Saturday, May 23, 2015
Two Decades Ago, I Met Josh Duggar
This is my deepest secret, the one that I didn't begin to talk about at all for several years after it happened and to this day have only shared with the barest handful of confidants throughout my life.
When I was in elementary school, I was at a kid's house for a sleepover. And over the course of that night, I experienced exactly what Josh Duggar's victims did: I was coerced into letting another kid molest me multiple times. I remember crying myself to sleep at night afterwards because...and this is what growing up in a virulently homophobic place like Kansas in the 1990s can do to you...I thought that experiencing this meant that I was gay and disgusting.
I never went to law enforcement. And honestly, to this day, I'm not sure I could point the finger at the kid who molested me. I think I'd choke on the words as they tried to come out.
We'll never know, though, if the victims of Josh Duggar would have done the same thing or not. We now know, though, that they could not have, because of what happened after they were abused, and in so doing, the sin of that abuse was compounded many times over.
Josh Duggar, the eldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting fame, as it turns out, molested several girls, including some of his own sisters, in this manner. Like the kid who molested me, Josh was a minor. I had good friends on Facebook who commented to me that they saw that, and wanted redemption for him.
But there's more at stake than only Josh's redemption. I kept my secret bottled deep down. In Josh's case, his parents found out. And they embarked on a completely amoral course of action. What they did wrong, or failed to do right, is a sickeningly lengthy list:
First, their 'bringing him to the authorities' entailed sitting him down with a family friend who happened to be an Arkansas state trooper for a lecture...a state trooper who is currently serving essentially a life sentence in prison for child pornography. And they only went to the authorities after a full year of being aware of what Josh had done.
Consider that some of Josh's offenses were felonies, and this constitutes unbelievably preferential treatment from law enforcement. If he had been another kid, he could very easily have spent the rest of his childhood in juvenile hall, and his parents had been different parents, whether they could have kept custody of all their children would be an open question. But the statute of limitations on Josh's offenses have run out, and his victims may not have been like me as a kid: they may well have been ready to testify against him in court. But we will never know, because they were never given that choice.
Next, the 'counseling' they arranged for him essentially consisted of shipping him off to another family friend who put him to work doing manual labor. No counseling or therapy as we, or any other person possessing common sense, would think of it.
And all the while, Jim Bob and Michelle were crusading against equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people because in their words, such people were "child predators." While they knew full well that their son was in fact a predator.
Yes, it would have been terrible for them to actually turn their son into the police, but when we Christians talk about accountability, this is precisely what we are talking about. Not fake counseling, not preferential treatment from a perverted cop, and certainly not the loudmouthed hypocrisy of using your platform and fame to demonize a demographic whose youths are 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth precisely because of the persecution, hate, and bigotry they continue to face at the hands of people professing my faith.
When you get caught in your own scandal though, the idea of accountability goes out the window, and if you previously preached hellfire and brimstone, all of the sudden you are about the tolerant, accepting, grace and forgiveness proffering Jesus that you lambast us progressive Christians for preaching and believing in. Every time a scandal of this order strikes a fundamentalist Christian, that refrain remains constant. It was so with Jimmy Swaggart. It was so with Ted Haggard. And it has already proven so with Josh Duggar, with his BFF Mike Huckabee already telling us we have to forgive him, that what he did wasn't unforgivable.
Which is why I shared that I experienced what Josh's victims experienced: forgiveness cannot happen on a timetable according to someone else's preferences. And Mike Huckabee's forgiveness is not the forgiveness that Josh Duggar needs. Someone like Mike Huckabee cannot get off preaching about people he doesn't agree with going to hell and then offer cheap grace to someone who has done real harm to a number of people.
Forgiveness is way more complicated, way more complex, and often way messier than someone telling you to do it because, well, Jesus. Forgiveness, for it to be authentic, has to come from the gut, from the heart, from the soul. We say "it's okay" after someone says they're sorry as a formality, when in reality we need to be more honest and reserve it for when it really is authentically okay again.
Josh Duggar doesn't need Mike Huckabee's forgiveness. He needs the real forgiveness of his victims, but also of the people he has cast as predators while being a genuine predator himself.
It is a hypocrisy that continues to plague Christianity. This did not begin, nor will it end, with Josh Duggar. The cases of Swaggart and Haggard happened years ago. More recently, the names of abusers and adulterers continues to pile up, names like Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, and in progressive Christianity just as in fundamentalism: just look at the cases of Martin Copenhaver and Tony Jones.
These names and stories pile up precisely because we preach accountability until it is us who people want accountability from for the things we have done.
But the name for that isn't grace. That sullies the name and purpose of grace. Grace cannot be extracted, forced, or extorted. It can only ever be given, just like it was freely given by God to us. And by demanding that grace and forgiveness from one's victims, the use of force to get what you want from them continues, maybe not physically or sexually, but certainly emotionally or spiritually.
It means that nothing has been gained or learned by such a terrible experience.
And it means that repentance is still needed.
Because without it, reconciliation and justice are and will forever be impossibilities.
This I know from personal experience. And I cannot forget that truth, as surely as I cannot forget what happened one night decades ago. But at least as many megabytes that I hate have been devoted to remembering exactly how it felt can also be devoted to remembering the truth of what forgiveness really is, and looks like, and can eventually achieve.
May there be some semblance of truth, then, for Josh's victims, for his parents, and for Josh himself. And may it, as Jesus says in John 8:32, set them free, as it has for me.
Yours in Christ,