I seldom watch reality TV, but this last week I had the opportunity to watch a marathon of 19 Kids and Counting. I had heard a lot about the show, so I watched it out of curiosity. The season involved a wedding, the birth of a grandbaby, and several other family milestones. I was fascinated by the wedding and the birth of the grandbaby. However, I felt unsettled by the parents doing marriage counseling for their daughter and her fiancée, but I ignored the feeling.Two days later, I saw breaking news stories about Josh and his admission to molesting five young girls. My heart sank.
I spent a couple of days reading different articles and comments being posted. There was no middle ground on how people felt about the Dugger family. People were brutally hateful as they commented. Some defended Josh and his parent's with passion, lashing out at those who didn't. Some blasted Josh for his perpetrations, his parents for covering them up, the police for not arresting him, and the Dugger fans for remaining loyal. Some were angry that it's a hot topic, claiming all teenagers mess up or there are just bigger fish to fry. Some have used this as a place to complain about the number of children they have, the brand of Christianity they promote, and the fact that Josh's failure proves all believers are hypocrites. Some have even thrown in the racial card just for good measure.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I believe this is an important topic to discuss, but I doubt that the comments being left resolve this sinful sickness residing in the human race--a sickness found in the homes of believers and nonbelievers alike. It's a sickness that robs the most vulnerable of their innocence, their sense of their personhood, and their sense of being cherished, loved, and protected. It is a sickness that literally changes the human brain and how the body keeps itself safe. It even changes the core beliefs that define what we think and feel about God, people, and ourselves, all of which impact our actions, our reactions, the relationships that we survivors will or will not develop.
As a survivor you might have expected me to be enraged. But as I saw the story unfold, I was filled with sorrow and compassion for a family broken by sexual sin and shame. All of us need to realize our reactions to this story and others like it, say a more about our own hearts and what is going on in them than the people we are reading about. There should be righteous anger, sorrow, and compassion. However, if there are a strong emotions, we should be curious about why that is and figure it out instead of lashing out at others.
For me the compassion and sorrow I first felt was for five little girls who woke up being touched inappropriately by someone who they would have expected to be a protector. They were no longer safe in their own beds, home, family, or bodies. My heart hurt for the one who took a big risk by telling and how well the girls deal with this, will in part be determined by how they were treated when they told. When they told, were they silenced? Were they believed? Were they blamed? Were they cared for? Were they comforted? Were they shamed? Were there boundaries put in place so they could feel safe at home, in their beds, and in their own bodies? Was there a safe place to land when they felt fearful, dirty, and ashamed because of what was done to them? Have they been allowed to continue talking about it or was the kind of forgiveness imposed supposed to forever silence the topic in the home?
The victims will deal with the pain of this betrayal on and off for the rest of their lives. I am concerned that because their parents were involved in the Gothard homeschool movement that they may have used Gothard's literature to handle the sexual abuse. His literature in itself is spiritually abusive. Sexual abuse impacts every part of our being because trauma alters the brain. He suggests victim figure out which part was damaged. Little children can't do this and won't have the capacity for years to uncover how abuse has impacted them. They are also asked questions like which part was damaged by the perpetrator and which part was damaged by their own guilt and their own bitterness? How would a child know the answers to those questions? Even more important Gothard had several people come forward, accusing him of inappropriate behavior. He may not have been the best resource to use to deal with this topic.
Even more sickening are the answers given to the question that most victims ask, "Why did God let this happen to me?" Gothard's answers are aimed at the victims--immodest dress, indecent exposure, being out from the protection of one's parents, and associating with evil people. In addition, victims are told that they sinned if they didn't tell. The impact that abuse has on the victims can make it impossible for them to speak (speechless terror). The fact that he did it while they slept and that they at times woke up to the abuse could have left the victims unsure of the reality of what they experienced, especially in a family system so strong on moral values. In addition, many victims feel dirty and shameful, and it is very hard to tell your parents something shameful has happened because of the fear of rejection. To try to feel safer, children assume the belief that they did something to cause the abuser to hurt them and that if they figure out what caused it they can prevent it. This distorted belief plays into their silence. The rest of the methods Gothard proposes I won't go into here, but they are too simplistic to be helpful. People need to understand the work of recovering from abuse happens in stages and isn't put to rest with a rushed agreement to forgive.
