|Josh Duggar. Image source.|
(Or, how conservative Christianity's "gospel" tells us that sexually abusing children is normal.)
You may have heard Christians say "all sins are equally bad." Let me explain what that means, and how it leads to Christians covering up for Josh Duggar.
Evangelical Christianity teaches that "the gospel"- the central message of Christianity- goes like this: We are all sinners and deserve to go to hell. But, fortunately, God loves us and doesn't want that to happen. So God sent Jesus to die- Jesus takes the punishment, so we can be forgiven. But only if you decide to believe in Jesus and commit your life to him. Then you can go to heaven when you die- yay! Otherwise you go to hell.
Let me break this down further:
"We are all sinners" - everybody does some bad things sometimes, right? Have you ever lied before? Yeah? Okay, you're a sinner.
"and deserve to go to hell." - Now you may say "wait a minute, I haven't done anything that bad. I don't deserve to go to hell." But every sin is a rebellion against God. Since God is infinitely good, every sin is infinitely bad, and deserves infinite torture in hell.
"Jesus takes the punishment" - Jesus is the only one who could bear the punishment for us, because he is the only person who is perfect and never sinned. You see, sin deserves infinite punishment, so only an infinitely perfect and good person could satisfy that punishment in full.
"But only if you decide to believe in Jesus and commit your life to him." - Yeah, Christianity is about having a relationship with God. You need to ask God to forgive your sins. You need to have a truly repentant heart. That's the only requirement. Doesn't matter what you've done in the past.
So, readers, you can decide for yourself whether this holds together logically or not. Back when I was a Real True Christian, I would have explained it in a more persuasive and logical-sounding way, but basically that's the idea. (To clarify: I'm a Christian, but you guys, that is not the gospel.)
In this ideology, "sin" is defined as doing something that breaks God's laws. How do we know what God's laws are? Well, they are all very clearly laid out in the bible. (Except that they're totally not.) We are to read the bible, and use it to compile a list of "God's laws" that apply to us now. (Just ignore the ones that only applied to the ancient Israelites. It is totally clear and obvious which ones those are. Except that it's not.)
"God's laws" may or may not have any logic or good reasons behind them. Sure, many of them make sense morally- don't steal, don't kill, etc- but that's not really the point. The point is, God said these things and we must obey them, regardless of whether there's a good reason.
And, according to evangelical Christianity, why is sin bad? Because it breaks a person's relationship with God. The relationship with God is the most important part of a person's life, and remember, God is infinitely good, so God can't come into contact with anyone who has even the smallest trace of sin. Sin breaks our relationship with God, but if you ask Jesus to forgive you, then it's all good again.
Maybe you lied. Maybe you thought about sex a lot. Maybe you haven't been reading your bible every day. Maybe you molested your little sister. All of these sins are completely intolerable to a holy God. Your relationship with God is completely broken. But, ask Jesus to forgive you, and it's back on. Phew.
Based on this teaching, some Christians will say, "all sins are equally bad." But in my experience, there's a bit more nuance to it. Christians know that not all sins are equally bad in terms of the practical, real-world consequences. Furthermore, sins that take the form of an addictive habit are more spiritually destructive (ie damaging to your relationship with God) than something you just did one time because you weren't thinking. So even in terms of spiritual consequences, not all sins are equal.
But still, the focus is on one's relationship with God. That's the most important thing. The effect that one's sin has on other people is just a secondary concern. It doesn't come into play in your typical bridge-diagram gospel presentation at all.
Sin is bad because it breaks God's laws. It breaks your relationship with God. I mean, maybe it also hurts another person, but that's not the point. It definitely hurts God more, because God is so much more infinite and perfect.
This view of sin is so individualized and spiritualized, and honestly, I believe this is a way for white American Christians to get out of our responsibility to care about oppressed groups within our society. Oh, sin is just an individual matter! Just between me and God! Everyone is a horrible sinner, but of course this wouldn't give rise to, say, institutionalized racism or anything like that! Just me and my relationship with God! Everyone is equal before God! See, we are all poor spiritually! We are all the same! We don't need to help with people's physical needs- all that matters is our spiritual needs!
