preface: this is not a judgement on the characters or motives of any one person or family. this is a judgement on the culture’s tendency to overlook victims and the christian church’s tendency to minimize abuse.
Last week news broke about the criminal misconduct of Josh Duggar, who is the eldest son of the famous family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, and (until the news broke) was the executive director of the Christian, right-wing Family Research Council’s lobbying arm called Action. If you’ve followed the news at all, you can skip the next paragraph. If not, read on.
The tabloid In Touch Weekly released a police report detailing sexual molestations at the hands of Josh toward five female children which occurred over a decade ago. Josh was between 14 and 15 years old at the time. The police report revealed that Josh’s father Jim-Bob discovered the abuse but did not seek outside help for up to a year (during which the molestations continued); when help was sought it was in the form of counsel from church elders (in other words, it was “handled in-house”); Josh revealed his conduct to a police officer but the officer failed to file a report; police were officially notified 3 years after the incidents thanks to an anonymous tip-off to Oprah’s studio, but by this point the statute of limitations had run out; Josh continued to live at home with the children he had victimized.
THIS STORY MATTERS
I’m not eloquent when it comes to discussing current events. I’m not an investigator or a journalist. I don’t want to dip my pen into gossip or write words of slander, nor do I want to pretentiously act as if I know something when I do not. Josh and his family are being dragged through the mud by bloggers and commenters all over the internet, and mud-throwing is not my thing. But this story, you guys. This story matters. It matters.
My heart hurts.
ONCE AGAIN, VICTIMS ARE SACRIFICED
Take away the famous name, the famous family, and you are left with a scenario horrifyingly common not only in our nation but in our churches. Still. Even with all our talking. Even with all the effort put forth to change. Abuse still happens at the hands of our teenagers, parents still close their eyes or apply at-home discipline and hope it will go away, pastors still counsel a “forgive and forget” approach (denying the long-term consequences), elders still facilitate reconciliation and devastatingly apply Matthew 18 (forgetting that in addition to being a sin, this is also a felony), churches still manage in house a crime that belongs to the court of law, perpetrators still get off scott free, and victimized children are still sacrificed for the sake of the perpetrator’s future, the family’s reputation, and the “sake of the gospel.” And if all of this is not bad enough, Christians are currently out in force defending a perpetrator because he received forgiveness in Christ while forgetting in all the comment wars that the real story needs to center around victims and the affects of abuse.
Can I tell you something? Do you have any idea why this story pours salt on wounds? One-fifth to one-fourth of our nation’s population are childhood sexual abuse survivors. A large portion of these are survivors who were abused by people in the church. If you are not a survivor then you probably know someone one who is. The church has failed abuse victims for decades by denying, covering up, keeping silent, and valuing perpetrators over victims. Headlines like this emphasize that Christians are failing them still. The fact that believers are defending a molester is not a testament to the power of grace, but instead is a testament to the lack of comprehension among Christians about this crime’s severity, and a lack of concern for the children who have suffered and have survived.
CALLING IT A SIN AND FORGETTING IT’S A CRIME
This cannot be a public story about grace and forgiveness unless it is first a story about truth and justice. God’s forgiveness which eradicates eternal separation from Himself does not eradicate the earthly and legal consequences of crimes. Criminals must be brought to justice. Do you realize that sexual abuse–yes, even fondling over clothes; yes, even when executed by a minor–is a felony? So when Christians treat abuse as if it is a sin issue only they minimize the affects, dodge responsibility, and bring further harm to victims. Molestation is a crime, punishable by law in every state in this nation, and nearly every country in the world. Spiritual grace, forgiveness and new life in Christ do not release a perpetrator from the public consequences of his crime.
INSTEAD OF JUSTICE
In this story, the demands of justice were not met. Instead (these are links):
The Christian church is showing itself ignorant about the nature of abuse and is erring by calling it a mistake rather than a crime, and coming at it only from the angle of a sin in need of forgiveness rather than a felony in need of criminal justice.
FIVE LITTLE GIRLS WERE HURT
Christians have come out loudly declaring: “this was in the past. Get over it and move on.”
Listen to me: this story is not over and it still matters because five little girls were hurt. This story is not over and it still matters because those five little girls represent the 25% of all little girls and the 17% percent of all little boys who will be sexually abused before they have a chance to grow up. This story is not over and it still matters because it also represents the millions of adult survivors who have never been given a voice.
Please don’t qualify the facts. Please don’t say, “they were hurt, but grace…but Jesus… ” In the case of Josh Duggar, please don’t say, “but the abuser was a minor, but they were asleep, but they were young enough that they won’t remember, but groping isn’t molestation (it is), but they forgave him so it’s all ok, yes they were hurt but so was the perpetrator, but we’re all sinners, too, so let it go.” There are no buts.
PUTTING VICTIMS FIRST: ANYTHING LESS IS VOID OF LOVE
When children are violated and abused, criminal wickedness has occurred. Keeping abuse in house and sealing our lips is like forcing our children into an internal prison; they do the time and pay the price instead of the abuser who committed the crime.
Sexual abuse is a crime. Every single time. Perpetrators need to be reported to the police. Every single time. Victims need to be put first. Every single time. Of this, Christians should be the champions.
Putting victims first means we give them voice, we make them safe, and we bring justice upon the perpetrator of the crime.
Anything less is just clashing gongs and clanging cymbals. Anything less is void of love. Anything less makes us complicit in the crime.