A message to BJU: I could have been a Duggar

Posted by Rebecca

Update June 7: When two of the Duggar daughters were interviewed this past Friday evening, they said that DSS was pleased with the way their parents had handled the situation regarding their brother’s alleged molestations at the age of 14 and again at the age of 15. Though I believe the Duggars handled the situation at least as well as I would have twelve years ago, and probably even better, some professionals are saying that the police interview with the family that took place in 2006 should have taken place as soon as the first incident of molestation was reported.


I’ve written elsewhere about how if I had had my way 22 years ago, we as a homeschooling family would have gone into patriarchy and become an ATI family. (It was my wise husband who saw the imbalance of the first and said of the second, “I don’t want another man telling me what to do in my family.”) As it was, we were still very conservative, far more conservative than I think my young adult children now wish we had been.

All that to say, I can relate to the Duggars. Completely. I feel as if—in thinking, if not in number of children—I could have been in their shoes. I can imagine pulling out my ATI material on sexual abuse and studying it and following it, simply assuming that Bill Gothard knew more about this than I did.

I would not have had any idea of the deep and long-lasting scars sexual abuse can cause.

Twelve years ago, if someone hadn’t counseled me otherwise, I may well have made the very same decision the Duggars made to send my son away to do construction work with someone I knew, and figured I was making the best decision. I would have waited to go to the police too, if I had gone at all. (It probably would not have even occurred to me to get counseling for the victims as long as they didn’t “act out,” and even then, I probably would not have connected the acting out with the abuse.)

I did not know how deeply and fundamentally sexual abuse affects people. It just isn’t readily obvious.

That may sound dense, but I believe it’s a big part of the problem. At Bob Jones University. In fundamentalism. In Christianity. In the world at large. It just isn’t readily obvious—like say, being in a fatal bus wreck might be—how damaging sexual abuse can be to the whole person.

I think I would have done nearly the same thing as the Duggars.

But I would have been wrong.

And I should be ready now to quickly say, “The way I handled this situation as a parent was wrong. It was a far more egregious sin than I knew, but I had no excuse for not knowing. I should have dealt with it immediately as the serious action that it is. I see now that ignoring the repercussions of this crime can have a far more devastating effect on people than I ever realized.”

I can relate to the Duggars. But in some ways, that’s what I wish the Duggars would say now.

I have a similar message  for certain people at Bob Jones University (some who actually participated in some wrong behavior at the school, which means, not President Steve Pettit).

You didn’t know then, but you should know now.

In the past you didn’t know how deeply and fundamentally sexual abuse affected a person. You believed the lie that what affected the body (the “throwaway part”) didn’t affect the soul or the spirit. You strongly implied by what you said and what you didn’t say that not forgiving the abuser may well have been worse than the abuse itself. You believed the lie that speaking “words of forgiveness” would make everything be ok.

You went beyond not knowing. You even counseled people this way, and trained others to counsel them this way.

In the past you didn’t even know that you were mandatory reporters.

But you should have known. You had no excuse for not knowing.

And this is what you—you, the ones who did the wrong—this is what you can say now.

We were wrong. Sexual abuse is an egregious sin, a crime, that can deeply and fundamentally affect the whole person, who cannot be separated into three distinct parts. But we have treated it as a mistake easily remedied. We should have known better. We didn’t know how devastating a crime it was, but we should have known. We certainly should have known that we were mandatory reporters.

We have had no excuse. We have done wrong.

This is what I wish you would say. And it’s not too late. You can still say it now.


Rebecca Davis is the author of Untwisting Scriptures that were used to tie you up, gag you, and tangle your mind. She is also the collaborating author of Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church and Tear Down this Wall of Silence: Dealing with Sexual Abuse in Our Churches.

5 Comments on “A message to BJU: I could have been a Duggar

  1. Thanks for the balanced perspective. From one living in Greenville, SC, who has been in fundamental churches, and authoritarian cult-like organizations, I know exactly what you mean. But, as you said, we just didn’t know this 20 years ago. Or we barely knew it. I have always respected Bill Gothard, even though I moved on years ago. But, just this weekend, I read some things about his organization that have given me pause. I was going to say that I didn’t think fundamentalist Christians would ever change, but the Holy Spirit just reminded me that it is He who makes the changes, not us.

    • Yes, I respected Bill Gothard too, but how wrong I was. The man who taught me “You take care of the depth of your message and let God take care of the breadth of your message” was practicing something that was the very opposite of his own message behind the scenes. The Recovering Grace site, http://www.recoveringgrace.com, has done a stellar job of exposing the corruption from within the ATI organization in a straightforward way without sarcasm or hatred. Their tone sets an example for us here at BJUGrace. ~Rebecca

  2. Rebecca,

    Great article, and I like how you spelled out the exact words needed for a meaningful apology. How healing those words from the right mouths would be!

  3. Many years ago when Institute On Basic Youth Conflicts was so popular in churches, particularly in Baptist fellowships, I realized how legalistic Gothard`s teachings were, even as a new Christian. Some of his statements were outright heresy such as stating that the desire to marry and have children was of the devil. I wonder how many Christians were cheating out of the blessing of having a wife or husband and children. Gothard was anti modern Christian music but could not back his claims scripturally.
    I wish I would have spoken out back then and called Gothard`s teachings for what they were.

    • I sure don’t remember his teaching that the desire to marry and have children was of the devil. He talked about how Christians should have a lot of children, and even drew diagrams about that, so I can’t see how those two ideas would go together.

      I’ve mentioned some of the positive memories I have about some of his teachings (“You take care of the depth of your message and let God take care of the breadth of your message,” for example), but at the age of nineteen, when I first attended, I was caught up in all of it, without discernment. Some of it, it’s clear now, was a cover for him to ensnare people in what became a cult (or maybe already was). I have to say, it’s astonishing how relatively easy it is to ensnare people in a cult if it’s fed to them one little bit at a time. ~Rebecca