Josh Duggar, Mike Huckabee and Fodder for Progressives

Huckabee DuggarOn May 19, 2015, In Touch Weekly carried the story, “’19 Kids and Counting’ Son Named in Underage Sex Probe”. It opens with:

Josh Duggar of the TLC hit reality show 19 Kids and Counting was named in a police report as the “alleged offender” in an underage sexual abuse probe, In Touch magazine is reporting exclusively.

The charge being pursued while Josh was a minor was sexual assault in the fourth degree, multiple sources who have seen the police report and are familiar with the case told In Touch. According to the report, Josh was brought into the Arkansas State Police by his father, Jim Bob, who said he caught him leaving a young girl’s bedroom and “learned something inappropriate happened,” one source said.

Things move quickly in the world of the 24 hour news cycle. In short order TLC canceled the popular program, on May 21. The same day, the new headline was Josh Duggar resigns from Family Research Council after sexual abuse allegations”. As part of his position with the FRC, Josh rubbed elbows with Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Scott Walker. On May 22 ABC news (among others) carried the story, “Josh Duggar: Mike Huckabee Defends the ’19 Kids and Counting’ Star”.

As you might guess, I received several emails asking us to weigh in on this issue, due to the Duggar’s well-known and very public association with Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles. I was aware of their ties to Gothard, their large family, and their television show, but I don’t really know very much about the family or their exploits. I have never watched the show.

I have read several bloggers thoughts and comments and very much appreciated “The Duggars: How Fundamentalism’s Teachings on Sexuality Create Predatory Behavior” at the “Diary of an Autodidact.” The writer is not surprised by the scandal:

I have been saying privately for years that something like this would absolutely come to light regarding the Duggars, so this is no surprise to me at all.

Although I think the writer does a very balanced job on the issues and is entitled to his opinion, I would not agree with his statement:

I firmly believe that the beliefs within Christian Fundamentalism strongly contribute to these failings – and indeed make them inevitable.

This is a common view put forward by the “former fundamentalist” and/or Progressive/Liberal camp. (I am not saying this blogger is in one of these camps – I haven’t read enough of his material to know). But I do not think that sexual misbehavior is an inevitable part of fundamentalism per se, but rather stems from holding onto a pernicious form of legalism. Fundamentalism does not equal legalism. A fundamentalist is someone who holds to the ”fundamentals of the Christian faith,” of which self-righteous legalism is no requisite part. Legalism, in my view, springs from striving after holiness through human effort and legalistic prescriptions. We have all read of the extreme legalism practiced by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. In our day, we recognize legalism within Roman Catholicism, with the result of the shameful scandal of large numbers of priests practicing pedophilia. Jehovah’s Witnesses are an extremely legalistic cult, and are likewise dealing with the fallout of rampant pedophilia and/or rape being perpetrated and/or covered up by their leadership.

And unfortunately for the Duggar’s, self-righteous legalism is foundational in Gothard’s teachings. And Bill Gothard himself has recently resigned from his position at IBLP, due to accusations of, dare I say it, sexually inappropriate behavior.

In our book, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life in the chapter “The Courtship Game,” we noted on page 275:

Could it be that severe problems naturally arise among those who have been instructed to repress this side of our humanity? Is it possible that this mentality heavily contributed to the huge sex scandal that rocked Gothard’s ministry in 1980 (refer to chapter 1)?

By repression we mean something very different than the control a mature person exercises over his or her natural passions and instincts. We mean the attempt, not to control but to eradicate such instincts, treating them – whether consciously or unconsciously – as things that are sinful; to try to bury them in a dark closet and hope they reemerge as infrequently as possible. Emotional castration does not work. Most often, the thing we try not to think about is the very thing that becomes the focus of our attention and overcomes us with a vengeance. There are examples in history which show this at work. Isabel Tang shares an account of one of the monasteries in Egypt, which had been founded by Pachomius (290-347).1 Central to these monk’s asceticism was a pervasive sense of spiritual danger attached to anything remotely sexual. The rules the monks observed to reduce the temptation involved everything from rules against tucking their tunics up too high when washing clothes, to having their knees uncovered when sitting together, to prohibitions on being alone together in the dark. In the end, the extreme repression of sexuality led to an obsession with sexuality. In an attempt to prevent the temptations of sex, the whole organization of their life revolved around one thing—sex. In this way, intense concentration on an object of paranoia can easily become a displaced outlet for that very thing through a kind of reverse fixation. The Apostle Paul shows this well in Romans chapter seven.

I would suggest that “legalism” rather than fundamentalism is more at the heart of the matter here. Of course some fundamentalists are also legalists, but then again, we can find legalism in many camps.

From a political standpoint, I question the wisdom of Huckabee defending the Duggars in this situation. But, as we learned when researching Gothardism, Huckabee also has some ties with Gothard. It is unfortunate this scandal has to play itself out in public but since it is, it seems like it would be prudent for Presidential aspirants to take no position on the matter while the facts sort themselves out.

