Culture Ethics

What Anna Duggar doesn’t understand about Christian forgiveness (COMMENTARY)

Josh Duggar, formerly executive director of the Family Research Council Action, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa August 9, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Brian Frank. *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-DUGGAR-MOLEST, transmitted May 22, 2015 or RNS-TLC-DUGGARS, originally transmitted on July 16, 2015.
Josh Duggar, formerly executive director of the Family Research Council Action, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa August 9, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Brian Frank. *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-DUGGAR-MOLEST, transmitted May 22, 2015 or RNS-TLC-DUGGARS, originally transmitted on July 16, 2015.

Josh Duggar, formerly executive director of the Family Research Council Action, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa August 9, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Brian Frank. *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-DUGGAR-MOLEST, transmitted May 22, 2015 or RNS-TLC-DUGGARS, originally transmitted on July 16, 2015, or RNS-TURNER-COLUMN on August 24, 2015.

(RNS) Earlier this week, word got out that Josh Duggar of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” had two accounts with Ashley Madison, the website where married people go to look for sexual partners to cheat on their spouses.

The site, whose tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair,” was the target of an enormous hack,  which exposed the email addresses and some credit card information of its nearly 37 million users.

Duggar is not the only famous name to be associated with the site, and as people continue to sift through the expanding database, he surely won’t be the last.

But this column isn’t about Josh Duggar. It’s about Josh’s wife, Anna, and the misguided notions of forgiveness that some Christians subscribe to.

“Anna will not leave Josh,” a source told People magazine. “As with her in-laws, she is turning more to her faith than ever. She and Josh are probably praying around the clock right now, I would assume.”

Earlier this year, Duggar’s past molestation of his sisters and a babysitter came to light, as did the troubling fact that he had faced little more in the way of consequences than Christian-based counseling and a lecture from a police officer who was a family friend.


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Now, it seems that his sexual misbehavior isn’t all in the past. He has admitted to cheating on Anna — the mother of his four children, the youngest born in July. These Ashley Madison accounts didn’t create themselves; they required thought and foresight. They required many steps to set up, and even more thought to follow through on.

One of the worst things that has come out of “professional Christianity” — whether it’s reality TV stars or celebrity pastors — is the narrative that forgiveness is the same thing as reconciliation.

When I read that Anna Duggar is unlikely to leave her husband, I know why. It’s because she feels that she doesn’t have a choice. If she did choose to stay, after months of prayer and marital counseling that held Josh responsible for his actions,  her decision might have some integrity.

But this is mere days after she found out that her husband had been cheating on her and having sex with strangers — all while proclaiming the value of family.

This false forgiveness is too often the result of the pressure “professional Christians” feel to forgive when they are in the public eye.

We make their shows about “family values” cash cows for the cable networks, whose only goal is to make more money than last quarter, and then we ask these television stars to be perfect, or at least act like it.


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Anna Duggar can forgive Josh without continuing their marriage. She can separate from him, divorce him, win custody of the kids — and still forgive him.

To forgive does not mean that you return to the same relationship you had with someone before they hurt you. In fact, sometimes wisdom demands that you make changes to a relationship even as you forgive.

Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, when He says “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Once someone has shown himself to be untrustworthy, you do not continue to give him your trust. It is unwise. That is not to say that he can never change, or that Anna must leave him, but it is to say that forgiveness is not facile. It is bold, clear-eyed, and cautious, or it ought to be. You can forgive without going immediately back to the way things were. In fact, that’s probably the best way to move forward in this situation.

This will play out very publicly for the Duggar family, because they have chosen to live their lives in the public eye. People always fall from pedestals, and we’re always surprised when they do. Now at least they don’t have as far to fall.

YS/LM END TURNER

About the author

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.

14 Comments

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  • So the “pressure of professional Christians” are causing this woman to stay with her husband. Hmmm. I wonder if we could extend the thought to include that same type of “pressure” the Left puts on people to accept their Leftist philosophy regarding gay marriage, and neutered people as being normal? If so, then then I suppose we must choose just which “pressure” we wish to knuckle under to. I myself have a pretty good idea, though, why Mrs. Dugger has done what she has done: Mark 10:12: “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Eternity is forever; this life is but an instant: just deal with it, and enjoy your eternal rewards.

  • It is husband, Josh Duggar that is doing the divorce. HE is the one breaking the marriage vows. It is unfortunate that you do not take them seriously.

  • Well said. Thank you. There is an arc in the process — forgiveness only takes one person, reconciliation takes at least two. When there’s reconciliation including the fruit of repentance, restoration can occur. A moralistic view and practice will often try and rush the process so everything “looks” okay again.

  • Anna Duggar, according to my understanding, has little education, no work experience, no LIFE experience, outside of this marriage. Her religious beliefs, which should be a source of comfort in this time (and may be) are the very reason she’s in this mess. She can’t leave. Where would she go? She can’t get a job, her family and community would completely ostracize her. No, she won’t divorce him. She’ll stay and be a “good” wife, like she’s always done, because that’s all she’s been taught to do. Her world revolves around her husband and family, and she has no way out. I pray for her peace of mind.

  • What Laura Turner doesn’t understand about Anna Duggar:

    She, Anna Duggar, has revealed next to nothing about her thoughts or motives on the matter. Thus, unless Laura is omniscient, and thus a part of the Trinity, she cannot possibly say anything remotely intelligent or useful about what Anna Duggar understands or doesn’t understand about forgiveness.

  • Greg, normally I despise fire-and-brimstone imagery, and no, I don’t agree that divorce is wrong 100% of the time (at the very least, Jesus mentioned adultery as a just cause), but if I am truthful with myself, I will admit that there were moments in my life where such imagery brought me to my knees in repentance for seemingly simple things such as a hard heart or a sharp tongue. Like most of us, my sins are not scandal-rag level — ie the Duggar type — but they are more about attitude, which is bad enough.

    So thanks for posting it…..every now and then, it is unfortunately needed to wake us up.

  • Biblically speaking, your wrong and taken that verse severely out of context. Christ had said divorce is not permitted unless Adultery is said reason. Paul also said divorce is permitted under abandonment. Alsohis words say she is an adultery if she MARRIES AGAIN. Only under the event where remarriage is not permitted. Please, the Duggars need to go away. The only outcoms of this show is mockery of Christ. She needs to get away from him. The fact that he only “confessed” after he got caught yet its some who considered confession? Come on, I used to be addictied to drugs I understand the behavior, there most definitely will be something else that well come up or well happen. Either way the light will always expose the dark. Prayers go out to the family as well as Anna for courage to walk away from him in protection of her children.

  • Jack, yes, a sobering reality check is always good. And I know as well that certain divorces are merited, and it is best to separate in those cases. However, when divorce becomes commonplace, then something is wrong, and we must ask ourselves a question: did we properly prepare for marriage? Did we go into marriage believing it would be permanent, as Jesus said it should be (Luke 16:18), or did we go into it thinking if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll find another spouse. So the better we prepare for marriage, the more marriages will work out. When we believe there are three people in a Christian marriage: husband, wife, and God, then the longer that marriage will last.

  • If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. Leviticus 20:10
    Yeah til death to us part….there is always a way out other than divorce.

  • “And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery–unless his wife has been unfaithful.” Matthew 19:9 Greg…. I’m not a biblical expert but this article and verse make sense to me. Divorcing someone who is unfaithful vs. divorcing someone because you like someone else better or they are sick are very different. If someone cheats the whole ideal of marriage has been thrown in the trash and abused by that person and the other is a victim, I don’t think that means that you cant forgive and work things out but it’s not a sin if you cant. Just as Loren Haas said. None of us will ever be perfect but if you throw away your marriage got hasn’t entitled you to still keep it.

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