I was overwhelmed with compassion for the parents whose hearts had to be broken by what happened to their daughters and by the fact it was at the hands of one of their sons. I am concerned by the fact that in homeschool families there is a lot of isolation (I know this, because I homeschooled) which limits the number of adults to whom a child could safely report abuse. In addition, I personally don't think something as serious as sexual abuse can be handled solely by a family. It is too easy in a family system for people to hide behind denial, dysfunctional beliefs (including religious ones), and shame. The parents, and in my opinion, the church should not have been given the right to choose Josh's treatment. It needed to be a non biased person with training in this particular area who could help the family find the right treatment for both Josh and his victims who might have needed help at the time or might in the future. Those girls need their premarital counseling to deal with that issue from a person who understands the impact abuse can have on a marriage, not the mother and father whose simplistic view of it being that it is a test of real love casting out fear. The church should have reported the abuse to authorities and should have confronted Dad Dugger for choosing not to send his son to a treatment center, but to a friend instead. There are good treatment centers and with good counsel they could have found good help that would not have compromised the Scriptures.
I was also overwhelmed for Josh who confessed the abuse and a struggle with pornography. I can't imagine the pain, guilt, and shame he experienced as he did that in the family and religious system in which he was brought up. I wish he had felt safe enough to be real with someone about his ongoing struggle with pornography as most abusers use it and it may have played a role into his choice to abuse. He has said he didn't tell his parents about the pornography because he was afraid of rejection and because of pride. I can relate to that! How many times I've worn masks rather than admit my imperfections, my fears, my feelings, or my sin because of the fear of rejection. I wish his parent's had gotten him help the first time it came to light so he wouldn't have to deal with multiple failures and multiple victims and the shame that entails. The cover didn't help him.
Some of the reading I came across included a talk given by one of his family members. They cited that in addition to his struggle with pornography he believed he was made vulnerable because he was babysitting younger siblings, changing diapers, and having younger siblings who showed immodest behavior in the home after baths, and by a lack of sexual education. I struggle a bit with the part about a young child running naked or wrapped in a towel after a bath being considered immodest. So, a small part of me thinks he didn't fully own his responsibility, but another part of me says there are some things here that parents need to hear. Should a boy going through puberty whose hormones are surging be asked to babysit little ones, do diaper changes, or bathe younger siblings? What he says might be valuable in helping people put boundaries in place that insure safety of all the children in their home by preventing incest. Teaching children things like personal and emotional boundaries, modesty, respect of personal space, and sexual purity without shaming is really hard work, but not impossible! Boys can be taught they are not victims to their hormones and both boys and girls can be taught no one has a right to touch their body inappropriately. Families need to have healthy discussions about the dangers of pornography and not assume "good families" won't be impacted by it. Pornography is not a harmless passtime and one exposure to it has a huge impact in the person seeing it. Before pornography was so easily accessed, it was proven that in the communities where it was freely sold the number of rapes, sexual assaults, and sexual abuse reported went up substantially. Pornography never just hurts the viewer. It impacts marriages, families, communities, and churches.
I don't know how much of what is being written is accurate. But I know church leadership is never above the law and should report molestations. They should never ever assume men or women in the church can't be guilty. Many of the women in my groups were abused by church going dads or church leaders like pastors, youth pastors, elders and deacons, or Sunday school teachers, or camp counselors. In addition, the churches reputation is never more important than keeping the flock safe or seeing that sin is dealt with. Josh's church did advise them to get counseling for him and the victims, but that wasn't enough. Some of the articles say he received counseling, but his mother has said that he didn't. He was sent to work with someone they knew in another town and "kinda" got mentored. The courts and social services should have been the ones giving them options from which to choose.
The state of Arkansas needs to adjust their laws to make sure perpetrators can be charged. Most victims don't report abuse until later in life and three year statue of limitations allows predators to keep on preying. It bothered me that the man who made the decision to not charge Josh is now in jail for child pornography use. Maybe everything was done according to law or maybe he just didn't believe what Josh did was criminal.
