Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How I really feel about the Duggars -- and why

Writer's note: I thought long and hard about whether to post the following blog. Have I met my purpose in writing by my first post about the Duggars? Will this be construed as getting on a soapbox, or attempting to drag a Christian family through the mud? 

I normally write a post, and immediately publish. But this time, I took a day to really mull over the value of my words. Will they contribute to healthy discussion? Or has that ship already passed? In the end, because I have been asked several times the same questions, I'm going to go ahead and publish.

I understand that this might make me unpopular and you might vehemently disagree. All I ask is that if you choose to read, read all the way through. Ponder my thoughts. And if you have something to add in light of a healthy discussion -- I'm up for a good discussion.

Thanks all. 


When I posted my latest blog on the Duggars,  I was really surprised at some of the negative feedback I've received. It is strange to me because in only a few words I wrote what seemed to be common sense and not that controversial.

Yes, we are to love. Yes we are to forgive. Yes, we are to support the victims. Yes, we are to make sure that we call things for what they are. Yes, we should affirm natural or God-given consequences. And yes, we need to be uber aware that the way we respond in times like these is so very important for non-Christians who are watching us.

These points seemed pretty straightforward to me. But apparently, they are not so straightforward.

So I want to clarify a few things.

1. The intent of my post was not to gossip.

So much of the controversy around anyone discussing the Duggars right now is that it is gossip. "We weren't there, so we can't voice an opinion." This to me sounds like "let's just stick our head in the sand this time and pretend that nothing happened."

Can I just be really straightforward here? Most of us are not immediately present when something newsworthy happens. Have any of you been in Iraq lately? Where you in Boston when the bomber placed deadly backpack near kids, adults and runners?  What about when Casey Anthony's daughter died? We rely on the media all the time. We trust the information that comes from the media often (admittedly not always.) We rely on police investigations to find truth for us.

And most of the time, we discuss them.

YES. Gossip is talking about someone's personal business. Intimate details that should be private. 

You might not like my response to this, but here you go.

I would not have chosen for this scandal to be so public. (I would also not chose for it to be a secret. I think the authorities should have known right away, and that the church body should have been informed right away.)

I'm not convinced that the mass publicity of this abuse in the best interest of the victims. I imagine that whatever self-consciousness these girls already had is now so much worse. To have everyone looking at you, and wondering if YOU were the one the one fondled, the one with a secret.

Honestly, I can't imagine how they are feeling right now. I can't. I understand the concept of triggers. And I'm sure that everywhere right now is a trigger for them.

But I didn't CHOOSE this publicity for them.

Their parents did.

I feel confident that Jim Bob and Michelle really felt that making a reality TV show was the right thing to do -- to be a testimony for God.

But they chose this knowing the skeletons they had in the closet. And we all know skeletons have a way of making themselves known. Especially when so many people in the world can't stand what you stand for, and you have a very public platform for. The world is looking for a reason to discredit them. And guess what? They found it.

I am not saying that this family does not deserve to have some privacy. But what I am saying is that they chose to be in the public eye, they chose to make themselves an example of healthy, pure sexuality, and they did this knowing the position it had the potential to put their daughters in.

My post was not about furthering gossip. To speculate, to slander, to draw false conclusions. The purpose of my post is to say this:

Christians: The Duggars have given the world an example of how sexual abuse is handled so often in the church. TOO often. We are in the hotseat, yet again, for mishandling allegations of sexual abuse. We have a responsibility to the victims to label sexual abuse for what it is. We have a responsibility to allow the consequences of these actions to fall where they should. We have an obligation as Christians to pray, to support, to love, and to forgive. But in a way that AFFIRMS the real suffering of the victims. Not sweeping it under the rug of a cheap and easy forgiveness.

I understand not wanting to talk about this. I do. But the world is talking, and they are watching, and they are wondering if we Christians are OK with the way this was handled. And we shouldn't be OK with it. And I think that is OK to say. Actually, I think it is RIGHT to say.

