The first sentence of my first book, Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt, is this: “The first time a boy told me that he wanted to f*** me, I was sitting on a pew in the First Baptist Church in Russellville, Arkansas.”
True story. I later found out that boy became a minister. Surprising, perhaps, but not in the repressive Bible belt, which is currently spinning over the scandal involving the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame.
That shocking news involves the infamous conservative family that has risen to fame thanks to The Learning Channel show they appear on. This week, it came to light that eldest son Josh was accused of molesting underage girls (allegedly some of whom were his sisters) when he was 14 and because of the revelation, he admitted that the allegations were indeed true. Meanwhile, his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar confessed that they had known about his actions for some time. They even worked to make sure he wasn’t charged with a crime.
This “news” might remain in the realm of yet another shocking story of a “reality” show celebrity’s real life gone bad. But it’s gotten more complicated, and more political, now that GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister himself, has expressed his enthusiastic support for and defense of the Duggars. The Duggars are long-time friends of Huckabee’s and both families have supported each other politically as Jim Bob Duggar served as an Arkansas state legislator from 1999 to 2002 while Huckabee was the state’s governor. Political loyalty runs deep in Arkansas, regardless of a family’s back story.
Huckabee has released a very long statement supporting the Duggars. In part, he said, “Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family. Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities.” The “victims?” Does Huckabee mean the Duggar daughters?
He added: “They are no more perfect a family than any family, but their Christian witness is not marred in our eyes because following Christ is not a declaration of our perfection, but of HIS perfection. It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness. We have been blessed to receive God’s love and we would do no less than to extend our love and support for our friends.”
I get it. I’m a Christian, and I believe in forgiveness. But really? Do we forgive the actions of parents who more or less tried to cover up the sins of their son at the expense of their daughters? And then put that son on television and turn him into an example of Christian celebrity? Odds are, if the family weren’t a high profile cash cow for a cable network, things would be different.
As for the Duggar parents, they had to know that the family’s sexual skeleton would fall out of the closet one day. So one has to wonder … if, as is reported, some of the victims were some of Josh’s sisters, what did they do to keep them from talking about it? Was it the Christian way to help these victims of sexual abuse by keeping the secret in the family?
In my experience, the theme of “Sin. Repent. Sin.” isn’t an uncommon one.
Turning a blind eye to certain offenses is often the beauty of the Bible belt and those who live here. Ignore a situation, toss out the Southern euphemism of “bless his heart” that’s often used to send to message of “that is really NOT OK” and move on.
We’ve seen it time and time again including with Bill Clinton who first said he didn’t have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, turned around and admitted that he did and then asked for forgiveness. And he was forgiven.
Bless his heart.
All across the South this Sunday congregations surely will be praying for the Duggars. No joke, I would guarantee a case of moonshine on it. And although TLC has reportedly now pulled their television program from the official line-up (though no word on whether the series will be canceled) – thank God! – the Duggars will undoubtedly rebound from this scandal. They will very likely get a new program on a Christian network where they will preach to the conservative masses about how to handle such a repulsive act as molestation if it should ever occur in their families. The tricky thing to navigate will be how to deal with the question of what you do if the perpetrator and victims are siblings.
And somewhere in a church in the South this Sunday, there will undoubtedly be another teenage girl who will be fighting off some Bible-toting boy from making a pass at her as she tries to pray in good faith.