Supporters of Josh Duggar and his parents continue to abound, so I thought it might be useful to talk about why it is we keep talking about the scandal they all wish we’d shut up about already. Here are three reasons why we aren’t shutting up about what he or his parents did.
1. Highlighting abuse forces Christians to confront the fact that their religion does not, intrinsically, make Christians better people–and thus that their members are not suited to hold unfettered power over other people’s lives.
I don’t think Christians like hearing that point. I mean, sure, they know their brethren are largely flaming hypocrites–every Christian is to some extent, thanks to the bizarre “thought crime” sin setup they follow and the black-and-white, all-or-nothing mentality the religion teaches–but one of the worst cultural blind spots Christians have is assuming that their religion produces better people than other religions or no religion at all. They need to hear–often, and at length–that one can be good without “God,” but more importantly one can horrible even with “God.” Otherwise they will live in their land of “ought,” in a culture that brutally punishes anybody who dissents or contradicts the group’s ideas, and in that manner will never confront the truth that is.
The funny thing is that most Christians have ready rationalizations at hand when confronted with their peers’ hypocrisy: “don’t judge the religion by its adherents,” “it’s not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners,” “#notallchristians,” and many, many more. Hell, if they put half as much effort into actually being decent people than they do into rationalizing why they, as a group, are known more for their hypocrisy than for their ability to live even the smallest bit like their Savior told them to live, they wouldn’t have as much trouble as they do with eroding credibility.
But I don’t think most of them really think of those bad apples as TRUE CHRISTIANS™, so those rationalizations don’t really impact them or their opinions much. The Duggars were by most Christians’ reckoning TRUE CHRISTIANS™, and yet the family’s oldest son was a monster who preyed on tiny little girls, and then his crimes were covered up by his parents for many years.
One thing that I had a lot of trouble with as a Christian was coming face to face with the fact that plenty of people who were, by my religion’s standards, bound for Hell were actually way more moral than Christians were–and plenty more people who were by all appearances “saved” were absolutely terrible and immoral monsters. The more I noticed this discrepancy, the less inclined I was to think I knew better than non-Christians what they needed to do with their lives, the less comfortable I was with trying to control other people and make their decisions for them, and–yes, so very yes–the less confident I felt in trying to proselytize them.
The idea of a theocracy headed by TRUE CHRISTIANS™ really only works if those Christians really are suited to lead and to have that kind of authority. If “Jesus” isn’t making TRUE CHRISTIANS™ better able to handle that kind of power (and whoa nelly, gang, he deffo isn’t) and there is absolutely no way to tell who is and isn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ until a scandal erupts, then there’s no point in setting Christians up with unwarranted, unfettered power. Every single time we try to do that anyway as a society, we get back nothing but scandals and abuse.
If Christians can’t even live the way their Bible tells them to live, then they have no right to try to tell anybody else how to live. Clearly they can’t do it, so they don’t get to try to force anyone else to do it. Maybe the problem is that they know they can’t do it and they’re trying to get the focus off themselves, but that’s a malfunction they need to address before trying to strong-arm anybody else into doing what they themselves cannot. A pity their holy book didn’t address that tendency people have to focus on others when they themselves are guilty as hell; if it did, then maybe they wouldn’t be trying this hard to shut everyone else up about their own flaws. But there I go being all silly again.
2. Criticizing abusers and calling attention to hypocrisy forces Christians to seriously reconsider just whom they are loudly defending and proclaiming as friends.*
Mike Huckabee, one of the family’s early and fervent supporters, dropped a blurb on his campaign website from the Duggars endorsing his candidacy for President around June 4th. I mean it just vanished as if nothing ever happened. A couple of days later, pressed for an explanation, Mike Huckabee trotted out this porker of a fib: oh that was just old stuff that he phased out on schedule.
Maybe someone should tell this shining paladin for Republican!Jesus** that lying is a sin. Good thing being a fair-weather friend isn’t one as well; his Facebook post extolling the family’s credentials and virtues was written only a week or two previously and not terribly well received even by his fans. Oh, wait. Being a fair-weather friend is actually totally also a sin. Dang, Mike Huckabee ain’t lookin’ good here, is he, considering he’s running on a “Vote for the Jesus Paladin” platform?
As the saying goes, someone who bunks down with dogs gets up with fleas. Outsiders to Christianity are shocked that someone could defend a serial abuser and cover up crimes against children, and the more Christians do to defend such lowlifes, the worse they and their religion look. At this point, it seems clear that extremist Christians have no idea what morality even looks like anymore–and it was Christians themselves who brought about that perception, while us heathens stood back goggle-eyed and stammered our shock and outrage that these paragons of Jesus-virtue seemed incapable of condemning a person who admitted to committing child sexual abuse, but drew the line at front-hugs and letting trans women use women’s bathrooms.
