Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Duggar News

It was big news on social media and internet news sites - it has recently come to light that the eldest Duggar child molested four of his sisters and another young girl when he was 14 years old.

The responses have ranged from moral outrage and demands, now realized, for TLC to cancel their show, to finger pointing with shouts of "Hypocrite", to exasperation that such a fuss is being made over a mistake made so long ago, to a presidential candidate expressing his support for the family at a time when the Duggars are being attacked by the blood-thirsty media.

I don't think any of them are wrong.

Should TLC continue to air the show? I've never watched it nor do I follow the Duggars. I think it would be morally irresponsible to continue the show without addressing the realities of child sexual abuse and its aftermath. Doing so might make obvious who Josh Duggars victims are and they may not want that known.

I don't watch cable, but to a large extent, from what I've read about the types of shows TLC produces, it's not a network that should be taking on any kind of educational or advocacy role regarding childhood sexual abuse in general.

For these reasons alone, and myriad others, canceling the show was the best decision on TLCs part.

Is Josh Duggar a hypocrite? He's certainly made a name and a substantial living for himself lobbying against civil rights while pointing the finger at homosexuals as a "danger to children" while not disclosing the fact that he was at one time sexually abusing children.

But, frankly, I think hypocrisy is part of the human condition. Josh Duggar just got caught being hypocritical on a HUGE issue that affects the lives of millions of children the world over and will continue to affect their lives in many ways for years to come.

Should presidential candidates be weighing in on this issue? It might be wiser if they didn't. Is Josh Duggar being attacked by blood thirsty media? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not. Most of what I've seen in the media is an honest account of what was done and how it was handled by the family and law enforcement and how it became public. The media seems to be relatively fair and balanced in this. Every news report I read from every news source I used (from cnn to huffpo to fox) reported the same basic facts in the same basic neutral tone.

The attacks largely seem to be coming from news readers commenting on the stories both on news websites as well as on social media. And for every attack against Josh Duggar, there seems to be support for him as well, calling out the liberal dems who, from one comment made, would apparently be praising Josh if he were gay and had molested his brothers instead. (Seriously, who honestly fucking believes that?)

Josh Duggar chose to live in the spotlight in a time and in a culture where no secret that involves a paper trail is ever safe from exposure. He had to have known that this outcome was not only possible, but incredibly likely, when the Duggars began their reality tv show, at a time when Josh was already 20 years old and could have opted not to be a part of the show, could have chosen out of the limelight. He didn't and his life became open to public scrutiny. He invited the American public into his life.

The reactions I find most interesting and disturbing is the jump to defending him and discounting his actions - "he was only 14," "he got help," (we can neither confirm nor deny the promise that) "he stopped," "he's apologized," "he's asked forgiveness." "At what point do we forgive people and let them move on with their lives?"

I believe in forgiveness. I believe in redemption. I believe in sanctification. And yes, Josh Duggar is forgiven by God for his sins. That's the forgiveness that matters.

But he wasn't "only 14." He was a 14 year old boy who sexually molested four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to the family. Though the police report released by InTouch magazine is heavily redacted such that the names of his victims remain unknown, his next four younger sisters would have been between eight and twelve years old.

This was not sexual exploration between two young siblings who wanted to know what the body of the "other sex" looked like. It was the repeated victimization of much younger children at the hands of their adolescent brother.

Josh Duggar clearly knew what he was doing was wrong. He waited until other family members were asleep and only when sure he would not be caught, Josh Duggar proceeded to repeatedly sexually abuse his younger sisters and an underage female known to the family.

Josh Duggar did, according to his statements and the statements of his father, get help. He was sent away for a period of time to receive therapy and do hard work. His mother's statement, however, clarifies that he was not sent to a therapeutic treatment center that helped him understand the nature of his actions and why they are inappropriate or how they harm others (a fact that stands today as made glaringly obvious by this statement to the press).

Rather, Josh was sent to the home a family friend who made Josh perform manual labor. Josh was given stern warnings, by a police officer known to the family, about what would happen if he didn't cease his behaviors. No official reports were filed and the family never followed up with the legal system in addressing the sexual abuse of four of their daughters by their eldest child. The same police officer who warned Josh about the path he was headed down is reported to be spending several years in prison for possession of child pornography.

Josh Duggar's apology to his victims may never be known. It was ostensibly made at least nine and as many as twelve years ago. But the damage he did is obvious in reading the police reports which indicate that at least one of his victims became visibly upset, burst into tears, and was offered a tissue by the investigation office when police did become involved four years after the incidents, at which time the statute of limitations was up and justice could not be obtained via legal channels.

The statement Josh Duggar made to press, and published exclusively by People magazine, however, makes clear that his actions and apologies were for himself alone. Yes, as Christians we're called to forgive. But we are also called to be accountable for our actions. Josh Duggar never in his statement accepts accountability for his actions. The words he uses do little to acknowledge the gravity of the crimes he committed.

Josh Duggar tells us that he "hurt others" and "if [he] continued down this wrong road [he] would end up ruining [his] life." Absent is any mention of the reality of what he did. He didn't "hurt others." He repeatedly sexually abused his younger sisters and another underage female known to the family. Josh Duggar perpetrated incestuous sexual violence against people younger and less powerful than himself.

Additionally, he makes clear that he stopped not because he recognized the extraordinary damage done to victims of sexual violence, but rather that, having been caught, he was concerned first and only about his own life and what would happen if he were caught again.

