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Criticism and Compassion in the Duggar Sexual Abuse Debacle: How God Can Redeem This Mess

Criticism and Compassion in the Duggar Sexual Abuse Debacle: How God Can Redeem This Mess

You can’t possibly have missed it – the Duggar “sex scandal”, as the media is calling it.

Articles have clogged every newsfeed about the Duggar debacle, ranging from enthusiastic support to vitriolic condemnation, in the wake of information becoming public that Josh Duggar sexually molested young girls (including his own sisters) when he was a young teenager. Although I have not watched the Duggar’s TLC show regularly, I have seen it a number of times, I have read a couple of books written by the family, and I have heard them speak at a homeschool convention. Although I most certainly do not adhere to or agree with a number of the Duggars’ views, I respect them as a sincere Christian family who has sought to live according to their faith values.

The news of this debacle has saddened me tremendously.

It reminds me of 1 Peter 5:8: Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

I’ve just gotta say, with this one, Satan got his fill.

Innocent children were victimized. Christian testimony has been sullied. A family has lost its dignity, livelihood, and witness.

Although many seem to be glorying in the carnage in the wake of this scandal, as I have thought and prayed about this situation for the past few days, my soul feels achingly heavy. I am struck by the profound devastation sin wreaks – far beyond those immediately involved in it. It has been a sobering reminder of how effective Satan’s assaults can be at utterly destroying everything in their wake, and that “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:11-13).

I find myself wanting – needing – to find some redemption in the midst of this horrendous mess. To not let the Satanic lion leave the table satiated from his diabolical feast; to see places of light in the midst of the darkness in which Christ can bring good. This whole situation feels like a “Satan-1, God – 0” kinda deal, and I’m not okay with that. Because, you know I do believe that He works all things for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). And so I’ve gotta find it – find His good – in this, somewhere.

So here it is: In spite of this mess, I believe the Lord can redeem this mess for:

  1. The victims
  2. The perpetrator
  3. The family
  4. Our culture


The first place that needs redemption is with Duggar’s victims.

I weep for all of the girls involved – for having their trust betrayed, their bodies violated, their safety and well-being compromised. There is no violation more profound than sexual violation, and this molestation is a terrible, life-altering crime. Sexual touching between a teenager and young children (when there is a significant age difference) is not “childish exploration”, and it is not a “mistake”; it is abuse that can lead to a pattern of sexual perpetration if significant intervention does not occur. In my work with at-risk youth (many of whom were sexual perpetrators), I have participated in sexual abuse counseling for juvenile offenders. It is intense, long-term, and comprehensive, with earlier intervention increasing the likelihood of long-term, healthy change. That being said, it is important to note that juvenile sexual offenders are much less likely to reoffend (especially after intervention) than adult sexual offenders[1], a factor that must influence decisions around juvenile sexual offender treatment and consequences. Juvenile offending and adult offending are not the same things.

Bill Gothard’s Fundamentalism

Reports seem to indicate that the “counseling” Josh Duggar received came from Bill Gothard’s fundamentalist Institute in Basic Life Principles Training Center – a center with cult-like characteristics whose materials present a disturbingly legalistic, patriarchal perspective that blames the abused, rebukes the victim for emotional pain from abuse, and presents God as allowing abuse due to sins such as immodest dress.[2] Any counseling done by this institute, in my opinion, is not only insufficient for addressing the issues involved in sexual offense, but has the potential to be highly damaging, emotionally and spiritually. (Indeed, Recovering Grace is an organization of individuals who have been impacted by Bill Gothard’s philosophies, and who are now speaking out about the damage of his teachings and actions.) Josh Duggar does, however, seem to have led a sexually appropriate life since that time, which is significant. I do not know if the girls involved in this case got appropriate sexual abuse counseling or not (I highly doubt it); if they did not, that should be the first priority of the family.

