Josh Duggar and the Church’s Hush-Hush Mentality

culture and society

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.

Josh Duggar and the Church's Hush-Hush Mentality

[photo credit]

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 (edited: the youngest was 5) 5 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.

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.”

“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. Children 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 tenets 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.

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  • Reply Kala M. May 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Great post Roo! I don’t know how a parent could say to their child forgive your brother and forget about it because it is what Jesus would do. Abuse can’t be quickly forgiven and forgotten. That is something they will have to live with forever. It is all very sad.

  • Reply Alyssa May 22, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Yes x1,000.

  • Reply Kirby May 22, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Well-written, well-said, can’t agree with you anymore. Limitations of Statue? Yeah throw that out the window, he did it, he admitted it, through his behind in jail, counselling, etc.

    Did I understand the State Trooper that “Gave him a stern talking to” is NOW serving jail time for child pornography?

    • Reply Kirby May 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm


    • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Three year statute of limitations.

      And yes, you read that correctly, sadly.

  • Reply Amanda May 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    I read about the police report this morning, but I missed where it was said his sisters were victims. Terrible. How do you deal with the fact that your mother and father seemed to do more to protect the abuser than to help and protect you AND live with them at the same time?

    I’ve never been in this situation, but I’d think that the abused should forgive if/when they are ready. “Forcing” it seems to be more of a cover-up of the situation than a sincere effort to help that person move forward. And although I am religious, I do not believe that religion excuses me or other Christians from the consequences of inappropriate actions. I am shocked, and quite frankly, disappointed that the Duggars believe otherwise.

    I agree that this situation does make the church look bad, but that’s exactly why it needs to be discussed. Sweeping things under the rug just creates a bigger mess to deal with later.

  • Reply Cindy May 22, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    i hope this prompts the victims to seek the help early that they need my mother was abused by her brother and spent her whole life feeling Bad and like she could never be enough her brother was never reported and she spent her whole life in fear not finding the courage to face it until she was in her mid 40s I hope articles like this will help victims see they can reach out for real help sooner rather then later I am very religious myself but a spiritual leader is not a therapist sure you will want to forgive but you will need time and a process and to be allowed to feel all your very real feelings with no shame of those feelings

  • Reply Brittany May 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you for writing this. The excuse that he was just a teenager makes me sick and makes me so angry. He is a human being who is murdering something precious inside another human being–their innocence, their ability to trust, their feeling of security with their parents, their chance to have a healthy and demon-free sexual relationship in the future–just to name a few. He is not mentally deficient and knew exactly what he was doing, and the Duggars knew better than what they did to cover it up. Well done, Roo. Thank you for being willing to face criticism for ‘making the church vulnerable.’ Jesus doesn’t need us defending him. Not once are we called to make sure nobody talks bad about Jesus. What’s our call? “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6. Think it through, Church!

    • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      Great thoughts, Brittany. Hoping this whole sad situation ignites a movement of change.

  • Reply Aya May 22, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    You just shocked me out of my mind. I am not a Christian but I love the Duggars, admire Michelle’s spirit and courage, and have watched the show and read the books. As I belong to another “fundamentalist” religious group who is also struggling to come to terms with abuse allegations amongst our own members, I am fearful for the experiences my children could encounter in supposedly safe spaces and stories like this make me feel like nobody is safe anywhere. I’m glad you write about this because it allows the shock effect to erode and instead be replaced with a plan- “what would I do if it happened to me” and also “there but for the grace of G-d go I”. So much sadness. Thank you so very much for writing this.

  • Reply Anna May 22, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Uuugggghhhh, this makes me so sad. Admittedly, I have been a big fan of the Duggars. Mostly because I find them fascinating, perhaps a little bit in a freak show type way, but mostly because they seemed like such a loving family and how can you not be fascinated by how a family of 19 actually operates day to day. Perhaps, because of the “seeming” like such a lovely family who never fought and always respected their parents, I was somewhat poised and waiting for something to come out about them. But, I never imagined THIS. My heart is heavy for all those victimized and I truly hope Josh AND his victims get the help the so clearly need.

    • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 4:04 pm

      Same! Fascinating and endearing. I feel the same way, Anna. Really upsetting.

  • Reply Kellu May 22, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this. It’s a horrible crime, and an even bigger crime that these girls were let down again and again by their family in the name of their religion. That is not how it works last I checked. I hope that the ramifications for their family go beyond just canceling the show. I hope that they get help and counseling they so desperately need.

  • Reply Larissa May 22, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Very well-said, Roo. I wholeheartedly agree. And I can’t help but wonder how Huckabee and other “supporters” would be reacting if the victims had been brothers instead of sisters…

    • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      I hadn’t heard about Huckabee until I read your comment. Looked it up. Woof. :(

      • Reply Tammy May 22, 2015 at 3:13 pm

        You also have to add in Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum.

        • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 3:57 pm

          Tammy, do you have a link? I checked FB and Twitter and I don’t see any statements from them.

          • Tammy May 22, 2015 at 4:01 pm

            I saw it in one of the many stories posted about him on Facebook but now I can’t find it. I’ll keep looking for it and post the link here if I can find it.

  • Reply Erin May 22, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Really well said Roo. It is so important to not let the concept of grace and forgiveness to be manipulated so as to where we put the emphasis on the offender and away from the children who were hurt. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so articulately, and for not being afraid to “make the church look bad”

  • Reply Christina May 22, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I’m so glad you wrote this, I am so shocked. How could a parent not protect their other children!

  • Reply Totty May 22, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    :nods head: Yep. Yes. ABSO-F*CKING-LUTELY. Thanks for writing this.

  • Reply Meg May 22, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Right on, Roo. Eloquently stated! As a “why-am-I-watching-this?” “fan” of the Duggars, I couldn’t find the words to relay my disgust, disappointment and upset over this whole situation. Past statements made by Josh, Michelle, etc, I overlooked and chalked up to fundamental differences in opinion and ideals. But, this hit too close to home. Way. Too. Much. So, thank you for putting my exact feelings into words so impeccably. As always, you rock.

  • Reply Lynsey May 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I’m gonna stand and give you a slow clap, because this hit the nail on the head. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words!

    • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Lynsey!

  • Reply Laura May 22, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for writing this, I couldn’t agree more with what you have written.

  • Reply Verlin May 22, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Very well put, Roo. I am a Christian, and have always watched the Duggars in a “wow, that is a bit out there, but they are so lovely, how can you criticize.” Welllllll. I am seeing things much differently today. Perhaps the girls’ modest clothing wasn’t modest enough and you know, boys can’t help themselves. I can’t believe the way they seemed to have cared more about the victimizer than the victims. The more that comes out about this story, the crazier and more disappointing it seems. One thing that twigged for me was that the other night when I was watching and Jim Bob, for the 100th episode in a row, had to make a big deal out of how he and Michelle are still “active”. Creeped me right out and I thought, why so much emphasis on this. They make such a big deal about sex that it is awkward. Hmm.

  • Reply KM Wilson May 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    It seems like you are making some pretty big leaps concerning what was said or done for the girls in this situation, based on a few words from the Duggers. I am sure they are intent on protecting the girls from a zillion reporters trying to interview the victims and get the scoop!

    • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      The girls being forced to continue to live with their abuser is damning enough for me.

      Additionally, had they sought treatment for their daughters, a therapist would have been mandated by law to report Josh Duggar’s crimes. No, I’m not sure everything that was said or done for the girls, but I’m comfortable saying that Jim-Bob and Michelle have failed their children atrociously.

      • Reply KM WIlson May 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm

        As I said, you are making some big assumptions. I know about mandatory reporting. I wouldn’t expect you to agree with me!

        • Reply Roo May 22, 2015 at 4:18 pm

          Stating that the victims were forced to continue to live with their abuser, that Jim-Bob and Michelle didn’t report Josh, that Jim-Bob and Michelle didn’t get Josh treatment — none of those things are assumptions. Do you need sources? Happy to provide.

      • Reply Taylor Adams May 22, 2015 at 4:39 pm

        Well said, Roo. I, in fact, agree with everything you said in this post. It’s mind boggling to me how a parent could allow their child (or anybody for that matter) to live in the same home as the person(s) he or she is victimizing. As you mentioned, if the girls had been in therapy, it would have been reported to the state.

        I once served jury duty on a sexual assault case involving an 8 year old girl and her mother’s boyfriend. I can never read these types of stories without picturing her. These types of crimes often come with so much guilt for the assaulted and no punishment for the assaulter. I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I think talking about it openly is a good start.

  • Reply Jill Mitchell May 22, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    I wonder if this is why he suddenly found a job far away from his community?

  • Reply Naomi May 22, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I love what you had to say and think you did a great job riding the line between criticizing traditional church practices without criticizing the faith itself. There are many problems with church culture, including the ones you mentioned, like addressing this in-house instead of actually taking it to authorities, that people ignore because they confuse it with their faith. Thanks for making the distinction so clear and showing that part of being a Christian is ALSO being a responsible citizen. I think true compassion for both Josh and his sisters would have been to report him and get them all the proper therapy that they need. (Also, as a new follower and as someone who is similarly passionate about ending sex trafficking/violations of human rights, it has been a pleasure to read your blog posts while procrastinating my thesis research!)

