When I first heard about the child molesting committed by Josh Duggar when he was a teenager, I wasn’t surprised. It’s a sadly familiar story, especially to me. Josh’s story is almost exactly the same as the story of one of my cousins. The difference, though, is that my cousin is in prison right now. Not because his crimes were handled correctly by his family; when he returned to America years later, he didn’t expect there to be an arrest warrant and police officers waiting for him because he didn’t know that charges were filed in his absence.
It isn’t a surprising story because we’ve heard it so many times already; I wrote generally about child abuse among Christians several months ago. It isn’t even surprising that the police officer to whom the Duggars “reported” the incidents is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for a repeat offence of child pornography. After all, the former leader of the Duggar’s cult, Bill Gothard, was finally forced to resign recently after dozens of accusations of sexual abuse piled up and prompted an investigation. Sexual crime is no stranger to fundamentalist Christianity, on both the Catholic and the Protestant sides.
As I expected, the abuse apologists came out to defend Josh because they don’t want one of the popular representatives of their religion to be known as a sexual predator. And as I noted before, this is why abuse perpetrated by Christians is so often covered up and minimized. Religion is not concerned with truth and freedom, or even the well-being of victims. Religion is all about control, which includes maintaining a good reputation even if underneath it oozes with evil.
As usual, some people were not content to stick with making excuses for what happened (“he just made some teenage mistakes”), and used the situation to attack a nebulous concept of “liberal/progressive hypocrites”. Matt Walsh, the blogging arch-nemesis of rational thought, wrote one of his worst articles ever about how progressives are hypocrites who don’t care about Josh’s victims and don’t have moral objections to the sexual abuse of children. To back up his claim, he compares Josh to Lena Dunham.
There are several problems with using this comparison as a basis for branding all liberals and progressives as hypocrites. First, just like the incident with Azealia Banks, not all people of a certain group are going to approve of Lena. Also, Josh fondled several girls for his own sexual gratification over an extended period of time, while Lena wrote about a time when she was curious at age seven and looked at her baby sister’s vagina. As the oldest brother of nine siblings, I can say that this falls within the normal range of innocent but weird childish behavior. Apparently there was some other questionable activity between Lena and her sister throughout their childhood, which she claims to have exaggerated for comedic effect. I’m not sure what is rumor, what is true, what she exaggerated, and what she didn’t.
While I may not be a fan of joking about such things as Lena did, the truth of what happened between her and her sister isn’t clear. The same can’t be said for Josh, whose crimes are pretty clearly documented in a police report, not in a work of creative nonfiction. He confessed that it’s true, as well, which is admirable but kind of overshadowed by the fact that he literally did sexually abuse children. A young girl convincing her sister to do strange things with her is a bit different than a fifteen-year-old boy creeping into his sisters’ bedrooms to touch them while they sleep.
Lena Dunham doesn’t represent anything to me, and I don’t have anything to say on the morality of what she might have done because I don’t know what she actually did. The Duggars, on the other hand, have put themselves in a position of moral superiority, as representatives of fundamentalist Christianity. Within their religion there is a heavy emphasis on avoiding evil, which is often taken to extreme lengths. Despite what they–or their apologists–might claim, their particular religion is not all about forgiveness for sinners. It is specifically focused on patriarchal control; the “forgiveness for sinners” argument is just a convenient way to gloss over the crimes of the male leaders. Look at the teachings of their cult and you can see how they shift blame onto the victims to protect the abusers.
The obsession with creating an image of righteousness and keeping sexual sin secret is part of what causes these problems in the first place. Children in such cults are hardly taught about their own bodies and desires. They are treated as if they will be asexual until marriage and then suddenly turn it on, but the truth is that children typically begin developing sexually before their teens. Proper education on the subject helps them to understand what’s going on, and how to deal with their urges in good ways. Stifling clear communication and true understanding of the subject, like many fundamentalist parents do, leaves their growing children lost and confused.
It also creates an environment where the child may not comprehend the severity of consequences…especially if your list of forbidden things includes, for example, music with a certain beat. Simply labeling things evil “because I say so” and marking them off limits will put all of those supposedly evil things in one single box. The child may not see anything wrong with rock music, and logically won’t understand the seriousness of sexual crimes because they’ve always looked at both things in the same way. It leaves fear of parental punishment as the only incentive to behave. There’s no moral judgment, just the question of “can I get away with this?” If there are no negative consequences for listening to rock music as long as it isn’t discovered, why would there be any for sexual disobedience?
It may sound as if I’m speculating, but I’m not. I am writing from my own experiences of growing up in such an environment (it did become much better over the years, as we drifted away from the influence of extreme fundamentalists). My cousin’s environment was similar but probably quite a bit more strict. Among all my dysfunctional cousins, the fundamentalist Christian is the one in prison for sexual abuse.
So if Christians want to draw any conclusion from the Josh Duggar situation, it should not be that progressives are hypocrites. Rather, it should be that proper sex education is very important. Simply saying “don’t do the sex things until you’re married” is entirely inadequate. Stop raising men who think they are entitled to sexual gratification because they’re in charge, or who think that they can blame their victims for being “immodest” and tempting them.