Our responsibility as Christians to victims of child abuse could not be more clear:

“Provide justice for the needy and the fatherless;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.” Psalm 82:2-4

“Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed.” Proverbs 31:8

“Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor.” Isaiah 1:17

One of the best ways the Lord can redeem this disaster is by letting this incident bring light to the problems of sexual abuse – to help our society increase its compassion for victims, improve its supports to the abused, secure justice for those who have been misused, and better understand the issues involved with sexual abuse, so that we can, as a culture, better prevent it. I believe this looks slightly different for Christians than it does for non-Christians.

What Christians Should Do

For Christians, there needs to be more willingness to talk openly about the issues that surround sexual abuse, and to address them head on. It means Christian parents need to be shown how to appropriately address issues of sexuality with their children by building an atmosphere of openness, trust and communication. It means parents should be empowered to share scriptural truth about God’s intention for sex – the beauty of sexuality between a husband and wife – while modeling grace and forgiveness for those who miss the mark, and refraining from suggesting that sexual purity is in any way equated with personal worth. Christian families should also be educated about ways they can provide protection against sexual abuse, and support for those who become victims.

For Christians, redeeming this debacle for the victims also includes exposing and eliminating the culture of secrecy and shame around sexuality that sometimes occurs, particularly in fundamentalist Christian communities. Although the facts are still emerging, if, in fact, the church was involved in covering up this sexual abuse, it should rightly be exposed and passionately condemned. Christianity must never be used as a shield for sexual abuse, and although I do not believe the Duggars intended in any way for that to happen, I do believe that their ultra-conservative theology (and involvement with Bill Gothard’s philosophies) may have well contributed to that very thing.

There are some very legitimate concerns about Christian fundamentalism being a potential pathway for the perpetuation of abuse, with its patriarchal orientation, tendency toward rigid moral guidelines, closed, out-of-the-culture system, and a strong focus on legalism. Fundamentalist groups such as Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles and Advanced Training Institute must be held accountable for contributing to a despicable culture of shame, victim blaming, and moral and intellectual control. In addition to recognizing the dangers in his views, the Duggars should have condemned Bill Gothard when it became clear that he had sexually harassed numerous women, yet they did not, and have continued to be ardent supporters of Gothard’s teachings and materials. Part of providing justice for the victims involves accurately acknowledging and addressing the issues that may have contributed to the problem – including theological legalism and patriarchy, authoritarianism, and a lack of legal repercussions.

However, failures in the fundamentalist Christian community (or from the Duggar family in particular) related to issues of sexual abuse should not be generalized as being indicative of the Christian (or homeschoolers’) response to sexuality or sexual abuse. Traditional conservative/moderate Christianity does not interpret scripture in ways that blame abuse victims, defer responsibility from abusers, or encourage a culture in which women are denigrated under patriarchal authoritarianism, and Christians must be clear to condemn any philosophies or leaders who do so.

While criticism should rightly be directed at fundamentalist viewpoints that can encourage a culture of abuse, a similar level of vigilance and concern should be directed at the secular culture, which also provides a potential pathway for the perpetuation of abuse – from a completely different angle.

What Non-Christians Should Do

For the secular world, there needs to be more willingness to acknowledge and address the ways secular morality (living outside of guidelines given by the Creator) contributes to the incidence of sexual abuse. While secular culture (rightly) pounces upon the ways fundamentalist Christianity contributes to a culture of abuse, it conveniently and blindly ignores its own contributions. Secular values of complete sexual autonomy and freedom, subjective morality, and unrestrained personal fulfillment have a role in the perpetration of sexual abuse as well. For example, early sexual initiation, exposure to sexually explicit media[3], and multiple sexual partners[4] are risk factors associated with sexual violence, and consumption of pornography is correlated with child sexual abuse.[5] Promoting values of self-control, the beauty of sexuality within a loving, faithful marital relationship, healthy, communicative parent/child relationships, and the worth and value of every individual as a person made in the image of God, as opposed to unrestrained sexual freedom and self-fulfillment, can be a step toward discouraging sexual abuse.

God can redeem this situation for the victims. If the Duggar scandal can lead to the victims receiving the support and counseling they need, and can shed light on the issues and problems, both within the Christian community and outside of it, that contribute to an atmosphere in which sexual abuse can occur, then God’s good can triumph yet from this debacle.


