Yesterday I reflected on the story of Bruce Jenner and how we, as Christians, should respond to sinful choices of nonbelievers. Interestingly enough, the other major headline this past week has been the revelation of the sexual misconduct of Josh Duggar, one of the nineteen children of the Duggars from the TV show “Nineteen kids and counting”. Here we have an example of dealing with sin within the Church, and again need to ask the question, how should we respond, and how do we handle similar situations within our churches?
This is an interesting situation in that it was an offense that happened many years ago, with all involved parties reporting to have made peace with one another. In short, my personal opinion is that this is none of our business. Josh, as a fourteen year old child, made a series of choices that would most likely not be punishable by incarceration (and the family did report him legally, only to be released), confessed his actions to his family and underwent counseling to fight his sinful tendencies and achieved victory over his sin. The daughters who were involved have come forward to tell the world that they have forgiven Josh and that they have been more hurt by the unlawful release of the police report than they were by Josh himself. The media is sensationalizing a story to prove that Christians are not perfect, and some are going so far as to say that Christian homes and communities foster child molestation and sexual sin.
So how do we, as a church and as Christians, respond to this situation? If someone in your church comes to you to reveal a sin from fourteen years ago, then we must carefully consider a few things. Firstly, Jesus gave us instruction for handling sin within the Church:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
– Matt 18.15-17
If someone comes to tell you the sin of another in your church, then ask that person if he has confronted the sinner. If he has not, then he is gossiping and is himself in sin. Call him on it. If he has spoken to the sinner, ask him if he is telling you because he has already confronted the sinner and he is unwilling to listen. If that is the case, then the two of you should go confront him on his sin. If the sinner listens and repents, then it is over. Jesus says you have won your brother and we are to leave it there. If he will not listen yet again, then you need to take the issue to the pastor and leadership of the church, and the whole church should confront the sinner. If he then repents, it is over and he has been saved. If he will not confess and change, then we are to remove him from the church until he is willing to confess and change.
Scripture also teaches us that we are to make right what has been wronged by the sin. So if someone has stolen, he needs to return what was taken. If someone has told a lie, he should tell the truth and restore the tarnished reputation. If a law has been broken, then it is not the place of the church to conceal that from the authorities, it should be reported and the guilty should receive the punishment as outlined by the law, to the end that he would be disciplined in public and in the church.
Once one has confessed and been forgiven, we then begin the process of restoring trust and responsibility.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
– Gal 6.12
Consider a child. If he exhibits the tendency to take things that are not his, to eat cookies that have been forbidden, then in order to teach him, you remove temptation from him. You do not leave a big stack of cookies on the counter and let him roam the kitchen alone. You develop a system of accountability and reward his obedience. If a teenage struggles with lust, then parents set up structures for their children to not be alone with their boyfriend/girlfriend. They can help organize group dates, set up a curfew, and they can ask them straight forward questions about their activities and hold them accountable. This is how we develop character and how we rebuild trust. We do the same within the church. If someone is tempted to embezzle funds, then we do not leave such a one alone with the offering, or give him unchecked access to the church’s finances. If he happens to be an outstanding accountant, then we can restore him to the role as church secretary, but always with accountability and after regaining the trust of the congregation.
This is restoration. God is in the business of forgiveness and restoration, and so should we be.
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
– 2 Cor 5.18-19
Now, as this relates specifically to the Duggars, I encourage you to watch their interview and listen carefully to what he did and to the steps they took in response. Josh confessed the sin himself, and that without provocation. The family took steps to protect the daughters, to help him to fight the sin, and they confessed it to a counselor who took him under his wing and walked him through fighting the sin, and they took him and reported him to the police. Josh achieved victory over his sin, his sisters forgave him, and he was restored to the family. As far as I can tell, from an outsider looking in, they handled the situation as best as they could have. What would you have done differently, if you would crucify them?
Our goal as a body and as believers should be to help one another grow in holiness and righteousness. We should hold one another accountable. And when we find ourselves failing, we should confess our sins on our own initiative if no one has approached us.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
– James 5.16
As to the accusation that Christian families and conservative groups fostering sexual sin and not appropriately handling these situations, we need to firstly ask God if this is true. If we are following the Biblical outlines for dealing with sin, and if we are taking the proper precautions that the law mandates for working with children (background checks, never leaving an adult to handle children alone, etc), then we can prevent and handle these situations well. Let us be careful, as Christians, not to lash out against unfounded accusations but examine ourselves before God and before men to make sure that we are indeed above reproach and that we are protecting those who need to be protected and restoring those who would repent.
Humility is the key. I would warrant a guess that very few of us would desire our character and reputation be built on a poor decision we made when we were fourteen years old. No Christian is perfect, and Josh confessed his sin to his family, to the police, to his bride (while they were dating) as well as her family, and has walked in victory over his temptations. Have you confessed and experienced the victory of the Holy Spirit over your sins of disposition? If his sisters, the very victims of his actions, have forgiven him, then this firstly is none of our business and secondly gives us no grounds to condemn him.
God called an adulterer and murderer a man after His own heart. He called a murder and liar the greatest among men, and entrusted him to lead the Hebrew people out of captivity to the promised land. He chose a moon worshiper, liar and a man who offered his own wife to other men as their bride to be the very “father” of the faith. God chooses, forgives, redeems, and changes people who have committed the most heinous of sins to preach His gospel and make His name known.
Let us beware lest we place ourselves in the position of God as judge. Let us also beware lest we participate in the sin of gossip and slander. Let us most importantly beware that we paint a picture of perfection and try to convince the outside world that we have no sin. But let us embrace one another, push one another on to holiness, and confess our sins.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
– 1 John 1.9