For me, this is another reminder of the dangers inherent in legalism. The attempt to attain holiness based on steps, principles and programs is contrary to Scripture and devoid of grace. Scriptural grace by definition is “a kindly attitude toward the undeserving” from God. Legalism causes a deadly attraction to the very behaviors it is designed to eliminate. The cure is to keep more of a focus on the Son, which leaves less time to focus on sin.

  1. Isabel Tang, Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization (London; Channel 4 Books, an Imprint of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.


Josh Duggar, Mike Huckabee and Fodder for Progressives — 11 Comments

  1. The odd thing about 19 Kids (the Duggar’s show) is that either they, or TLC who films them and carries the program do focus on sex. Of course it is very tame compared to most of what is shown these days. But Jim Bob always talks about “be fruitful and multiply.” That apparently is his life’s motto. Whether it is the questions that the shows producers ask or whether it’s what the Duggars themselves want to talk about who knows. But in nearly every show the topic comes up, some aspect of the male/female relationship, whether in marriage or courtship. Things like kissing/not kissing at the wedding. Holding hands/not holding hands, side hugs what they are and how to do them, having chaperones, all during courtship. How difficult it was not to kiss during courtship, and on and on it goes. This is a major topic in every show. It has become boring and predictable.

    And as you pointed out, the more you focus on all of this (even if it is a repressive, legalistic focus) then the more of a temptation it becomes. Though I do think it is important to point out that this could just as easily happened in an atheist’s family. Sin is sin and every family has sinners who sin.

  2. Good article, Don. I would add one other thing aside from the legalism that is inherent in the Gothard movement. It’s the idea that sin is something “out there” that we have to protect ourselves from. It breed the idea that “we are good” and we have to protect from the evil influences “out there” from infiltrating us. This is distorted view of the depravity of man. We are all sinners and the issue. While we do need to protect ourselves from a lot of the garbage that is out there, our kids especially, it’s more that we need to be delivered from sin. I have watched the show and have read some of the literature from IBLP and other movements like it and what is missing a lot of the time, the preaching of the cross.

    Legalism doesn’t only add to salvation, but it strips away the very nature of who man is and why we need a savior in the first place.

    To God be the Glory!

  3. I agree. The Gospel Coalition said something similar in “The Duggars and the Evil Outside”

    Instead, I’d like to point out a problematic, but fairly common assumption in many corners of evangelicalism — an assumption that needs to be challenged. It’s the idea that sin is something out there that we need to watch out for. The reality, however, is that sin is not primarily something we need to be sheltered from, but delivered from.

    It’s easy for a Christian family that seeks to honor the Lord with distinctive, holy living to adopt this mindset:

    “The world is evil, and our family is good. Therefore, we need to protect our family from the evil outside.”

    Along these lines, training up children in the way they should go becomes primarily about sheltering our kids. We deliver our kids from evil by avoiding evil influences “outside” our home. We forbid certain television shows, monitor their internet usage, and avoid neighborhood kids. In some cases, we turn to homeschooling or Christian education.

    The problem with this mindset is that it takes a legitimate aspect of wise parenting and twists it until it results in a warped view of children and society.

  4. Legalism is a danger anytime one believes in absolute truth, but as you point out it is not inevitable. I’m not Roman Catholic, but I’ve found not all Roman Catholics are legalists, either. Religious people are not legalists because they believe that truth is one or they engage certain spiritual disciplines as a matter of the working out of their faith. They are legalists if they believe their observance of certain rules can obligate God or earn them salvation or gives them to right to sit in judgment on someone else.

    According to Boz Tchividijian in his article, “Evangelical Sex Abuse Record ‘Worse’ Than Catholic”, there is likely a worse problem of sexual abuse in Evangelical churches than in the Roman Catholic Church (as bad as that is).

    According to this article, there is a worse problem of clergy sexual abuse in Baptist Churches than in their more hierarchal organized counterparts (e.g., Methodists, Presbyterians) because there is less in the way of rules for conduct and accountability for pastors (which makes sense if you think about it).

    Certainly not all fundamentalists are legalists, and certainly not all will become abusive. On the other hand, there does seem to be an authoritarian culture in certain Independent Baptist Churches (like that in Bill Gothard’s organization) which allows legalism and abuse to take hold and thrive, as it has in this well-known IBC. Sadly, this is not a unique case, and this pastor’s predecessor also was caught in a lifestyle involving sexually immoral behavior.

    I suspect we traditional Christians do ourselves and our cause more harm through our own blind spots and hypocrisy than any of those we tend to regard as the “bogeyman” outside our camp do to us (e.g., atheists and progressives). Pride, a close cousin to legalism, is pretty much universal. Personally, I find it’s very difficult not to fall into the trap, especially when a critic puts me on the defensive. As difficult as it is for us moderns to understand all their scruples and rules (which certainly could get out of hand), in our faithful monastic forebearers, I’ve found more truth and wisdom about such things as the importance of humility and the radical nature of God’s grace and love than I’ve found anywhere else, except for in the Scriptures themselves.

