What Josh Duggar Shows Us About How Not to Apologize.

What Josh Duggar Shows Us About How Not to Apologize. May 28, 2015

When the news of the Josh Duggar molestation scandal broke, it didn’t take long for me to notice that he (and his parents, and his tribe of ultra-right-wing patriarchy-minded fundagelicals) was issuing a lot of fake apologies–what I’ve heard called a “not-pology.” In fact, that exact observation formed the meat of the first post I wrote about the scandal. And the scandal continues to rock Christendom and spawn hundreds of blog posts and news stories from Christians and non-Christians alike–for good reason, too. This scandal really highlights nearly every single one of the failings and shortcomings of conservative Christianity.

Dear Patriarchal Christianity: the ride is over. (Credit: Thomas Quine, CC license.)
Dear Patriarchal Christianity: the ride is over. (Credit: Thomas Quine, CC license.)

For a group that is so obsessed with not making “a brother stumble,” an obsession the Duggars outline here in a screengrab, that it has decided that women in yoga pants deserve to be raped, these Christians supporting Josh Duggar sure don’t seem to mind how their utterly hypocritical, impassioned defense of Josh Duggar makes them look to the rest of the world.

Completely unlike the Duggars, whose parents have trapped their whole family within a culture that forces its members to minimize and soften terms around child sexual assault to protect the predators in their ranks, we are under no obligations whatsoever to accept their terms or allow their tactics. Indeed, the only people I see defending the Duggars (meaning Josh and his very helpfully-cooperative parents, Jim Bob and Michelle) are conservative fundagelical Christians and those wishing to cozy up to them (surprisingly, Rick Santorum was not among that number–and apparently his “I’m totally running in 2016” speech didn’t include a single bit of gay-bashing; if he’d also left out abortion-condemning, his latest behavior would be one of the signs of the Second Coming, so we have that to be thankful for, at least). While TLC, the Duggar’s broadcasting network, totally dodges questions about their background checks, others examine how that culture helps predators more than it protects those who need protecting.

One reason this scandal stands out to me is that it highlights the truly fucked-up relationship fundagelicals have with forgiveness and apologies.

Jessa Duggar’s father-in-law, Michael Seewald, wrote a fairly long blog post a few days after the scandal broke–taking the side of the man who may well have assaulted his daughter-in-law. I bet that felt great for his daughter-in-law, who may well have numbered among Josh’s victims, to see, but those victims do not need to go far to discover that the general reaction from the fundagelical “moral” right wing is that we are all required to forgive Josh Duggar because a) he apologized and made amends, and b) Jesus forgave him so who are we to refuse to forgive him?

To a) I would say that no, he fucking well did not, and b) I don’t give a shit what a third party said or didn’t say about his crimes because what matters is that a) he fucking well did not apologize and make amends.

But that’s been the mantra of the Christian Right. It’s like they have no idea what a real apology looks like.

So here is what a real apology looks like, and notice, please, that the response of Josh Duggar and his parents does not look anything like this list:

1. A sincere apology is meaningful and as timely as possible.
Josh Duggar would never have breathed a word about what he did had he not been forced to do so. This family went on a reality show knowing that they had a predator in their ranks, and they didn’t do a thing about it. They’ve been very clear about him having apologized to his sisters, but we don’t actually know what he said to them. The incredible blogger Samantha Field has detailed what that apology likely looked like given the ideology of the Duggar family. I can’t speculate; it seems hugely unlikely that his sisters really took his apology seriously, given that when his older sisters got married, neither one wanted him to have any formal part in their wedding day. That doesn’t exactly sound like forgiveness to me (and don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have done anything differently in their sparkly white shoes).

I want to expand on this whole wedding thing briefly. I was similarly abused by a family member in my childhood. But my abuser not only apologized, he also did prison time, got therapy, and atoned to those he’d abused. Though he did not go on to become a perfect person by any stretch, he did everything anybody could ever have expected of him. And he was a formal part of my wedding when I married Biff. Out of everything I can accuse that onetime abuser of having done, I cannot accuse him of insincerity. Biff actually didn’t want him to be a part of the wedding, incidentally, for all his uber-Christian leanings by that point. He had not forgiven that person. But I had, and in the end (after a conversation about why I was okay with this idea) our pastor sided with me so Biff piped down about it. Whatever Josh said to his victims, it did not induce his sisters to allow their eldest brother to be any formal part of their wedding. So that whole situation really speaks to me personally. It hits home hard, and I want it to hit you just as hard.

