Sexual Violence, Manipulation, and Cheap Grace

This is the second post in our series on sexual abuse. You can read the first post here.

A reflection by Sarah

Forgiveness is one of the most central ideas in all of Christian teaching. Christ commands us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.” As he hung dying on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Forgiveness seems like a straightforward concept: forgive everyone, always, and as many times as necessary. Yet anyone who has tried to put these teachings into action can attest to how challenging forgiveness can be. One reason forgiveness is so hard is that perfect forgiveness requires understanding both God’s mercy and God’s justice in a perfect way. Forgiveness, like other components of God’s mercy and justice, reflects the unfathomable and unknowable heart of God. When discussing sexual abuse, it’s paramount to sit in the tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice.

When I first became aware of the news about Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse of his sisters and at least one other girl during his teen years, I was not surprised that his response to the public focused on his asking for and receiving forgiveness both from God and the victims. What did surprise me was seeing that a large number of people I know believe this should be sufficient grounds for ceasing criticism of Josh and his parents and letting the crime remain a “private family matter.” It’s naive to think such a situation should ever have been a private family matter in the first place, and it’s even more naive to think forgiving an abuser is simple and straightforward. I do not claim to know what Josh Duggar’s victims’ psychological and spiritual processes have looked like over the years. It’s possible that they have indeed forgiven him fully. But it’s much more likely that there’s more to the story than we will ever hear. It’s possible that the forgiveness Josh claims they have extended to him is not actually forgiveness. I draw from my own personal experience in saying this.

In some manifestations of conservative Christianity, forgiveness is used as a tool of manipulation. This does not happen only in the Quiverfull movement, but across a wide variety of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions. To put some flesh on what I mean by “manipulation,” I’ll share a bit more detail about my own story.

One morning when I was 14, I had finally worked up the courage to tell my parents that I was being abused by a deacon at our church for two years at the time. We were at church early, the perpetrator had fondled my breasts and vaginal area while I was waiting outside the door of the women’s restroom, and I could not contain the truth any longer. I ran into the sanctuary, pulled my mom out and into the restroom, and began to tell her about what had been happening to me. I had barely scratched the surface of the details when I noticed her facial expression. It was cold and severe as she informed me that she thought I was either exaggerating or outright lying. No sooner than she dragged me back into a pew did my abuser approach her and comment on how tall I was growing, and that my height would come in handy next weekend when the church windows needed cleaning. My mom was completely fooled and forbade me to say anything about my “tale” to my dad immediately after church. I could not help myself, so I disobeyed and began blurting out random details of the story as we drove home. My dad’s response was to throw a screaming fit in the car, which terrified me into retracting part of the story and justifying my “incorrect” perception of my abuser’s behavior. This only made things worse, and I spent the rest of the day crying myself into a migraine as my parents told me that I was mentally ill, sexually deviant, unfit to be alone with my younger sister, at risk for tearing apart the entire church community, and in danger of going to hell. That evening, every inch of my privacy was revoked and I was forbidden to speak to anyone about this.

Over the next few months, the need for repentance was hammered into my skull day after day. Not my abuser’s repentance — my own. I was told that I should not commune and that I should instead be contemplating the state of my soul. Most of my mental space was consumed by suicide plans and how I would manage to find one that would work given how closely my parents were monitoring me. All this time, the abuse was continuing. I never had the chance to share the full extent of it because my parents’ condemnation was so swift and unwavering. Eventually, my dad saw what he thought might have been the deacon fondling me. His advice was that I should stay away from the deacon but be understanding and forgiving because of the deacon’s old age. Much later, my mom saw the abuse with her own eyes. Around the same time, a friend from church shared with me that she had also been abused by this deacon. When her parents and my parents eventually talked to each other I learned that this problem had been occurring for years with multiple victims, and those in the community who knew about it preferred to sweep it under the rug.

