What the Secular Left and the Religious Right Get Wrong in the Josh Duggar Fiasco

Josh Duggar, the eldest of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggars’ 19 children, has been in some hot water over a police report unearthed from 12 years ago, detailing Josh’s molesting five girls—four of whom were his own sisters. The revelation has rocked the family. Josh has resigned from his position at the Family Research Council; the hit TLC program “19 Kids and Counting” (a reality show that follows the Duggar family) is potentially on the chopping block; and the family’s reputation—and people’s confidence in the Christian faith—is in serious jeopardy.

Into this swirling pile of human misery step liberals and conservatives alike, and both camps are wrong in their essential reading of the tragedy. (Full disclosure: I am a devout, practicing Catholic Christian.)

First, left-wingers and secularists parade in, and they decry the vileness and depravity of Josh’s crimes. They roundly condemn him, the family that undoubtedly created and fostered the environment in which such behavior was “acceptable” (or at least not explicitly deemed unacceptable), and the “fundamentalist” faith which is, obviously, the ultimate breeding ground for such depravity. If only, the typical leftist argument in these types of situation runs, Christianity (specifically, its sexual ethics—damn those things!) wasn’t so repressive, backward, patriarchal—Neanderthal-ish, even—then Josh Duggar wouldn’t have done the things that he did to these five girls.

Because, I mean, really: What type of horrid, ghastly belief system teaches one to make a lifelong, exclusive commitment to another person of the opposite sex—and only of the opposite sex—before engaging in sexual intercourse, the ultimate act of devotion that exists between two people? Don’t these people understand that sex feels great?! That it’s amazing? Savages, they are, those Christians, for impressing upon their children the importance of restraining their passions. Absolute, puritanical freaks for making them wait to experience the transcendent awesomeness of sex, I tell you. Yeah, right.

And yet, when someone of their own forward-looking, progressive, enlightened fold commits horrid acts at least as bad as Josh Duggar’s, over a much longer period, and then writes about it and defends her actions, the progressive horde comes arushin’ in, absolving her of any possible blame. Because masturbating next to your sister is totally (!) normal.

I am, of course, referring to Lena Dunham. (Remember her?) If you’ll recall, in her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham details some of her perverse exploits with her sister, six years her junior. (There are surely more than what she relayed, and the ones that she does relay are surely downplayed.) In her own words, remember: “Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying.”

Dunham describes her actions as those of a sexual predator, for crying out loud! No one is putting that characterization on her. She labels herself with those words! So, forgive me if I am less-than-impressed with the Left’s faux “outrage” over Josh Duggar’s actions. Dunham is perhaps the furthest thing from a Christian that there is (I am sure she would shudder if she were mistakenly associated with the religion and its practices and members) and yet, here she is, molesting her kid sister. Clearly, Christianity is not the controlling factor in sexual misconduct and abuse cases.

On a related note, detractors of the Roman Catholic Church and the priest sex abuse scandal which broke in 2004 liked to argue: If only priests could be married, then this whole mess would never have transpired because the priests would have had an outlet for their sexual desires. In fact, public school teachers actually abuse children at an astronomically higher rate than Catholic priests do/did. To borrow a line that came out of that tragedy: “If only public school teachers were allowed to marry!” … Likewise, “If only Christianity didn’t exist to allow such horrible actions to be fostered, perpetuated, and absolved!” Stow the hypocrisy; it looks terrible on you, America’s Left.

Josh Duggar, the eldest of 19, is a devout Christian.
Josh Duggar, the eldest of 19, is a devout Christian.

Then, the right-wing Christian faithful come pouring in, ready to take up arms to defend their brother in Christ. The only problem is that they do it absolutely, embarrassingly wrong.

After the scandal broke, I saw countless tweets from Christians saying, in effect, that what Josh did “wasn’t that bad,” that “God forgave him,” that “no sin was too great for Jesus to forgive” and that he should just “move on.” The problem here is that these “Christians” fundamentally misunderstand forgiveness, the precise theology of the Paschal Mystery—Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection—and how we merit absolution for our sins.