More than Josh Duggar’s apology, though, his parents, church, and community have one of their own to make–and they are steadfastly not making it. They shielded him from the law every step of the way. They hid his abuse till the statute of limitations ran out; they ensured that no official reports got filed; they went on accepting awards and touting their family as a lovely godly one that all Americans should emulate while knowing they were harboring a son who had assaulted little girls. Instead of admitting that their ideology produces failures more than it produces successes, they went on pretending that families who raised kids like they did would produce successes–and condemning families that did not look like their own.

I cannot speculate about exactly what their son’s apology looked like, when exactly he made it to his victims, or how sincere it might have been in his mind at least, but I can absolutely say that his parents’ and community’s apology is neither timely nor meaningful and that the evidence suggests that his victims weren’t fooled either.

2. A real apology acknowledges what the injury was.
One reason apologies are important is because they tell those wronged that the person who did the wrongdoing knows exactly what caused the injury. That’s why “I’m sorry for whatever I did” doesn’t ring our sincerity bells; the person saying that doesn’t actually even know or can’t acknowledge what they did wrong. If the person making the apology can’t even specifically outline what happened, then we know that person doesn’t actually want to face the music. Josh–and his entire community including his parents–characterize what he did as a “mistake”–sometimes qualifying that as a “teenaged” mistake at that. This language distances Josh from his crimes. It is a baldfaced attempt to garner sympathy for someone who deserves none whatsoever. He and his supporters are using apology language without actually making a real apology, and there’s a reason for that contortion.

Every single thing Josh Duggar has said on the topic of his assaults is meant to soften these crimes’ impact and put the emphasis and attention back on poor little him. He’s certainly not going to use the term the cops used back in 2006 when they finally learned what happened and opened an investigation: forcible fondling. Hell, he even sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services and it even went to trial in 2007–and that link strongly suspects that the reason the newly-adult Josh Duggar brought that lawsuit was to “[appeal] the DHS decision or finding from their investigation,” since at that point they’d have the authority and right to monitor the family, force Josh into real therapy instead of house remodeling pseudo-therapy, and who even knows what. That kind of attention also would have potentially stopped the Duggars from getting all those awards and reality-show deals and definitely would have cast some light (and shade) on their religious practices.

If he, his parents, and his community can’t even name the crime he committed, then none of them are quite as repentant as they claim to be.

3. A real apology is about the person injured, not about the person who committed the injury.
You know how else we totally know that Josh Duggar isn’t really sorry? Because he rarely–if ever–even mentions the victims of his assaults. Indeed, most of the people defending him run along the same lines. There’ll be some tacit mention of them, sure, but the focus is on “he apologized, GYAHH, what else do you fuckin’ want here, an apology parade?” and not on “he serially attacked little girls including his own sisters, forcibly molesting them, and then went on to cover it up every which way he could with plenty of help.” As one blogger’s noted, he, his parents, and his entire community rewrote the narrative to protect an abuser in their ranks–all because what he did threatened both their image and his family’s bottom line.

The general reaction from Team Forcible Fondling has been all about Josh Duggar. I don’t expect his victims to go on record–unlike most girls in the real world, fundagelical ultra-right-wing patriarchy girls would very likely view sexual assault as not only their fault but a lowering of their market value in every single way, and also unlike most girls in the real world, patriarchy girls would have a really tough time even bringing up their abuse to their own community, much less discussing it on nationwide media. But it’s rather telling that all we know about the topic of Josh’s victims’ feelings are repeated assurances from the exact people who covered up the crimes for like ten years that all of Josh’s victims have all totally forgiven him. Call me skeptical, but I’m not sure they’re real authorities on what his victims think. And I’m not the only one who has noticed the Duggar girls’ total silence about the scandal.

4. A real apology doesn’t make demands on those receiving it.
Every single thing Josh Duggar, his parents, and his community have said about his crimes have put the onus on those listening to accept that apology. Michael Seewald has characterized the attention being given to Josh Duggar’s assaults as “a feeding frenzy,” and that’s the mildest of the attacks against those criticizing their golden boy. By stating that his assaults were simply “a mistake,” and by constantly harping on how he’s supposedly been forgiven by a deity, those defending Josh Duggar (and this includes himself) are hinting to Christians that they are not allowed to hold him responsible for what he did.

