I am haunted by the situation that has unfolded with Josh Duggar. I’m horrified, but not surprised by the allegations raised against him.
But my deepest fear is that these scenarios within the church are not nearly as rare as we all hope them to be.
I was homeschooled through most of my childhood, and we often participated in “co-op” classes with other kids: group classes of fellow homeschoolers that would meet a few times a week. In middle school, I took a Spanish class from a high school student who was fluent in the language. He was a pastor’s kid, one of four, and we met at his family’s home for classes. The family was the very picture of aspirational evangelicalism: good, pure, tight-knit homeschooled kids who had “kissed dating goodbye,” and parents who were an integral part of our homeschool community. Our teenage teacher was fun, funny, and even cute to our middle-school-girl eyes. We all liked him.
One day, out of the blue, all classes were canceled. There had been a “family emergency.” The father suddenly resigned as pastor of their small but faithful church. There were lots of whispers. The whole situation was shrouded in secrecy. All we were told was that something terrible had happened to our young Spanish teacher. My thoughts were racing. Had someone died? Had there been a suicide attempt? A tragic medical diagnosis? In time, our classes resumed. I remember parents and other students hugging our teacher and telling him how they were praying for him. He looked tired, drawn, but thankful for their kind words. I still had no idea what was going on.
Eventually, the truth came out. Our 16-year-old teacher had sexually assaulted, on multiple occasions, an 8-year-old girl. She was the child of a church member. The church swept the whole situation under the rug. The police were never involved. Charges were never pressed, and the parents of the abused child “forgave” the perpetrator. Other families in our homeschool group talked about how “hard things must be for him” and offered him great sympathy. To my knowledge, he never faced any real consequences for his abhorrent actions, and quickly returned to his normal life, including teaching other children.
He became a youth pastor a few years later. He’s now married and a father and still working in ministry. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of who else may have fallen victim to him over the years. The fact that a well-respected church in my own community was quick to overlook such an offense was one of the first chips in the foundation of my evangelical upbringing.
Sadly, I fear this happens far more often than we can possibly imagine.
When churches prioritize “forgiveness” over justice, they prioritize perpetrators over victims.
If the church wants to survive, it MUST become a voice for the voiceless. It MUST let justice rain down like a flood that will flush evil out of every dark and dusty corner. And it MUST stop protecting predators and allow them to experience the full and just consequences of their actions.
In Jesus name, let there never again be a church where evil can safely hide.