As a new mom, I found Michelle Duggar to be rather inspiring. I bought her book when I had a year-and-a-half old and a newborn, and read it cover to cover. She embodied characteristics that I yearned for — she was organized, gentle, and patient. While I knew the Quiverfull movement was not for me, I respected the sub-culture and longed to run my household like a well-oiled machine. Michelle Duggar seemed like the patron saint of clean homes and obedient children.
I briefly saw a headline claiming allegations, but did not pay attention until Josh Duggar confirmed that he had assaulted minors. The disturbing police report confirms that these were repeated offenses spanning over years, with his sisters as some of the victims. Sometimes when they were asleep, but the police report also outlines one victim’s upsetting description of being assaulted while doing the family laundry.
I kept an eye on my Twitter feed and Facebook feed and kept seeing people quoting the same scripture about not casting stones, excusing him because he was a child, saying that teenagers are naturally sexually curious, and a call to look for the good in people instead.
Having a discussion about this is not pointing a finger (or casting a stone, as it were) at the Duggars so much as it is addressing the need to break down a systemic issue in the church and church cultures — a community that, despite my frustrations — I still feel a part of.
A couple notes outlined by the police report and statements from all the Duggars:
+ Josh wasn’t reported to the police. He had a stern talking-to from a state trooper who was a family friend who is currently serving 56 years in prison for child pornography.
+ Josh went away for counseling, but Michelle admitted that he actually went to live with a family friend for three months.
+ Josh’s statement includes the line: “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”
Hiding abuse and somehow wrapping it up in a tidy we-prayed-it-away package is inexcusable. Admittedly, a subjective, baseless, evidence-less statement I’m making right here: The Duggars — as a whole — seem more concerned about Josh’s well being than they do the well being of his victims.
From the Washington Post: “But it’s not so simple to get over sexual violation. Recovery takes years of stops and starts, and forgiveness is not a one-time easy decision, particularly if it’s demanded or expected right away for the sake of peace and putting something shameful behind you.
Often we see in communities of faith that victims are admonished to be grace-like, offering instant forgiveness to their abuser as if it could be dolled out like a trinket or candy. And when someone is pressured to “be like Jesus” and forgive swiftly, often this pressure causes harm.”
Josh Duggar’s statement about ruining his life is the apex of what makes me feel so awful about this whole situation. The concern is for Josh and his redemption. What about the lives of his victims, who were as young as 8 years old when the abuse started? Despite being confronted by his parents, he continued to assault his sisters. The Duggars failed Josh by not getting him the help he needed and failed the rest of their children by not protecting them. We are failing our society by making excuses for them.
I grieve for all children who have been sexually victimized and then told that that Jesus demands them to forgive, forget and move on.
— Boz Tchividjian (@BozT) May 22, 2015
Say a prayer tonight for the young women who were harmed—and relegated to passing mentions while we learned about the abuser’s redemption. — Jeff Chu (@jeffchu) May 22, 2015
Age is a moot point; the court sentences teenage murderers and rapists and robbers in spades. If Josh Duggar were any other prosecuted teenager, unless he somehow managed to get his record expunged, he would continue to have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and get regular visits from Child Protective Services once he started having kids.
My friend Amy wrote: “Compassion is OK. Forgiveness is OK. Even empathy is OK.
But excuses and justification and ignoring horrible things is never OK.
It does not matter what religion or political party or organization a pedophile belongs to. If you care more for a pedophile than you do his victims, or if you find yourself in any way justifying or excusing pedophilia, because of who an offender is or what he believes, you are wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.
The health and safety of children should never take a back seat to power or money or fame or politics or religion.”
So vital to distinguish “mistake” from “sexual abuse.” Not the same crime or response. The church should NEVER cast the 2nd as the 1st.
— JenHatmaker (@JenHatmaker) May 22, 2015
“Discussing this is making the church look bad. There are better things to do,” I was chided last night.
Let’s think about the victims for a second. 8 to 12 year olds were forced to live in a house with their multiple-offense abuser. Their home stopped being a safe haven and a source of comfort. They went to bed wondering if their big brother – the role often considered a beacon of safety and protection – would violate them after dark. They spent their days homeschooled next to him, hoping to avoid one-on-one laundry room encounters. Not only did they deal with the heavy emotional burden of incest and abuse, they had no escape from facing it.
Yet the concern is for the fragile reputation of the church.
The church who could be a source of healing and support and empathy if only we didn’t whisper things away.
How many children and teenagers have been chided to forgive an abuser? How many have gone without therapy or support after being abused? How many abusers have failed to get any sort of rehabilitation they need because no one wants a scandal? How many women in a movement whose main tenants include submission to husbands have had that portion of scripture bastardized to mean listen to your husband when he tells you to keep quiet after your children have been violated?
Sad questions and sad answers. Let us stop failing children under the guise of forgiveness and for the sake of perceived church unity.