From that point forward, my parents began saying to me, “We’re sorry. Forgive us,” as though that should be enough to end the pain and bring about healing. Simultaneously, they made it clear that I was never to inform anyone of what had happened to me, and that disobeying this request would only cause more problems for me. At one point they took me to see a local psychiatrist who was all too willing to let them control what I said and did not say about the abuse. The psychiatrist — a mandated reporter, a person with a license to practice medicine — did not report anything. I was never asked for my opinion about how justice could be served. My abuser got away with everything. He was never held accountable by the community in any way. By the time I was an adult and considered reporting the abuse myself, he was ill and mostly homebound — no longer a threat to community safety. He had the privilege of reposing with the public image of a virtuous Christian who was a role model in the community for decades.

As the years have gone by, my parents have begged for my forgiveness repeatedly. They ask me why I can’t just move on with my life, why I can’t accept their apology, and why I am still so bitter and resentful years after the last occurrence of sexual abuse. They inquire as to why I don’t just focus on the good memories of my childhood, as though the good times outweigh the reality that I was sexually abused and the abuse was hidden. What they don’t realize is that forgiveness is a process, and in situations like these it can take a very long time. To them, moving on with my life means not needing or wanting to talk about this anymore. It means shutting up, doing all the life things I’m doing now at age 30, and just not thinking about what happened all those years ago. To them, bitterness and resentment are the same as having strong feelings about it half my life later.

This is the problem with the brand of grace that’s peddled throughout much of American Christianity: Jesus forgives all sins immediately after we say that we are sorry, so it follows that every Christian who wants to be forgiving like Jesus will let go of any wrongdoing once the offenders have apologized. That is the mentality I was raised with, at least when it comes to forgiving parents for making accusations of lying and sexual deviancy in addition to covering up child sexual abuse. That’s why when I was a teenager, I thought parroting “I forgive you” to my parents was the only way to show faithfulness to Christ. I believed that the state of my soul was dependent on it, especially after years of hearing stories about how miserable my grandmother was when she reposed because of all the grudges she had held during her lifetime. I honestly believed that I had forgiven them until my mid-twenties when I realized that I had never really processed what had happened to me and how I felt about the fact that no one was ever held accountable.

“I’m sorry” does not yield automatic forgiveness. Grace is not a gum ball machine where a person can insert a quarter, then go skipping along and blowing bubbles in ten seconds. It’s easy to assume that a survivor is bitter and resentful when you are not the one who has to live with the lasting consequences of a child molester violating your body and your parents insisting on covering up the whole situation. This is why I am skeptical of the claim that Josh Duggar’s victims have forgiven him, and therefore all is well. Perhaps they have, but why are we assuming that is so? Why are we so willing to say that this situation is a private family matter where the victims chose to forgive and move on with their lives? The language in every statement from the Duggar family about this issue suggests a high likelihood that Josh’s victims were manipulated into “forgiveness.” Whether that is the case or not, it happens constantly in conservative Christianity and is inexcusable.

You may have read this whole post and decided that I am a bitter, resentful person who cannot find enough strength in Christ to forgive my parents or my abuser. I have been working for several years on forgiving my parents, and I will probably be continuing that work for several more years. That’s okay. It takes time. I have a kind and patient spiritual director, and will soon be looking again for a kind and patient therapist. Though I cannot yet say that I have forgiven my parents, I can say with confidence that I have forgiven my abuser fully. He sinned against me terribly, but I am no longer angry with him. I hope that in the hereafter, I will get the chance to meet his redeemed self and come to an understanding of the whys that still run through my mind from time to time. On the day I learned of his death, I prayed for the repose of his soul. Some survivors will think I am crazy for this, but I genuinely hope that he is at peace and free from whatever demons and passions that had hold of him when I was young. Getting to a place where I can say all of this has taken hours of therapy and spiritual direction and has required the support of my extensive family of choice. It cannot be forced. A person cannot be manipulated into hoping that her abuser is at rest rather than in torment. I would not hold this attitude up as an expectation for any other survivor. I could not have gotten to this place if I had not willingly distanced myself from the cheap grace messages I had been exposed to in my earliest years as a survivor.

