When it was recently reported that Josh Duggar molested several girls as a young teenager, some of the media seemed almost delighted by the news. This is in part because Duggar stars in 19 and Counting, a popular TV show about a family of conservative Christians.
But it is also because some journalists knew they could use the scandal to attack the Duggar family’s way of life — everything from their Christian faith and the strict courtship rules the children follow to the modesty with which they dress and the very size of their family. In fact, according to a few journalists, the Duggars’ lifestyle is partly responsible for Josh Duggar’s sins.
The media have every right, and indeed an obligation, to report on the scandal. That said, some journalists’ relentless coverage of the scandal highlights the usual ideological double standard. Earlier this year, when it was revealed that TV star Lena Dunham had written in her memoir that she had molested her little sister, few in the media initially covered the story — and ever fewer used it to denounce Dunham’s worldview or lifestyle.
But that’s exactly what happened in the wake of the Duggar scandal. Several writers suggested that the Duggars’ large family was partly to blame. “Is anyone surprised that young Josh was not supervised adequately to prevent his access to five young girls?” a writer at the liberal website Alternet asked. “It’s no wonder [Josh’s mother] wasn’t attentive enough to her children to know what Josh was doing, practically under her nose, for years.”
Something similar was posited by Craig Detweiler, a filmmaker who teaches about evangelicalism and culture at Pepperdine University. He told the Washington Post that the Duggars are “a cautionary tale” and that they prove that “it really is hard to keep up with two kids, let alone 19.”
Others took aim at the Duggars’ high standards in matters of sexuality. Consider the following article headlines:
“Josh Duggar and the purity lie”
“The Duggars Dangerous Cult of Purity”
“How the Duggars’ Cult of Purity Lets Victims Down”
By way of explaining these attacks, Kate Shellnutt, associate editor of Christianity Today, told the Washington Post that “People are suggesting that maybe if [the Duggars] didn’t have such conservative views on sex, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
But there’s little evidence that conservative views on family and sexuality are to blame for Josh Duggar’s actions.
In fact, large families have been linked to positive outcomes for children and parents alike. For instance, a huge 2013 study found that people who grew up with many siblings were more likely to marry and stay married than those who grew up with only one or two siblings. What’s more, the study found that when it comes to preventing divorce in adulthood, “the more siblings the better,” and that each additional sibling was associated with a 2 percent decline in his or her odds of divorce.
Cultural liberals often mock Christians who believe that people — especially children — ought to dress modestly. But the belief is based not just on Biblical mandates but also on science.
According to studies published in 2009 and 2011, there is scientific proof that men’s brains react differently to scantily clad women than to modestly-dressed women, and that men tend to (wrongly) dehumanize the former group.
Finally, there is the pervasive notion that sexual abuse is more common among religious people and in religious communities than the non-religious. Some journalists have promoted this idea in the wake of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and alleged abuse on the campuses of Christian universities. But numerous studies have found that conservative Protestants and those who attend church regularly are the least likely to engage in domestic violence and abuse.
There are lessons to be learned from Josh Duggar’s revelations. But one of them isn’t that traditional beliefs and practices about family and sexuality contribute to a culture in which sexual crimes are more likely to occur.
The reals lessons are rooted in the very faith that the media are too quick to blame for the crimes:
One has to do with the plain fact that it can be very difficult to overcome sin. As Saint Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Another lesson reminds us of the humility with which we should approach this fact: We are all sinners in need of forgiveness from a merciful God.
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.