On Forgiving the Duggars

I stared at the return address on the envelope in slight disbelief. It was from my former brother-in-law. Emphasis on the word “former.” David was living in Monument, according to the return address. I waited, in spite of my curiosity, to open the letter until I had privacy and time to carefully consider its contents. I had become very fond of David, and my sons loved him and my sister-in-law very much. But David turned out to be a serial philanderer and pulled a Newt Ginrich by dumping her when she was very ill. Now, everyone in the family was discouraged from mentioning his name. After my sons and wife went to bed, I opened the envelope.

David, prompted by Yom Kippur I suspect, told me how much he missed me. He asked for my forgiveness and if we could get together some time. I thought about his request for two days and then wrote him back. I explained that he was asking the wrong person for forgiveness. It was his ex-wife, Amy, whom he had hurt. And my sons. They had lost their favorite uncle, and aunt. He, for obvious reasons, and Amy because she moved to Europe to heal. I told him that unless he asked for forgiveness from them, I could not honor his request. I waited but never heard from him again.

The Duggar family is in the same hole as my ex brother-in-law, in my opinion. In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that I am glad their show is off of the air, and I hope it stays off. I disagree with their social and political agenda. But, I recognize that their goal of raising children in a wholesome environment is worthwhile. And although I think it more than a little callous to have so many children in a world of diminishing resources, I grew up in a Catholic family. I’ve never even met most of my cousins.

The Duggar family has asked that we, the public, forgive Josh Duggar’s “inexcusable actions.” Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has echoed that sentiment. Personally, I think they are asking the wrong people the wrong question. First of all, I don’t see Josh’s actions as inexcusable. Wrong, yes. Inexcusable, no. A pubescent boy under full hormonal assault without any outlet for his natural curiosity and desire is bound to make poor choices. Again, the behavior is wrong but it is not inexcusable. He wasn’t eighteen. He was fourteen. Yes, I know we treat fourteen-year-olds as adults in some criminal cases, but that’s an argument for another day. I think his parents and their spiritual advisors bear more responsibility than Josh. Maybe if his parents weren’t so busy cranking out babies and depending on the older children to raise the younger ones, they would have known what was going on. Most parents are exhausted by trying to raise a couple of kids let alone an entire youth soccer league.

So, it is the five girls he molested who have to forgive Josh, not any of us. That level of forgiveness can’t come without growing up and some competent therapy.  True forgiveness can’t come quickly for these girls. It will take time. I am also glad to see that most of the Internet punditry has not pilloried Josh. Instead, they have focused their anger on the parents and TLC for allowing the Duggars a platform for their extreme views. Exhibit A for the danger of their patriarchal lifestyle is that three of the main spiritual advisors for the Duggars and their “Quiverfull” philosophy have gotten in trouble for various sexual indiscretions over the last couple of years. One of them is even accused of pedophilia. I refuse to get into a theological debate over their biblical justification for the radical lifestyle the Duggars have chosen. But I will say that I find it hard to believe that God wants people to construct a society in which women are valued mainly for their uterus. Both the past and the present demonstrate that men cannot handle such power over women without succumbing to debauchery. What kind of loving father puts his people in such a situation?

I also don’t blame the Duggars for trying to protect their son even though it shows a lack of faith on their part. I do blame the authorities for sweeping things under the rug. I seriously doubt that the son of poor parents would have gotten the same treatment. And don’t even get me started on how a child of color would have been treated. Especially if the victims were white. In protecting Josh, the authorities robbed society of the ability to step in, access the situation, and administer impartial outcomes to help both Josh and his victims. And it certainly doesn’t help that the cop who “gave Josh a stern talking to” was amassing a huge collection of child pornography and is now in jail.

It would be refreshing if the Duggars thought about their role in Josh’s behavior. They might become better Christians if they recognized their guilt in the matter. They might spend some time thinking about those they have hurt with their beliefs. And I don’t just mean the transgendered kids Michelle Duggar attacked in her robocalls. I mean the people who have been hurt by the moral certitude the Duggars espouse. Their belief that they, and their understanding of the bible, represent the single way to a moral life is one of their bigger sins. How many parents have been misled by the Duggars? How many thought they had to home school their children even if they were unqualified? How many have had more children than they can afford or raise because of their acceptance of the Duggars’ message?

But their greatest sin is what they have done to innocent children. To be fair, they are not alone. Every religion relies on the same sin: teaching children that their version of truth is right and that everyone else is wrong. I find it fascinating that Jesus, Buddha, and Mohamed converted grown men and women to their belief systems.  They did not start with children. They did not perform miracles and preach in schools. They worked with everyday people. What does it say about current religious practice that it requires indoctrination of naïve and trusting children to survive? If most religions had to rely on convincing adults of their truth, I bet there would be a lot fewer churches. Look at the struggles of Scientology as an example. Without access to large groups of children to indoctrinate, many religions might die out. That is the real hole the Duggars are in. Write this down in your mental notebook: I predict that in twenty years or so, one of the Duggar children will write a tell-all book about growing up in such an environment. Only then will we know the true extent of Michelle and Jim Bob’s transgressions. That’s when we can start to forgive. Until then, I’ll wait.

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