As I engage in discussions on Facebook about the Duggar scandal, something one of my friends commented continues to stick out to me. The implications of this comment are frightening: “Any Jesus who would forgive something like this is no Jesus of mine.” I have to wonder if this kind of thought would still come up in response to sexual abuse if Christians did a better job of teaching forgiveness. If what I had learned about forgiveness as a child and teen was the traditional Christian understanding of forgiveness, I would agree with her. When we reduce forgiveness to, “Being sorry and apologizing is good enough to erase the sin entirely,” we distort the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. We communicate that Jesus will save the child molester who makes a public showing of remorse, no questions asked…but when it comes to the child who has been severaly sinned against, her  salvation is dependent upon being manipulated into “forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is intimately connected to God’s judgement. When humans make so many misjudgments in cases of abuse, it can be difficult to trust that God can and will enact truly perfect justice. Until there is perfect justice, the cries of victims will continue bear witness to a world in desperate need of redemption. And so I continue to pray, “Lord have mercy. Show us a new way to relate to one another where abuse no longer exists. Bring healing to all of those who have been wronged. Open the doors of repentance to any who perpetuate the evils of abuse.”

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30 thoughts on “Sexual Violence, Manipulation, and Cheap Grace

  1. From what I read about 14 year old Josh (his age when the abuses occured) there was no cover-up. His parents hauled him off to the police. He was also placed in a work program and got counseling, told his now wife, etc. What do you think should have been done differently?
    I think I would have handled the repeat differently, but this was never a cover-up issue.

    • His parents didn’t report anything to the police until a year later. He did not complete a work program or treatment program. He was sent to work with a family friend who was remodeling a house. When he did confess to the authorities, it was to a policeman who is a family friend and is now doing prison time for child pornography. There is no indication that he received any real counseling. And yes, this was covered up. When your children are being abused and you don’t report it to anyone other than a few elders in your church for an entire year, that’s covering it up. When the news story went public, the family spoke of all of this as teenage mistakes. That’s covering it up. What I think should have been done differently: he and the victims should have received real counseling. Advanced Training Institute materials do not count as real counseling. His parents should have reported this to someone outside the church immediately. Not necessarily the police. Child protective services would have been enough. If the victims were not consulted on what they think justice should look like in this situation, they should have been. I’m not sure they were (or are now) capable of knowing the best way forward. When you’re raised in a family that tells you you’re the cause of boys’ wandering eyes and hands, how much can you really stand up for your own needs?

  2. His parents waited a full year to report the crime to the police. In the meantime, he was not sent off to counseling, he was sent off to do manual labor for a guy they knew who was doing a remodeling job. That is not counseling. From where I stand, in every way, the Duggars put maintaining a public image ahead of doing what was right and what was best for Josh and his victims. The message that sent to Josh’s victims is that their pain and their need for healing did not matter as much as Josh’s comfort or maintaining a positive public image. I am skeptical of the “forgiveness” extended by his victims. I suspect it is more like an agreement to just never speak of it anymore…which is sad, because his victims need to talk about it. They deserve to be heard.

    I know there are those out there who want to extend a whole lot of grace to the Duggars and who fervently believe this was handled exactly as it should of been. However, everything I have read, even Jim Bob, Michelle, and Josh Duggars own words, indicate that this was handled improperly from the start, and has ultimately only caused more pain for everyone involved. Josh Duggar has made a name for himself by being a voice for “family values,” and has been vocal about his belief that the LGBTQ community is a danger to our children. That is infuriating, to say the least, considering his own history, which he was not forthcoming about whatsoever until someone forced it into the public view.