    • Reply Jenn May 24, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      I agree that distinction must be made about Christians vs Church, but I see things a little oppositely. HUMANS hide things, HUMANS excuse, HUMANS justify – Christan or not, churches or not. I cringe and I hurt when people try to defend the church’s image around scandal. They shouldn’t pull back the punches on reality, but I don’t necessarily think The Church is to blame about hush-hush culture. Hiding, excusing, and justifying are part of human nature (as a Christian, I would trace it back to the fall of man, imprinting our sin nature, perpetuating shame). There are people who will excuse a predator and abuser’s actions, regardless of their belief system. They will take every excuse and thread of logic to justify their actions. This is what the Duggars have done and it is wrong. I can see the church can be a breeding ground for this type of behavior, but I don’t believe the church is to blame. I don’t believe it because I see it in every belief system and faucet of culture. People hide sin and hurt people as a result. Does this mean the church needs to bring more into the light? Yes. But to blame the church for a phenomenon that is purely human (and very, very wrong) is not fair.

      • Reply Tami May 29, 2015 at 10:55 am


  • Reply Amy May 22, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    This afternoon, I was reminded of the words Michelle herself once spoke, as part of a political robocall campaign in our state last year.

    “I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child.”

    The irony and hypocrisy here is simply staggering.

    If only Michelle herself had paid heed to these words, and been as willing to reflect on her own actions as she is to lecture others about theirs.

  • Reply Amanda May 22, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Very well said. The remark about wanting to avoid ruining his own life made me nauseous.

  • Reply Sarah May 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Roo, I like what you said, and I appreciate that you’re saying it publicly. I’ve watched the Duggars from the beginning, and have been moving slowly from enjoying the show to learning more about their particular theology and growing increasingly more concerned for the kids as I realized what their (parents’) beliefs were setting them up for in the long run.

    I’m 41, and I’m still recovering from the sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of my older brother. I was raised in a very similar environment, religiously speaking. I can see now that part of what I liked about this show was that I thought on some level that they were somehow doing what my parents intended to do, but doing it “right”. This despite knowing damn good and well what the statistics are for girls and sexual abuse – I mean… one in three or four, right? How many daughters do they have? Argh.

    I want in no way to minimize how badly the abuse hurt me, (devastated and betrayed are just the tip of the iceberg) or to in any way excuse the abusers in this situation, and I only speak for myself, of course, but what I’ve found over the years… what I struggle with equally and at times more so even than the abuse itself is *how badly my parents handled things after they found out*. How every one handled it, honestly.

    My parents contacted our church and were basically told they couldn’t help. Mom called CPS and told them we were already in counseling, so instead of investigating, the pregnant and about to go on leave social worker closed the case, leaving me to live with my brother still in my home. I did stay in counseling, but my counselor was utterly inept, but claimed to be a Christian so no one else was a possibility, and that didn’t last long. My brother refused to talk to his counselor and my parents stopped making him go bc they couldn’t afford to pay for him to just sit there. There was a heavy sure air of ” why couldn’t you just keep your mouth shut” so no one’s life had to be messed with but mine.. I could go on, but there’s no point.

    I hurt for the girls. There’s good days and bad, good years and hard, but it doesn’t stop. It’s like the tide, but less predictable.

    My one hope is that this will shake up both the church (I don’t know who these people are who worry about the church – my God, my church, they can handle the truth like no one else I know.) and society’s view of sibling incest, and just how f*%king damaging it is.

  • Reply Ali May 22, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I agree with what you wrote. I was molested by a 15 year old when I was 12, and I KNOW he knew exactly what he was doing. If he thought it was ok, he wouldn’t have cried when the cops showed up at his house. I want the people who are defending him for being young to think back when they were 15 and honestly say they didn’t know it was wrong to touch kids in their private areas. C’mon, you KNOW at that age. And for the people who say he was sexually curious, he could have found someone his own age who was a willing participant. I don’t watch the show, but it sounds like the parents didn’t let them out much? That still is NO excuse to touch your sisters. As far as Christians saying we shouldn’t judge, it’s not about judging, per se, but about holding people accountable. If we shouldn’t ‘judge’ him, we also shouldn’t judge adult rapists and murderers, and let them off the hook as well. Yes, we have all sinned and done wrong things, but when there is a victim involved, especially defenseless children, that changes things. I just really hope the people defending him don’t have daughters that get molested or raped because they clearly aren’t equipped to get them the proper help they need and deserve.

    • Reply Renee May 24, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      Ali, I am so very sorry that you went through an experience like that. I cannot even imagine.

