The Duggars, Sex Abuse and the Church
I have never paid much attention to nor said much about the Duggar family. I have never cared whether they had 2 kids or 20. I’ve never cared about how they dress or what they eat or anything like that. The children seemed healthy and cared for, so there was no reason for me to say anything about about the way they choose to live. I care now, though and I have a lot to say.
First, I am a sinner among the worst of them. I am saved by grace and I cannot boast about being good enough to go to Heaven. In God’s eyes, my prideful heart is no worse than the sins Josh Duggar committed against his sisters. In God’s eyes.
Second, forgiveness is absolutely necessary and mandatory for those claiming the name of Christ. For many of us, Josh’s sins brought up a deep, painful anger that maybe it shouldn’t have. Maybe that’s simply one of the side effects of the hurts we have suffered (because you know, that type of pain never really goes away). Or maybe it’s an indication that we are still struggling to forgive those who hurt us or our loved ones. Either way, prayer, careful study of Scripture and examination of our own hearts are all the prescribed method of healing.
Third, I keep seeing either harsh criticism of the Duggars or deep compassion for the Duggars, and I don’t usually see these things from the same people. As Christians, I believe we are called to both, demonstrate compassion and hold accountable. We are to hold accountable with grace – the same grace and mercy we have been granted. We are called to love and pray for and help our brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact that there is such a divided response within the church over Josh’s actions and his parents’ handling of the situation indicates a deficit in the church.
Sex abuse is a taboo topic. I’ve almost never heard it talked about in church. I understand. It’s a painful topic and it’s disturbing. But folks, if there is one place it should be talked about, it’s the church. There are victims and perpetrators sitting in the pews every Sunday. We have an obligation to talk about sexual abuse. We have an obligation to help the victims. We must help them to safety, to forgiveness, to healing, to peace and to freedom from the shame that such a violation brings to its victims. We have an obligation to the perpetrators. We have an obligation to help them overcome their sin, to help them find forgiveness from Christ, and to hold them accountable for their sins. In order to do any of this, the church must be willing to talk about sexual abuse.
For the victim, simply telling them that they must forgive is not enough. Have you ever been so violated that nothing could make you feel clean? So violated that you just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry for the rest of your days? So violated that you felt deep shame and unworthy of even your mother’s love? Sexual abuse affects a person’s whole being. The sex abuse victim often loses sight of his or her identity in Christ because they feel they’ve committed the unpardonable sin. They may suffer nightmares or cry randomly or live in fear of being attacked again. Merely telling them to forgive will not fix any of that. Is the church prepared to step up and counsel victims of sexual abuse beyond saying, “Forgive your abuser because your sin is just as dirty.” I can tell you that to a sex abuse victim, no sin is as dirty as that which was committed against them.
The church must be prepared to stand with the victim. We need to let the victim know that what happened is not their fault and they are not guilty of any sin. She must be reminded that her identity is in Christ and not in what happened to her. She must be counseled to forgive and she should be reminded that forgiveness doesn’t mean that she won’t ever feel the hurt from this sin or that she won’t feel angry or cry over this again. She will. It will sneak up on her in the middle of one of her college classes or in the middle of church or when some news story breaks and she will cry and get angry all over again. She should be prepared for that to happen and counseled to call someone when that happens. She should be told that it’s okay to hurt and that forgiveness is sometimes a daily act. That means she will have to work hard to be forgiving towards her abuser that day. Other days, she will forget it ever happened and she will laugh and be at peace. That’s okay, too. The victim should be assured that she isn’t dirty or stained because of what happened to her. She should be reminded that forgiveness doesn’t mean she ever has to speak to her attacker or see him again if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to be vulnerable to him. Her family and her church should know that healing from such a violation can take years and they should be prepared to walk with her. Sadly, I think many churches fall short in this regard.
Churches often fall short in regards to the predators as well. This is hard for me to write because like most, I get angry when I think about those who commit sex crimes (probably because of the paragraph above). On some level, anger is the appropriate response. If God gave us our emotions to glorify Him with, then anger can also be glorifying. Often, sex crimes are committed against children – the ones we are charged with protecting, not violating. And more often than not, the child is abused by someone he or she trusts and loves. That should infuriate us. It should move us to protect our children – to stop this from ever happening. We should be vigilant and we should hold people accountable for their actions. We must, however, move beyond anger and towards forgiveness and reconciliation.
The abuser absolutely must be held accountable for his actions. He must be turned into the authorities, if for no other reason than to display the church’s support for the victim. The church’s job isn’t finished once the abuser is turned in though. We must continue to pray for and minister to the abuser. Lead him or her to Christ. Pray that they can find forgiveness and healing. Visit them in prison (using wisdom and caution, of course) and let them know there is hope for even the vilest of offenders. Once they are released, protect your church’s children and the abuser by never allowing them to be alone with children or to work with children. If necessary, assign a “buddy” to walk with him any time he is on church property. Establish an accountability group for him to be a part of and ask the HARD, UGLY questions. If his victim is a member of your church, help him to find another church body where he can be ministered to. Meet with him and the elders of the new church and help them to establish safeguards to protect their children and the abuser We must be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. We cannot afford to not exercise caution in this regard.
I’ve said a lot and not really addressed the Duggars. I think part of that is because I am still working on not being angry. that doesn’t make me less holy, it simply means that I have painful scars. I will say that my heart breaks for Josh’s victims. I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been as parents for the Duggars. At the same time, there is absolutely no excuse for Josh not being turned into the proper authorities (as opposed to talking to a friend of the family). That sends a terrible message to victims of sexual abuse – it says that we shouldn’t speak out and that our hurts don’t matter. I have absolutely no problem with the idea of Josh being forgiven. I think that is the Gospel message and is a wonderful thing. I do think this was not handled well and I believe their handling of the problem is indicative of a larger problem within the church. The church, in general, doesn’t handle the topic of sexual abuse well.