    The Duggars are well loved by a lot of people, but that doesn’t negate what they did, and it doesn’t absolve them of the consequences of their extremely poor choices in handling this situation. To dismiss Josh’s actions as a mere “mistake” made because he was a teenager is an insult to anyone who has ever been victimized by him. He violated his victims in body and soul. He did it more than once. That is not a mistake. That is a pattern of behavior. Rather than addressing it as such and giving him the rehabilitation and counseling BY A PROFESSIONAL that he needed, they chose to go the less humiliating route, and ship him off to a friend to perform some free construction work. What an incredible slap in the face to his victims.

    For the first time since it happened, Josh Duggar and his parents are being held accountable for their actions. Yes, it is uncomfortable to witness, and yes, many people will jump to their defense and ignore what they have plainly stated: They didn’t turn him in for over a year, they did not get him real counseling, they chose to deal with it “privately” rather than make Josh accountable, and life seems to have gone on pretty much as usual. There is nothing excusable in any of those choices. In fact, it may even be criminal, as they knew of sexual abuse and did not report it promptly. It is always difficult to see people go through the wringer in public, as the Duggars are now doing. However, some honesty, integrity, and better choices from the start would have allowed them to avoid all of this. Instead, they chose to use a route that they thought would shield themselves and their son from embarrassment, meanwhile disregarding the needs of the victims for justice, understanding, compassion, a professional to speak to about the incidents, and so forth. The truth refuses to remain hidden, and this is just one more case of an unresolved past coming up and demanding to be dealt with. The Duggars would do well to deal with it honestly rather than couching the incident in religious-speak. They screwed up in every way on this. They need to own that.

    • I think the most terrible aspect of this news story is that none of the victims are being heard. It’s possible that they don’t want to be, but knowing my own experience and being familiar with the experiences of other survivors I am concerned that their parents and their religion/culture are holding them back from asking for their needs. I continue to pray for all of them. -Sarah

    • I’m not excusing Josh (I was molested at age 8) but we are outside…he was 14 and these were his sister’s. What did they want to happen? I can’t imaging parents in this position with so many children trying to save their family and do the right thing.
      What to do when you’re in shock?! What to do?

      I know that I was called when one of my daughter’s friends was raped. She was 15 years old and I stayed with her for 2 hours at the hospital while the rape kit ans exam was done. Her mother couldn’t stand to be with her.
      The police didn’t even charge the boy. She had lacerations and was traumatized.

      It’s easy to point fingers when it’s not your child.

      I think Josh Dugger needs consequences you betcha. Off that TV show. He isn’t a roll model.
      There ARE consequences for wrong behavior.

      • I don’t think there are any easy answers here, Bonnie, and I hear and appreciate your compassion. I think that Jim Bob and Michelle let down everyone involved with how they chose to handle this. They hurt both Josh and his victims by trying to make this go away rather than dealing with it. Their 14 year old son was in dire need of help from a professional. They denied him that. His victims were in need of validation, help processing what happened, and counseling from a professional. If what happened with Josh is any indication, they were denied that. Nobody wins in this, and all their methods did was ultimately cause more pain.

        I think that, at this point, what people want from them is some honesty, and an acknowledgment that they messed up…and that their assertion that the LGBT community is a danger to our children was misguided, at best, considering what was occurring within their own home. Some humility on their part would go a long way here.