      I personally have not seen any post where I would say anyone is “defending” him or saying what he did was ok. But as a person who has worked with middle schoolers and high schoolers for almost 30 years, I can say that it is not unheard of that these young perpetrators can end up in healthy relationships and have children who are not at risk. This is not always the case but it can be. I think some things are being interpreted as “defending” that are meant to be more like “we can’t make the assumption that he is still in this horrible place.” Since his wife knew about the abuse before they were married, I would hope and pray that she is very aware of what goes on in their home and that she has conversations with her children about appropriate and inappropriate touching.

      Again, I want you to understand that my thoughts are IN NO WAY minimizing what was done to his victims and more importantly minimizing what you personally have been through.

  • Reply some stuff – happy long weekend edition | Genie In A Blog May 23, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    […] Josh Duggar and the Church’s Hush-Hush Mentality […]

    • Reply Ali May 25, 2015 at 1:06 am

      Oh, I’ve seen plenty of people defending him, saying ‘He was only 15, he didn’t know what he was doing’. That’s complete BS in my book. My 7 year old son knows that that wouldn’t be right. Someone twice his age should know too! It’s not about people saying he can change. My problem is with people defending his actions at the age of 15. It truly sickens me.

  • Reply Bradene May 24, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Good post, which I stumbled upon via Facebook. I do want to correct one small detail. The youngest of his victims was 5 years old, which was made clear in the judge’s order to expunge the police reports (the reason for issuing the order was that one victim is still a minor — only the sister who was 5 at the time would still be a minor now.) Sexually curious teenaged boys do not satisfy their curiosity by fondling 5-year-olds. A teenaged boy raised in a home where “purity” is all-important may have gotten a sick thrill out of spoiling the innocence and purity of his sisters, and that is the very definition of pedophilia. I fear for his own children.

    • Reply Roo May 24, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Thank you! Saw that too; will edit.

  • Reply Renee May 24, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    So one thing that keeps floating around in my brain: As a parent, if my child broke a rule or law, whether it be a big one or a little one, and I had a friend in the position of authority, I would also probably choose to take my child to that person to see what to do. I AM NOT saying that what Josh did was in ANY WAY excusable. I do however think that it is forgivable, just like any sin of mine. And it’s up to the victim to know or decide when it’s forgiven. It’s not up to me and it’s not up to you. So my two points are this: I feel like the girls are being victimized all over again with the fact that everyone seems to have something to say about this. I understand this is a public family and with that comes public knowledge but I feel like we owe it to the victims to quit hashing it out over social media. (That does not mean that I think the church should “sweep it under the carpet” and I think we should talk about sexual abuse and boundaries that girls and boys of all ages should understand.) My second point is that the Duggars are taking a lot of hits because this policeman is now in jail for child porn. Do we have any idea that they KNEW he had a child pornography addiction? That is a reflection of HIS virtue, not theirs. Now, if someone finds THE FACTS that the Duggars knew this dude had this porn addiction and that’s who they took their son to in order to be able to say they reported it but knowing the officer would let it slide, that’s another story. I would fault them for that. But taking their son to a person they knew to report the issue, I can’t fault them for that. It’s exactly what I would do.

  • Reply Kaitlin May 25, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Shared this the day you wrote it, and keep coming back to re-read. Thank you for this.

  • Reply Joyce May 27, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Thank you for writing. As a watcher, I always wondered:

    -How do they have time to raise and pay attention to SO many kids?
    -How do the kids have ANY perspective or outside knowledge if they never leave their house, not even for school?

    I grew up sheltered, BUT attended a public school where I learned gritty, real things, which, in hindsight, was valuable knowledge of “the outside world.”

    I find it sad that, to me, this heart-breaking case isn’t all too surprising based on their circumstances. I never imagined anything THIS terrible, but those two questions above, sadly, always played in my head.

    My heart breaks for the poor victims, who likely had so little opportunity to seek help, or even realize just how WRONG their situation was. I’m also disgusted that the focus seems on “forgiving Josh!” rather than “recognizing the needs of his powerless victims.” Sweeping things under the rug is so three centuries ago, Church.

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  • Reply Joy Ross May 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    The sad thing is, the church is so horribly representing Jesus. Jesus may have said to forgive those that hurt you, however, He NEVER said ‘pretend it never happened.’ Christianity has made that an 11th comandment because they’re scared of a scandal. Jesus literally MADE a scandal, first by claiming to be the Son of God, and then again in allowing Himself to be crucified to bring us back into relationship with our Father. The Church can’t handle scandal, but He’s not afraid of them. He’s not afraid of our mistakes, because He knows that He can undo anything, and can bring peace to every storm. He never said “pretend things didn’t happen. Shove them under the rug to give an appearance of piety.” The dude ate with sinners on the daily! He purposely surrounded himself with them!

    These are the type of things that happen when people stop following Jesus and start following religion and man-made rules.

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