    • Karen, the legalism of the Roman Catholic Church was confined to the celibacy of the priesthood and how it has led to abuse, not Roman Catholicism in general. I don’t know enough of JW to comment on them.

      • The article doesn’t seem that clear, Lynn. It is open to interpretation of accusing RC in general of being an inherently legalistic faith, with celibacy of the RC priesthood resulting in sexually abusive priests being but one example of a more general overall legalism. I also wanted to mention the info. about sexual abuse being likely even more prevalent in Evangelical clergy because I frequently encounter the mistaken notion in Christian circles (regardless of denomination) that marriage (and a married clergy) is inherently a safeguard against sexual abuse by clergy/religious authority, but that is not true. I agree with the author (and you) about the basic definition of legalism, which I reiterate in my first paragraph. I believe authoritarianism, externalism and legalism, which are a human (not a denominational) problem, are the real issues. I totally agree that Gothard and those who subscribe to his teachings have fallen into a legalistic trap, importing a worldly (“Gentile”) notion of “authority” (that involves “lording it over” others) and this is not the true spiritual authority modeled and taught by Jesus (which comes not from the exercise of force or manipulation, but rather is born of genuine humility, purity and love).

    • Also, it’s true one aspect of legalism is the notion that our upright behavior is what justifies us in God’s eyes. This is the worst kind of legalism, for the consequences are eternal, and it is the definition you stated in your comment. There are more facets of spiritual legalism, IMO, the chief one being placing rules not taught in Scripture, or personal scruples, on par with biblical commands, and claim that they are binding on everyone.

      It is this definition of legalism that I believe Bill Gothard and the Duggars are operating under. Like legalism for salvation, this kind of legalism makes people falsely judgmental. Don has previously spoken of the legalistic, unbiblical authoritarian teaching of Vision Forum, IBLP, and other groups. Don has called it the “Gentile” authority Jesus warned against in the gospels, and it is this particular legalism that lends itself to abuses spoken of above, in addition to forbidding marriage, IMO.

  5. Commenting on the Duggar sexual episode with Josh. Didn’t he admit to what he did, then they reported it to the police so that it would become a permanent record in his life history, he has asked forgiveness for it and agreed and gotten counceling for it. Well, isn’t that all that God, himself, asks of us to forgive us our sins? What more is required of him or his family? I for one would not have 19 or 20 children to fill this earth. It would have to settle for being only sparsely filled in at least some places. However, they choose to have these children and raise them and seemed to have done a herculean job of doing pretty miraculously well for the most part. Who of us could have done the job as well. Besides, what we teach our children and what they choose to do with that teaching are two different things of which we can not be held responsible.

    • Dorothy, the issue is not Josh per se, although he has suffered severe consequences for this. The main issue is his parents allowing episodes of molestation to continue and escalate in the home for a year. When they finally talked to the elders of their church, the church did not do mandatory reporting. Josh went away for three months to live with another man and do construction. After this they spoke to a police officer who claims they said the abuse only happened one time and Josh had already been through treatment, so he decided to not pursue charges. The trouble is, if the officer is telling the truth, then Jim Bob lied to him about the extent of molestation. And the “treatment” was technically not treatment, either.

      The above was in 2003. In 2006 Oprah’s producers were tipped off about the allegations and refused to have the family on her show, but sent them packing and notified the authorities. It was only after this that the victims received counseling. Now they claim everything is just fine. They claim the police report was illegally leaked. Others say since the report was never sealed the FOIA request had to be honored.

      The main issue is not forgiveness, but of tabloid exposure of how this family handled a significant problem. The Duggars operated to keep Josh out of the justice system, but did do some things to get him help.

      They never should have put their children on camera like this for years and years. The tabloid press is just doing its job, which is sleazy, but I believe the responsibility is on Josh’s parents’ shoulders in this matter.

      That is all that is known, more or less. They have all worked hard to be on the same page and do damage control. We really don’t know what the truth is here. We don’t know if the abuse was more extensive than we’ve been told.

    • Dorothy,

      Whether Josh has laid his heart open to God, neither you nor I know. We have no way to be sure if he has, or hasn’t, and other than to Josh and his victims, it doesn’t matter.

      What does matter is we have seen the same issues happening over and over, in a variety of religious groups. Why are we seeing this?

      If we look at the issues, there are a couple of points that stand out:

      1) Often the offender is in ‘authority’ over the victim. Josh was in authority over the younger children. We also see this happening where police, teachers, youth group leaders, etc. are the offenders. This indicates to me that our children need to be taught that authority is limited, i.e. that the person in authority is only allowed that authority for certain purposes.

      2) That the victims are not well educated about their own bodies, nor what certain things mean. If the victim isn’t aware that a particular act is wrong, no matter who tries to do it to them, they are open to being victimized.

      3) That youthful offenders often know little more than their victims. If they don’t understand what they are doing, how will they know that they shouldn’t be doing it?

      Those three items are why we are seeing so many cases of molestation/rape in certain circumstances in my opinion. If you don’t teach children about sex, you leave them open to being victimized, just like if you don’t teach a child how to swim, you leave them open to drowning.

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