  3. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe the Duggars deserve any grace. Their son, a juvenile, committed a crime–not a mistake. Sexual assault, which is what he perpetrated, is CRIME, punishable by LAW. As parents, they failed their son miserably by waiting a full year to report anything and only to a police officer that was a family friend. That was a calculated, deliberate attempt to circumvent the law and playing the system by waiting until the statute of limitations was up, denying the victims of their son’s crimes an opportunity to seek retribution, as they rightfully deserved. Why should these cynical scofflaws be afforded any special treatment? But that is what occurred, and these parents sent him off to do some construction work at the home of a family friend. I wonder, was Josh paid for his work? I would hate to think he actually BENEFITED further from his crime. Was this family friend remodeling his home happen to have been a social worker or licensed counselor of some kind? If not, then Josh received NO counseling, as he was required to do. Instead, he was free to repeat sexually assaults. Having spent 27+ years in the legal field, I know that after completing a program–which Josh did NOT do–most juvenile cases are expunged as a matter of course. Why is is only NOW that the records were destroyed? These parents also failed their daughters by allowing them to be violated again and again by this perpetrator. To my mind, that is risk of injury to a minor at the very least, if not actually aiding and abetting the boy in his crimes. Instead, it was all covered up by political cronies and friends of these appalling excuses for parents. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the girls were coerced to keep silent or moreover, “forgive” their brother for what they brush off as his “mistakes.” Apparently, in their hypocritical religion, the GIRLS don’t matter at all. I understand that the rules for dating for these girls included no hand-holding or kissing until marriage, and no face to face hugging. Yet their BOY perpetrated repeated sexual assaults and it was brushed off as a childhood mistake. Talk about a double standard! The Duggars are sanctimonious hypocritical members of an extremist religious cult. The girls human rights were repeatedly violated along with their bodies. Apparently, they have gotten away with their crimes. They should be ashamed of themselves and should have their parenting closely monitored by children’s services of their state. They are despicable.

    • Any grace I am able to extend to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar relative to this situation comes from the same realization I’ve had about my own parents: they are fallible, imperfect human beings. They are products of their culture, and their culture tells them that their way of handling the situation was the best way forward. That doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t make it excusable. That doesn’t mean we should simply let this go. This should not be let go without any sort of real accountability and justice. But people have to be met and educated where they are. I pray that at some point, the Duggar parents will be open to education about how to respond better in these situations. I agree that they should not get any special treatment. -Sarah

  4. I know two women who had the unfortuate experience as a child of being fondled by acquaintances–one abuser was an elderly priest, the other was the owner and checkout person in a small, neighborhood grocery store. It didn’t go on for very long because they figured out quickly how to avoid the person’s approaches. This happened in the early 1950s, before sexual abuse was reported and discussed publicly.

    In both cases as adults they held neither anger nor resentment; in fact they joked about the incidents the first time they told me. Years later, if the topic would up again, they took a more serious view–not anger so much as recognition of the acts as violations. In no conversation did the question of forgiveness arise. Both women were taught about and participated in the Roman Catholic rite of confession, but it never occurred to them that they could be somehow responsible and thus in need of forgiveness. Surprisingly they didn’t feel the need to see the abusers confess or do penance or either.

    One could say that these women repressed their anger, resentment, fear, shame–whatever it is that lingers and grows after abuse. But they seem to have lived happy, “normal” lives. I have been puzzled by that for a long time. It’s not as though they are insensitive or uneducated. Just the opposite in fact.

    I do not present these stories in order to question yours, or your years long reaction. Rather, I am interested in your analysis of mercy vs justice. There was no justice in your case nor in those of the two women. There was no need for mercy because there were no public accusations. I have read about victims’ families wanting to see the killers themselves killed, certain that this kind of “closure” might bring a measure of peace. But I don’t understand that position. Justice seems to me to be a human concept, as if the perpetrator’s public suffering were enough to resolve all the issues. If I say that you seem to want some prolonged public suffering on your parents’ part, I will appear not to sympathize with you as a victim. I didn’t say “survivor” because it does not seem that you have survived–yet.

    The two women above have survived, and it didn’t take long. I ask myself, is that because they were ignorant of the serious nature of sexual abuse and so it didn’t reach deep into their psyches. Or had they already developed resources that allowed them to find their own way through. Or have social conventios changed so much that now, although we live in a world where sexploitation and openly sexual behaviors are witnessed daily in advertising, movies, TV, even in high school hallways, women are far more vulnerable now than they may have been in the past.

