I’d like to speak as a parent for a minute, and talk about that lovely stage that many toddlers go through. Any of you who have parented toddlers are probably familiar with that stage where they say the things they really, really, really WANT to be true.
You know, after you’ve watched them curiously push over a glass and watch it shatter, and tears fill their eyes, and they say “Sowwy! It was an ACCIDENT!”
Or they look at you with wide, innocent eyes, and say “I didn’t do it!” or “My fwiend did it!” or “It wasn’t my fauwt!”
That’s the Words as Magic stage.
When a toddler perceives that they have displeased you they will seek to make things right and they truly believe that their words have power. Words are magic to them. When they ask for things, they get them. When you tell a story they experience it. And when your 2 year old says they didn’t eat the cookie they believe they have undone the act. With their words they have fixed the problem and mommy can now be pleased.
~Crystal Lutton, author of Biblical Parenting and Grace-Based Living (emphasis mine)
Since it’s a toddler stage, it is appropriate that it’s where Josh Duggar defaulted to after his history of sexual assault, incest, and pedophilia was made public.
After all, his family are followers of Bill Gothard, the former leader of ATI who stepped down from “ministry” after more than 30 women made allegations of sexual harassment, and four women made allegations of molestation.
Among the many things Gothard teaches is that parents are always and forever the authority over their children, even grown children. This stripping away of free agency often results in adults who are reduced to an infantile state with decision-making, logic, and as we’ve tragically seen in the case of the Duggar family, with accountability as well.
But he said he was sorry!
When this all was revealed, I braced myself for the inevitable backlash among certain segments of Christianity. I told myself it would be 24 hours or so before I saw the first posts popping up with “He said he was sorry!” and “Haven’t YOU ever sinned?” and “What about GRACE?!?!”
It took less than 6 hours for the first of those to hit my news feeds.
I’l admit, even though I knew they would happen, I was furious. Beyond furious – I was filled with the same anger that led Jesus to turn over tables and take a whip to drive out those who had made a house of prayer into a den of thieves.
And so I waited, and I prayed, and I vented on Facebook a teeny bit, and I prayed and waited some more before writing this post.
And I watched post after post in the meantime – secular sources led with the “Duggar Speaks Out” angle. Many religious sources led with the “Conservative Christians under ATTACK” angle.
They all used some variation of “Josh Duggar Apologizes” or “Josh Duggar Admits Mistakes”.
Why “I’m sorry” isn’t enough
In each of those articles, next to nothing was said about Josh’s victims. Remember them? The four sisters that he violated? The four sisters that he repeatedly assaulted for over a year? The young girls who were then forced to live in a shared home with their attacker, told to smile for the cameras and to trumpet the cause of “purity”?
The other nameless victim who has seen Josh be in the media as a “godly young man”, watched him speak at conferences, seen his twitter feed bragging about all the politicians he’s hobnobbed with?
While I can’t speak for all survivors of childhood sexual assault, I can speak as a survivor of childhood sexual assault.
I’ve been on the road to recovery for years. I’ve got wonderful counselling in my life, a supportive faith community from various branches of Christianity, a loving husband, friends who have listened to me share my story as many times as I need to whenever the pain bubbles to the surface again.
Mary Demuth, in her open letter to the teens who raped her, discusses “another step of forgiveness”.
And forgiveness is a path that I walk daily, as a survivor. Forgiveness is an act that I choose to participate in, for the sake of my healing. Forgiveness, living as if a debt is not owed to me, is not done once and then everything is fine.
You’ll notice that I talk about choosing it often – that’s because, when you are a survivor, it’s never over with.
“I’m sorry” doesn’t undo the damage.
“I’m sorry” doesn’t make the flashbacks stop.
“I’m sorry” doesn’t take away the nightmares.
“I’m sorry” doesn’t give you back your breath when remembered helplessness steals it away.
“I’m sorry” is not a magic phrase that makes everything right again, that makes victims somehow not abused.
Do I believe that God can forgive Josh Duggar? Absolutely! I believe that God can forgive anyone for anything, even for things that are heinous and soul-sickening. And I also believe…
- Forgiveness does not negate consequences.
- Grace washes away eternal penalties, not mortal ones.
- Mercy restores the soul, but it doesn’t erase the action.
And no matter how many times Josh Duggar tries to use his words as magic, “I’m sorry” doesn’t make it all go away.
(photo from Josh Duggar’s public Instagram feed: http://instagram.com/p/24p7rmOWJC/)