Monday, June 1, 2015

Duggars, Duplicity, and Dilemmas In Christian Community

The recent Duggar scandal reveals some huge problems for the Christian community. I'm not going to pile on the family here - plenty of other blogs are doing that. It's a sad story on many levels. I am simply going to note that the Christian community must learn some important lessons from this situation or we are destined to see this scenario play out over and over.

First, we must commit to being people of integrity.  Jesus offered an important caution to those who were rushing to judgment: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7). It wasn't a call to overlook sin; it was a reminder that hypocrisy haunts us all. That's in important verse for a family (and a son) who are very publicly involved in political causes centered around Christian family values.  For a family with Josh's history embedded in their familial DNA, the Duggars were remarkably outspoken in public policy causes that focused on the sexual sins of other people.

It’s a bad idea to position ourselves as if we are speaking from a pristine pedestal of purity in any area of life. We Christians must own our stuff. We shouldn’t be calling out the skeletons in the closets of others if we can’t acknowledge our own (see Paul's instruction in Romans 2:17-24). Our past sins don't automatically deny us the right to speak about the same issue when we see it in others - maybe we are passionate because we want to warn others of the  wages of sin. That's understandable, but without honesty, transparency, love and grace, it's going to end badly. If we are really all about protecting victims and changing people’s hearts, we need to start in our own homes or churches. (Google “mote” and “eye” for more detail.)*

Second, Christian celebrity-ism is a terrible idea. When are we going to stop trumpeting the next Duggar or Dynasty involving water fowls? None of us can withstand the spotlight. Christians keep trying to promote spokespeople that will get everybody to like us, while the reality is that all of us have things lurking in our lives that are profoundly unlikable. (By show of hands, who has feet of clay and a heart that is desperately wicked”? Okay, you can all put them down.)

Third, religious conservatism is not the answer to all our problems.  Christians can get so caught up in thinking they can control every thought and situation by enforcing biblical laws that they forget the law is merely a teacher that doesn't change anyone’s heart. Our Bible is clear about this issue, is it not? Bill Gothard does not offer a magic parenting pill. The Quiverfull movement does not guarantee purity or automatically instill Christian ideals for family. I worry that we rely on systems and coercion to bring about rote response and then call it holiness. That’s bound to fail, and sometimes fail badly.

In addition, we might want to reconsider what exactly we thought this show was going to do in terms of building bridges between Christianity and the rest of culture. The Duggars have some pretty far right connections (Bill Gothard, the Quiverfull movement and their accompanying scandals) that thrive only on the fringes of the Christian evangelical movement. If that's the material with which the bridge is being constructed, I can assure you that there will be very little traffic.**

I am a big fan of second chances (and the repentance, forgiveness and mercy required to make that happen). That can only be done with integrity when people live open, honest, transparent lives. I, for one, have never deserved a pedestal. None of you have either. I don’t want anyone to mistakenly think that I am the Christian ambassador for whom the world has been waiting. If the Apostle Paul himself wrote that he was “the chief of sinners,” who am I to let other people think that I am not in the same boat?

I hope that Josh is the changed man he says he is, and I pray that those who suffered from his sin will find healing. Meanwhile, it’s time we Christians stopped lauding the elusive perfect face of Christianity and worried more about living our own lives with integrity.


*It's not just the Duggars who struggle with hypocrisy in this case. This whole scandal is a strangely duplicitous tempest in the teapot of a culture that loves sexual expression and explorationLena Dunham brags about remarkably disturbing things she did to her younger sister; Princeton's Peter Singer defends bestiality; academic conferences are held to explain why pedophilia is normal. Too bad Josh isn’t a Golden Globe winner, a Princeton professor, or an academic. All would be well. I’m annoyed at the double standard. If you defend the three examples above, you have no business attacking Josh.

**Of course, Christian religious conservatism is not the monstrous villain almost every blog rant makes it out to be either. Gracious. I grew up in a very conservative environment. Yes, there were problems - every group in every demographic has them. But that's hardly the entire story even in the realm of sex. For example, did you know that studies routinely show that religious people tend to have" better" sex?  Or that "religion may be independently associated with rates of female orgasm"?  Sociological data offers a far different picture of sexuality within religious groups than the average angry blog suggests. Christians aren't perfect by any means, but Christianity does not poison everything.  


  1. I think your thoughts related to Christian celebrity are particularly spot-on. When we set people up to be that; inevitably they will fail, as would we. All are sinners. Christians are sinner-saints, made saints by God.

    I think the point about hypocrisy is good too, though I'm hesitant to use that specific example due to the textual critical issues with it.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks for weighing in, J.W. For the purpose of my learning to think and write more clearly, which specific example of hypocrisy are you hesitant to use because of textual/critical issues? Are you referring to John 8:7? I value your feedback!