Dear Mike Huckabee,
We have not met one another, though we’ve both spoken at the same Arkansas college, and we share a strong faith, a love of music, and a penchant to laugh at ourselves. We also both write books and speak, though I have never held public office, and I cannot play the bass. I have no ill will toward you other than my own personal disappointment in how you responded to the Josh Duggar molestation situation.
You wrote on your Facebook page:
“The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement [sic] is not mature. No one needs to defend Josh’s actions as a teenager, but the fact that he confessed his sins to those he harmed, sought help, and has gone forward to live a responsible and circumspect life as an adult is testament to his family’s authenticity and humility.”
What Josh did was not only a sin to be repented of, it was a crime according to the state of Arkansas. A punishable crime with lasting repercussions, not only for him (had he been convicted prior to the statute of limitations, he would have registered as a sex offender) but for his victims who will spend a lifetime healing. Anyone who knew of this crime and did not report it also could be considered guilty of violating a Mandatory Reporter requirement, a list of helping professions which includes teachers. Since the Duggars home-educated their children, one could make the argument that as home educators, they would be required to report the sexual abuse right away to the proper authorities, not simply to a church or board of elders.
Why? Because what Josh did was a crime, not a teenage indiscretion or experiment. And whether he repented or not is not the issue. Yes, we can offer him grace. We can walk alongside and support. But grace does not negate the legal consequences of criminal acts. The Bible is even clear about what we should do if we see evil and do nothing about it: “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17).
And Scripture welcomes civil authorities and government entities to bring crime to justice: “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience” (Romans 13:4-5 NLT). You yourself understand the importance of a just and civil government, one that acts on behalf of the welfare of its people.
All this would seem to be a moot point because Josh’s crime did not get reported in a timely enough manner to have the judicial system render a verdict.
However, a greater issue at present is this: justice. Ultimately where is the justice–not for Josh, not for the reputation of his famous parents, but for the victims of his criminal acts? It is clear that God stands on the side of the victim, and He asks all of us to be similar agents of restoration and reconciliation. Throughout Scripture we are encouraged to “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows” (Isaiah 1:17 NLT). Orphans and widows represented the voiceless and defenseless of society, a fit description to a little girl asleep only to wake up to a teenage boy touching her in inappropriate ways.
I find it deeply saddening that Josh’s victims seem to be forgotten in this discussion. They never asked to be violated or forcibly fondled. They were the unwitting recipients of Josh’s choice to sexually abuse them. He made the choice. He violated. Yet he gets all the mercy while his victims become a footnote? How does that represent the God who stands on the side of the victim?
Another argument I’m seeing, and one you put forth by writing, “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable'” negates the very real ramifications of a criminal act. A teenager can commit a crime. A teenager who kills someone is often tried in adult court. Besides, there is a vast difference between personal sexual experimentation and perpetrating against five victims. This is a serial offense, and it is deeply serious.
Perhaps a little of my story will help here. When I was five (near the age of one of Josh’s victims), I was molested by two teenage boys, one who was most likely Josh’s age (fourteen).
They were not experimenting.
They were not exploring.
They weren’t two teenage boys casually falling into indiscretions.
And I did nothing at all to welcome their advances. I didn’t dress provocatively (how can a five year old do this?). I didn’t pursue their friendship. They found me. And sometimes they violated me in their home while their unaware mom baked cookies.
These teenagers forcibly fondled me, raped me repeatedly over the course of a year, and constantly threatened my life. Because of how small I was, I had no way to defend myself or get help. And even when I finally told the babysitter who let me go with the boys every day, nothing happened (because she chose not to tell my family or the authorities). The teenage boys continued to violate me. My only relief from that one year of horror (and horror is not a strong enough word) was that we moved away from them.
Had I been forced to live with those two boys (they were brothers), I don’t know what I would’ve done, but most likely I would not be here writing you this letter. Eventually I would have taken my life. Because what worth was I? I learned from those perpetrating boys that I was worthless to this world except to be stolen from, violated and discarded.
