I went to write this yesterday, and then I stopped. I think I was tired. I think I still am tired. It’s been a long week, albeit, these days, most of my weeks are long, but nonetheless, this week seemed long. As if the days prior weren’t long enough, the first headline I saw on my newsfeed yesterday was about Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse scandal. I sighed really loud, tried not to say “I told y’all so” out loud because everyone would have felt it was smug, when it was not (because that really wasn’t how I was feeling at the time), and went and dug up a blog I wrote on the Duggars after watching the show for the first time in 2009. I will fully well admit, I have never been a fan of the Duggars. I don’t respect their values and I feel that they are fueling the already media image that Christians are fanatical, controlling, out-of-balance people who create their own societies because they can’t function in the real world. But the reason I don’t respect the Duggars came through and echoed really clear in the light of this scandal.
Maybe what I have to admit is that what I don’t respect in the Duggars is what I do not respect in the church, as a whole. They might be a microcosm of the problem that has successfully generated a lot of attention (and a lot of money, at that) with their television program as they showcase their lifestyle, but there is a macrocosm that often does the same things that the microcosm is doing, just in different ways. That macrocosm is active in subordinating and shaming women, blaming them for sexual abuse and rape, telling the girls that if they don’t want to sit in the same room with their abusers, that they haven’t really “forgiven” them or that they are somehow the problem. It’s the same as we hear in every courtroom as the defense gets up there and tears apart the woman, saying sexual abuse or molestation was her fault, it was how she dressed, it was what she wore, it was how she carried herself, it was because she was “immodest,” it was because she somehow did something wrong, and the male goes off on his own way, “forgiven,” as the victims are left there to feel like they were the cause of someone else’s behavior for the rest of their lives. We shame victims, we shame people who hurt, we shame those who survive through insurmountable things because we don’t want to consider, nor think about, the fact that these things go on right in our own backyards.
And yes, we keep looking at Josh Duggar, who was a fourteen-year old minor at the time, sleeping in a room with other siblings according to reports, both the boys and the girls. Let’s look at the parents, who, from birth, are making gender distinctions and yet have siblings sleeping together in the same room because they had more children than they could reasonably afford to house. Where were the parents as Josh Duggar did these things at night in the house? Where was the supervision, the “buddy system,” at this time? Nobody can go on the internet alone; nobody can go on a date alone; the girls are treated as if they are their father’s property until they become their husband’s property; and with their ridiculous over-emphasis on sexual purity, what Josh Duggar did to those girls turned them into damaged property, something that would never be good enough, right, or moral, as long as they lived, whether he was “forgiven” or not.
The thing we don’t consider – and don’t understand – is that before Josh Duggar ever touched any of those girls, including his sisters – they were already abused. They, from their birth, told that they were not good for anything except becoming replicas of their parents and breeding until they either are physically unable to do so anymore or they suffer so seriously in childbirth, they damage their bodies to the point where they can no longer bear children or they die. They are molded property, not individual people, both boys and girls; they are only existing to make sure this doctrine goes forth and replicates in the earth. And the showcasing of this lifestyle, no matter how we want to put it, is not for values, it is not Christian proclamation, it’s for money – the love of money – for the same reason the Kardashians are on television, for the same reason Jon and Kate were on television, and the same reason every other person gets on a reality show to do their thing. If there is one thing I am realizing, it is that the love of money transcends every so-called “value system.”
But, I digress. Sort of.
The Duggars have presented themselves as a family that is superior to other families. Their attitudes, their work, the way they carry themselves puts down every single individual who doesn’t live like they do – and that means, according to their understanding, nobody watching that show who espouses a more balanced view of Christianity is really “Christian” in their eyes. They would look down on me for being a woman preacher – and all women preachers – and on me for not having any biological children (which I will outright say was a choice I made, and the right one for me and my call, at that). They feel that their values are superior to those the rest of us have, because they are living “God’s way,” when it’s not God’s way, it’s THEIR way. There is nothing in the Bible that supports their radical views as pertain to courtship and dating, that supports their inequalities between their boys and their girls, that supports their isolation of their family like they do, or even their extreme views on modesty. Modesty in the Bible had nothing whatsoever to do with sex or sexual advances or temptation; it was about money and about making sure the wealthy in the church were not lording their wealth over the poor. The Bible outright says that when Isaac went out and met Rebecca, he kissed her, as was a customary greeting, and they were not yet married! The Bible is full of people who lived in ways that were contrary to those of the Duggars, and let me say this: that is the point! The Bible represents a vast number of cultures, of ideas, of belief systems, and yes, of relationship ups and downs, changes, and different points of view. We cannot expect to take the Bible so far out of context as to try and apply it in such an extreme way to people’s values and ideals when it comes to relationships today.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that parenting should be a free-for-all and that children shouldn’t be raised with values, but the Bible exemplifies an awful lot of things that are not just about sex or child-rearing. I have said in more than one book I have written that dating is an important thing in an adolescent’s life and even in an adult’s life because it gives that individual the opportunity to decide if they want to pursue the relationship or not for themselves because, ultimately, no matter what advice someone wants to give us, they are the one who has to live with that person and decide if that life is going to be right for them. It doesn’t mean everyone has to hop into bed while dating, but it does mean that the decision about a relationship is made by those people in it – not their father, not their mother, not everyone else chaperoning them – themselves. At some point in our lives, all of us need to be accountable for the decisions we make, whether we have a buddy sitting there over our shoulder, or not. Ultimately, parents should be preparing their children for this – not for being chaperoned forever.
