When the news first broke last May that Josh Duggar had molested five young girls, including four of his sisters, I, along with the rest of the world, watched as the sordid tale unfolded. It was horribly sad, to say the least, to see a man with a family, serving at a Christian organization, have the consequences of sin he had committed years before wreak havoc on his life and family. While this kind of thing happens all the time in our fallen world, we all got a front row seat to the unraveling of lives because of the public nature of his family.
At the time, I saw two major responses from Christians. The first was a call for grace and forgiveness. After all, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of, and it seemed this man had repented of his wrongs, committed in youth, and changed his ways. The second response was a call for accountability. This crowd reminded us that child molestation isn’t just any sin; it’s a serious offense that devastates lives. And this man — and his family who concealed his wrongs — should be made to pay for what he had done.
I could see the reasoning and even the biblical basis behind each response, but mainly I just felt sad about the destruction sin causes and how it cripples the cause of Christ.
Last week, Josh Duggar was in the news again. This time it was discovered that he had a profile on Ashley Madison, a website designed to help people initiate extra-marital affairs. Duggar then admitted that he had been unfaithful to his wife.
Wave two of the Christian response frenzy ensued. Once again I saw two responses. The grace-givers, by and large, retracted their grace. With egg on their faces, they had to admit that Duggar must have not been repentant after all. The accountability-seekers said, “See! We were right! He’s a bad guy. He’s always been a bad guy.”
I have toddlers. When we’re watching a TV show, my 3-year-old will ask me, “Mom, is that a good guy or a bad guy?” To her, character is not only black and white, it’s also fixed. A person is either permanently bad or permanently good. That’s different than how the Bible portrays humans. Many of our Bible heroes are not exactly role models: Noah (drunk), Samson (sex addict), King David (adulterer and murderer), Rahab (prostitute), Paul (religious persecutor/accomplice to murder).
In one way, every one of those individuals was a “bad guy,” but God still used them. He still accepted them when they repented. Paul, the persecutor himself, wrote this to the Corinthian believers in regard to a scandal in their church:
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure — not to put it too severely — to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11, ESV)
Commentators say that Paul was responding to a specific situation in the Corinthian church where an individual had committed a serious offense and undergone church discipline, but the church was still in a frenzy about it. And it seems the accountability people were out in full force. Discipline had taken place, and now Paul encourages the Christians to forgive and comfort the offender. Why? So that they would not be outwitted by Satan.
Although it’s tempting to speculate on how repentant Duggar is or isn’t, or what led to his sinful double life, I think that kind of response is missing the point. He’s one sinful man in the public eye. Undoubtedly you or someone you know is also secretly mired in sin. The good news is, no one is outside the reach of God’s grace. Jesus died for the vilest of sinners.
And what about our desire for justice for the victims of these sinful acts? That, too, comes from God, who is the source of both justice and mercy. We’re told that we will each give an account before God for what we have done in this life (Romans 14:12). So while seeking justice for the weak and defenseless is part of our calling (Isaiah 1:17), exulting in someone else’s failings is not.
Sin devastates. Our vulnerability to it is terrifying. Scandals like Duggar’s remind us of that. But the fact remains that our God has conquered sin and death and uses broken people to accomplish His purposes in the world. Instead of joining the frenzy, pray for those whose lives have been wrecked by sin and find ways of meaningfully participating in obtaining justice (which rarely involves participation in social media outrage). And thank God for His ability to rebuild anything, no matter how broken.