Josh Duggar has just been found guilty of possessing and receiving child sexual abuse materials.
On a personal level, I am glad that the guilty verdict came down.
But I’d like to talk about some wider issues in the evangelical church that this case revealed.
For those who don’t know, Josh Duggar is the oldest child in the famous Duggar family from Arksansas, who had the TV show 19 Kids and Counting. They are a very fundamentalist family, following the Gothard/IBLP doctrines where the male patriarch rules, girls must be submissive, no touching before marriage, and full courtship with parents planning it.
Okay, now back to current news.
To begin, I’d like to take us back to the story of Amnon, Tamar, and David found in 2 Samuel 13.
Amnon and Tamar were half-siblings, and Amnon was obsessed with Tamar. So he made a plan on how he could get alone with her. He pretended to be ill, and when his father King David came in to check on him, he asked David to send Tamar to his room with food to minister to him.
David fetched Tamar and sent her to Amnon.
When there, Amnon raped her.
Afterwards the story says that he despised her, and wouldn’t marry her or redeem her. He left her tainted, unable to marry anyone else. She lived the rest of her life in desolation.
And David? He knew all about this, but he did nothing.
Now Tamar had a full sibling named Absalom, and Absalom saw all that had happened. Two years later, Absalom killed Amnon, and was banished from the kingdom. Later, he led a civil war against his father David.
Such destruction–that was all started because David didn’t defend his daughter and demand justice for his daughter and protect his daughter. He let her bear the shame for her brother’s sin.
Why do I say that it all started with David, rather than with Amnon? Because there will always be abusers. There will always be rapists and be men who will hurt and abuse women. But survivors will tell you that often the greater harm is not the initial assault, but how no one stood up for you, and in fact all too often sided with the abuser.
Silence from those who are supposed to defend us and care for us can be much, much worse.
We have seen the Amnon and Tamar story play out in an individual way with the Duggar family, but in a collective way with the evangelical church.
The Duggars as Amnon and Tamar: JimBob turns his back on his daughters in court
At the beginning of the trial, JimBob was asked to testify about Josh’s confession of abusing his sisters. JimBob repeatedly said he couldn’t recall. Instead of telling the truth and defending his daughters and validating their experiences, he prioritized Josh’s interests.
At every step of the way in Josh’s life, his interests have been prioritized over his sisters’, his wife’s, and his children’s.
So much so that his father wouldn’t even validate his own daughters’ experience. Instead of getting justice for his daughters, he tried to lessen the impact on his son.
The Evangelical Church as Amnon and Tamar: Excusing men’s sins against women
On a broader scale, we see repeatedly the evangelical world choosing to side with abusers over the abused. The number of scandals that come out, almost daily, is too big to recount. Whether it’s the SBC refusing to take abuse seriously or act on recommendations or churches and organizations trying to silence and shame accusers, we’ve consistently put the interests of celebrities like Zacharias, Hybels, Mohler, Patterson, Mahaney, Chandler, and more ahead of the women they hurt or whose abuse they covered up. Just look at the lawsuit against Liberty University! It’s disgusting.
But it stems from one simple belief: All men struggle with lust; it’s every man’s battle.
Evangelicals believe this. We live and breathe it. We teach it everywhere. The Every Man’s Battle book series sold 4,000,000 copies. Gary Thomas, in his most recent book, repeats the line that men are made to think about sexual thoughts constantly and that they are made to always try to seize a sexual opportunity. They believe that the objectification of women and masculinity are one and the same. Like Gary Thomas said in 2016, quoting Al Mohler, “there isn’t a man alive who isn’t bent in his sexual desires.”
And if God made men that way, then it really can’t be that bad.
And if God made men that way, then men can’t help it.
The only way that men can handle their visual nature, their lust nature, their propensity toward sexual sin, is for women to change.
Men’s sexual sin is a given; so women must act differently to prevent it. We must dress modestly. We must not tempt men. We must not be a stumbling block. And then, as Every Man’s Battle tells women, we must be the methadone for our husband’s sex addictions (Yes, the original Every Man’s Battle book actually called women methadone. Seriously). We must have sex so often that they won’t watch porn or have affairs.
Instead of telling men what Jesus told them–that they should gouge out their eye if it causes them to sin–and instead of telling men what Paul repeatedly told them, that they are responsible for their own lusts, the evangelical church has laid the burden for men’s lust on women. We must not be stumbling blocks, and then we must have has much sex as possible to stop men from sinning. If he sins, then, that’s a sign that a woman wasn’t doing her job properly. (we cover this at length in The Great Sex Rescue!).
And that’s why, instead of getting justice for Tamar, the evangelical world is covering up for Amnon. We believe Amnon was just a boy, being a boy.
And because he’s a boy–he matters more. Because in evangelicalism, men were made to lead, and women were made to serve.
This belief that lust and masculinity are intertwined is a uniquely evangelical problem.
Yes, the secular world also treats women like objects, but in the evangelical world, we turn it up a notch.
In our survey of 3,000 Christian men, we found that evangelical men were 81% more likely to believe “lust is every man’s battle” in high school than other Christians who don’t identify as evangelicals, and 46% more likely to believe it now than other Christian men.
Our survey of 20,000 women found something even more stark. Evangelical women are 85% more likely to believe “lust is every man’s battle” than non-evangelical Christians. And the more women attended church (both in high school and currently) the more likely they were to agree with the every man’s battle message.
Evangelicalism has made male objectification of women a core piece of our doctrine. We have so equated masculinity with objectifying women that we don’t know how to separate the two.
But Jesus did separate the two. Jesus never claimed that lust was impossible to get over; quite the opposite. Lust was something to put to death.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
How do we move forward so the evangelical world gets justice for Tamar?
1. Stop saying lust is every man’s battle.
Treat lust like a sin, not a feature of masculinity.
2. Stop asking women to change so that men don’t sin.
The solution to male lust or male abuse of women is for men to stop lusting and for men to stop abusing women. The way to stop rape is for men to stop raping; it is not for women to change.
3. Treat abuse seriously.
Have protection policies in place at church–and follow them. If there is an accusation made, treat it seriously. Make third party investigations the norm.
4. Stop calling things that are abuse or rape “affairs”.
When a youth pastor has sex with someone in their youth group, it isn’t a “relationship” or an “affair.” It is abuse. When a pastor manipulates someone in their congregation for intercourse (or another sexual act), it isn’t “an affair”. It isn’t “having sex”. It is sexual assault.
5. Stop keeping women out of leadership positions.
When only men can lead, it sets up a dynamic of male entitlement and power, which reinforces the idea that women exist to serve men. This is the root of much sexual abuse to begin with. See women as more than just servants. They are whole people, with a variety of gifts, made in the image of God. Instead of creating a church culture where men matter more than women, remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:25-28.
6. Acknowledge that some marriages should be dissolved.
God is not honored by an abusive, destructive marriage staying together in name only, where people are systematically losing their sense of self. God is honored when we all look more like Jesus. Demanding that abused spouses stay in an abusive marriage, or demanding that women stay in a marriage with a sexually addicted husband, enables the destructive activity to continue because the abuser bears no consequences. In fact, they get the best of everything. They get to abuse, but they also get a spouse who can’t leave. In these cases, divorce doesn’t break the marriage bond; abuse already broke the marriage bond. Help victims find freedom. Don’t keep them in prison.
That’s my quick take on Josh Duggar.
I think his story tells a larger one that the evangelical world needs to take seriously–and I hope that this will be a catalyst for change for good.
Do you have a quick take on the verdict? What are your thoughts? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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