The reaction of some of Josh Duggar’s defenders point to the larger, deeper problem of glossing over abuses of power because “all sins are equal in the sight of God.” Defenders ask, “Who of us didn’t make mistakes? Who of us didn’t sin as teenagers?” But the scandal is not about “sin,” in that it’s not about some normal teenage rebellion like making out in the basement with your crush after taking a few hits off the first joint you’ve ever rolled. The scandal, as many scandals before it, is about criminal activity that got covered up and brushed under the rug. It’s about a male who molested minors while they slept, and the fact that he was 14 at the times does not make this legal. Him saying “I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” doesn’t make it legal either.
There is an interesting dynamic here, though, and that is that the Duggars and many of their followers tend towards the belief that Old Testament law is, in many cases, still binding. The Duggars were followers of Bill Gothard, and according to Gothard’s Advanced Seminar handout titled “Appendix on the Place of Old Testament Law in the Life of New Testament Believers,” “[Old Testament] Law is God’s infinitely wise and masterful ‘blueprint’ for success in personal living, financial decisions, marriage, family, health and community life.”
This is very similar to the ideas of Reconstructionist Theonomists, who believe US law should be based on Biblical law, and specifically Old Testament law. Doug Phillips regularly featured the Duggars in his Reconstructionist Vision Forum conferences, products and marketing materials.
Here’s where it relates back to molestation: As Reconstructionist Theonomists themselves will point out, according to Old Testament law, rape isn’t really any more wrong for a man than fornication. Molesting your sister and having consensual sex with your girlfriend have the same consequences: in the case of an unmarried, unbetrothed female, the bride price is paid and the couple is required (in the case of rape) and allowed (in the case of fornication) to get married to fix the situation (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and Exodus 22:16-17).
According to anyone who is taking the Old Testament literally, if women don’t “cry out” when they’re being molested around other people (and none of the Duggar girls did at the time) then it’s treated as if it’s consensual. And neither are raped women really having anything that bad done to them. “Women are not property, like tractors, but neither should they be exercising independent control over their sexuality. God has established whether a sexual act is sinful or not. The woman’s consent to it does not determine whether or not it is sinful,” one commenter on the Reconstructionist Theonomists rape discussion group stated. “God’s justice is restorative. The remedies we see in the Law are designed to restore the person, as much as possible for the damage which was done. In the case of the married or betrothed woman who has sexual intercourse forced upon her, what is her damage? We don’t see anywhere in Scriptures that sex is a harmful act, per se. So her damage isn’t that she had sex. The damage is that she now has a death penalty placed upon her for adultery. The remedy then, is to remove the death penalty from her because she was forced. In the case of a virgin who has sexual intercourse forced upon her, what is her damage? It is an economic damage, she is not longer able to command the bride price of a virgin. So the remedy is economic. In the case of an unmarried, non-virgin who is forced into sexual intercourse, what is her damage? She is not damaged. The sex act is not harmful. She already lost her ability to command the bride price of virgin. She is no worse off than she was before. Therefore there is no remedy in the law for her.”
The Old Testament case of Tamar, which Gothard drew some lessons on molestation from, bears some resemblance to the Duggar situation and the Old Testament laws mentioned above. In this story, Tamar tells her brother, who has just raped her, that sending her away instead of marrying her is worse than the initial rape. It should really not come as a surprise, then, that Duggar apologists are acting as if the situation is basically the same as Josh getting to second base with his girlfriend — because if consent is not the deciding factor, then any extra-marital sexual activity is equally wrong, if you are a man. This is a big reason why certain articles penned by people of Muslim or other faiths, such as this one, claim that the Bible is morally repugnant and horrifically backwards. Christians often attempt fantastic mental and verbal contortions to explain away the bad stuff in the Old Testament, but why hang on to laws that are so clearly terrible? Why not just admit they’re terrible and move on?
Theonomists emphasize that women need to take any and all precautions, given these laws, to make sure they’re never raped. I think taking precautions to avoid being raped is a good idea, which is why, given the track record and beliefs of Theonomists and their ilk, I avoid hanging out one-on-one with them (or comatose with them) at all costs. Because, you know, merely by being an unmarried non-virgin female, I’m clearly asking for it, and everyone sins occasionally.