The second place that needs redemption is with the perpetrator.

Josh Duggar committed a terrible crime, and that is not to be minimized in any way. He is fully responsible for his behavior, even though he was a young teen. It may be that he should have received legal charges for his actions, and that he should have had to make some sort of greater restitution to his victims (issues that will be addressed in the next section).

But how should Christians respond to Josh Duggar?

The Issue of Forgiveness

There has been a tremendous response from the Christian community about the need for forgiveness. And that is true…mostly. Certainly forgiveness should be the Christian response to any wrongdoing against us (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:20-35, Mark 11:25-26). We are to release any emotional bitterness we have toward the offender, so that we may wish him or her well, out of obedience to Christ:

“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. 26 But if you don’t forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your wrongdoing.” Mark 11:25-26

“Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4

It is also true that if anyone truly confesses his sin, God forgives him completely:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed
our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

Yes, that even applies to Josh Duggar.

However, there are a number of places where much of the Christian calls for forgiveness for Josh Duggar miss the mark. The first is that although we are required to forgive anyone who sins against us, it does not eliminate the consequences the offender must face. Forgiveness releases us from being held in emotional and spiritual bondage to bitterness and anger toward the offender, so that we can truly want the best for him or her; it does not eliminate the repercussions of the offender’s actions.

But an even more pertinent way the entreaties to forgive are off base is that forgiveness is not really even the issue at hand when a Christian brother or sister has sinned against someone else. While a case can be made the Josh Duggar’s offense was indirectly against the Christians who have supported him and believed his testimony (and those Christians do have a responsibility to forgive him and release any bitterness they have toward him), the issue for Christians responding to Josh Duggar is not primarily one of forgiveness – it is the issue of Christian accountability.

Christian Accountability

So what does Christian accountability look like?

I believe we are to respond the way we do for any pattern of sin in a fellow Christian’s life (sin that is not necessarily against us personally). The process is basically this:

1) We confess our own sin first and humbly and truthfully look at our own hearts

2) We point our brother/sister to God’s truth about morality as revealed in scripture

3) We help the individual move toward restoration – emotionally, relationally, and spiritually through:

A. Encouraging the individual to accept any necessary criminal, civil, or relational consequences and make appropriate restitution.

And, if the person repents:

          B. Providing emotional, relational and spiritual encouragement and support

Or if the person does not repent:

          C. Enacting church discipline

Confessing Our Own Sin

Of course, before we even think about confronting sin in another believer’s life, we must make sure our own heart is right before the Lord. We must confess any sin in our lives, and make an honest assessment that our goal is to restore the individual, not condemn him (Matthew 7:1-5). Any time we approach a brother or sister in Christ about his or her sin, we must do so with tremendous humility, with a clear awareness of our own fallibility. Once we have cleaned our own house, so to speak, and are sure, before the Lord, that our motive is care and concern for the individual’s well-being, we point the individual to God’s guidelines of right and wrong as revealed through His Word.

Pointing To God’s Truth

I believe that part of pointing out the truth about morality, in Josh’s case, includes holding Josh Duggar accountable for choosing to put himself out there as a spokesperson for biblical morality and traditional sexual values, with this significant sexual sin in his past. In no way do I suggest that those who sin are not fit to be in positions of leadership (God forbid – there would be no Christian leaders anywhere). However, I do believe that scripture is clear that those in positions of leadership have more responsibility than those who do not to ensure that their actions align with God’s truth, and that there is greater accountability when their actions do not (Luke 12:48, James 3:1, Gal. 1:6-9, Dt. 18:20-22, 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 1 Cor. 5:12-13). The New Testament describes the importance of Christian leaders being persons of upstanding moral character who live lives free of unrepentant patterns of sin (James 3:1, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). When you take on being a representative for God’s truth, you’d better make sure there is no hypocrisy between your testimony and your actions – because others will be watching and greatly influenced.

“Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.Luke 12:48

“Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, for we all stumble in many ways.” James 3:1

Does this mean that no one with sin in his or her past can take on a position of Christian leadership? Certainly not. But it does mean that if one has some significant patterns of sin in one’s earlier life, and then later takes a public position of leadership speaking out specifically against that type of sin, he has a greater responsibility to “come clean” about the prior faults and be open and honest about them. You don’t become a trusted spokesperson for Christian sobriety, if you are an alcoholic, without disclosing the fact that you are a recovering alcoholic. You don’t become a trusted spokesperson for pro-life causes, if you’ve had an abortion, without being honest about your past decision to take the life of your child. You don’t become a trusted financial counselor, if you’ve grossly mismanaged money and gone bankrupt, without telling the truth about your failures. God’s best work, throughout history, is with people broken by sin who repent and are then healed and empowered by the Holy Spirit; the best ministry is from those who have sinned and found forgiveness, and, because of their past experience, can now walk with those in similar situations as a testimony to God’s grace and redemption from sin.

Josh Duggar did not take that approach.

The problem is not that he sinned; the problem is that he put himself out there as a representative for Christian sexual morality, publicly condemning the very thing he did himself – without admitting his sin. He is responsible for that hypocrisy, and Christians should hold him accountable for that lack of transparency. Many people have been hurt and disillusioned by Duggar’s double standard: testifying to one sexual standard, while secretly having lived another. The hypocrisy comes not in having fallen short of the standard he claims, (which every Christian alive does) but having done so clandestinely, while speaking out against those very same moral failures in a public forum. Again – it goes back to how we handle sin in others’ lives (which Duggar spoke out against): First we acknowledge and confess our own sin. Even if Duggar did that privately, he had a responsibility, if he were going to be in a public position of Christian leadership speaking out on issues of sexuality, to also do so publicly. Or, if he did not feel it appropriate to confess his actions publicly, (which would be understandable, due to the sensitive nature of the offense, and potential repercussions of public confession on his victims) he should not have taken on a public position of moral authority. Greater Christian authority requires greater Christian responsibility.

Moving Toward Restoration

After lovingly yet truthfully pointing to God’s moral standards, and helping the individual recognize the ways he fell short of it, the next step is to help the person move toward restoration – being restored to others, being restored to his own self-esteem, and being restored to God. And a very important piece of restoration is helping the individual accept whatever consequences are appropriate for the infraction, and to take clear steps to repair the damage done.

Consequences: A moral God has created this world with moral guidelines, and when we fall short of those guidelines, there are (and should be) consequences. Sometimes those consequences happen naturally, with no outside intervention from anyone, such as the loss of a relationship from the sin of pride, or having insufficient income as a result of the sin of laziness. But God has also ordained governing structures to have a role in meting out just consequences for wrong actions (Romans 13:1, 6, Colossians 1:16, Titus 3:1). Pointing fellow believers to God’s guidelines also includes supporting any appropriate civil or criminal consequences appropriate for the offense. What Josh Duggar’s civil or criminal consequences should have been is a matter for legitimate debate, however the Christian concepts of forgiveness and restoration do not, in any way, absolve wrongdoers from paying the penalty for their crimes. Restoration should also include intentional steps taken by the offender to repair the damage he has done. At the very least that should involve apologizing to the victims, but it can include monetary compensation or other tangible means of demonstrating repentance.

In addition to encouraging the offender to accept any necessary consequences and repair the damage done, there are two other ways Christians can respond to help the individual move toward restoration – but they depend on the response of the one sinning. Depending on whether or not the individual is repentant, we are to respond, as a Christian community, either with B) support and encouragement or C) church discipline.

Support: If the person is repentant, we walk with and support him/her along the path toward exchanging the sin nature for the nature of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2, 2 Corinthians 2:5-8). It involves providing loving accountability and encouragement; bearing one another’s burdens as a fellow struggler along the journey of faith.  The goal is to provide accountability, help, and assistance toward the individual changing courses and being restored to a path of obedience to God’s will. This process can involve meeting as accountability partners, sending scriptural encouragement, praying for and with the individual, connecting the person with counseling, etc., and should be seen as a long-term commitment to the well-being of the brother or sister in Christ.