Well, guess what? I’m not a member of a religion that tells people they must forgive any abuser who happens to say he’s sowwy. And even if I were, I don’t see why his defenders are allowed to tell anybody what they must and must not do. They’ve demonstrated amply that they are not moral authorities here because they are defending a guy who sexually assaulted little girls and ignoring the real damage he did to his victims. Their complete inability to see what the big problem is with both the crime and the cover-up defines fundagelicalism in a nutshell, in my opinion.

But more than that, by making this insinuation that nobody’s allowed to criticize Josh Duggar or his parents for their role in his assaults, his defenders (again, when I use this term, I absolutely mean to include Josh Duggar as well in that group) are trying to deflect criticism both from him and his culture and to silence critics. Don’t imagine for a moment that they’re not all thinking about their image in the public eye more than they’re thinking about those little girls.

When someone really apologizes, there is no demand that the apology be accepted. The person making that apology knows it might not be and isn’t asking for it to be, because it’s meant to acknowledge that an injury was made, that the person apologizing knows he or she is at fault, and that the injury won’t occur again–not to further victimize someone by making demands.

What Josh Duggar, his parents, his community, and his entire branch of religion are doing instead is demanding that the rest of us shut up about it already. If the apologies were sincere, then they’d be asking what we need in order to forgive him. They’re not doing that, because they aren’t actually sincere.

What they are doing instead is attempting to silence us the way they silenced his victims. We know that’s what they’re doing; we sense it in our bones even if we don’t know exactly what about these not-pologies makes us so angry.

And by the way, their attempt to silence us won’t work.

5. Someone who really regrets doing an injury to another person will take steps to ensure that that injury can’t happen again.
The Duggars insist that Josh’s victims got counseling, as did Josh, and are totally fine now. Those defending Josh often drill down on how he supposedly made amends and got help to improve himself.

But none of that is true.

They covered up what he did for years, did everything possible to stop real authorities from getting involved, hindered investigations when one finally got opened, sued the agency responsible for making that investigation, and then kept everything as quiet as possible. The parents also tried to lie to those investigators, saying that they’d sent him to a counseling center as their church had suggested, when in fact they just packed him off to a family friend out of town to help the guy do some house remodeling. Apparently he was also shipped off to a Bill Gothard counseling center as well–you know, the pedophile and sexual harasser who lost his position due to dozens of his victims finally speaking out against him?–and there he received Quiverfull-approved programming (if you needed a good mad today and I haven’t found one for you by now, the link also includes what he was likely taught).

6. A person giving a sincere apology does not then go on to be hypocritical.
Someone who makes a mockery of the term “family values” does not get to make his life revolve around “family values.” That is the rule, and I’m making it now. It’s irresponsible and hypocritical. That’s why you don’t see someone who is really chastened tearing around on a moral high horse about the topic he or she got chastened about. That person has lost the right to tell others how to live. I don’t approve of Ted Haggard for a variety of reasons, but it’s hard not to see posts like these and not see at least the glimmerings of a humbled heart and the beginnings of wisdom–and I sure haven’t heard a lot of news stories about him grandstanding about gay people like he used to do. And as hypocritical as the Bakkers were when they were in power, Tammy Faye Bakker actually found her footing after her own fall from grace.

Josh Duggar was and is an active part of a family working as hard as possible to deny rights to LGBTQ people. It was both his job and his hobby to talk about how he felt that LGBTQ people are a serious risk to children everywhere, all the while knowing that he’d been caught assaulting little girls and had covered it up for years. His parents, as well, were happy to make robo-calls defaming trans people and writing about how properly “modest” clothing would prevent “certain desires” from causing problems while knowing full well that this policy hadn’t prevented those “certain desires” from erupting in their own son, which sure sounds like “those little bitty girls wouldn’t have gotten assaulted if they’d been dressed modestly” to me. While accepting awards for being a wonderful mother (one of those given to her by a pastor who himself fell to an adultery scandal), Michelle Duggar knew she was concealing and covering up her own son’s assaults. She made a robo-call campaigning to keep discrimination laws on the books, saying that trans people might prey upon sweet little children, all while knowing that her son had done exactly that and he sure wasn’t in the quiltbag.

So there you have it. An apology is about healing a rift, about making amends, and about taking personal responsibility for what happened. Not a single bit of that seems to have happened with Josh Duggar or his community. By keeping the focus where they are, he and his supporters are not only missing the point entirely, but they are showing the rest of the world just how moral their ideology really is.

The real priority for them is maintaining their image. That goal is so important that they’ll defend even someone who hurt children from all criticism.

So much for their much-vaunted superior morality, huh?

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