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The Duggars Are Not Alone

There has been a lot of criticism of TLC’s famed Duggar family in recent days. But I’d like to replace the public shaming of the family with a dialogue about the underlying issues at work in the scandal. I have a lot of stake in this discussion because there are similar issues at work in my own life. And I am not alone.

The Duggars’ story stokes the fires of public outrage because it’s familiar. The sting of betrayal is particularly sharp when the perpetrator is a so-called “moral pillar of the community”—just ask Bill Cosby fans. I’m not being snarky here. Recent falls from grace have been hard to swallow. When you invite larger-than-life figures into your living room and buy into their wholesome brand, you’re devastated when their predatory natures are exposed.

When Josh Duggar was 14, he forcibly fondled five young girls, some of whom were his own sisters. He confessed his wrongdoings and owned his transgressions, which must have been emotionally excruciating and humbling. What I take issue with is what happened afterward. This is where the real work has to be done—and where the ball was tragically dropped.

Too often the adults in charge want to sweep the problem under the rug and just move on with life. I feel the Duggars’ specific worldview may have worked to their disadvantage here. First, let me say that I believe in God and believe that a relationship with a higher power is critical to a fulfilling life. However, certain fundamentalist views on forgiveness don’t place enough accountability on perpetrators of these kinds of crimes.

Your beliefs may dictate that Jesus died for your sins, but does that mean that you don’t have to receive professional counseling to try to understand why you would act in such a way in the first place? Sexual assault can’t simply be chalked up to man’s sinful nature and moments of weakness. Perpetrators have to do the work of recovery—if they can recover at all. Some people with these predatory tendencies will never recover.

It’s not enough to admit the deed, apologize, receive some stern lectures and alone time and move on with life. This is what happened with Josh Duggar. Worse, the family (including Josh’s own wife) sang the praises of counseling which Josh, by his mother’s own admission, never actually received.

Denial is a powerful force. So is repression. But are they constructive?

I’m not saying that redemption isn’t possible. But we can’t take shortcuts. If someone has skipped over the deep counseling requiring more than paying lip-service to forgiveness or saying “Sorry”—should he be trusted? Is that enough to allow children to grow up complacent and trusting in his presence?

These are the questions I have asked in my own family. In light of recent events, I hope they are the questions that many troubled families ask themselves in earnest.

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