    I am not incluing violent sexual assault in this dscussion,. That seems to me to be a whole different issue. Although I have never experienced any kind of abuse I have sisters, daughters, and granddaughters whom I keep in mind whenever I think or read about these things.

    • Hi Albert. The story you shared is also interesting to me. A person who is sexually assaulted as an adult will process the event differently than a person who is sexually abused as a minor. Not to suggest that women who have been assaulted as adults face any less difficulty healing in general, but the process is different. Maybe the women in your story repressed their feelings, maybe they didn’t. That’s not for me to say. I am glad that it never occurred to either of them that they were responsible for someone else’s sin.

      Regarding mercy and justice: both qualities are from God. The question is, do we as humans understand them as God does? Often, I think we misunderstand the meanings of these terms. Folks who are currently being supportive of the Duggars tend to think that mercy means the consequences of the sin aren’t as important as God’s (and the victims’) forgiveness of Josh Duggar. I do not think this is an accurate understanding of mercy. When I go to confession and the priest gives me absolution, he is not telling me that there are no longer any repercussions for what I have done. In fact, I need to be more aware than ever before of the repercussions of my sins so that I can do penance and and do my best to avoid sinning again. Regarding justice, I think Christians and non-Christians alike have a misunderstanding of what this term means in Christianity. In the secular world, justice is thought of almost solely in terms of the legal system. In that context, justice means that the perpetrator goes through a publicly shaming process of trial and imprisonment, and perhaps even faces the death penalty. I do believe that the criminal justice system can play a role in divine justice depending upon the situation. Sometimes, it is necessary to keep a person away from the rest of society in order to protect others from harm. In these cases, imprisonment can be both just and merciful. I think of justice as going hand in hand with mercy. A just action should also be merciful. I think there are ways of holding abusers accountable at the community level that involve both justice and mercy. I think how that actually plays out would depend upon the individual situation and its particulars, but I am interested in having that conversation. In my own abuse situation, I think the most just and merciful approaches would have involved the legal system. But I think more importantly, justice and mercy would have required effort on behalf of the entire community to protect its own children. I wish my abuser had been held accountable by the community not because of any want to see him shamed publicly, but because more could have been done to alert parents, educate them, and ensure the safety of their kids. For the rest of my life, I have to live with the guilt of knowing that my abuser probably abused others after me, and I did nothing to stop it. I failed to act with mercy or justice.

      I do consider myself a survivor because I am in he process of surviving. I haven’t fully made it yet, but it’s okay with me if that takes a while.

      Sarah

  5. I believe true forgiveness must start with healing – and in both cases, there was no healing. To cover up, to victim blame, to place blame somewhere or on someone else cannot start the healing process.
    I believe forgiveness starts with both parties.

    • I think that’s a great point. Forgiveness involves healing. I had to do a lot of healing before I was able to get to the point of forgiveness with my abuser. I’m still doing that with regard to my parents. -Sarah

  6. A bit off topic from the Duggars, but what is your take on liturgical forgiveness? In my tradition, we observe Forgiveness Sunday at the start of Lent, where everyone in the congregation is supposed to forgive everyone else on the spot. Personally, I’ve never felt like there was anything specific that was hard for me to forgive in anyone else when it came to that point, but I wonder how it would be for someone in a different situation. My wife objects to the practice because it seems superficial, and brings up much of what you’ve said here about forgiveness being a process.

