Anyone can be a Duggar. A lot of us are. In the aftermath of revelations about the Duggars’ private life, more than a few Christian conversations included questions like, “How does this happen?” While sin can be boiled down to simple explanations, it rarely follows uncluttered storylines. I want to understand how bad things happen so I can avoid them. Don’t you? In the case of Josh Duggar’s scandalous lifestyle of cheating, I’m afraid a lot of us church-going folk might miss a key part of the story. I’m afraid it’s our part in the Duggars story we can’t afford to overlook.
Like me, Josh was born a sinner in a sinful world. Apart from Jesus, my good deeds are pitiful attempts at self-restoration. Since the Bible teaches the importance of the local church in order to worship, learn, grow, and serve, church life has been a big part of my journey. But even churches are full of sinful people. The Church makes it easy to raise children who cheat.
4 ways the Church is teaching us to cheat
We applaud outward displays of inward decisions. God considers the heart over the appearance. While the Holy Spirit works to draw children and youth to Himself, well-meaning adults may create confusion by stirring up the desire to people-please. Few hearts can resist the allure of attention and praise. On one hand, we want kids to respond to Jesus alone, but we train them to respond to the crowd. Before we have time to show the authenticity of our decisions, pictures have been posted of the “moment” on social media. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7)
We elevate knowledge without expecting change. We make use of words like purpose and discipleship, but we often mean “information.” Instead of the relational, inter-generational teaching modeled in the Bible, our plan for change has been programmed and packaged to suit publishing houses and big congregations. Learning content has been elevated over growing character. We take classes, achieve higher levels, and recite accurate answers. All we know makes us feel good. All our kids know makes us feel good. It’s not wrong to learn, because God’s word is life changing, but the Church often loves gaining content more than growing Christ-like. “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b)
We accept external appearances instead of internal applications. God is more concerned about genuine heart change than about the walk down the aisle, the service trip Facebook photo, or the public recognition. Despite the fact the Western world loves stories that market well on social media, God loves humble hearts responding in brokenness. Arenas with celebrity faith figures have enticed young people with spiritual stardom over spiritual servant hood. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
We model public personalities that conflict with private realities. If true disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and growing in fruit, why is social media splattered with the carnage of rude language and prideful attitudes? How can we wave our hands on Sunday, but flap our tongues on Monday? How can we worship under the lights, but go home to walk in darkness? When our private is different than our public, kids learn cheaters are at home in church. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
By emphasizing public displays of personal decisions, we’ve encouraged young people to do what garners acceptance, affirmation, and applause in the Church. We tell people God wants us to act for an audience of One, but we gather audiences to wait and watch for the power of the program, not the unseen movement of the Holy Spirit. The events we plan don’t match our theology, creating confusion in hearts and coercion in decision making.
I never watched a whole episode of the Duggar family reality show. I don’t follow their lives, and I don’t need to know the details of their pain. But I’m sorry for the part we played. Forgive us, Father, for creating and accepting a culture of Christian commercialism encouraging kids to do what it takes to get applause. Help us, Lord, to reconsider how to inspire lives to change instead of cheat.