Finally, his family's response is a clear indication that the church needs to do a better job of addressing issues of sexual abuse. And the church needs to start by those familiar with and speaking in the midst of such situations naming the abuse for what it is.

Josh Duggar may have "humbled himself before God" as his wife claims, but he certainly didn't humble himself before "those whom he offended." Josh Duggar didn't "offend" four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to his family when he was fourteen. Josh Duggar SEXUALLY ABUSED four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to his family.

By failing to call Josh Duggar's action what they were, Josh Duggar is given implicit permission to continue minimizing his actions and denying the consequences in the lives of his victims.

Josh Duggar (ostensibly) stopped sexually violating his sisters and family friends when his abuse came to light and he no longer felt safe continuing in his behaviors. But what of the safety of his victims, four of whom remained living under the same roof as their abuser until he moved out and whom he continues to see on a regular basis?

And now that these revelations have forced Josh Duggar to leave his position with the Family Research Council and for TLC to cancel the show, how long until the Duggars fade from the limelight?

And with young daughters under his own roof, how long until Josh Duggar feels safe to begin sexually abusing family members once again?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Loving From a Place of Privilege

1 John 4:7-21


One of the most significant challenges in preaching is taking a text that is 2,000 years removed from us and finding a way to talk about it so that it comes alive and is found to be relevant to the audience. The importance of who we are and what we do as Christians extends far beyond the hour we warm pews on a Sunday morning. It is nice, certainly, to attend a service once a week and hear the feel-good, not-so-fresh, “news” that God loves us. And love is clearly a repetitive idea in this morning’s 1 John passage.

The word “love,” or some derivation thereof, appears in our passage 29 times this morning. Twenty-nine times! That’s almost two times per verse. “Let us love one another,” “love is from God,” “God first loved us,” “God is love.”

The central point of this passage, however, is much deeper and far more significant than the warm rush of joy that often accompanies being told that one is loved. The central point of this passage is that “we have known and believe the love that God has for us.” The word “know” in this context is about more than an intellectual understanding; it means to recognize, perceive, or realize. It means that the love of God for us has been made real, experiential.

It reminds me of the time that my partner first told me that he loves me. Of course, my heart sped up a little, and my cheeks got warm as I glowed with joy and delight at hearing him profess his love. But the words had substance and were made more significant by the fact that I had already experienced his love for me - in the way he cares for me when we’re together, offers comfort when I’m anxious or sad, takes my dietary needs into account, is mindful and intentional in the way he communicates.

We know the love of God for us, not merely by words that profess God’s love for us, but rather by the realized experience of that love. The love of God for us was made real for us in the life of Jesus and his sacrificial atonement for our sins.

Atonement, in this context, means the reconciliation between God and humans; and sin is the very real issue of social and systemic injustice perpetuated by the wealthy and powerful elite - systems of oppression and injustice that still operate today.

In and through his life, Jesus exemplified the reality of God’s love for the least, over and against these systems which seek to vilify, invalidate, oppress, and destroy the “other.” God’s love was made real by a humble man who lived a life of service to others, seeking to call out injustice wherever he saw it, and who ultimately sacrificed his own life by standing for what was right, rather than cowering in fear on the day he was judged by the powers of this world.

To “believe the love that God has for us” means to be entrusted with that love. God’s love for us is not just something that we hear about, learn about, maybe experience in a rush of warmth and affection from time to time. It is a power with which we are entrusted. It is a gift abundantly given and a gift that we are expected to share.

Sharing the love of God means being in this world as Jesus is: standing against sin, fighting systems of oppression and injustice, speaking against these systems which seek to vilify, invalidate, oppress, and destroy those was are “other” than ourselves. And if we truly know - recognize, realize, experience - the love of God, we can do so without fear, because we know that at the end of all things, we stand on the side of justice, just as Jesus did, just as God does.

This does not mean, however, that such a feat will be easy. Love is about abiding - remaining with those who are oppressed.

Through the power of social media and 24 hour a day cable news-entertainment channels, we are more aware than ever of the oppressive abuses perpetuated by those in power. This has also led to a “slactivist” culture in which we can sooth our conscience, if we’re paying attention at all, by posting pithy remark of sensationalist headline on face book before our severely diminished attention span is redirected to the latest celebrity gossip or internet cat meme.

But abiding is about far more than pithy status updates on facebook or hashtags on twitter. Abiding is about a sustained effort to understand, know, and to the extent that we are able, live into the experiences of the oppressed. It is about hearing their stories and validating their experiences. It is about recognizing our own role in a system that privileges a few at the expense of the masses and continually working to change these unjust systems.

Loving others is not a sprint, a short burst of concerted effort, and where we all go home at the end of the day feeling refreshed and self-congratulatory that our voice maybe made an impact, helped bring about a change. While using our voice from a place of privilege to challenge systems of injustice is vital and necessary, loving others is about being in it for the long-haul. It’s about paying attention and being present to the daily lived reality of millions of people who are different from us, who do not share in our privilege.

Privilege is a result of one group oppressing another; privilege is the ability to deny the experiences of the oppressed because they are not the personal experiences of the privileged. Being part of a group with privilege, however, grants us enormous power to love the oppressed, and in so doing, make tangible the very real love of God for the world.

We can enact the love of God entrusted to us through creating space for the voices of the oppressed to be heard; abiding with them, hearing and participating in their stories; affirming their experiences without judgment, offense, or defense of our own.

In so doing, perhaps we can make real the prayer of the traditional African American spiritual:

Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain