Evangelicals and fundamentalists often excuse abuse by arguing that all people sin, and that in God’s eyes no sin is worse than any others. As a child, I was taught James 2:10 as a proof for this concept. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” This verse was used to convict me that I was a terrible sinner even though I’d never done anything “really” bad.
After it came to light that Josh Duggar had an Ashley Madison account and cheated on his wife, blogger Julia Walton wrote a post titled “I Am Josh Duggar” that played on exactly this concept. It began as follows:
I went to church with the Duggars the Sunday before this latest scandal broke loose. At church, the pastor invited the whole Duggar family to come up, sing a song, and share their testimony.
I sat there and listened to Jim Bob as he praised his son, Josh. He went on about how he was and is a changed man. He went on about how Josh is a great godly man, who no longer struggles with this sin. And Josh stood there, nodding his head in agreement as he held one of his children.
When I first heard that Josh had an Ashley Maddison account, I didn’t believe it. But then he admitted it, causing me to be filled with disgust.
I defended Josh on May 22. I wrote a blog praising him. I was filled with disgust, because what kind of person stands there and listens to their father praise them, when they know what’s truly going on. What kind of person lets their family, friends, and fans defend them, when they know the truth.
As a quick side note, many of the evangelical Christians who defended Josh Duggar back in May, when it came to light that he had sexually molested his younger sisters as a teen, have condemned Josh this month, in the wake of revelations of his adultery, and some have asked whether this suggests evangelicals have more of a problem with adultery than they do with sexual abuse. While there absolutely is merit to this question, evangelicals are unlikely to see any contradiction because of exactly what Julia highlights: Josh molested his sisters a dozen years ago and had long repented of his actions while this time Josh was presenting as a faithful Christian and loving husband while in the here and now actively cheating on his wife.
But hang on to your seat, because things are about to take a turn:
But then it hit me. I am that person. I am Josh Duggar.
Now sure, I don’t struggle with the same types of sins as Josh, but I still struggle with sinning, and I always will. Josh’s sins are not worse than mine. They are equal in the eyes of God.
See that, right there? There it is, the common evangelical idea that all sins are equal in the eyes of God. As an evangelical child and teen, I was taught that I was just as guilty as someone who had committed murder because God does not differentiate or weight some sins as worse than others. In God’s eyes, sin is sin.
The rest of Julia’s piece is a bit ramble and a bit confusing, but the gist of it seems to be that everyone struggles with “super bad sins,” and that most, like Josh, put on a front because they don’t want to admit the sin they struggle with. She calls for Christians to be more “vulnerable” and more “open” about the “super bad sins” they struggle with.
I think we often forget that we are ALL sinners. We forget that we ALL fall short of the glory of God. We ALL need a savior, that’s why Jesus came.
We’re not perfect, so I think it’s time that we stop acting like we are. . . .
What I’m asking takes humility. It requires us coming to the end of ourselves. It requires the desire for change.
While I’m all for Christians being less judgmental, why is it that this only seems to come out when a prominent Christian commits a serious crime or an act of gross hypocrisy? Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s an attempt to get the erring Christian off the hook by arguing that he didn’t actually do anything worse than what everyone else does all the time. This humility Julia asks for is a mask. What she’s actually asking is for ordinary Christians to overlook the gross wrongdoing of prominent Christian leaders by elevating their own more mundane sins to the same level of that gross wrongdoing.
Julia is telling ordinary Christians that they are no different from a man who went looking for an affair while promoting “family values” as an excuse for depriving marginalized groups of their rights. She’s telling ordinary Christians that they are no different from a man whose entire life was a lie. She’s telling ordinary Christians that they are no different from a married man in a monogamous relationship with four young children who visited strip clubs and paid porn stars for sex. Julia is telling Anna Duggar that her wrongdoings are just as bad as her husband’s. And that? That is disgusting.
It is absolutely true that no one is perfect. It is absolutely not true that sometimes being short with your partner is the same as cheating on them, and so on and so forth, and you know what? Trying to get Christian leaders—who should be held to a higher standard to begin with—off the hook for gross offenses by elevating those more mundane offenses of their followers (and by extension their victims) is sick.
It is worth noting that several Christian writers have blogged against Julia’s post. Not all Christians subscribe to the idea that all sins are equal, whether here on earth or in God’s eyes. But those who do? They contribute to an environment that makes excuses for abuse and betrayal rather than standing supportively by the victims. There is nothing okay with any of this.