01 October 2018

When It Happens Here

Dad watched Jimmy Swaggart on our black and white television. We had Swaggart 8-tracks in our van. And we lived on campus at an Assemblies of God college.

When a couple students came for Sunday dinner and the conversation turned to televangelists and scandal, I didn't feel like Swaggart's infidelities had much to do with us.

I was eight or nine.

In the early 80s, Evangelical seminar speaker Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles was one of a few places my parents knew that seemed to take the Bible seriously. And being serious people, we enrolled in IBLP's homeschooling program.

In 2014, Gothard admitted “holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies” that “crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong.” The website Recovering Grace had spent the previous two months publishing first hand accounts.

Though I was once too much in awe, I've only met Gothard five or six times and had grown weary of explaining that I disagreed with Gothard's...use of the Bible...and teaching against adoption...for example.

He didn't seem relevant anymore.

Then “In Touch Weekly” published a police report, revealing reality television's Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and another person as a teenager.

Whatever illusions I still had about my own distance—or about rules and good intentions preventing abuse—suddenly collapsed.

I know the sense of privilege—even community—around shared commitments to “melodious music” and “courtship.” And I know the siege mentality that maybe prompted Mike Huckabee to defend the Duggars against those "trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story." He writes of "running to" the Duggars with his support.

My family, many friends, and the Duggars were in the home schooling program Gothard founded. Some of us were vulnerable in one way or another—looking for answers to dysfunctions, for ways to live our faith, for a way to stop feeling alone.

Some, like Josh Duggar's sisters Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald, experienced abuse. Some, like Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, were in a position to report it.

I suspect I'm not the only one...not a victim and not a witness...who now feels the gravity of these events in ways I didn't before.

It's like realizing the food has gone bad and wondering how long you've been eating...or how many others have been harmed...why you didn't notice it before...and what to do about it now.

Josh Duggar's statement describes his actions as inexcusable, details the steps he took afterwards, and says, “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

He only mentioned victims in passing.

As Joel Miller pointed out, “Public apologies very often feature people saying they accept full responsibility without actually accepting any. And the religious version of this is particularly irksome because the offender doesn’t really feign any acceptance of responsibility. Jesus already has it covered, and the rest of us better not judge....”

In her Patheos post, Libby Anne argues cases like Josh Duggar's should be treated as crimes, not just sins. She equates “sin” with “mistake.”

“Mistake” is one word Huckabee used in his statement.

But sins aren't just mistakes.

Sin is betrayal—directly of the victims, of the community, of one's own humanity.

And abuse cries out for justice.

In her post, “Sexually assaulted in a Christian home: A victim speaks,” pediatric intensive care nurse Jen Bicha writes, “Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive. Taking the appropriate and necessary steps to report and prosecute abuse is not unforgiving. It is in fact the most loving thing someone can do, because it can help to protect other potential victims. Admitting your sin and confessing it does not negate the consequences of your actions....”

That is, perhaps, something survivors are best qualified to teach us.


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