duggar-familyI’ve seen a lot of different social media posts and articles about the revelation that Josh Duggar sexually molested several girls when he was 14-years-old.  If you are not aware, Josh Duggar is the oldest sibling of the Duggar Family who are the focus of the TLC show 19 and Counting whose fate is uncertain because of this recent news.  The Duggars have also been prevalent in numerous political campaigns. Josh Duggar last week resigned his position as executive director of the Family Research Council Action as a result of this news coming to light.

I debated whether I should write about this or not.  I decided I would since most of what I read seems to be coming from two different extremes and both should be addressed.

The first extreme I’ve seen are those who turn Josh Duggar into a hero of sorts because he confessed his sexual offenses, repented and turned his life over to Christ.  Some have blindly defended the Duggar family as well which, in my opinion, is not appropriate.  Instead of defending Josh Duggar, who himself said what he did was inexcusable, or Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar our focus should be on respecting Josh Duggar’s victims.

The second extreme are those who desire to totally discount Josh Duggar’s repentance because he’s a sex offender.  In the minds of some, sex offenders can never change.  They also scoff at the forgiveness he was allegedly shown by his victims.  Much of this vitriol has come from some on the left who love to point out the flaws of conservatives in general, and Christians in particular.  What is alarming is how many Christians have jumped on this bandwagon.

I want to offer four observations from the perspective of working with juvenile and adult sex offenders, as well as, juvenile victims of sexual abuse for a number of years.

The first and most important observation I want to make is if God can not save sexual offenders He can save no one.  It is mind-boggling to me when even some Christians doubt this.  If you have landed in this camp you need to repent because you are embracing a false gospel.  The Bible is abundantly clear.  The Gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16 emphasis mine).  There is no exception clause here.

Ephesians 2 is a little more poignant.  We were all spiritually dead and separated from God and the fact any one of us is saved is a miracle.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them, (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).

Note verse three – we all “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”  That is the natural outcome of being totally and utterly separated from God.  The fact that many of us didn’t take the same road as Josh Duggar did as a teenager is only by the grace of God.

So can Josh Duggar and other sexual offenders change?  Absolutely they can, and many do.  Also, not every sexual offender is the same, some are more prone to reoffend than others.  The observed sexual recidivism rates of juveniles who commit sexual offenses range from about 7 percent to 13 percent after 59 months depending on which study you look at.  Juvenile sex offenders tend to have lower recidivism rates than adult sex offenders as well.  Statistically speaking, a relatively small percentage of juveniles who commit a sexual offense will sexually reoffend as adults.  It’s been my experience that juveniles with a sex offense who reoffend generally do so with a different type of charge – violation of probation, property crime, drug use, etc.

Does knowing this make the offense somehow less horrible?  Absolutely not, but the belief “once a sex offender always a sex offender” is not always correct.  There are some sex offenders who are high-risk of reoffending.  For instance pedophiles (an adult who is sexually aroused by a child under the age of 12 – Josh Duggar is not, by definition, a pedophile), rapists, voyuers and exhibitionists have a greater likelihood of reoffending.  However, as I mentioned before, juvenile recidivism rates are quite low.

The second observation I want to make is this – even though one can be saved from eternal consequences that does not necessarily eliminate earthly consequences.  Those saved are still responsible for crimes they may have committed, trust they may have broken or relationships they damaged.

I have witnessed over the past few days that some people believe once one is saved the offense should be forgotten.  That’s not just.  Reconciliation, which includes restitution, should be sought.  People have also indicated that Josh Duggar is somehow a portrait of bravery.  I disagree.  He was caught when he was a juvenile and he came forward about this only when the story was going to break.  That’s not particularly brave (even though I believe he has handled the bad PR appropriately).

While the statute of limitations prevents criminal consequences in his specific case (especially since it occurred when he was a juvenile); he is experiencing some of the natural consequences.  Having a background as a sex offender, either as a juvenile or adult,  almost always is toxic to an organization.  Whether you believe this is fair or not that is just something he is going to have to live with especially if you have a high-profile role in an organization like the Family Research Council.  The Duggar family may also lose their show, but one could argue that with their family history was it wise to even do the show to begin with (I expand on this below)?  What is surprising is that they were able to avoid this secret from coming out as long as they did.

Third observation… It seems as though the victims have been lost in all of the hoopla surrounding Josh Duggar with both extremes.  The simple fact is that the news and social media backlash is making these girls (at least four were family members, one was not) have to relive all of this again.  Also juvenile victims are typically given privacy that has been denied the Duggar girls.  Some have asked why the family didn’t go public with this years ago?  Because juvenile victims and offenders are afforded privacy protections by law.  This doesn’t change just because they became the center of a TV show later on.

My fourth and final observation… While I can empathize with the Duggars I can’t applaud how they originally handled this news.  I can’t imagine being in Jim Bob or Michelle Duggar’s shoes.  They faced some incredibly difficult decisions.  It is clear to see, admittedly with hindsight, what could have done differently and some questions that should be asked.

  • They should have not waited a year to report the offense and it should have been to civil authorities, as well as, church authorities.
  • Josh Duggar should have been placed in a residential treatment program, not just sent away for four months to work construction with mentor.  It’s good that he was removed from the home for a time, but he would have benefitted from treatment (and there are Christian-based options).  Michelle Duggar has admitted that Josh never received counseling (at least as a juvenile – we don’t know what Josh has done on his own as an adult).
  • Counseling for the victims should have been a priority and it was something that was neglected as far as I’ve been able to tell.
  • Was safety for the girls a top priority?  I won’t say Josh Duggar shouldn’t have returned home eventually, but what happened at the end of four months that made it the right time?  What boundaries did they establish for Josh?
  • I definitely believe victims of sexual abuse are capable of forgiving those who offended them, but were they pressured or was this a process that that the girls were able to go through and consider?  Those who have been critical of the Duggars assume the girls were pressured, and I think that is a mistake.  On the other hand I’m not going to assume the opposite to be true either.
  • The biggest mistake of all, I believe, was going forward with the TV show and the scrutiny that came with it.  It likely short-circuited the healing process for both Josh Duggar and the victims.  I’m personally not a fan of shows like this and the stress they place on families under normal circumstances.  Losing the show may, in the long-term, be the best thing for the health of their family.

I am not going to condemn Josh Duggar as many have done.  From what I can see he is repentant and has changed his life.  There is only one Judge who can decide the true fruit of his repentance and I am not Him.  I also would not use the Duggars as a model under similar circumstances nor go as far to say Josh Duggar should not have resigned and the family should keep its show.  Unlike most of their critics I say that from a restorative perspective, not a punitive one.  It is time to let the Duggars, especially the victims, continue with the healing process away from the public eye.

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