Back to the question proposed by the title of my post...what is a proper response to sin. Sin in the church should always grieve us and should stir up some righteous anger--anger that motivates us to stop the sin and care for its victims.
Some comments I read indicated the Dugger's actions hurt God's reputation. But, not one of us is big enough, powerful enough, and bad enough to do that. God is still faithful! God is still loving. God is still righteous. God is still just. God is still merciful. God is still omniscient. God is still omnipotent. God is still God. He is still God even when we lie, when we gossip, when we peek at porn, when we assault others with words, when we are unfaithful to Him, unfaithful in marriage, love poorly, or choose to abuse. Man's actions reflect man's heart, not God's.
Maybe in his struggle with pornography, Josh forgot who God is and who he is as a child of God. His fear of rejection is something with which we can identify and it could have been alleviated if he remembered in the face of porn he was deeply loved by God who had a better plan for him to get his needs met, to deal with his loneliness, and his family conflict. His struggle with anger, lust, pride (his words, not mine), and arousal could have been nipped in the bud, had he believed he had safe people with whom he could be real. Sometimes the prevention of strongholds lies in the truth that Christianity is more about what we believe about God and ourselves and the amount of trust we place in God and in ourselves in our community than about our attempts at "good" works.
This whole stone casting thing we Christians and non Christians alike do bothers me. Why do we feel so threatened by others' opinions and thoughts when they differ from ours? As a believer, I am sure there are plenty of us sitting in church pews every Sunday wearing masks--masks that hide secret sins we have yet to confess, denial of pain we have caused others, broken relationships we fail to mend because pride gets in the way of our apology, and pain of abusive relationships we have yet to share. I am hoping now that both the Duggers and us will have the opportunity take off our "Good People" masks and become healthier, more godly churches and families. I hope we will have the opportunities to share our real stories as we grow compassion for other victims, perpetrators, and families so broken by sin.
I hope all of us will find a godly balance of truth and grace that promotes growth, allows us to experience real love, and ultimately sets us free from the strongholds with which we are plagued. I hope as we get more real so others will see that God is still God and that God is still in the business of loving broken people like you and me and that God is still a God who is in the business of writing beautiful redeeming stories. I hope Josh doesn't disappear from the public eye. Too many of the victims we work with stay stuck because perpetrators don't own their actions and continue to look like monsters in their eyes. There are definitely predators who have no remorse, no capacity to empathize, and who will keep on abusing. Then there are those who have perpetrated and experienced remorse, regret, sorrow, and who have confessed their sins and are willing to bear the consequences of their actions and willing to do whatever it takes to change. These are people who are truly broken by their sin. They live daily with the truth of what they have done and have understood the God's grace wasn't cheap. It not only came as a result of the shed blood of Christ, it came through the facing of ugly sin that ran deep in their souls and the pain that they have caused others.
We would do well to remember true grace can't be extended in the darkness of cover up or in the presence of denial and/or blame shifting--it can only be experienced in the presence of the truth of what we have done, real sorrow can be birthed by God who grieves over sin, heart repentance that drives us to change, and the willingness to fully face our victims' pain.
The Duggers have lived very public lives and are being forced into the public eye by journalists to deal with this. I don't think that is in the best interest of the survivors. The law is supposed to protect victims of sexual assault because others cause secondary wounding by discounting their stories or blaming them. Maybe we as a nation need to realize we have no right to demand the girls live this out in our eyes and grow compassionate enough to allow the survivors the privacy they need to deal with this and the right to tell their stories when and if they choose to do so. To do anything less is to abuse them again. None of us have the right to do that.
In closing, I must say that if you are a victim and this story has triggered your pain and memories, there is help for this. Go to either www.passionateheartministry.com for resources and information or to the Association of Christian Counselors and look for a therapist on their referral list who works with abuse. There is really good help available. There is also good help available for those struggling with pornography and sexual addiction through www.bethesdaworkshops.org.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!