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.
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 knew why. It’s because she feels that she doesn’t have a choice. If she chose 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” — into 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.
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.