    • I love Forgiveness Sunday. It is one of my favorite times of year. I do see your wife’s point about the way it can appear superficial. I think it is what people make of it. For me, I use the day to reflect on situations in my life where I haven’t fully forgiven and situations in my life where I need to seek the forgiveness of others. When I’m going around church on Forgiveness Sunday and asking forgiveness from others, I think of the words exchanged as being in process rather than finished. “God forgives and I forgive,” or “May God forgive you. Forgive me,” (whichever is used in your parish) are statements that, I think, reflect continuous processes of forgiveness. We aren’t saying, “God *has forgiven* and I *have forgiven*” or “God has forgiven you, so you *have to* forgive me.” I think of the words we exchange as hopeful. I hope that God continues to forgive me, and I hope that I will be able to forgive the sins of others. When I think of those words in this way, it’s much more humbling when I say, “Forgive me, a sinner” to someone else. I think many people in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions fall into the trap of thinking that liturgical forgiveness means that everything is fine and as though no sin ever occurred. I think when that happens, liturgical forgiveness loses a huge part of its purpose. -Sarah

  7. I had to make this comment as confidential because even to this day my family doesn’t like me to speak badly of my uncle. He died many years ago and I am way too old to be still harbouring the effects of his abuse. I can never speak of it because of the shame it brings on the whole family. When my uncle died he suffered terribly for two years and ended up in a nursing home having people care for his bodily needs. He felt violated when the personal care workers would wash him and watch him when he used the bathroom. He would struggle with the personal care workers and have fits telling them to leave him alone. I overheard this in a few conversations. I was full of terrible feelings of satisfaction that he was finally feeling at least in a small way what I had felt and gone through because of him. Yet I was full of pity for him as well. I regretted that I secretly harboured ill feelings towards him after all the time that had passed since the abuse. It was shocking really because I had put much of it aside and thought I had forgiven him years ago.
    I remember praying to God that he would be spared any further torment and I remember this as being very difficult. I had to ask God to help me want to desire that he not suffer any more even though he caused so much suffering. I wish people had never told me about my uncles situation at all because I never went to visit him and tried not to ask about him. But I did hear he was moved to a different facility and although he lingered for another year I never heard any more stories about him having those difficulties. He had many health complications and some of it was the advance of Alzheimer’s which I have heard can revert the person to their childhood memories or state of mind. It made me wonder if he too suffered abuse as a child.
    Sarah, I don’t know what the answer is to the connection between your health issue and the deacons passing but it could be as simple as circumstance. Life happened to me in the form of my uncle’s abuse and then life happened to him when he got sick. I don’t know if there was any connection between the way he suffered at the end and the terrible things he did but it provided an opportunity for me to pray and ask God for his grace and mercy for him and for myself. All my love to you with hugs !

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and our readers. My heart goes out to you. I am so very sorry that this happened to you. I can understand why you experienced some feelings of satisfaction in seeing what he experienced in his old age. I think most survivors will, at some point, struggle with feelings of satisfaction related to their abusers’ sufferings. It’s very likely that he experienced abuse as a child. Most abusers are people who were abused themselves.

      Regarding my deafness and the deacon’s passing — I don’t see them as related in terms of “something from one situation caused the other.” It’s just odd to have those two memories associated with the same day (which is also the anniversary of the death of one of my childhood friends). It’s especially odd because I never *wanted* to become deaf, but now that I’ve been experiencing hearing loss over a period of time I would not want to be a hearing person again. Strangely, I can say something similar about my life as a survivor. I never wanted to be sexually abused. Even having to say that is silly because in reality, no one wants to be sexually abused. However, I am grateful for the life experiences I’ve had as a survivor. They have made me emotionally stronger, and they have challenged me to view the world in new ways. There’s definitely a similarity somewhere in there.

      Also, just for future reference: feel free to share anonymously on this blog. We want all our readers to feel comfortable in sharing as much of their experiences and thoughts as they would like. But also know that if you choose to include your email on the comment form, no one except Lindsey and me will ever see that. It will be completely confidential amongst the three of us. I just wanted to let you know that in case there is any way we could be supportive to you.

      Sarah

  8. Sarah,
    it saddens me to think of what happened to you and how you were let down, silenced, and not supported by your family; not just once or twice but multiple times throughout the years. I think your life and views are testament to what a great person you are Because you haven’t given up on yourself, life, or even forgiveness of others. maybe you wouldn’t like for someone to say this but I do see you as an inspirational person and a role model as a Christian and person.
    I truly wish you the best in your journey of healing and forgiveness.
    thank you for sharing part of your story

    • Thank you for reading, and for your kind words. Role model is a pretty big phrase to live up to, but I’ll do my best. -Sarah

  9. So sorry to hear this happened to you … I regret that I don’t have any other words to say at this time … other than to thank you for your vulnerability in sharing such a difficult experience.

  10. I am weeping over this. Recently, a similar issue in my past was dredged up over an incident(s?) (not involving me, thank God) that happened years ago. In what is becoming the familiar tune of conservative homeschoolers, the incident was reported to the elders, confession before the pastor/elders was deemed sufficient, the young lady(ies?) never offered counseling, the rest of the church kept in the dark, and the whole thing swept under the rug. By the time I got to know the young man and considered marrying him, the incident was forgotten and I had no clue – until about a year ago when he was finally reported to the authorities. So much of our past relationship is suddenly making all kinds of sense. I am just so thankful for God’s hand of protection on me that it wasn’t worse than it was – and my heart so so so heavy for all of the relationships ruined now. If only things were dealt with properly then!

    What would the world be like if Christians were open about their struggles and confession of sin more regularly practiced?

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/may/if-you-see-something-say-something.html

    • Thanks for sharing this article with us, and also for sharing part of your own story with us. It would indeed be helpful if more churches encouraged confession of sins. I don’t think this is just a problem in the homeschool movement, but it is certainly present to a troubling extent within that community. -Sarah

  11. What you are calling cheap grace is the loving forgiveness Christ calls us to have. Refusing to open your heart immediately to this is refusing theosis. Pray for me, a sinner.

    • The cheap grace mentality tells us that forgiveness and repentance are divorced from one other. It’s cheap grace because it affords some people forgiveness without calling the same people to repentance. Forgiving a person does not require absolving them from responsibility for their actions. Forgiveness is a process that goes hand in hand with repentance.

  12. Sarah, I’m so sorry. </3 Thank you for your vulnerability. After growing up in a very conservative homeschooling community, I am learning a lot in retrospect about the silencing and shame that are part of the culture, and am working on learning to speak out–and more importantly, to help make sure others are heard.

    Prayers for you and Lindsey, always!

  13. As a Jewish person, your comment a bit above about forgiveness and repentance going hand in hand put into words exactly what I was thinking.
    In Judaism, the word generally translated as repentance is teshuvah, which means coming back/returning.
    In parallel, I’ve often thought about forgiveness as something like an open door. God’s door is always open. That is part of God. But, we are not God. If we have a heavy door, or a door on rough ground, believing that we have to wrench it open in an instant will only lead to us hurting ourselves.
    And, meanwhile, even if you hold a door as open as it can be, unless the other person does their part in repentance, in coming-back, the process cannot be completed. Anymore than if I invite someone to my house and they stand five miles away saying ‘I’m in your house’ will actually make them be there.

  14. I agree that forgiveness is a process — just because you decide you must forgive in an instant, doesn’t mean that one has the grace to do so. But I also read some criticisms about the Duggars in other posts that referenced stated positions that sound like what the New Testament says, what Jesus says, which leads me to think that many people simply do not like what Jesus was saying. (There’s bound to be a Newsweek article on this coming soon.) If Jesus were to say, “You must forgive your brother 490 times” today, we’d denounce him as advocating an unhealthy masochism. Beyond the mere political opportunism of destroying the Duggars’ image, especially with regard to Josh Duggar’s advocacy for the unborn right to life, which I think explains the lion’s share of the widespread umbrage, I worry that even more thoughtful criticisms like this may confuse realism with ignoring Jesus’ message. In reality, we aren’t capable of living up to the message without miraculous intervention, but that doesn’t invalidate the message.

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