Teen mommy and unlikely abstinence-education champion Bristol Palin went on a tear defending the Duggars right after Mike Huckabee took down his support for the family, likely sensing a new and rewarding avenue of grift; her mother went on an even longer tear and for probably much the same reason. They’ve been pretty quiet since then from what I can tell (their attention span doesn’t seem to be that lengthy), but the reaction to these defense attempts has been largely one of laughter and open derision for both the Palins’ insincerity as well as their total lack of perspective and clarity on the topic–if not outright condemnation of these supposed paragons of “family values” and “conservative morality” who seem so totally down with child sexual abuse and parental coverup of serious crimes.
I told myself I wasn’t going to pull out all the you’re not helping memes I’ve been collecting, and I’m trying, Ringo, I’m trying real hard. Being defended this vociferously (and this hilariously ignorantly and damned-near incoherently) by people like Sarah and Bristol Palin is a bit like getting an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan: it’s an indication that something has gone seriously and terribly wrong and needs to be re-evaluated immediately. If I’d been a Christian and read the Wasilla Snowbilly Queens’ thunderous (and largely erroneous, as well as irrational) defense of the Duggar parents and their predator of a son, I’d have been downright humiliated to share a label with them.
3. Christians’ response to scandals like these do more than critics ever could to further erode Christianity’s power, influence, and credibility.
When news of the Duggar scandal first broke, I was sure that right-wing Christians would chew up and spit out the Duggar parents.
Oh, how naive I was back in those starry-eyed olden days of yore two weeks ago!
I watched as fundagelicals defended the parents left and right. I watched as people minimized Josh Duggar’s offenses (and continue to do so) and negated the suffering of his victims. I watched as people made bizarro-world false comparisons to silence critics and even floated the idea of frivolous-sounding lawsuits against the people who’d publicized the attacks and cover-up. It really was a simply sickening display of frenzied spin-doctoring and deflection, and I sure wasn’t the only person who got the distinct impression that the Duggars’ supporters (and the Duggar parents and Josh himself, of course) were way more upset at being outed as hypocrites than they were that five little girls got attacked for years by an opportunistic predator whose parents covered everything up to the point where their lil sex offender couldn’t get prosecuted anymore and thereby put their image and income streams at risk. It was downright surreal to hear members of the Jesus Party talking like that–but I wish I could say it was surprising.
Here’s what was surprising: one by one, and somewhat timidly at first, Christians themselves began to speak out against the Duggars’ supporters. Not only were they criticizing the Duggars’ silencing tactics but also those who supported the parents and attacker. I began seeing Christians express their own deep concern that their brethren were covering up abuse and shielding abusers from justice–and basically throwing those abusers’ victims under the bus to protect fundagelicalism’s image. That’s what fundagelicalism is: it’s about maintaining power for one group at the expense of the others in their community. And yes, it’s high time that people began to realize that super-conservative Christianity’s assurances of protection and adoration for women are nothing but empty promises.
I’m sure it was very difficult for these Christians to speak up like that. Fundagelical Christianity is more about tribalism than it is about doing the stuff Jesus said to do–and maybe it always was like that from its inception over a century ago. The tribe viciously punishes anybody who moves out of lockstep. It’s not that hard for someone like me to criticize the community’s handling of the Duggar scandal. But it is very hard for someone who belongs to that culture to do so.
This scandal is not only seriously affecting outsiders’ perception of that brand of Christianity, but based on what I’ve seen of blogs and comments alike online, it is seriously affecting insiders’ perception of it as well.
Not for nothing is it joked that heathens barely have to lift a finger to undermine Christianity when its own members are doing so much themselves to destroy their religion’s power from the inside of their self-made prison. It’s not atheists destroying this religion; it’s hypocritical Christians themselves. If they weren’t destroying their religion, there’d be nothing to talk about.
So that is why we talk about these scandals, and why we must, and why we will continue to do so.
If that resolve bothers Christians, then the solution seems very clear to me.*** These Prayer Warriors for Jesus have no clue in the world what morality and goodness are. They have claimed a moral high ground and an authority they do not deserve. And until they stop doing that, the rest of the world needs to keep reminding them that they do not deserve what they have claimed for themselves–and warning those who might fall into these cults or who are wavering on the edge of escape about the false promises these zealots make.
* Ever since Neil Carter’s excellent post “Dear Christian Evangelist, Whom Are You Trying to Save?”, I’ve felt all self-conscious about who/whom. Any English teachers reading this post are welcome to comment below about it. (I know about the him/he tip already but distrust it for some reason.)
** Note for non-fanfic-reading/writing folks: the “!” denotes a facet of a character, especially one that the character doesn’t normally show. For example, “Hurt!Spock” is Mr. Spock getting hurt or recovering from hurt in some way. “Limp!Snape” is about Professor Snape being so injured or incapacitated that he is largely helpless for the story’s duration. Republican!Jesus is that particular type of Jesus that Republicans like best: one who hates the poor, despises the downtrodden in general, is intensely interested in gun rights, and loves capitalism. Here’s a decent primer on fanfic lingo if you want more information.
*** Want a hint? It looks nothing at all like “y’all heathens should just STFU already.”