What Josh Duggar did over a decade ago was horrendous, beastly, and deserves our vilification. This is prima facie indisputable. Yes, God can forgive any sin. In fact, the only sin that God cannot—will not—forgive is the one that we refuse to bring to Him to ask forgiveness for. Believing that some sin of ours is greater than the infinite mercy of God is the only unforgivable sin. These facts are not in tension: This awesome reality in no way excuses Josh from consequences or blame.

My problem is with the assertions of the people who are defending Josh. The implicit message is that what he did does not matter because God could (perhaps already did) forgive him of his sins. This is a false and dangerous notion. What we do in this life matters a great deal. Jesus did not undergo His saving Passion and death so that what we did could somehow be made to not matter at all. In fact, the very opposite is true: What we do—our sins—matters so much that the Son of God—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Ultimate Reality—descended from Heaven, lowered Himself, took on flesh (become incarnate), and was tortured … before dying a gruesome death in order to save us from the consequences of those very sins.

Our sins nailed Christ to His Cross, and they continue to pain Him deeply even now.

To say that Josh Duggar is somehow blameless because he is a Christian is idiotic and contributes to the world’s hostility toward the Christian faith. The world is wrong about many, many things. I will be the first to admit this. But even our very wrong-headed world recognizes complete stupidity when it waltzes before its very eyes. This is one of the few times that I find myself agreeing with the world over and against Christianity, to be frank.

Now, we have ourselves a fantastic teachable moment for those who misunderstand Christianity—Christians and non-Christians alike. In the wake of this story, I asked myself: Why should it matter to people that Josh is a Christian and still did horrible things? I have some thoughts on the matter.

The Left is looking for any possible opportunity to discredit and dismantle the Christian religion. Simply put: the Christian faith (definitely Catholicism) stands in its way of abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, population control, euthanasia, and widespread contraceptive use. All of these are “sacred,” in some sense, to the Left. Christianity opposes them unequivocally. And so the Left seizes upon any misstep by a Christian in order to further damage the faith and drive it from the public square.

But even deeper than that, the charge in situations where a Christian acts deplorably is that he or she is a hypocrite. They are supposed to be better than the rest of us heathens says the non-Christian. In his mind, what is all too commonly seen is a regular person who dresses themselves up in a faith that exists only to allow them to pass judgment on others, satisfy a superiority complex, and receive forgiveness for even the worst of crimes/sins, someone who is no better or worse than the rest of us (worse even, for their rank hypocrisy). The Christian is, at a most basic level, a selfish, self-seeking jerk.

I can sympathize with this view: Christians should be better (in the realm of moral action, that is) than other people who are not Christian. It only makes sense. … Except, there is one teensy problem. Christianity is a religion of reality. In theory, yes, becoming a Christian should radically alter a person’s life and behavior, but it doesn’t. A central tenet of the Christian faith is that we are all sinners; we are all broken; we are all in need of healing and saving.

A Christian who falls short of the “glory of God” is only doing something “wrong” insofar as he is a weak, fallible human being in constant need of God’s grace—as we all are. The vast majority of all Christians—past, present, and future—are not “all in”; if they were, they would distinctly and uniquely shine forth the joy of God—His very inner life. They would be “little Christs” – in a word, saints. As St. Catherine of Siena wrote, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” (It is critical to keep in mind, however, that even saints still sin; you only become a saint after you’ve died, and we all sin in life.)

All people would do well to heed this fact: Christians are not perfect. We know that. That is why we are Christians.

Is what Josh Duggar did disgusting and reprehensible? Yes. Are liberals hilariously hypocritical in their criticism of him? Yes. Are the so-called Christians defending him deeply mistaken about the nature of forgiveness and how it relates to Josh’s actions? Yes. Would we all be better off if we understood—really understood—that, while Christianity (in theory) should make us all saints, it doesn’t … because our own brokenness, selfishness, and general stubbornness/disobedience gets in the way of what should be our love-filled pursuit of God and adherence to His holy laws? Definitely yes.

Glad we’re all on the same page now.


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About Deion Kathawa

Deion Kathawa was editor in chief of the Michigan Review.