The way the Duggars and their church leaders handled the allegations of sexual abuse was not legal nor was it in the best interest of Josh or the victims.

There. I said it.

2. A crime is not worse than a sin. But it is different.

A few of you questioned whether I have a full appreciation for the gravity of sin. Trust me, I do.

However, there are somethings that are sin -- but they are also something more.

If Josh had simply had consensual sex with another teen, it would also have been sin. They would have gone against God's plans for their lives.

But that was not what happened here. God's laws were broken. Man's laws were broken. And children were victimized.

Calling a lie a sin, premarital sex a sin, and incestuous child molestation a sin can appear to place them all in the same boat. With the same gravity.

I get that all sin, no matter what, comes between us and God. In that way, it is equal.

But telling a white lie that you were on time (when you were really 15 minutes late) -- and sexually victimizing multiple children over a long period of time -- do not require the same consequences. There are natural consequences that really SHOULD happen in one case over the other.

That is why we need to call it a crime. And not just a sin. Because it is both. And because the consequences for a white-lie-kind-of sin is not the same as for a felony-kind-of sin.

3. "He who casts the first stone . . . "

Jesus has told us not to judge. It's true. When the adulteress woman was about to be stoned, he intervened in a crazy, shocking way. He turned religious fundamentalists away from quite literally ruining this sinner of a pagan woman.

And yet, if you dig through Scripture, that same principle he applied to non-Christians, he did NOT apply to us in the church.

Here is 1 Corinthians 5:1-12 (NIV):

1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,a b so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

6Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sisterc but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”d

God makes it plain that while we personally are not to judge those outside the church -- we are encouraged, allowed, (and dare I say it?) commanded to call our brothers and sisters out when they have blatantly sinned.

I understand that the sexual abuse is no longer happening. And that this verse is talking about people who are actively involved in sin (incest of all things), but are still attending church and under the guise of being pious.

However, the Duggars have not actually said that they way they responded was wrong. They regret that it happened. (We all do.) But there doesn't seem to be any indication that they regret their actions following the abuse.

I'm not going to get into a huge discourse on on church discipline here. But what I will say is this:

The clergy in the church were mandatory reporters. [I'm a mandatory reporter. It means that when we see or understand that a child is potentially in danger of abuse or neglect, we (by law) are required to call CPS. This does not mean that we have to have proof. But a reasonable belief. And yes, I've had to make that call. And YES, I know it is so so hard. But it has to be done.]

The Duggars' church failed them.  They did not report to authorities. They failed the other families attending by not disclosing that there was a boy who might have exposure to their children with a history of child sexual abuse. They failed the reputation of the Christian church as a whole.

The Duggars themselves failed their children. (yes, I am saying this. Yes, I understand that in so many ways, we all fail our children). But as parents, our legal, moral and spiritual duty is to protect our children from reasonable harm. The girls' right to be protected needed to trump Josh's right to privacy. That did not happen.

When we as brothers and sisters in Christ rush to forgive without affirming the gravity of the sin, to offer only support to those who have failed in a pretty big way, to rush past any criticism of others' actions for fear of being judgmental . . . we are also failing as a church.

We are failing the victims who have a right to have their suffering affirmed, and not discarded. We fail the outside world when we claim Christians should not have to endure any natural consequences of their actions just because they have repented and have been forgiven. We fail ourselves when we refuse to take a good hard look at how abuse is often handled in the church, and we don't call for reform.

So yeah, talking about it? It matters. Because only when we are being honest with ourselves about what happened versus what should have happened can we make the changes needed to make sure this sort of abuse/neglect doesn't happen again.

4. So what kind of accountability am I expecting?

Simply this. If the victims chose to press charges, and there were no statute of limitations, I would be in support. Not because I long to see Josh or his family suffer. Not at all. I know they have suffered immensely. But because I support legal jurisdiction, and the right of a victim to come forward and ask for justice for the crime committed against them.

I will not be signing any petition to get this show back on television. Josh losing his job, and the Duggars losing their show for now seems to be natural consequences enough. And I think Jim, Michelle, and Josh are all adult enough to deal with it. Furthermore, I believe that if God still desires to give the Duggars a platform, he will do it.

