I haven’t written anything about the admission of sexual molestation by reality TV and right-wing political star Josh Duggar, because I’ve never seen the show, and don’t travel in the circles in which he is a star. So I don’t know what his spectacular fall means. Now that Owen White has published his own reaction, I don’t feel obliged to say a thing, because the best that can be said has been said by Owen, who works in a psychiatric hospital and who sees extreme brokenness every day. Excerpt:

Josh Duggar grew up in a home that was close to Bill Gothard. Gothard had to resign from his ministry because he fondled at least 32 girls. The Duggars were also connected with Doug Phillips, who was forced from his ministry after being outed as a sexual predator. The pastor of the Duggars’ church, the man who gave Mrs. Duggar her Mother of the Year award, resigned after a sex scandal. The highway patrolman, a family friend and an elder in a church connected to the Duggars’ religious circles, who was the first law enforcement person Jim Bob Duggar reported Josh’s issues to, is now serving a 56 year prison sentence for child porn. Josh Duggar grew up in a home that revered men in leadership who have turned out to be sexual abusers. One way or another, Josh Duggar did to his sisters what he knew (intuitively or directly) to do.

Anyone who assumes that sexual abuse in the Duggar household begins and ends with Josh is living in a TLCesque unreality world. I hope that Josh Duggar may see his life as full of worth and wonder, found safe in God (but not the god of the Duggars), with some thread of dignity that can get through this unbelievable humiliation. And God protect the children living in the various Duggar households.

This sin is disgusting. All sin is disgusting. Josh Duggar isn’t any more disgusting than you or me. He’s no different than the kids I eat my meals with at work, who also come from very messed up families. I would hate to see any of them become the laughingstock of the world, and a “proof” of everything we hate about their kind of people. I think we might do well to offer kind words to and about Josh Duggar. This world is dirty, messy, hateful, unfair, and brutal. What the boy did was in keeping with the world around him, as he had experienced it. Let’s not kick a person who is down.

Honestly, read the whole thing. It’s short and bracing. Owen says if we want to kick somebody, lets kick those who profited out of making this kid and his siblings into celebrities — starting with the Duggar parents.

UPDATE: I want to say for the sake of clarity that what Josh Duggar did was horrible, and should not be minimized. I don’t read Owen White as doing that, but rather trying to point out that the kid was formed by a deranged culture within his family and church circles. That is not an excuse — and no, we must not forget that there are victims here, and they have to live with their violation by Josh Duggar — but rather a reminder that in many cases, people who do horrible things aren’t monsters who arise sui generis, but are in part made by the others around them. I think about what I hear from a number of teachers and educators I know, who say that the way parents neglect the moral formation of their children today is astonishing and heartbreaking to see.

UPDATE.2: A pastor who asked to remain anonymous writes:

Thank you for the link to the Owen White article on Josh Duggar. I haven’t been following the story closely, but it’s been popping up a lot in my wife’s Facebook news feed, and the response to it has really been bothering her. It’s been bothering me too. I’m not interested in teasing out whether the Duggar parents did exactly the right thing or exactly the wrong thing. Time will tell. What really bothers me is the commenters who say things like, “He should’ve been in prison for life,” or worse, “If you ask me, he should’ve just been put to death.”

We’re talking about a 15-year-old boy. As White pointed out, whether he’d been abused or not, he was certainly around it. And as White also said – his situation, as ugly as it is, isn’t all that unusual. Quote from his post that resonated with me the most:

This sin is disgusting. All sin is disgusting. Josh Duggar isn’t any more disgusting than you or me. He’s no different than the kids I eat my meals with at work, who also come from very messed up families. I would hate to see any of them become the laughingstock of the world, and a “proof” of everything we hate about their kind of people. I think we might do well to offer kind words to and about Josh Duggar. This world is dirty, messy, hateful, unfair, and brutal. What the boy did was in keeping with the world around him, as he had experienced it. Let’s not kick a person who is down.

I’m a little worried about Josh, as White is. But I’m a lot more worried about the 13-year-old abuse victim who molested his younger siblings and is now reading in comments on this story that people like him are hopeless and deserve to die. (And of course I’m worried about his victims, and of course they deserve justice and to have their voice heard.) I’ve known two people – both female – who were abused as children, and who sexually touched their younger siblings afterwards, while still children themselves. In both cases, I was the first person they’d ever told (parents knew in at least one of the cases). I think it’s fair to guess that this is probably EXTREMELY common behaviour among kids who’ve been abused.

One of those women told me that she’d looked around online at forums at one point to see what kind of support was available for people who felt sexual attraction to kids. She found a forum where someone had asked what he should do if he was attracted to children. The first response was someone telling him to kill himself. The second was someone suggesting he list his home address so that if he didn’t have the nerve to kill himself they could come and do it for him.

I wish every commenter online would think of that 13-year-old abuse victim / perpetrator before wishing death on Josh Duggar. But I suppose even then, some would say, “Good riddance” if they commit suicide. And in some ways, I can understand why. We’ve come to a point in society where we find it incredibly difficult to say, “I love you and acknowledge you as a human being like me, but I think you are acting in seriously evil ways.” Either a person is a monster, or a person (and all their decisions and desires) ought to be accepted completely. For that mentality, the only way to avoid accepting child molestation is to make all molesters (including underage ones who are victims themselves) into monsters. It’s bad, but the alternative is worse.

Anyway, sad all around – sad that the family made their lives so public in the first place, and sad that the conversation around the abuse is being aired so publicly.

This pastor said it better than I did. It is hard to find a balance between proper recognition of the evil of child molestation — even if minors are the perpetrators — and respect for the humanity of the wrongdoer. I know that I have been on the wrong side of that line many times, in dealing with the Catholic sex abuse scandal. The unwillingness of the Catholic bishops to man up and deal with the problem was utterly repulsive to me, and my anger and disgust with them ended up driving me out of the Church. I would never, ever defend the actions of the bishops, but my own moral panic over this kind of thing is something I have worked since then to get under control. I am reminded of things I’ve learned from friends and others who have fostered children who have been sexually abused. These kids often try to act out what was done to them — I’m talking about kids who are seven, eight, nine years old. Are these kids monsters? Do they deserve to die? I cannot accept that such an attitude would ever be right. Nor could it be right in dealing with Josh Duggar, who at 15 did these things.

Now, 15 is not the same as eight, and he bears greater moral responsibility. I believe that with such a serious sin in his background — a sin that, like all sins, can be forgiven by God — he ought not to have participated in so many public controversies, nor should the Duggar parents have invited TV cameras into their family’s life. It was bound to come out, and now the destruction that public shame and the hatred of the mob is going to wreak on Josh Duggar and his wife and kids is going to be awful to witness. It certainly does nothing in helping us figure out what, exactly, is the just but merciful way to respond to something like this, which could happen in any family (I’ve known perfectly normal families who have had to deal with this — in one of them, their child was almost certainly being molested by the parish priest). What is the morally responsible way to respond, one that can lead to the healing of both the victims and the victimizer?

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