Church Discipline: If, however, the person is not repentant, we follow through with church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Matthew 18, Titus 3:10-11, James 5:19-20, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, 1 Timothy 5:20). This, of course, occurs only as a last alternative, after every other intervention has been tried. If he/she refuses to be reconciled, however, after multiple efforts to help the individual see his/her pattern of sin in the hope of helping him see the light and come to repentance, then actions can involve anything from requiring the individual to step down from any leadership positions to being put out of fellowship with the church.

Application to Josh Duggar: I cannot know with certainty if Josh Duggar is truly repentant. His acknowledgement of his actions as “inexcusable” and the fact that he voluntarily shared his molestation with his future wife and her parents (long before getting engaged, years ago) seems to indicate that he is. Likewise, the fact that he stepped down from his position with the Family Research Council appears to demonstrate some level of recognition that his leadership in a public moral forum, with this private, significant issue in his past, is not appropriate. Even more significant is the fact that (as far as we know) he ceased abusing after intervention, and he has lived a sexually appropriate lifestyle since that time. However, his statement about realizing that if he stayed on the same path his life would be ruined (as opposed to a concern for the lives of the victims) does cause me some question. Ultimately, the situation of Josh’s heart is between him and the Lord, but considering that Duggar confessed his actions, without excusing them, both at the time of the offense and now when the information became public, that he has lived a life of appropriate sexual expression for more than 12 years, that he voluntarily confessed his molestation to his future wife and her parents, and that he that he resigned his public position, unless we see some significant evidence that he is NOT truly repentant, I believe we as a Christian community have an obligation to follow option B – support and encouragement – in relation to his sexual abuse.

Christians should rightly hold Josh Duggar accountable for his molestation, and for taking on the public mantle of moral leadership around sexual issues without publicly acknowledging and confessing his moral failure. But pointing to God’s moral truth isn’t the only responsibility Christians have to our fellow brothers and sisters who have engaged in sin – we must support and encourage our fallen brothers and sisters, if they are repentant. Christians understand that Christ came to earth precisely because we do awful things like Josh Duggar did. He died, and rose again, in order to cleanse us of our sin, and extend to us forgiveness, if we truly repent of it.

“The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” Luke 17:3.

Forgiveness and restoration do not mean that there are no consequences. Indeed, Duggar has lost his career, his reputation, his integrity as a representative for conservative Christianity, his personal witness, and his social standing, in addition to, ostensibly, many important relationships. No, he did not receive any legal repercussions for his actions (and whether he should have is an issue that is up for very legitimate debate), but he is not, as many have decried in the media, “getting away” with this. Every part of Duggar’s life is irrevocably damaged by this event, and will continue to be, for years to come. While there may be a legitimate claim that he has not paid enough, there is no doubt that Duggar has had to pay the piper, and pay mightily.

However, whether or not we believe Duggar’s consequences have been sufficient does not change our obligation to extend support and encouragement to him. Once he has demonstrated a repentant heart (which he seems to have done), we must walk with him, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, along the journey toward sanctification. This means that we may not, as Christians, participate in the gulag.

 “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit… Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:1-2)

If anyone has caused pain…the punishment inflicted by the majority is sufficient for that person. As a result, you should instead forgive and comfort him. Otherwise, this one may be overwhelmed by excessive grief. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. 9 2 Corinthians 2:5-8

We must, instead, seek to encourage Josh Duggar to honestly and repentantly seek the Lord’s face about his offenses, to make restitution to his victims, to obtain good counseling (if he hasn’t already), and to find the Lord’s purpose in his life, not as a paragon of moral virtue, but as a sinner saved by grace. We must support him in the efforts along the same journey that we ourselves must travel – that of exchanging our sin nature for the nature of Christ. As angry as we may be over his actions, we must reaffirm our love to him and encourage him to becoming the man God intends for him to be.

