Do you ever see a big news story blow up all over the internet, and you start sighing and thinking to yourself something like this?
“Oh, boy. Time to take cover. The arguments and shouting about this are going to be insane.”
This was how I felt the other day when word about the big Duggar scandal broke out. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. People in the secular sphere who wanted to see the family fall finally found their chance to point fingers. People in the Christian sphere who viewed the Duggars as a sweet, wholesome family rushed to defend them and their son, claiming that everything had been resolved a long time ago, or called out people in the secular sphere for not calling out other people in the secular sphere for similar behavior.
I’m sad about what has happened. It’s inexcusable and wrong. There’s been a lot written about what Josh did and how the family handled the situation – so I won’t talk about that here. We need to talk about our response to this, particularly in light of what’s transpired in the years leading up to last week’s news – even the years leading up to the molestations themselves.
The state of public discourse, with its arguing, blaming, and deflecting, is at an abysmal low. Our approach as a culture to complex issues is so surface-level, and as such, the real problems never get addressed. We assess the situation and see the wrongful action (“he molested underage girls!”), but in many cases, that’s pretty much it. Our view of the cause leapfrogs over several other issues that need to be addressed, instead settling for easy (even true) responses and platitudes: We’re all human. We’re all sinners. Everyone has a struggle. And alongside that, our view of the consequences of those wrongful actions is often limited to what we can see – and all the while, the victims are passed over.
This is at least one reason why the abusers among us continue to thrive in secrecy. They prey on our external focus.
Even though my family was not nearly as involved in IBLP as the Duggars are, I can assure you that the methodology of the organization plays right into that tendency to be externally focused. At IBLP conferences, we’d watch large, well-behaved families like the Duggars being featured on stage as examples of how well the program “worked.” We bought into the organization and its lies because we wanted those results. We wanted those behaviors for the generations that would follow our own. But underneath it all, abuse thrived. Within the IBLP ranks, silencing of those who spoke out wasn’t uncommon. The founder himself, Bill Gothard, molested underage girls and instilled a culture against whistleblowing (“don’t take up offenses for others”) while shaming those who dared disrupt the status quo. The entire organization was shame-based, with a foundation of coded language and many hidden, unclarified, unspoken expectations.
I don’t say all of this to bash the Duggars, to add to the tarnishing of their reputation. They are much more than just this incident, or their involvement in IBLP. I’m bringing it up because we need to understand just how damaging the subcultures of groups like IBLP can be. We need to understand that no, what happened to the Duggars is not just some isolated incident of molestation. There is a pattern here. There is a reason why this kind of subculture does more harm than good by blaming and shaming victims of abuse. There are a lot of perspectives out there about the topic, enough to fill another blog post or two. But I wanted to take this one to address my fellow Christians about our response.
Guys. We do not need to be like everyone else when we talk about this issue.
We do not need to gossip, to shout and argue, to engage in the tribalism that rears its ugly head whenever anyone from “our camp” gets into hot water, to try to save face (even with a Christianese spin like “being a good witness”), to use language that minimizes the experiences of those who have been shamed and abused, or to treat forgiveness like some easy one-step process like changing the alternator in one’s car. We need to get serious about reaching out to the hurt, to talk about the underlying issues that are being ignored, and to call out abusive systems and people when the state of their fruit is evident. It’s hard, it may get us out of our comfort zones, and it may take us to a place where we may find ourselves – gasp! – in agreement about something with those with whom we normally find it difficult to agree. But in the end, it’s the first step in peeling back the facades we erect in order to have an honest conversation about what needs to be addressed.
Can we please at least consider it?