About the time I had almost forgotten the Josh Duggar scandal the action ramped up again. This time not about child molestation charges, but rather an affair scandal disclosing that Josh had an account on the notorious Ashley Madison affair site. Explicit details are easily found online, and are disturbing for a man who promote(d) family values while holding such an account. And that is true whether he ever consummated his intentions or not. In this there is double hypocrisy. And the troubling reality, quoting his sister Jessa, is that ‘he was (…) just a little too curious about girls, you know’….except that she excuses it somewhat by the fact that he was in puberty. He isn’t any more, and yet is still experimenting in ways and places that are not appropriate.
Presumably it is true, with all the ‘evidence’ they’re including…. and with the public apology issued on the Duggar website this afternoon. At first the apology included a line about Josh’s secret addiction to porn and infidelity, but, alas, it has been edited out…. This editing out of parts of a confession, particularly under the circumstances, doesn’t build confidence in the least. Rather, it confirms what some of us have believed since the previous scandal’s interviews, that truth is edited for the public eye, at least by some of the family. ( If the link above does not work, or if the apology is removed, please contact me so I can remove the link.)
The whole thing made me sad and sick, when a friend sent me the initial link. Sick because I wanted to believe Josh was forthcoming in May…. And sad because it’s the same broken song I hear sung often in Christian circles when sin is discovered and the church everywhere is encouraged to forgive quickly, celebrate God’s grace and move on. And then too often the tune repeats itself, like an old record with the needle stuck, as the cycle continues, because we don’t get to the next level of consequences and accountability. So to feel better and make things go away, we push everyone to forgive and forget and believe the best in everyone.
Heck, I want to do believe the best. Because I want abusers to be ‘for real’ when they say they are sorry. I want to know that a quick miracle of grace and moving on will guarantee that every child is safe with that person. I want to believe that they are trustworthy and are making good moral choices. And I want to believe that they are not just sorry they got caught. However, to accept such idealism as reality, without boundaries to protect the vulnerable and hold the offenders accountable, is irresponsible. Especially based on the realities playing out all around. Still, one can’t be faulted for desiring it. Who doesn’t want a safe world?
Even now I believe in hope, freedom and restoration, and celebrate the beautiful Gospel of Jesus. But I don’t believe in turning a blind eye to the blatant and glaring truth. And it certainly isn’t appropriate to push a grace and forgiveness agenda, to make Christians seem squeaky clean, when things are seriously messed up. And right now they are.
What troubles me most, is that the scandal in May came and went with nary a peep of a confession about affairs and affair sites. And before anyone says it was a private matter, I’ll inject that it wasn’t and it isn’t; it is a wide open public matter. Just like the sins of King David who was in the public eye and God exposed him so the whole nation saw it. The minute someone is in the public eye that way it’s best to be transparent, or eventually be exposed for public failure. It’s that simple. And I’ll add that it’s especially true of Christians, and even more so those who fail morally while promoting family values and sexual integrity, whether pastors, or others who advocate in the name of God, because of the damage done through hypocrisy. Ironically, according to the data, while we didn’t hear any confessions in May, it just happens to be when the account was shut down, after two-years. I’m thinking that it would have been wise to admit to the hypocrisy at that point and get some serious help. A public disclosure and confession might have made a few extra ripples back in May, but they would have been worth it because it would have built trust and credibility. This public disclosure isn’t causing ripples; it’s causing tsunamis.
It’s this ‘not coming clean part’ that breaks down trust as much as the moral failures themselves. Maybe more so; sincerity and authenticity, even after failure, are the foundation of trust. (Not talking only about Josh here, but in general). It’s a disgrace to God, to the Christian community and to families to have an opportunity to be forthcoming, and waste it on self-preservation. It is one thing to fail and sin. We all sin. No, we don’t all molest children and we don’t all have affairs, but we all sin. And inevitably sin breaks trust when it involves using, betraying or hurting other people. But the level of trust broken by the initial sin does not compare with adding insult to injury, and hiding another scandal for later trauma. This does near irreparable damage, relationally.