God can redeem this situation for the perpetrator. All of the heroes of scripture are broken heroes – people who understand just how unworthy and sinful they really are before a holy God; how fundamentally undeserving of grace. The Lord best uses not those who sin the least, but those who recognize their brokenness. If the Duggar scandal can lead to Josh Duggar becoming humbled and being willing to be used not through his moral strength, but his moral weakness, and can help Christians understand how to walk the balance between holding one another accountable for wrongdoing and also walking beside one another in support as joint sinners saved by grace – God’s good can yet triumph from this debacle.


The third place that needs redemption is with the Duggar family.

The vitriol against this family is truly stunning. I understand and share concerns about how the Duggar family handled Josh’s abuse, but I am dismayed at the complete lack of compassion for a family that has honestly sought to live according to their faith values. Whatever faults people may have with the Duggars’ lifestyle or beliefs, any fair-minded person who knows anything about the family must acknowledge that they are sincere in their desire to honor God with their lives and raise children who love the Lord and serve other people. In spite of flaws in theology and practice, they have sought to model love, patience, compassion, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, diligence, and many other fruits of the Spirit.

Whether or not one agrees with their choices, in a culture in which the vast majority of “Christians” look and act no differently from non-Christians, the Duggars live a boldly counter-cultural life (from dating policies to money management), driven by their commitment to Christ, that bespeaks the sincerity of their faith. These are not negligent psychopaths thumbing their noses at justice in order to permit unrestrained sexual assault; this is a devastated Christian family who was muddling through an unimaginable ordeal involving (amongst others) sexual abuse by and against their own children. It is possible (necessary) as Christians to both shine a light on the problems of sexual abuse by standing up in support of the victims, while simultaneously expressing compassion and support of the family of the abuser.

After all, in the eyes of God, we all are the abusers.

Response to Sexual Abuse

Significant controversy surrounds the issue of how the Duggars handled news about their son’s abuse. Although reports indicate that the family did go to their church and seek some sort of intervention for their son (sending him to work with a family friend), and that they eventually spoke to a law enforcement officer (known by Josh’s father, Jim Bob) who ended up not following up on the allegations – they waited more than a year before reporting the abuse, they prevented law enforcement from interviewing Josh after the statute of limitations had passed, and charges were never pressed.[6]

What an appropriate response should be to finding out your child sexually abused others (including your own other children) is not a clear or simple matter. While it appears to me that the Duggars did not do enough, when YOUR CHILDREN are involved, it is not an unreasonable expectation that parents might work to ameliorate the situation without getting their child involved in a legal system that will negatively affect both the life of the child perpetrator as well as the child victims. It is important to remember, here, that their son was not only the abuser – their daughters were some of the victims. As one who has spent my career working with at-risk kids, many of whom were sexual perpetrators, I have experienced the realities of how involvement with the legal system impacts children – both victims and offenders – and, in general, it is not positive. Often necessary, but often not positive. And while I do believe that, in principle, sexual assault should be reported to the authorities, trying to categorize this very complex, painful, difficult situation as a simple one (“just call the police”) does little to address the real world challenges of families dealing with sexual abuse – especially families whose children are both the abuser and the victims.

My biggest concern with the Duggars’ response is that they did not report Josh’s first incident of abuse to anyone for more than a year. Whether from ignorance about sexual abuse, a desire to protect their son, a desire to protect all of their family from shame, or for some other reason, that decision contributed to more children being sexually molested, and that responsibility lies on their shoulders. It is a terrible burden to bear, indeed. And while their response should rightly draw our criticism, their situation should also draw our empathy.

The Duggars’ response may well have been inadequate, but that is very different from claiming that they tried to “cover up” sexual abuse. I have worked with families who have truly covered up sexual abuse – and the Duggars didn’t do that. While I do not think they did enough, and they may be faulted for that, there is no doubt that they DID take action to try and stop Josh’s abuse (and, it should be noted – their efforts were successful enough that the abuse did stop). While criticism for the Duggars’ response is absolutely warranted, some humility and compassion for the parents who also went through an ordeal most of us cannot even contemplate is in order.

