concerning repentance and participants in reality television


I didn’t want to write about any of this.

This week, numerous sources reported on allegations that Josh Duggar of television’s 19 Kids and Counting, sexually assaulted minors, apparently including members of his own family. The Duggars issued a statement to People, Josh resigned his position in DC as a lobbyist with the Family Research Council, TLC has scrapped all broadcasts of 19 Kids and Counting until further notice. Further information is readily available from any number of sources, I won’t bother to link to them here (although Gawker’s coverage appears to be the most thorough.)

The response from all corners of the interwebs has been predictably virulent and disappointing. Anyone with a keyboard, screen and hastily-created username has piled on. This is what we do now, I guess.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that what Josh Duggar is alleged to have done is wrong, criminal, sinful and absolutely inexcusable, but that’s our starting point. Ethically, legally, religiously: anyway you slice it, what happened was beyond inappropriate. The family put out a statement saying, in essence, that Josh recognized his wrongs, repented and asked for forgiveness.

Repentance does not excuse behavior: saying you’re sorry doesn’t somehow nullify the wrongful action. Within the economy of Christian salvation, it is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a point of commitment to want to do and be better. Josh was right to repent, but the past is written in stone, the future not written at all. It is troubling that these allegations persisted after acknowledgement and that countermeasures appear to have been haphazard and sloppy at best, while the later inquiry into Josh by the Springdale police was railroaded by his father.

[EDITORIAL ASIDE: One thing I find interesting-as-in-disconcerting that seems to be overlooked in this matter is that Jim Bob Duggar was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999-2002: just as he was exiting a brief career in politics, is just when these actions are alleged to have started taking place. The question I can’t shake is whether one has anything to do with the other. I digress.]

Josh very well may have been sincere and cognizant in recognizing his wrongdoing, but his family parading his repentance is nothing less than an invitation for precisely the kind of vitriol being directed at them over the past three days. And, in fairness, there is no reason at this point to think that he continued to engage in similar criminal activity after 2003.

That said, we cannot turn a blind eye to what was done merely because he repented and asked for forgiveness; quite the opposite, both repentance and forgiveness require everyone involved–and now, in this case, that’s all of us–acknowledge the reality and gravity of the actions which aggrieved. Good behavior afterward doesn’t change bad behavior before. Try as they might, the Duggars cannot edit this out and leave it on the floor. Life is a live feed.

***

Not all Evangelicals or fundamentalists believe what the Duggars believe. A lot of the sneering and outrage has come from the cultural left and from various atheists and anti-theists of all stripes, lumping all of us Christians in with the Duggars, just as they are wont to do with Young Earth Creationists like Ken Ham or any number of prominent church leaders over the years whose personal transgressions tarnished their reputations and killed the golden goose of faith promises.

I can’t be any more clear about this: Christianity is a very, very large tent. Quiverfull is a very, very small part of that caucus.

I refer to myself as a post-Evangelical Christian, as far as I know, that term means nothing to anyone but me. I do not agree in any way with the way the Duggars have designed their family or with much of their doctrinal positions at all. I am not them, in the same way that not all leftists are Stalinists, not all Muslims are out for global jihad and not all residents of Chicago are Cubs fans. (For the latter point, we can all be thankful.) When you [generally] take a swipe at all those stupid Christians pooping out a zillion babies and waiting for the Rapture, you are swiping at me and a very large contingency of those who would welcome a reasonable and vibrant conversation about what has happened (and about a host of other matters as well.)

What has happened over the past three days has put the magnifying glass extraordinarily close to a family in Arkansas. These events have also shown a light on the state of public discourse in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Neither have turned out to be particularly flattering revelations.

I really didn’t want to write about any of this.

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