When I first heard the terrible news about Josh Duggar, my first reaction was “Whoa.”
I did not see that coming.
I mean, sure, like any family in the spotlight long enough, you expect a few skeletons to eventually make their way out of the closet, but whoa.
My second reaction was, “I feel so incredibly bad for all of the girls involved, but particularly the Duggar girls.”
It’s not that the assault on the other girls is any less tragic or important. It’s absolutely just as tragic and absolutely just as important. But to be molested by your brother, then trotted out on TV and told to smile because you’re now a commodity? I can’t even imagine.
Once my heart was thoroughly broken for those girls, I couldn’t help but think back to those robocalls Michelle Duggar recorded a few months ago warning the voters of Fayetteville, Arkansas about the danger of trans people to little children. In her words to voters, trans people would “endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space.” I was as livid then about their pseudo-Christian values as I am now, but now, now the hypocrisy has reached appalling heights. Or is it depths?
Either way, Michelle Duggar, trans people are not a danger to little girls.
Your son is.
Which, again, just drives home the point that the fear-mongering of folks like the Duggars towards the LGBT community isn’t grounded in reality. It’s driven by hate, fear, and ignorance.
But regardless of what you think about the Duggars and their position on LGBT rights, I think we can all agree that what happened was appalling and that there should be consequences for sexual assault or at the very least, some sort of accountability beyond “I’m sorry” and “No worries at all, bro. It’s like it never happened. Cause Jesus.”
I wish I could say I was surprised to discover the hoards of people – particularly Christians – coming to the defense both of Michelle and Jim Bob for doing so little to protect and yet so much to exploit their daughters as well as Josh who apparently deserves a free pass for saying “I’m sorry,” but I’m not surprised at all because refusing to hold Christian leaders and Christian celebrities accountable has become par for the course these days.
Yes, as Christians we should offer grace and forgiveness to people no matter the sin, but forgiveness without accountability is cheap grace.
And using the Bible to sanctify cheap grace and no accountability is even worse.
What am I talking about?
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
The call to stop casting stones – not by Jesus, but by regular old non-walking-on-water folks like you and me – is one of the most frustrating abuses of scripture I can think of, in that it’s almost always used only to silence criticism and avoid accountability, not to call one another towards being more compassionate people. But that frustration is further compounded by the fact that so many of the folks who like using John 8 to silence people frustrated by hypocrisy and abuse in the Church, conspicuously forget their favorite live and let live passage when they’re busy condemning the LGBT community.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems with the invocation of John 8.
Perhaps the biggest problem with John 8:2-11 is the fact that it probably never happened and Jesus probably never said those now famous words. I know that might sound crazy, but if you were to take a look at the oldest copies of John, those verses simply aren’t there.
But let’s assume for the sake of the argument that there really was a woman caught in adultery and Jesus really did talk about casting stones.
That does nothing to change a pervasive and fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying.
If you know anything at all about the laws found in Leviticus, you know the penalties they prescribed for offenders didn’t to be, well, not very lenient. For instance, kids that talked back to their parents could be put to death. Other death ensuing infractions included taking the Lord’s name in vain, practicing witchcraft, and…you guessed it…adultery.
In the Hebrew Bible, there is no concept of hell like we think of it today. There was Sheol, but it wasn’t the same thing. So, when someone was stoned to death for their sins, that was the ultimate act of condemnation, not unlike us damning someone to hell today. It was a final and unequivocal act of condemnation from which there was no coming back, no chance for forgiveness, no hope for grace.
When Jesus tells the folks with stones to put down their instruments of death, he’s not forbidding people from ever using their discernment (or judgment) to recognize sin when they see it and/or hold one another accountable when we screw up. After all, if that was the case, Matthew 23 alone (to say nothing of the rest of the gospels) would make Jesus a massive hypocrite.
What Jesus is condemning in John 8 are those moments when we put ourselves in the place of God as judge, jury, and executioner, deciding who gets to live and who gets to die, both in this life and the next. For the Pharisees and Sadducees, that sort of ultimate condemnation was exhibited in very literal ways – stoning sinners and exiling the unclean. Today, that sort of ultimate condemnation comes in the form of things like denying life-giving rights and damning people to hell based on whatever Bible verse suits our fancy.
So, when we invoke John 8 to silence criticism and deny accountability for egregious actions, we’re not extending grace to sinners. We’re enabling them to keep on sinning. That is to say, when there’s uproar over abuse and cover-up in the Church family and “don’t cast stones” is our loudest chorus, we’re not bringing healing and reconciliation to the people of God, we’re empowering those who would exploit cheap grace to keep on abusing their victims.
Yes, we should continue to forgive the unforgivable and extend grace to those that don’t deserve it because that is the way of Jesus, but there must be accountability and consequences as well. Otherwise, the Church’s message to the oppressed and the marginalized, the victimized and the abused is clear.
We don’t really give a rip about happens to you.
We’ve got leaders and celebrities to protect.
Which is why, if we insist on continuing to equate stone-casting to simple, yet critical accountability, particularly when children are abused and neither their abusers nor those over them are held accountable, then I have just one question.
Where’s my pile of stones?