I am grateful for Jesus, whom I met ten years later who rescued me from suicidal thoughts and deep despair. I am grateful for all the healing I’ve experienced in the past forty years. But it has not been an easy or quick road. I still have flashbacks. I still get stomach aches and triggers when sexual abuse comes to light in the media.
My offenders never saw justice as far as I know. I did some research to find them, only to locate some men who seemed to fit and had the correct last name. They were upstanding citizens doing upstanding jobs, pillars of their community. I wrote to them once, an open letter like this one, but I couldn’t prove their identity, so most likely I will never see them behind bars for what they did to me, and possibly to many other little girls. Besides, the statute of limitations has run out.
I have found solace in knowing that our great God and His upside-down kingdom economy cares nothing about stature or fame or renown when it comes to violators like this. His justice will eventually happen, even if that means on the other side of eternity. The powerful who abuse will not be able to micromanage their image under the holy scrutiny of God.
That doesn’t mean that those who perpetrate sexual crimes cannot confess their sins, truly repent, and find forgiveness. I would be serving a very small God if that were true. His truth and grace extends to victim and perpetrator alike. I cannot judge or know whether Josh Duggar has walked through deep, open repentance, nor is it my place to do so. I sincerely hope that has happened, though my cynical side knows the statistics about rehabilitation of sexual predators.
Still, even repented-of sexual violation doesn’t excuse the Body of Christ from treating sexual crimes as non-issues, as personal family issues, as something to be hush-hushed or locked behind a door of elders or church boards. When a church hears of sexual abuse, they must report the crime to the authorities, let the reputation chips fall where they may. I wrote about that here. We tend to protect reputation while re-victimizing the victims. It’s more convenient that way. “Here, you just keep quiet. You don’t want to damage the church or your family do you?”
I believe authenticity and sharing the truth in the light is the godly, proper way to deal with these kinds of situations. God’s reputation is not marred when we dare to dignify the victim, get them the help they need, send the perpetrator to get help (and/or punish him/her for a crime), and say, “Yes, this happened and it was wrong.” It is a beautiful thing when churches grieve alongside victims.
In South Africa I met Malcolm, a man who changed my life. He was a godly, amazing evangelical leader from his country who sat at my table for Cape Town 2010 (the Lausanne congress). At the very end of our time together, we all knew each other’s stories. He pulled me aside, placed his aging hands on either shoulder, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked me in the eyes and said, “I apologize for what men and boys have done to you. I am deeply sorry.” And then he wept.
Something in me simultaneously healed and broke. Because he didn’t dismiss my pain, my journey. He acknowledged the evil that happened, going so far as to take blame himself for something he didn’t do. That kind of outrageous response is the kind I’d love to see the Christian community extend to the victims of Josh Duggar.
We need more Malcolms.
I’ll close this very lengthy letter with this verse: “A judge who says to the wicked, ‘You are innocent,’ will be cursed by many people and denounced by the nations. But blessings are showered on those who convict the guilty” (Proverbs 24:24-25 NLT). May it be that we as followers of Jesus Christ, whose shoulders bore the weight of every sexual violation (oh how it must have agonized), recognize and bring to light the evil that is sexual crime. May we go out of our way to be agents of healing for those who have been silenced for years, who shake and tremble to tell their stories, who feel they are crazy, or that they’re healing is taking too long, who struggle against feeling worthless and discarded. May we become listeners, dignifiers, empathizers. May we value the reputation of Jesus who was both grace AND truth. And in light of that, may we be agents of light, welcoming the truth.
Mr. Huckabee, I pray you receive these words in the spirit they are intended. I pray for and will continue to pray for the Duggar family. I am grateful they have friends who love them and are coming alongside in this obvious time of heartbreak. My hope is that you will understand that voiceless victims also deserve support and empathy and grace and justice.