God forbid that any of us have a child who sexually perpetrates against someone else. But we will. Some of us will. In spite of our best efforts as parents and Christians, some of us will find ourselves, unwillingly, in the same position as the Duggars: facing something unimaginably horrendous that our beloved child has done, like sexual abuse. And when we get there, we will realize that the decision of what to do is not quite so simple or clear cut. We will find ourselves trying to walk a precarious road of stopping the problem while minimizing the damage for everyone involved. And when “everyone involved” is our own children, it becomes immeasurably more difficult to determine what the “right response” really should be.

Criticism and Compassion

The Duggars have ascribed to an ultra-conservative religious philosophy that has been damaging to many people who have grown up in it, and that is something they need to face honestly. However, in spite of this, from the fruit I see in their lives, I believe they are loving parents who are dedicated to each other, to their children, and to the Lord. A strong indicator of the tenor of their home is the fact that their adult children have chosen to follow a similar path to their parents – when they could very well have chosen otherwise as adults (many children of families with fundamentalist leanings part ways with the beliefs of their parents when they become adults – see Recovering Grace). Although there are a number of things about their beliefs that cause me significant concern, the Duggars’ books, speeches, public behavior, show, and testimony from people who know them all indicate that this is a family where love, respect, kindness, compassion, patience, and faithfulness are paramount, and whose primary commitment is to God.

As a mother who lives more than her share of failings, I am all too aware of how important it is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater – to acknowledge damaging philosophies, values, and patterns of behavior in families while also affirming those things that are healthy and good. And while there is certainly, with the Duggars, that which is damaging – there is also a whole lot of good. I also know just how much of this raising-little-people-into-persons thing relies on grace. And how, as Christians, when it comes down to it, our hearts should always be seeking healing and well-being, not ruination and destruction.

God can redeem this situation for the family. If the Duggar scandal can help the Duggar family, and other Christians, become better informed about how to combat sexual abuse (including a reevaluation of some of their fundamentalist beliefs), and if it can help Christians recognize that sin affects all of us, in spite of our best efforts – and will affect our own beloved children – then Christ can change our judgmental, prideful hearts into ones of compassion, forgiveness, and grace, and good can yet triumph from this debacle.


The final place that needs redemption is our culture.

The cultural rage at this debacle is NOT primarily because sexual abuse occurred. It is because the perpetrator was a conservative Christian, and because our culture is frothing at the mouth in wait for a legitimate reason to discount the sincerity of Christian faith. This scandal is the “gotcha” moment secularists have waited for – the opportunity to expose the “hypocrisy” of do-gooders who don’t really live up to their own goodness.

But the anger isn’t, for the most part, genuine.

Because the same culture that is having apoplectic fits over Josh Duggar’s molestation defended liberal media star Lena Dunham when SHE wrote about sexually touching and engaging in sexual play with her younger sibling.[7] The same culture that decries the victimization of the children in this latest debacle daily promotes the sexualization of children at very young ages through policy, education, and media – such as when the International Planned Parenthood Foundation writes that “all people under 18 years should enjoy the full range of human rights, including sexual rights” and “sexuality and sexual pleasure are important for all young people”.[8] The same culture that gets red in the face over Duggar’s perpetration as a young teen supported (adult) gay rights pioneer Larry Brinkin and called him a “hero” after he was found guilty of possessing pornographic images of babies and toddlers being sodomized, and after it came to light that he wrote graphic e-mails in which he praised interracial adult-child sex. And, no, Brinkin did not apologize or ask for forgiveness.

Anger is absolutely merited at Duggar’s actions, and toward the parents’ inadequate response to them. However, the hypocrisy of most of the vitriol is stunning, and needs to be exposed. The cultural double standard reveals a lack of true concern for sexual abuse victims, but rather a convenient outlet for an agenda-driven, acerbic hatred of conservative Christian moral principles. The secular world is rabid to have what they believe is “proof” that Christian moral guidelines are ridiculous, oppressive shackles that no one actually lives by. It is gleeful that it has “confirmation” that Christian principles are onerous and Christian people are hypocrites.

