I wanted to ignore this story. I really did. But it seems I’m the only one. For some reason, this story is resonating with people. Particularly Christians. Particularly conservative Christians. And the resulting public discourse has left me grieved, disturbed, and embarrassed.
I don’t know much about the details of the Josh Duggar case. I’ve picked up bits and pieces from here and there, much of it contradictory, and all of it third-hand, fourth-hand, fifth-hand, etc. So my goal is not to give some penetrating analysis of this particular case. I can’t. Few, if any, can at this stage. The data is too limited.
What I do want to do is establish some basic points that we should all be able to affirm, whether Christian or not, conservative or not, pro-Duggar or not.
Here they are.
1) The scrutiny is to be expected. They signed up for it. Literally.
Whether it is ethical for a parent to sign his children up for this level of scrutiny is another question altogether. But Mr. and Mrs. Duggar signed the papers and cashed the cheques. They invited the scrutiny.
2) Obsession with the private lives of ordinary people is not fundamentally different in its conservative manifestations than it is in its liberal manifestations.
Whether it’s the Osbournes or the Duggars, there’s a voyeurism to reality television that appeals to the darker side of us. I’m not saying it’s flat-out wrong. I’m just saying that this is just another reality show and involves the same appeals and pitfalls as any other reality show.
One of those pitfalls is obsession. And that obsession could easily cloud the judgement of some in the case of Josh Duggar. On the other hand, the sense of loyalty the show has engendered has revealed some disturbing things about how some people think about sexual abuse.
3) Crime is not the same as sin.
What Josh Duggar did was sin. But that’s not the point here. The point is that it was crime. And there is a difference. A big difference.
There are sins that aren’t crime (adultery) and crimes that aren’t sin (protecting the victims of a harsh regime). And then there are crimes that are also sins. Such is the case with Josh Duggar. It is inexcusable to treat this as mere sin and simply call for forgiveness and grace.
4) The state deals with crime; the church with sin.
This principle is utterly fundamental to Christian ethics and is perfectly enunciated by Jesus Christ himself: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” To take crimes to the church before (or instead of) the state is evil. For the church to condone doing so is to usurp the God-given role of the state.
5) Addressing sin does not remove consequences.
“Forgive.” “Show grace.” “Don’t judge.”
All of these exhortations are missing the point. Because they all address sin. Not crime. Still, whether it is sin or crime, there are consequences for actions. Neither repentance nor forgiveness remove the consequences or the need for justice.
Yes, forgive. Then report. Or vice versa. Show grace. By loving. While you testify against them. Be merciful. Visit them in jail. All of this fits together.
6) Rape vs. sexual abuse is not the point.
Was this rape? Or sexual abuse? The answer depends on a number of things, but ultimately depends on the legal jurisdiction where the crimes were committed. In many jurisdictions this would qualify as rape. But that’s not the point.
The point is that sexual contact in an uneven power relationship and/or where a party either does not give consent or is legally incapable of giving consent (in the case of a minor), is wrong. And generally criminal. And will… will result in emotional damage over time. And if you are only mildly concerned about such things happening, your very humanity is fractured and warped. You’re not just evil, you’re scary.
7) Juvenile crime should be treated differently to adult crime.
It should. A twelve year old isn’t the same as an adult. There are crucial differences not only in knowledge, experience, wisdom, and judgement, but also in the very cognitive functioning of the brain.
But it is not the role of the parent or the pastor to decide what the differences in treatment will be. That role has been given by God to the state.
And if you’re more outraged by the revelation of the crimes of a juvenile than you are by the crimes themselves, something is fundamentally broken in your moral core.
8) A sexually repressive environment will consistently lead to sexual deviance.
Sex is good. Non-Christians generally affirm this. Christians generally affirm this. This is a point on which we can all agree. Non-Christians may have various reasons for feeling sex is good. For instance, it feels good. It’s fun. It’s potentially productive. Etc. But for Christians, we are obliged to view sex as good. Our dogma teaches that it is.
So when sex is seen as dirty or unmentionable in a home, a culture develops in which children are growing into sexual beings without any substantial guidance whatsoever. Such an environment is the perfect storm for the development of sexually deviant thinking. This has nothing to do with being Christian or not. And it’s got nothing to do with being conservative or not. It’s about being a healthy human being. And building a healthy home. A home in which sexuality is recognised and talked about openly. Where healthy attitudes are modelled and taught.
9) He’s your son and they’re your daughters.
It is evil to focus primarily on protecting Josh Duggar. My sister put it masterfully: “Stop imagining he’s your son and imagine they’re your daughters.” People who love goodness focus primarily on protecting the victims. Every time. Without exception. It is evil to do otherwise.
Nevertheless, he is your son. And he does need help. And this is a terribly difficult situation to deal with. There is, of course, just cause to show sensitivity to and concern for his well-being. After. After the primary concern and sensitivity toward the victims.
10) Oppression is evil.
The very word oppression necessarily involves an uneven power relationship. One party has more power than the other and is using it to bully or manipulate. This could be police to public, professor to pupil, pastor to pew, parent to child, or older sibling to younger.
Power has been given by God for the protection of the weaker. Police have power to protect the public. Parents have power to protect the child. Etc. So while sexual abuse is oppression, covering crimes is also oppression. When a child comes to a powerful person in her life and confides that she has been abused, she should find protection. Swift, proactive, police-authorised protection. Every. Single. Time.
This is not some strange liberal perspective. This is basic human decency.
Grace to you.