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Saturday, May 23, 2015

What if Josh Duggar were my son?

I remember most clearly that he was not circumcised.

When I had my first adult encounters with men, I was shocked to realize there was a physical difference. In a way, it made it easier for me. My partners were not him. They were different. It was such a small thing (no pun intended,) but it helped me differentiate in my mind the man who abused me from the men, later, who became lovers.

I went to his funeral when I was 15 years old. When I heard he'd passed away, I needed to see for myself. I needed to know, for sure. It brought me no closure. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to imagine him burning in hell, because that's what the very few people who knew what he'd done, told me I was "supposed" to feel. I felt nothing. Knowing he was facing the finality of God's justice did nothing to fill the emptiness. It wasn't until many years later, with good counseling that addressed the incidents within the larger context of my childhood, that I was able to, finally, lay him to rest in my heart, to bury him in a place where he has no effect upon my thoughts or feelings any longer. If anything, I feel pity for the man who was so lost, damaged, and selfish that he had to seek out a four year old for what he couldn't get from a woman his own age.

There's been a lot of social media outrage over the news that Josh Duggar has admitted to molesting several girls as a teenager, including his own sisters. There are sarcastic posts, laughing and jeering at this self-appointed paragon of family values. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I've been fairly quiet about the whole thing, mostly because I've never seen 19 Kids and Counting. The entire "quiver full" concept is ridiculous, (not to mention Biblically unfounded,) and putting it on public display is even more so. I rarely watch television at all, and couldn't be bothered with TLC's "reality television." (I use the word "reality" very loosely here.)

It feels as if, as a Christian and having recently joined the ranks of the other Mommy Bloggers, carving my own little niche in our rich and varied world, that I should say something about this whole scandal. Something in defense of my faith. In defense of my religion, which is under subtle attack by those who "don't understand organized religion" (a direct quote from another blogger,) and who blame Christianity and churches for the closeted, backward lifestyle the Duggars promote. It makes me want to cry, "Not all Christians!" Maybe we need a new #hashtag for the occasion?

But how can we defend Christianity without seeming to defend the Duggars and their abysmal handling of their son's behavior?

Having grown up in a similar culture, thankfully minus the "quiver full" philosophy, which is fairly new to Christianity, I can see how this story unfolded, through the eyes of parents who were faced with the devastating knowledge that their son had done the unthinkable.

I can understand how they must have felt. Shocked. Horrified. Angry. Grieved. How they must have prayed. Where could they turn? Who could they trust? Even modern psychology is silent on the idea of treating juvenile sex offenders. Incarceration seems to be the only answer society has. Lock them up! Throw away the key. Never let them see the light of day again.

It's easy, as a mom, to embrace the idea of punitive justice. It's easy to be angry on the behalf of those girls, (as we should be.) It's to point the finger at the homophobic hate merchants who claim to speak the Word of God. It's easy to think LOOK! Look what happens when you let your kids get religion! They get all weird and then they COVER UP THINGS LIKE THIS! This is what God brings you! Weirdness and perversion!

But aside from the subtle, and not-so-subtle blanket condemnation of my religion, which is no surprise to me- it's been going on since the Romans used Christians dipped in tar to light their garden pathways- What went wrong in the Duggar's handling of their son's transgressions? We all know what they did wrong in seeming to gloss over their girls' experiences, but what about how they handled their son's actions? That is, after all, the focus of most of the blogs I've seen- condemning how the parents handled the revelation that their son was a pedophile.

What, precisely, should the parents have done? Should they have turned him in to the local police, so that he could be arrested, finger printed, and put in Juvenile hall? Should he have had a permanent record filed, marking him as a "sex offender?" Perhaps he should have. Justice, in these cases, is important for the victims. It is necessary to acknowledge the horror they suffered. It is necessary to hold the offender responsible for his actions.

In the long term though, what do we do with teen like Josh Duggar? What would you have done if it was your son? How would you handle the news? How would you try to get to the root of what has gone wrong in his psyche? Current treatment programs are limited in their scope, and have a varying rate of success.

It appears that the Duggars sought out what, for them, passed as "counseling". They went to the church elders. They turned to a family friend who was a police officer (who was later found to be as guilty as Josh himself, with files of child pornography populating his computer.) They put him in a work-straight program of some kind.

In the Duggar's eyes, they gave their son a chance to recognize the horror of what he'd done, and to redeem himself, a chance that most writers seem to think he didn't deserve. As a mother of a teenage son, that cuts at my heart. What if it were MY son who was caught doing what Josh did? Wouldn't I do anything to "fix" him? What would I have done? While my church does offer lay counseling, and my relationships would lead me to go to the elders for advice if I faced something like this, their answer would be "go to the police." And then what? Once justice is served, what do you do with the boy who is still there, who still has to live the rest of his life with what he's done?

In my family, it's more likely that one of my kids would be a victim than a perpetrator. Both my kids are empathetic to a fault, and both have been raised with a strong knowledge of boundaries, because of my own experiences. Both understand the concepts of body safety, respect, and consent.

I know what I would do if my daughter were a victim. I'd seek out counseling for her. I'd ensure that she never felt as if she were "broken" or damaged by what had been done to her. I'd make certain the perpetrator was called out for his actions. I'd seek justice.

But what would I do if things were different? What if my son were accused? What if he confessed? Is it possible that, with proper counseling and redirection, a young sex offender can change? Can be healed, so that he knows and respects proper boundaries? Can empathy be learned? Can he be redeemed?

In all this furor, I wonder, will anyone ever give Joshua Duggar a chance to prove that he has learned from his incredibly bad choices, and that he has the ability to develop empathy and remorse? Or will we burn him at the pyre, dancing with glee over the fall of a conservative family who have a lot to learn about forgiveness, tolerance and compassion?

I know what could, and should, have been done differently for the victims. I grieve for them. I hope that they get the help they need to move on, and to move out from under the cloud of  the idea of a permanently damaged "victim" that society puts on young girls who've experienced sexual abuse.

I wonder what more should have been done for Josh Duggar, the teenage boy who committed a horrific act, for which he will pay for the rest of his life.

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