On May 19th In Touch Weekly published an article alleging that when Josh Duggar was a teenager, he molested five underage girls, including several of his sisters.
I didn’t want to write about the Duggars, but I felt compelled to. I wanted to write about this case because I am a Christian, so I understand a lot of the rhetoric of forgiveness that the Duggars and their supporters have used to explain their stance towards the eldest son. However, I am also a feminist, and I have seen the effects of sexual violence on the lives of people I love. So for this post, I want to explain why the Duggar’s act of forgiveness doesn’t make me angry, instead, it is the decisions they made along with that gift of forgiveness that have left me in disbelief.
We Need Forgiveness More Than We Realize
Those of you who know me in person have probably chatted with me about Christianity. I’ve struggled with it a lot over the last few years, and considered throwing the label out the window altogether. However, there are a few things that keep pulling me back to the faith I grew up in. One of these things is the tenant of forgiveness.
You have probably all heard some kind of variation of the quote I included above. While most of these sayings have essentially become cliches, I honestly believe the act of forgiveness can help wounded individuals in their journey of healing. In my own life, I’ve had experiences that could have easily led me to foster an intense bitterness towards certain individuals. The theology I grew up with helped me to understand those individuals as damaged people, which made it much easier to move on from those events.
The tenant of forgiveness extends far beyond the Christian faith. Forgiveness is a valued aspect of most world religions, and is even recognized by doctors and psychologists as a key part of healing. However, there are certain aspects about the Duggar case that undermine their appeal to forgiveness.
Forgiveness Should Never Implicate the Victim
One of the most frustrating things I read about the Duggar case was the kind of male-centric theology that had been taught by the Duggar family. This didn’t bother me just because I’m a feminist (and because I’m pretty sure Jesus was too); it bothered me because it may have pressured the Duggar girls into forgiving their assailant when they didn’t feel ready to do so. It also may have led some of the girls to imagine that the assault they experienced was partially their fault, and I have a huge issue with that.
I’ve talked about the double standard Christianity often imposes on women in one of my past posts on purity culture, but the Quiverfull Movement (which the Duggar’s belong to) emphasizes the submission of women even more than the typical evangelical setting. If you want to get an idea of what this kind of teaching is like, take a look at the image below.
This document was taken from Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute curriculum. According to ex-Quiverfull blogger, Libby Anne:
“The Duggars have long been avid followers of Gothard and his ministry. They’ve used their platform to promote Gothard, his teaching material, and his homeschool curriculum, which the family used until recently. The older Duggar children have consistently attended ATI seminars and retreats, including Journey to the Heart (for the girls) and ALERT (for the boys). Gothard was outed as a predator of teen girls last year and removed from his leadership position, but the Duggars continue to serve for speakers at ATI conferences. The Duggars’ connection to Gothard and ATI is not incidental or tangential.”
The Duggar’s took their son to be treated at an institute where the founder apparently felt entitled to young women’s bodies and where the curriculum shamed women for tempting their abusers. That kind of education is bound to lead a perpetrator, especially a young one like Josh, to find excuses for his behaviour rather than take full ownership.
Forgiveness Should Not Equal Trust
I get forgiveness. I’ve even known an individual kinda like Josh Duggar. That’s why I find it so difficult to just dismiss terrible people as “monsters”. It doesn’t matter how monstrous we are, we are all still human beings. And when you interact with one of these “monsters”, you come to realize that there are aspects of them that are good and even kind. You may even come to see them as a very sick person, rather than a very evil one.
That said, you can never, ever trust them again. Trust always has to be earned, or it loses it’s meaning.
Josh Duggar was forgiven by his family, and then he was trusted with far more power than he should have been. Since 2013, Josh Duggar has acted as executive director of the Family Research Council, a group that has often spoken out against homosexuality, even linking it to pedophilia. Through that position, he influenced a large Christian community with his lectures about family values, and advice for protecting the future generation. I don’t understand why the people who knew Josh’s history allowed him to serve as a spokesperson on such important issues, especially issues pertaining to children.
I understand forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness and I truly believe it can have a healing affect. However, the kind of forgiveness that blames the victim and allows the perpetrator to assume a leadership position is not functional. That kind of forgiveness is what allows predators to make more victims, and it tells victims that their stories don’t really matter.
True forgiveness will empower victims, not silence them.