and completely the whole Progressive cannon gets discarded when the perp is a Christian White Man—even if that man is child.

This “progressive cannon,” presumably, is progressives’ acceptance of sex outside of marriage. In other words, this commenter appears to believe progressives take an “anything goes” approach to sex but hold white Christian men to a different standard. The assumption here is that progressives wouldn’t have a problem with, say, an atheist sexually molesting children—but that could not be further from the truth.

What is going on here, exactly?

In short, there seems to be an assumption among some social conservatives that because progressives do not see premarital sex as sinful and wrong, they aren’t in any position to criticize Josh Duggar’s actions. In other words, because (in their view) progressives take an “anything goes” approach to sex, they argue, progressives are being hypocrites when they condemn Josh Duggar. This assumption is based in a serious misunderstanding of progressive sexual ethics.

This goes back to my “tale of two boxes.”

Social conservatives tend to divide sexual acts into “marital sex” and “non-marital sex.” For social conservatives, child sexual molestation is in the same category as gay sex or consensual premarital sex. When divided in this way, sexual molestation doesn’t look all that different from consensual premarital sex—though both are considered sin. This is why the Duggars can talk about Josh’s “mistakes” the way they do—as though it were simply him going too far with a girlfriend, or viewing pornography. Because for them, they’re in the same category—sexual contact before marriage.

Progressives do not have ethical or moral problems with premarital sexual intercourse—but they very much have a problem with child molesting. To conservatives this can look like an inconsistency—even hypocrisy—but it’s not. Progressive sexual ethics center around consent. Sexual contact that is consensual is okay. Sexual contact that isn’t consensual is not okay. And because children below a certain age do not have the necessary understanding and lived experience to be able to consent, child molestation is de facto nonconsensual.

There are all sorts of problems with putting any sexual contact outside of marriage in the same category. For one thing, victims of sexual assault, including children, may end of feeling that they are in some way guilty of what happened—after all, sexual contact outside of marriage is considered sin. For another thing, a teenager sexually molesting children may be treated as a similar offense to a teenager having consensual sex with his girlfriend.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen numerous Duggar fans—primarily social conservatives—defending Josh Duggar. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” “We all make mistakes sometimes.” “His sisters forgave him, so we should forgive him too.” “Christ’s blood covers a multitude of sins.” “This should have remained a private matter.” “Who are we to judge.” “But for the grace of God go I.” “We all have a past.”

It seems it’s social conservatives who are quick to make excuses when children are sexually molested—and yet somehow they think it’s progressives who don’t have a problem with child molesting.


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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.