So let's come back to Josh Duggar, who sexually abused 5 girls- including 4 of his little sisters- when he was a teenager. Christians from all corners of the internet are proclaiming that we have no right to judge him- we are all sinners. Yes, that's exactly what evangelical Christianity teaches. All of us are utterly horrible, we don't even realize how horrible we are- if we're not careful, we might molest children too. Just because you haven't committed this particular sin doesn't make you less of a horrible person than Josh Duggar. As Michelle Duggar said in the interview with Megyn Kelly, "I know that every one of us have done things wrong. That's why Jesus came."
(Meanwhile we have bloggers from outside of Real True Christian culture saying "Sexual exploration as a teenager is normal. Molesting your little sisters while they're sleeping is NOT NORMAL." But in this branch of Christianity, all of it's normal- and all of it is forbidden. All of it's sin, and we're all sinners. Who knows what we could be capable of?)
Evangelical Christianity gives no way to measure whether one sin is worse than another. In fact, comparing sins is actively discouraged. If you think you're not as bad as someone else, then you might think "I'm doing pretty good, I deserve to go to heaven" but you DON'T. You deserve hell and don't you ever forget how goddamn unworthy you were before Jesus found you.
It doesn't matter what your sin was. All that matters is this: Are you repentant or not? THAT'S the one sin that's unacceptable to God- to believe that you are not actually sinning.
This is why, in the interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, they defended their advocacy against LGBT rights, and don't see themselves as hypocritical at all. Josh sinned and repented, so it's all good. But those LGBT people... oh my, they actually think it's OKAY to be LGBT. They are unrepentant. And to evangelical Christians, that's the worst thing you can be.
Josh Duggar sinned. That sin manifested itself in a way that had something to do with his sisters, but the real victim was God. (As David prayed in Psalm 51, after raping Bathsheba and murdering her husband: "Against you, you only, have I sinned.")
And guess what? Jesus already forgave Josh! Jesus, who was hurt so much more than Josh's other victims. Oh and don't forget, those victims are also sinners, deserving of infinite torture in hell, and Jesus forgave them too. Now wouldn't it just be selfish to not forgive Josh? God already forgave him, do you think you know better than God?
One more thing: Christians love a redemption story. We find people who did all kinds of really bad things before converting, and we ask them to share their testimony in front of huge crowds. You were in jail? You assaulted someone? You were addicted to all the drugs? You were a prostitute? The worse the "before" story is, the better. (It's very common for kids who were raised in the church to feel bad that they don't have a huge rebellious past that makes for a cool story.) Christians even like to point out that our biblical heroes "weren't perfect"- Moses killed someone, Rehab was a prostitute, Abraham lied, Jacob was all kinds of messed-up, David was an adulterer (*cough* rapist *cough*) and murderer- and wow, isn't it great how God used them to do wonderful things in God's plan?
I mean, isn't that just great? Look how bad their sins were- and those things were bad because God made a rule that said they were bad, and by sinning, they broke their relationships with God- and God forgave them and they went on to do such cool things! Wow, the fact that David murdered someone is bad because it means he's a bad sinner, and you'd think such a bad sinner wouldn't be able to have a good life and a good relationship with God after committing such a bad sin! But with God, it's possible! Come one, come all, and follow this God who doesn't care what you've done!
Meanwhile, anyone who's ever been a victim, who's been silenced and told to just forgive, is like "how on earth do you people not realize that this man is dangerous and should never be allowed near children again?"
That's why Jim Bob Duggar said, "This isn't something we wanted to come out, but if people can see that Josh, who did these very bad things when he was a young person, that God could forgive him for these terrible things, then I hope other people realize that God can forgive them and also make them a new creature." Christians imagine that this is a selling point. There's hope for even the worst of sinners. As for the victims- eh, what victims? Sin is mainly a problem because it breaks your own personal relationship with God.
If that's the gospel, count me out.
See also this post by Elizabeth Esther: "When everything is evil, NOTHING is actually evil."
Josh Duggar's "Sin" Doesn't Matter Because Being Pure is Really Hard
Josh Duggar and His Victims are "Damaged Goods"