I have tried, in this piece, to honestly assess where I believe criticism is warranted. I do share concerns that they family has put themselves out there as spokespersons for biblical sexual morality with these sexual skeletons in the closet; their testimony would have been much more honest if they either 1) openly acknowledged their family’s struggles with sexual abuse as well as how the Lord has changed them because of it, and sought to minister from a “We’ve been there so we can walk with you” model of healed-by-grace leadership, or 2) refrained from taking such a public moral platform (in the interest of protecting the confidentiality and privacy of their children). True, honest witness requires transparency related to our own sin and failures, especially related to issues of biblical morality about which we claim to speak, and the Duggars, with respect to sexual morality, presented a picture of themselves that was not accurate.

Without a doubt, their Christian testimony has been indelibly marred. However, while the Duggars are responsible for presenting a less-than-complete picture of their moral struggles, they never claimed to be perfect. And, in fact, Christianity is about the very fact that every one of us is far from perfect.

This is something Christians need to show the world, loud and clear. Rather than participate in the gauntlet, Christians need to use this opportunity to remind the world that it is not God’s guidelines that are wrong – it is WE who are wrong. And, because we are all so unworthy, and so very prone to continually and devastatingly missing the mark, that is the very reason we need Christ…the grace that cleanses us, when we confess it, from what we could never become clean of ourselves.

God can redeem this situation for our culture. If the Duggar scandal can help Christians point the world to our own utter unworthiness and sinfulness, and the ways that God’s power is best perfected in our weakness and brokenness, good can yet triumph from this debacle.


We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. If the Duggar fiasco reminds us of anything, it should be that none of us is immune to the lure of sin. That “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens”, and that “This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” (Ephesians 6:11-13). The  Duggar scandal reveals the spiritual war being waged unseen all around us on the personal, familial, and cultural fronts; it is a sobering testimony to the power of the Adversary.

The Duggar family deserves both our criticism and our compassion. We should not fall into the camps of either blindly supporting the family and glossing over the very real failures and problems this scandal has illuminated, or viciously attacking them as fanatical, misogynistic charlatans seeking only to preserve their own reputations. We must respond to them as God responds to us, in all of our sin-filled mess: Truthfully – by accurately identifying and holding them accountable for failures and problems that contributed to this situation, and lovingly – by forgiving and supporting them in the efforts toward restoration in Christ. And we must respond to our culture with the truth of the gospel – that none of us is worthy or good, before God, and it is for that reason that Christ gave His life in our stead. Christ paid our consequences, because we could never live up to His standards ourselves. And He did so because He is good, and His standards are good for us.

For the victims, for Josh Duggar, for the Duggar family, and for all of us who so devastatingly fall short of God’s glory on a daily basis, Christ reminds us:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. And He tells us: “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” John 16:33.

Satan may think He has won this round. But God wins in the end. And if we simply choose to love Him, and follow His ways –

We will be a part of His victory.


 “Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.10 Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little. 11 The dominion belongs to Him forever.Amen.” 1 Peter 5:9-11

[1] National Juvenile Justice Network. “Fact Sheet on Youth Who Commit Sex Offenses”.–Youth%20Offenders.pdf

Center for Sex Offender Management (2001). “Recidivism of Sex Offenders”. U.S. Department of Justice.

Becker, J.V. (2007). A Snapshot of Sex Offenders: Juveniles vs. Adults. National Legislative Briefing, Sex Offender Management Policy in the States: University of Arizona.

[3] Tharp, A.T. et al. (2013, Apr.) “A Systematic Qualitative Review of Risk and Protective Factors For Sexual Violence Perpetration”. Trauma Violence Abuse:14(2).

[4] World Health Organization (2002). World Report on Sexual Violence and Health, p. 158.

[5] Kingston, D.A. et al (Jul/Aug 2008). “Pornography Use and Sexual Aggression: The Impact of Frequency and Type of Pornography Use on Recidivism Among Sexual Offenders”. Aggressive Behavior: 34 (4).;jsessionid=7B57DEFE8B22B9337B818E446E5F8867.f04t04

[8] IPPF (2011, Apr.). Exclaim: Young People’s Guide to Sexual Rights: An IPPF Declaration. London.

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