Sheila Wray Gregoire of Belleville, Ont., is
an author and speaker. Find more of her
columns at www.faithtoday.ca/MessyFaith.
This spring we watched the bizarre spectacle of some Christians defending the Duggar parents’ decision
(stars of the reality show 19 Kids and
Counting) to do nothing for a year after
it was revealed their son Josh was a
sexual abuser, then to send him for
manual labour instead of proper
biblical counselling. The parents
also kept a TV appearance on how to
instill healthy sexuality despite the
reality that their son had molested
some of their daughters and at least
one girl from outside the family.
I watched as friends posted on
Facebook, “It was in the past!”
“Judge not lest ye be judged.” “He
was a teen and he made a mistake,”
or, my personal favourite, “It was
Sometimes, when high profile
Christians like the Duggars come
under fire, we close ranks. We think
that by silencing criticism we will
somehow win. The truth is the ex-
act opposite. When the public sees
Christians covering up sin, they
run in the opposite direction.
I write, speak and blog about
marriage. If I had had an affair
early in my marriage, and even if
we were completely healed from it,
I could not have that ministry
without owning up. The power of
the Holy Spirit flows when the
attention is on self- exalting Christ,
King David and the Apostle Paul
were both open about their sinful
pasts and their present struggles.
They knew their weakness showed
the power of God. The Duggars
chose to portray a family that did
not struggle sexually, despite this
elephant in the room.
Authenticity is far more effective
in evangelism than perfection. If
the Duggars could not be authentic
(because to do so would mean divulging secrets about their minor
children), they should have refused
to do their reality show.
But that’s not my main criticism.
Everything we know about healing from sexual abuse shows it is
usually not quick, or a one-step
process. A person can deal with the
abuse, but then something will
trigger it even years later – hitting
puberty, getting married, having a
child of your own. At each stage a
deeper level of healing is needed.
By saying that the girls were
“healed” because they “forgave,”
when they were so young – at least
one was only six – the Duggar
parents showed they did not
understand the healing process for
When supporters say, “The girls
were healed back then, why dredge
it up now?” we show an extreme
insensitivity to those who were
sexually abused. All survivors de-
serve room to heal, and that in-
cludes the freedom to be honest.
Thrusting the Duggar girls on a
reality TV show where their sexuality was one of the main focuses was
Can any good come from this
tragedy? It can, if we use our reaction as a litmus test for how we
would handle sexual abuse allegations. Each year at my church, those
who work with children or youth
must take the Plan to Protect training program. We’re taught that if a
minor ever discloses abuse, we are
required by law to contact Children’s
Aid and the police. As we’re sitting
in the seminar, all of us nod, picturing a poor, lost, unkempt girl telling
us about her creepy father.
In theory, we believe we’d call the
police in a heartbeat. The Duggar
case makes us pause. Most sexual
abuse victims won’t have greasy
hair and creepy parents. They’ll
look like the Duggar girls, and their
parents may be in leadership.
When the news broke, many
people started to justify the Duggars’ decision not to notify the authorities immediately. If that was
our reaction, I fear that, God forbid,
if a real-life child did disclose something to us, we may rationalize it
away as well. Most sexual abuse
victims have to tell multiple people
before they are believed. When
adults dismiss them, they are further victimized.
Sexual abuse is in our churches,
even in families that look perfect.
Jesus does heal, but that healing
will only happen if we treat abuse
with the care it deserves – not by
pushing quick forgiveness and
handling things solely within the
church or the family. /FT
abuse is in
SHEILA WRAY GREGOIRE
What the Duggar abuse
scandal teaches us
Covering up and quick answers only bring more harm
Parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar from the reality show
19 Kids and Counting.
PERCEN TAGE OF