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In This Sign, Conquer
As The Church Churns

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

In This Sign, Conquer
As The Church Churns

End Notes   [ + ]

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