All Is Forgiven: Why Conservative Christians Get Away With Adultery
Things haven’t been going so well for Josh Duggar recently. TLC cancelled his family’s show 19 Kids and Counting after it came out to light that Josh had sexually molested five girls…including some of his own sisters.
But that was all in the past for Josh. After all, he made an apology. Yes, he screwed up, but his parents put him through counseling, and he was extremely sorry and regretful.
So, Josh probably wasn’t feeling all that great to find out that his email address was one of the exposed 37 million email addresses in the Ashley Madison leak. Not only that, but per some sites, apparently transactional data was also leaked suggesting that someone with his name had subscribed for two different Ashley Madison subscriptions from his grandmother’s address.
Now, to be fair, Ashley Madison apparently didn’t vet any email addresses used. So, anyone could put in any email address theoretically. But Josh has already gone public with an apology. A snippet therefrom:
I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.
I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.
I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time.
(Oh yeah, did I mention that all this was happening while he served as Executive Director of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group championing traditional marriage?)
(Also, isn’t it interesting that while he shies away from particulars on the Ashley Madison thing, he does talk about everything starting with pornography on the internet…the gateway drug?)
This is just one man’s story, but he’s not the only guy. It looks like the Ashley Madison leaks will be a mine for weeks, if not months and years, and already, people are pointing out other conservative religious figures who were caught using the site. Christian vlogger Sam Rader has already apologized and received forgiveness from his wife (and God, he would say). Even conservative Islamic/Islamist preachers have joined in on the fun (and by fun, I mean that this is going to be a mess for families and relationships for a long time).
But even though these leaks raise questions about data privacy (although there have already been other high profile leaks that have raised similar questions), there is an underlying story that seems to not be that new at all…conservative religious people who are known for advocating or speaking out in favor of a “traditional marriage ideal” and against things like same-sex marriage keep finding themselves (literally) with their pants down.
I mean, I don’t want to give too much credence to the idea that homophobia is a sign of repressed homosexuality, but it’s just a little coincidental when there can be an entire site about gay homophobes caught in scandals despite their professed beliefs about homosexuality.
Yet, in a lot of these cases, I see so many of my liberal/progressive friends responding to these stories with a lens that fails to understand the conservative Christian ethos, and as such, cannot account for why these people can seem to get away with such pervasive hypocrisy.
From some Facebook comments:
Clearly the “Family Research Council” is not appropriately named. In fact, conservatives [who happen to be unfaithful] would be better off to avoid using the word “family” in their organizations lest they continue to associate “family” with abuse and infidelity. Whatever happened to upholding family values?
And another one [Sam Rader]… another guy who says gay marriage is wrong. Let’s at least all agree that you don’t get to call another marriage “wrong” if you’re also unfaithful in your own marriage at the same time, okay?
These comments, and a few others about hypocrisy, seem to make sense from certain liberal/progressive mindsets, but I feel that they are utterly at odds with the conservative Christian worldviews from which Josh Duggar or Sam Rader or whoever else come.
So, in this post, I want to share a few thoughts on why these folks seem to keep getting forgiven while conservative Christians still speak out against same-sex marriage:
From a certain conservative/fundamentalist Christian perspective, making mistakes — even big ones — doesn’t matter. As long as one is sufficiently repentant, then anything can be forgiven. After all, from that Christian perspective, everyone is expected to be a sinner, to make mistakes. Everyone is expected therefore to repent of these mistakes.
So, Josh being a hypocrite doesn’t matter because every Christian is expected to lapse. What matters is that, when caught, he at least gives a perfunctory apology. (I think people can think his apologies suck for a variety of reasons, but I can see how, from a certain Christian perspective, they are sufficiently repentant.)
These certain conservative/fundamentalist Christians can forgive or defend Josh but not defend or forgive those in gay marriages because they see Josh as someone who is making a mistake, who knows and admits he is making a mistake, and who is vowing to get better (regardless of whether or not he is actually changing at all)…whereas with gay marriage, these are people who do not accept that they are sinning for being or for wanting to marry, do not vow to repent from that, etc.,
So, that’s that.
But I really want to address the second comment…because to me, it seems like people are really going at things from drastically different perspectives if they think that if someone is unfaithful in their own marriage, then they cannot call another marriage wrong.
What this latter comment implies is that if someone fails to live up to their moral standards, then that means they don’t really believe in those moral standards, or those moral standards don’t apply to them or others.
But that wouldn’t be how the certain conservative Christian perspective would see it. At best, the perspective I’m thinking of would say that both the unfaithful vlogger and the gay person in a same-sex marriage are sinning.
This again, isn’t necessarily a surprise, because from that perspective, everyone is sinful, so everyone is expected to mess up in one way or another. From the conservative Christian point of view, the fact that everyone fails to meet the exacting objective moral law in some way or another doesn’t mean that everything is permissible, or even that imperfect people cannot preach said exacting objective moral law.
And that’s the other point — these aren’t views that the conservative Christian believes they have personally come up with. These are laws that are believed to be objective moral laws from God. They are just the messengers.
So, the difference then becomes that Josh (and most of the other unfaithful conservative Christians) generally do not try to defend their own actions and say that they are not sin. No, they usually will admit (at least perfunctorily) that those are struggles or lapses or whatever. (And, for whatever it’s worth, I think that in the case of Christians who identify as “SSA” [or even those who don’t], they ALSO get a lot of the same leeway and forgiveness from the Christian community whenever they “lapse” as long as they recognize that what they were doing was a mistake.)
This highlights the values mismatch.
When we say that unfaithful people shouldn’t call gay marriages wrong, we aren’t meaning to say, “Well, if that conservative Christian made a mistake and can be forgiven for it, then so should gay people”…because we are asserting instead that gay people pursuing same-sex marriages are not making a mistake. But this claim is one we make irrespective of how well gay marriage opponents live or fail to live up to their moral standards. And, more importantly, this claim is fundamentally incompatible with the conservative Christian worldview not because of the specifics of sexual sin, but because we dare to challenge the idea that certain expressions of sexuality are sinful in the first place.