A Theological Response to Matt Walsh
I just got finished reading Matt Walsh’s latest piece concerning the scandal that has erupted within the Duggar family, particularly of Josh Duggar’s sexual misconduct towards women in his own family.
I’ve had to step away from the screen for a while and regain my composure a bit, Walsh posits, rather harshly and vitrioliously (is that a word? It is now), that progressives are hypocrites because they only care about sexual misconduct when it is done by conservatives. He claims that progressives only wish to use sexual misconduct to disprove Christianity.
I must strongly beg to differ with his viewpoint, and must offer my own Scriptural basis for why I disagree.
See, there’s this big problem in the Church, when Christians demand that Christians forgive and when Christians hold up sexual abusers as “forgiven,” as in Look what God did – God forgave him or her and we should too. The problem is that in instances of abuse, forgiveness is a strange thing.
I have spoken to many survivors who are unable to forgive. Coming to terms with what happened to them requires a long, difficult, painful struggle. A lifetime is simply not enough time to be able to forgive, especially when rape and sexual abuse was so early and so subtle that the victim didn’t even know what was happening to them while it was happening. So even just the learning of what really happened takes many, many years. Never mind the forgiving.
And see, here’s the thing. Forgiveness sounds great. We all look for forgiveness that only God can give, when we do wrong. Only God can give forgiveness. In the Christian tradition, whether you are conservative or progressive, it is Jesus who died on the cross, and it is God who offers the final restitution.
Here’s the bigger problem that often gets forgotten, whenever forgiveness is suggested or demanded: it is impossible to forgive someone who doesn’t think they did wrong or someone who does not wish to ask for that forgiveness. Many abusers (as in the case of Bill Cosby) think what they did was consensual. Many abusers think they did absolutely no wrong! Many abusers, in fact, deflect their horrible behaviors onto the victim themselves, convincing the victim that it is her fault!
I don’t know if Josh Duggar has sought forgiveness or what the dynamics are between him and the sisters he abused. But I do know this: the girls he abused have been required to be silent about their abuse for all these years. In order to grow a television show and a giant organization and a family persona, his victims have had to keep their trauma under wraps, unable to speak clearly and openly about what has happened to them. And, even worse, they have been unable to heal.
I think this is the point Matt Walsh misses completely. These women (do we even know how old they were? I read Duggar was 14, but how old were the girls – 13? 12? Younger?) were forced to keep this horrible family secret so that the family could make money. So the family could keep their honor. This is considered a secondary rape by the entire organization – the silencing of victims in order to maintain a wholesome front.
And here’s what Walsh gets wrong about progressives. Like me or not, I am a progressive and I speak out (loudly) against sexual misconduct. All sexual misconduct, by conservatives and liberals alike. I have seen and I have experienced for myself sexual misconduct by those who were in positions of authority and leadership. By those who were in positions of power telling me my body was something to be ashamed of, and then leading me into a conference room to fondle my breasts, making me an outlet for their own sexual pleasure. I speak against sexual misconduct not because Duggar is a Christian, but because he held a position of authority in the church. I also speak against his misconduct because he required his own sisters to remain silent about their abuse, he sold them out for his own financial gain and his own popularity.
Let me make that clear: as a feminist, as a progressive, and as a Christian, I speak out against sexual misconduct in any case, and I speak louder against those in positions of authority because they hold power. Not because they are Christian, but because they abuse their power.
I am reminded in Scriptures of the text of terror in which Tamar, daughter of King David, is raped by her own brother, Amnon, also son of King David. Tamar serves her brother dutifully while he is sick, and he rapes her. After he rapes her, he throws her out, bleeding, shamed, her innocence and sexuality stolen from her in an act of willful aggression. She goes away devastated, in tears, bleeding from his horrible deeds, and she is never the same. Victims are never the same after the violation of their sexuality. Victims who are abused by leaders in the church are never the same in the church, especially, because then rape becomes part of their reality that they must grapple with in the context of Scripture and the cross. Victims must grapple, struggle, wrestle with why God would allow rape to happen to them, good Christian girls who were saving themselves and who were doing what they were told to do in order to be good girls, only to have that stolen from them? How could God allow rape to happen?
I read the story of Tamar and I wonder how could rape be part of the Scriptural tradition? Did God wish for Tamar to be raped? The text tells us later that Amnon was avenged by his own father. Amnon’s misdeeds were covered up by King David, a king who struggled with his own sexual misconduct (the rape of Bathsheba and the killing of her husband), a king who was ruler over a nation that was supposed to be set apart. Israel was supposed to be a holy nation and a priestly kingdom. Can rape be a part of a holy nation and a priestly kingdom?
When those texts are interpreted through the eyes of Tamar, as a victim, we must stand against an ideology that enables rape and sexual abuse in a theological context. No, God does not wish for women to be raped. There is no place for sexual misconduct in our sacred spaces, by our religious leaders, when all were created in the Divine image of our Creator.
Matt Walsh asserts that Duggar’s behavior is no longer relevant, since it happened so long ago. But indeed, it is relevant. It is relevant to the victims, who deserve to work through their pain. The victims deserve for the family to be honest about what happened and they deserve to speak from a place of honesty about the heavy burden they have been carrying. They deserve to work towards healing.
The women who continue to work with Duggar also deserve to know what happened. Why is that? I know Walsh disagrees on that. But I think Walsh speaks from a position of privilege – I doubt Walsh knows what it’s like to be in that conference room and to be viewed as a sexual object for someone else’s pleasure. I doubt Walsh can identify with women who, every day, are sexually assaulted, harassed, and victimized by church leaders and by those in positions of authority. Duggar’s church and organization should be operating out of transparency and accountability, and hiding sexual misconduct is NOT transparency and is not accountability.
Duggar has stepped down. This is entirely appropriate right now. I pray for healing for the victims. Duggar will be ok. He is ok, he has a long trail of supporters (including Matt Walsh) who will give him plenty of opportunities to speak, to serve, and to continue doing what he does.
But the victims face the long arduous process of recovery. That process will include shaming and blaming. It will include the humiliation of others like Walsh, who cannot understand or relate. It will include the theological dismissal, as it has for years, by a long tradition of church leaders who have skimmed right past Tamar and Bathsheba, denying that rape even exists in the theological sphere. Denying that there is even a victim. These victims of Duggar have been denied.
So I strongly disagree with Walsh and feel his blog post was severely misguided. I encourage Walsh to read up a bit on sexual misconduct in the sacred environment, and then I encourage him to get to know a few survivors. Hear their stories. Listen to their pain and their struggle. And then we must all push and fight and stand for transparency in the church. We must, with Jesus, overthrow the tables when innocent women are abused for their most personal, private bodies. We must reveal the misconduct in the Scriptures themselves, so we can learn.
And may these victims find healing. In the quiet of the evening when their tears fall hardest and most silent, may the comfort of a loving God wrap them in grace, depending on the grace of the cross to be able to move forward.