In fact, I'm hopeful that there is some redemption to all of this mess.

5. There is one more thing I just feel like I need to say. 

My heart has been and continues to be for the girls who were exposed to sexuality against their will and far too young.

I have never been sexually abused. I'm grateful for that every day. But I have a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old who I pray will be able to make it through this life without that particular pain.

I have watched the crippling effect childhood sexual abuse has had on some of my friends. I could not wish that on anyone. In fact, I became a foster parent in large part to do what I could to protect children from this kind of abuse. My heart deeply, deeply grieves for those who have been forced to endure this kind of horror.

To the Duggar girls (or for any other victims of abuse), I want to say this:

What you have endured as a child . . . and what you are enduring now as this story is made public . . . grieves me, grieves those who love you, and grieves the heart of God. If I could, I would take this all away, and I would write you a new story. But I can't. 

I hope that in spite of the publicity, you are able to have any healthy counseling or resources you might need today or in the future. I hope that the church becomes a healthy, safe place for you. A place where you can unburden your secret, and know that you will be believed. That you will be offered protection. Offered very real support. That your church body will be able to love you just as Christ would. 

This cannot be easy for you. To have been abused by the ones you loved. The ones you LOVE. So please know that we are praying for you. We are praying for your families. And we are praying for God's comfort and healing presence in your life. 

And while we can't write you a new story -- we are doing everything we can to prevent what happened to you to happen to another girl. And if we can't prevent it, we'll do our very best to help support her as she heals.


  1. Yup. All of this. And don't get me started on their theology of fertility, which is plenty harmful on its own without this giant mess.

  2. I agreed with you before, Rachel, and I agree with you now. In particular, that talking about it and affirming the pain the victims have, had, and will have going forward, is so important, and acknowledging that forgiveness is good, but in no way does it fulfill the need for justice, nor does it allow others the option to protect their child from a known offender.

    It's so important for other victims of incest and sexual abuse to hear the outrage against Josh and his parents for how this was handled. It could literally save lives. It's been immensely reassuring for me to see and hear people publicly decry the way the parents and church and authorities handled this, because it's exactly like my parents and church and authorities handled my abuse. It matters deeply that people denounce the horrible way that this was botched, across the board.

    As far as I know, my brother has never molested or raped anyone else, but did I tell his fiancee about what he did before she married him? Yes. And pray for my neices' protection. Did I ever leave my children alone with him or even his children? NO. I can't trust him or my parents to protect my children when they clearly chose not to protect me. They would be ludicrous.

    It's not like you or anyone else is speculating... This is all confirmed fact, so how it's gossip or uncalled for judgment in anyone's eyes is beyond me. Are these people suggesting that if they were alone in a roomful of sleeping young girls, that they would be tempted to violate them too, therefore they can't judge him!? I like to think millions of brothers out there are horrified and disgusted by the actions Josh took. I kind of need to believe that.

  3. This is the PERFECT post and response. Sin doesn't necessarily equal a crime in the secular world but this was both a sin and a crime. Crimes don't get absolved with sincere regret or divine forgiveness. Josh may be forgiven and repentant, but he is a criminal and that fact that he escaped legal punishment is wrong and, more importantly, a huge slap in the face to his victims.

  4. Every once in awhile, I stop by your blog. I think I found it through another blogger. This might be the first time I am commenting here. What you wrote really resonates with me - I agree with you! I watched the interviews Jessa and Jill gave and it is heartbreaking. I feel so bad that they are reliving all of this. This whole ordeal sounds like a huge mess, and I really hope that for the victims' sakes (and the sake of the family - so many children...) that there is peace and redemption soon.

  5. I really connected with this post! I wrote something similar on my own blog, Divine Ordinary, on what forgiveness and repentance really mean. Thanks for sharing this. Btw, I have just found your blog and am really enjoying it. I read about 10 posts about your foster journey. :)