In the wake of the news that Josh Duggar sexually assaulted his sisters—sometimes while they slept—evangelicals have a choice. They can either look very hard at the situation and themselves, and ask what can be done to make this type of thing less likely to happen again, or they can pretend this is normal.
Guess which option is proving more popular?
Ray Comfort announced that he would be refusing to watch TLC, the channel which broadcasted 19 Kids and Counting, until they put the show back on the air.
Then came the outpouring of child abuse apologetics from Comfort’s supporters. We all know there are people on the Internet with horrible views, but what’s really impressive is the hundreds of likes each of these poisonous comments has garnered:
Shocker, Josh was a sinner before he got saved. [327 likes]
It is time to stand with other non-perfect Christians. They are getting a whipping for something they acted upon, received counseling for, went to their church, the police, sought forgiveness and made sure those that needed to know, did, including his future wife. This is our line in the sand, Christians. [886 likes]
Er, might want to indulge in some fact-checking there. By “the police” you mean they consulted a state trooper (also a family friend) who decided not to pursue the matter and later was convicted on a child pornography charge. And as for counselling, you mean they sent Josh away to do some manual labour with their family friends. And defending a child molester—this is your line in the sand?
The better part of a thousand people have clicked ‘like’ on that comment (which pales in comparison to the 4,259 who have so far liked Ray’s original post).
It amazes me that they would pull the Duggars show and yet have no issue with the amazing amount of smut that remains on TV. [589 likes] ·
So ridiculous! Something that happened as a teenager and repented of it, apologized and also he had told Anna 2 years prior to them getting engaged, he was upfront and honest about his past mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and I know the media has been digging deep to find fault with them, b/c they are Christians! Every little move the family made the media was there to try and tear them down. You know who’s notorious for bringing up someone’s past sins? Satan! Networks have no issue with showing filth, foul language, sex scenes, homosexuality, violence you name it,and find nothing wrong with it, but when a Christian man makes a mistake some 12-15 yrs ago the media makes him out to be a criminal and bad influence. Gimme a break. [168 likes]
To be fair, there were some sane voices, although they garnered fewer likes than the defending voices:
Are you kidding, Ray? Normally I would agree with you, but the Duggars certainly do not need to be on TV right now with such a stain on their family that was covered over. It is a terrible testimony and makes a mockery of Christianity. Right now they need to focus on walking with the Lord and sorting out their family issues… including dealing with the buried pain of the victims in all of this… whom we have heard little about! [103 likes]
I am a Christian. A very devout Christian. But I was also molested. Sorry, I do not believe some manual labor and prayer just magically made him stop thinking like a pedophile. Doesn’t work that way. And the young girls he hurt have in no way had a chance to heal or move forward with he and the media constantly right there. TLC absolutely made the right choice and God will take care of the rest when his time comes. Though I hope that some form of justice is still possible. Praying for the girls he violated and the innocence stolen. Very tired of abusers getting treated like they’ve done nothing wrong, their protectors getting a pat on the back and the victims being shamed. [156 likes]
I feel that the victims are not being considered here. I believe in God’s forgiveness. I believe this young man can and maybe has been forgiven. However, there are consequences for our actions. I would not want my daughter around him. [More] [123 likes]
But then the defenders just kept on coming:
I cannot believe that every person, criticizing Josh Duggar, has not done something in their teens that they regret. He apologized to each inolved, got counseling for each one involved and was remorseful. Why keep kicking them in the gut for something that happened 12 years ago. Those without sin, cast the first stone. Sounds like his parents tried to help him to see how wrong it was. Parenting can be a hard hard job. Especially with sexual issues. Just because he’s on TV doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. This has got to be the lowest of the low for all of them. They need to be wrapped in prayer and not judged. The most important thing is that he owns it. He’s not trying to put it on someone else. [239 likes]
American Christians are lining up to excuse child sexual assault.