And it isn’t really about Josh. I mean, there are nearly 40 million people who were reportedly making use of the site, out of our 7.3 billion world population. And 95%, approximately, of those are male. At first this posed a question or two, for me, starting with where they find the women for the affairs…. Or were the 5% of women on the site just very busy. But then I discovered the company allegedly made up fake female profiles and it was all just a money grab that exposed a lot of men’s willingness to cheat on their wives, and a few women as well. (Then again, 5% of 40 million is a substantial number of people…. certainly more than just a few. )
With numbers that high, there are a lot of marriages in trouble. And, like Josh who could have made his confessions in May, there are presumable a lot of people holding their breath and playing Russian Roulette, of sorts, with their marriages and taking their chances that they won’t get found out. That’s a dangerous gamble. Quoting the God of the Universe, it is safe to say this: ‘Be sure your sins will find you out!’ They will, sooner or later.
And of course the ‘hey, let’s attack all Christians with sarcasm, because one was hypocritical’ blogs are popping up, and our faith in general is under attack because ‘one of ours’ seriously misrepresented God. I won’t bother to link to any as the language and disrespect isn’t worth it. At the same time I can’t blame the unbelievers and atheists; if I was still there, I’d be having a hay day too. Especially after all the preaching against immorality… We really can’t blame them…
When I think of recent scandals involving prominent Christians and hear the defences from within Christian communities, trying to protect and cover up, and then listen to the Christian outcry against Planned Parenthood and selling baby parts, I cringe. It is embarrassing. I look around at the moral failure of those claiming God’s name, and see the damage done to God’s name. But it’s not really the failure that does the damage. It’s the hypocrisy. It’s the not being honest about that failure, while pointing furiously at the world around.
But for all the hypocrisy, and whether these men and women are saints with halos that look like a train wreck, or whether they are scoundrel imposters defaming God, the one thing that doesn’t change is my faith in God. God is good. He’s not too excited about protecting His name. He simply is God; the very essence of love and goodness. He is interested in making us whole and will go to great lengths to have our darkness exposed so that the light can shine in. And He’s a God of consequences, so wherever the chips may fall on this one, it probably won’t be as harsh as Achan’s death in the book of Judges. He is also a God of mercy and doesn’t write off the fallen messed up lot that we are.
So to all 40 million Ashley Madison users, the Christians in particular: there is still grace and mercy for your sins. Consider this your opportunity to come clean and not make excuses. Your sins have brought shame on Christianity, but then so have my sins. The aftermath and consequences of your sins will play out over time, and will be used against people of faith for many years to come, but even that God accounted for when He chose the way of love, the way of the cross, and died for you… for us.
To Josh, I pray you get some real help, whatever it takes. (And, yes, I actually have prayed for you, your wife (especially your wife!) and your family, and will continue to do so. Those are more than words.) I’m all about the grace and mercy of Jesus. I am also all about not writing things off with the line ‘it’s under the blood’. You have disappointed many of us who tried to believe you were sincere in your repentance, and have proven to be untrustworthy. Clearly your conscience kicked in when the first scandal broke loose, and you closed down your Ashley Madison account, but you still chose to protect your image rather than admit you are a very broken and disturbed man. (I was one who chose to believe you were sincere, and encouraged forgiveness with boundaries….) I pray this breaks you to a place of genuine humility and repentance, so that you understand any grace coming your way is just that; undeserved…which is why it is called grace. And whatever consequences that come are the result of sin and your choices, not because your sweet wife didn’t give you enough… or any other excuse. Own it, without blame or excuse, and repent before God. And as for image, it’s gone, so that’s the good part; you can be real and lose nothing but gain everything.
We all face the music and bear the consequences of our sin and choices, but there is always hope through repentance and faith in Jesus. That is the gospel that does not change, and therefore deserves to be shared and preached in every situation, even while going through those consequences.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God… and God loved the world so much that He chose to come–Emmanuel, God with us–to die for those sins, so that whoever believes in Him–including Josh Duggar, and including me–would not perish but have everlasting life. He didn’t come to condemn the world, in spite of our sins, but to offer us salvation. (based on Romans 3:23; John 3:16-17.)
Thank God for Jesus. I needed Him, and 40 million Ashley Madison users do as well, as does the whole world.
That’s why Jesus came.
Love, Grace and Peace,
~ T ~