The Duggars’ extensive involvement in politics has attacked marginalized communities, suppressed laws against those they deem sinful or evil, and the way in which they have done it has hurt people. Despite the way in which they showcase their families, they are hypocrites. They want to keep everyone else at bay while claiming to uphold certain “values” that are not even being upheld behind closed doors. Instead of making their son accountable, they sent him to build a property and got him a “mentor” while we all know the girls received counseling that pushed them to be ashamed of themselves rather than heal from the hurt they had incurred. No matter how much they go on and on about values, Daddy had contacts, he got the case buried and made sure his son was not prosecuted, and they all went on, everyone smiling, acting like it never happened.
Sounds just like the church. We want to condemn people who do things deemed “wrong,” and we don’t account for that. We say everyone is welcome, but only if they are like us. We say we want the five-fold, but only insomuch as it doesn’t demand us to change. We want to call on gifts and refer to ourselves by titles, but we don’t want to do the work when it means we have to take off our finery and go do something for someone else, or embrace someone with a lifestyle we may disagree with. We want to be the big spectacle, the big TV preacher, the big mega-church pastor, the big spectacle because we think we are so “gifted,” but we don’t want to really be and do what Jesus told us we are supposed to be. We want the show, we want to showcase our great “value system” because, let’s face it, the church today loves money, too, but we don’t want the realities that if we have things we’re hiding, they will come to the surface.
I spent several hours reading story after story online of what it was like to be raised in a system parallel to the Duggars and the incredible pain, difficulty, and struggle those individuals had once they became adults: the inability to handle conflict or have a good relationship with one’s spouse. The pain of being told they were not going to be able to do anything except keep house and have children. The feeling on the part of the men that they would never be good enough, or represent enough what they should as “men.” The guilt every time anyone felt anything besides happy or glad. And, ultimately, the rejection many felt when they decided to leave that lifestyle. None of the stories I read are any longer in church, because they felt so rejected by their judgmental communities, they felt as if God rejected them, too.
That’s not just on the Duggars or their groups, that’s on us, too. That’s on us every time we tell an abuse victim that they were, somehow, at fault. It’s on us every time we throw the Bible at someone as if it is some sort of weapon used to offend and wound others. It’s on us every single time we force abused people and mistreated people into some sort of state that if they don’t do what we think they should this second, they are sinning and unacceptable before God.
It’s on us.
The Duggars aren’t representing Jesus, they are representing an extreme religious system that seems valued, but is flawed and unjust. The Duggars have chosen to be public figures, to exalt themselves above others and to be involved in politics. Forgiveness or not, the choice that they have made means they are open to public scrutiny and observation, and yes, criticism when we find out they are not living as they claim to live. It’s the price that people pay when they decide to live so public. Forgiveness is fine, but if the Duggars are not made to be accountable in this situation, they will continue to learn that they are above the system and they are as infallible as they think they are. They will continue to sit high and look low upon those that line their pockets. It’s not a forgiveness issue, it is an accountability one.
It’s on us, too, to be accountable for how we respond to those we consider the “least of these.”
At the base of the Duggars is power and control. At the base of every church battle we have today: every so-called superlative-titled leader, every battle among people who want to be greater than they are (and I just dealt with it several times this week), every confusion over where we belong or are supposed to be, is that same power and control struggle. We need to submit to God. We need to submit to the work of the Holy Ghost in our lives to let God work in others instead of trying to orchestrate values and morals. We need to stop seeking money and start seeking Jesus.
Maybe then we’ll figure out that what we do unto the least of these, we STILL do unto Him.
© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.