Truth and Light
“He was too young to know what he was doing. In his mind, it probably wasn’t much worse than stealing a cookie.”
“He only touched their breasts. It could have been worse.”
“He repented and was forgiven, so his slate has been wiped clean. I would have no problem asking him to babysit my own children.”
“They were just ‘playing doctor.’ A lot of kids do that.”
“Those girls aren’t really victims if they were asleep when it happened.”
These represent just a few of the more shocking comments I’ve seen in the wake of last week’s news about the Duggar family. The comments are bad enough by themselves, but what makes them worse is that they all came from Christians. And not just the ones who are members of those weird little sects. A couple of those comments came from a preacher in a mainstream denomination.
I have a couple of theories about why so many people of faith have been quick to defend the way the Duggar situation has been handled. First, Christians tend to be very supportive and defensive of their own people. Every time a movie like Fireproof or God’s Not Dead comes out, Christians flock to see it because we need to support Christians in the film industry, right? Christians tune into shows like Duck Dynasty (and buy up all that ridiculous merchandise) because they are Christians and we need to support them, right?
So when something pretty horrible comes to light about a Christian in the national spotlight—someone who has been held up as part of an example of how Christian families should be—some Christians will rush to his defense. “Judge not lest ye be judged” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “we all sin/make mistakes” will get thrown around as though one Bible verse or not-completely-thought-out sentence will provide a quick resolution to an extremely complex situation.
I definitely think this unhealthy, unwavering loyalty is at play here. But my fear is that something much worse is going on. From many of the responses/reactions I’ve seen to the Duggar reports over the past few days, I think many people in religious communities are horribly ignorant and naïve about sexual abuse.
Students at Bob Jones University were told not to report rape/sexual abuse because it might “damage the body of Christ.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, a denomination with churches on five continents, allegedly failed to report sexual abuse allegations from decades ago. A pastor of a Maryland church knew the youth leader had molested three young boys, but never reported it. These are just a few examples of many, many horrific incidents of abuse that happened in religious settings. Google “sexual abuse in churches.” The stories are never-ending.
The Catholic church has been making headlines about sexual abuse cover-ups for years, but it’s everywhere. And it’s clear that many church leaders either don’t know how to handle these situations, or choose not to handle them correctly. It’s also clear that when it comes to sexual abuse, many people of faith just don’t get it. They don’t get that while “forgiveness” sounds nice, telling a victim they have to forgive can only worsen the damage. They don’t get the depth of the trauma. They don’t get that repentance will not guarantee the perpetrator will never do it again. They don’t get that the verses about judging and casting stones come across as thinly veiled attempts to guilt someone into silence. And that silence is exactly what an abuser needs to keep abusing and keep getting away with it.
Organizations such as GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) are already working to turn this tide of ignorance and irreversible harm, but more needs to be done:
- I believe all clergy members should be mandatory reporters. This would mean that if any clergy member knows or suspects any kind of abuse (not just sexual) is going on, they would be required by law to report it to authorities.
- I believe people who work with minors in all churches, temples, mosques and other religious entities should undergo abuse awareness training on a regular basis. My husband is a youth and family minister, so yes, this would mean both of us, as well as all of our Bible class teachers and parent volunteers.
- On a more personal level, we have got to stop passionately defending abusers and badly-handled situations whether the people involved share our own faith systems or not.
One comment I have read on the Duggar situation is that we should not speak out on these kinds of situations because “we should not enter a battle that is not ours.” But when 93 percent of sex offenders describe themselves as religious* (meaning they are likely involved in a faith community somewhere), and when studies have found that sexual abusers within faith communities have more victims and younger victims**, this is a battle that belongs to all of us. Sexual abuse is the kind of criminal activity that thrives in silence and darkness, and faith communities should be repositories of truth and light.
*The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study
** “Startling Statistics: Child sexual abuse and what the church can begin doing about it”