You’ve doubtless read Mike Huckabee’s attempt to cover for Josh. If you read Homeschoolers Anonymous, you’ll know that a board member of the Home Educators Association of Virginia also came to the rescue:
“Abuse” is the new “racism.” As soon as you’re accused of it, you’re considered guilty. Just what would you like the Duggars to have done? Turn all their kids over to a godless psychologist? … They [sic] guy sinned, repented, changed, and lived an exemplary life for TWELVE YEARS before a tabloid spent thousands of dollars sending a team to Arkansas to go door to door trying to dig up dirt on this exemplary family … Do you hear Josh’s sisters railing against him? Not, it’s not the victims howling for scalps, it’s pagans and gullible Christians, eagerly grabbing the bait and shooting their own wounded.
The Christian blog Liberate has run a post called “We are all the Duggars”. That post does at least condemn what happened as “all manner of evil, no matter how you look it”, before continuing “But there is one thing that it is surely not: it is not surprising.”
Why isn’t it surprising? The authors go on to explain it’s not surprising because we are all sinners. We are all born with a fallen nature. Sinning is what humans do. One of Josh Duggar’s relatives (specifically, his sister’s father-in-law) has put it even more explicitly:
There are many who seem shocked that a child from a Christian family would do such things. While it is always alarming when we find out about our children’s sins, we should not be surprised. Christians (and many other reasonable people) believe that we are all born with a sinful nature. … While not all of our sins find a way to manifest themselves externally we all know the corruption that is present in each of our hearts. It is a mercy of God that he restrains the evil of mankind otherwise we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh. We should not be shocked that this occurred in the Duggar’s home, we should rather be thankful to God if we have been spared such, and pray that he would keep us and our children from falling.
How theology helps people rationalise abuse
It’s easy to see that, in this case, the corrosive theology involved is partly to blame. In this bizarre inverted reality, we should count ourselves lucky if we weren’t abused or abusers, because that is the default ‘fallen’ state of humanity. We are all debased, evil creatures. This makes it very easy to minimise abuse (because abuse is just one kind of sin, and ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’), and that, in turn, contributes to a failure to teach children about the particular importance of consent respect for boundaries. As Nicholas Ducote and Libby Anne have excellently explained, in this world, there’s no important distinction between rape, child molestation, and consensual sex outside of marriage. They’re all just kinds of sexual sin. You know what else is just a kind of sexual sin? Lust.
But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Matthew 5:28]
To fundamentalists, this verse is proof that thinking about sexual sin is as bad as doing it. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that some teenagers who struggle with ‘the sin of lustful thoughts’, and who haven’t been taught about consent or boundaries, might end up doing awful things in the light of this teaching. Since they are sinning anyway, the logic goes, they might as well go the whole hog.
I’m not saying any of this to excuse the actions of abusers, or to say that this teaching itself makes people into abusers. Clearly, many abusers are never taught this, and many who are taught this never abuse. But it’s important to consider all the contributing factors so we can make the world a safer place for children. And in this instance, it is more than plausible that the lack of sex education and the theology involved are contributing factors.
Do you think I am being unrealistic? Do you think there isn’t anyone in the real world who really thinks like that? Well, you should meet Yankee Gospel Girl, who writes in response to the Nicholas Ducote post I recommended earlier:
The author of that second article also complains several times that the curriculum “doesn’t talk about consent.” I’m not sure what his implication is, but it sounds like he’s annoyed that it condemns sexual immorality across the board without going out of its way to parse out the distinction between rape and consensual sex. Well I’m sorry, but 13-year-old boys don’t need to be thinking about rape. Period. And I’m also sorry, but the curriculum is completely right to issue a flat condemnation of all extra-marital sex, consensual or not. We can have a discussion about gradations of sexual sin with our kids when they’re approaching adulthood. But we’re talking about 8th graders here.
Yes, there are really people who will describe rape and child molestation as “gradations of sexual sin”. This thinking will always be an obstacle to child safety.
And another thing…
Homeschoolers Anonymous made the excellent discovery that when Josh Duggar’s father, Jim Bob, ran for Senate in 2003, his website included a positional statement that “Rape and incest … should be treated as capital crimes”.
This post has been rather longer than I intended. I actually just compiled this information to provide some context for Samantha Field’s excellent commentary on this subject. Check it out if you have time.