But that was last week, before we learned that Josh Duggar had sexually assaulted several young girls—some of whom were his sisters—when he was 14. TLC has pulled 19 Kids from its schedule for now, and while it has yet to officially cancel the show, advertisers are abandoning it en masse.
In some corners, Josh Duggar isn’t the only bad guy in the Josh Duggar scandal. Blame extends to his parents, their beliefs and, by a few critics, Christianity as a whole. Some critics allege that the Duggars are a cult, and that Josh’s upbringing is at least partly to blame. And admittedly, for those who hate or fear Christianity, particularly conservative Christianity, the Duggar scandal is a great excuse to pile on.
But this morning, I read a headline that takes an unusual and I think revealing tack:
“What TLC’s Duggar Decision Will Tell Us: Who’s Winning the Culture War Between Social Justice and Christian ‘Grace’?”
Written by Sonia Saraiya, a television critic I hold in high regard, the story suggests that TLC’s decision to keep or cancel 19 Kids and Counting is no longer a business decision, but an ethical one. She writes:
Typically, a move like cancellation would be nothing more than good business. TLC has no interest in angering its viewers. But as quickly as the condemnations have rolled in against Josh Duggar—including advertisers stepping away from the program and a lot of spilled (Internet) ink—a rising tide of support followed suit. Josh Duggar’s confession has gotten him an awful lot of goodwill, most notably from Gov. Mike Huckabee. This puts TLC in the awkward position of choosing sides. And that means doing something that multinational corporations are in the habit of avoiding like the plague, as much as possible: making a moral judgment.
It’s an interesting take, but frankly, I’m not so sure if most Christians, or even most of the Duggar’s Christian supporters, are campaigning to save the show. This is not a repeat of the Duck Dynasty flap.
In 2013, Duck Dynasty’s future was jeopardized because Phil Robertson offered his thoughts on homosexuality. His views were coarse and, for many, deeply offensive. But they weren’t illegal. And fans thought it strange that A&E, which rewarded the Robertsons with a show for their outspoken, counter-cultural honesty, would then be horrified when a Robertson offered his own honest, counter-cultural views. As such, fans campaigned to save the show, which they did.What Duggar did falls in a different category, and most Christians understand that.
When I see Christians defend Josh and the rest of the Duggar family, I don’t see as much a rush to save the show (though there is a little of that, too), but an attempt to give solace to the Duggars themselves. Yes, Josh did a horrible thing when he was 14, but he did what we’re supposed to do: He repented. He sought forgiveness. He underwent counseling. And as Christians, we’re called to do a very difficult thing in return: extend a hand of grace. To forgive, as Christ forgave us.
There’s a certain irony that Christians would be taken to task for their capacity to forgive, given that we’re often accused of being so judgmental. And it seems strange that someone would suggest that we’ve taken sides in a “culture war” between justice and grace. In truth, we Christians try to embrace both. We walk in the midst of paradox, worshipping an infinitely holy God who does not tolerate sin but somehow forgives it. That’s a hard concept to grasp, admittedly, and I don’t think we Christians do a particularly good job demonstrating it. But still, it’s what we’re called to do—to hold both truth and grace in our hands—to hate what Josh did while still loving Josh himself. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.”
We live in a curiously puritanical age, where society’s values are increasingly secular and its gatekeepers increasingly intolerant of dissention. Our cultural capacity for forgiveness seems to be waning. If we take Saraiya’s piece (and others like it) as representative, perhaps such quaint notions of grace and forgiveness have no place in this new age of ours. It’s not so hip to love to the unlovable, as Jesus asked us to do.
In another Salon piece (“7 Nauseating Ways Josh Duggar Fans are Defending His Admitted Sexual ‘Sins’”), Author Rachel Kramer Bussel eviscerates someone who expressed this very sentiment on the Duggar’s Facebook page. Kramer Bussel quotes the fan:
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The great news is HE loves us and forgives us. If HE in his infinite wisdom and grace can forgive us then who are we not to forgive?
Kramer Bussel dispatches these sentiments with one sentence: “Because we are all imperfect,” she writes, “Josh Duggar’s crimes don’t matter.”
But, of course, that’s not what the fan is saying at all. Crime matters. Sin matters. That’s why forgiveness matters so much. Kramer Bussel seems to either willfully or unintentionally confuse forgiveness with a “get out of jail free” card.
When my kids did something wrong, I forgave them and loved them … but I still sent them to their rooms. If a murderer sincerely repents of his crime, that doesn’t excuse him from temporal punishment. And even if Josh Duggar is woefully sorry and completely rehabilitated, I don’t think that necessarily entitles him to a TV show. But I hope that wouldn’t stop me from greeting a repentant Josh Duggar as a brother.