I might have missed the boat a little on this one, but I don’t think it’s too late to add my two cents on the latest controversial topic. The big reveal might have been more than a week ago, but considering the intense reactions on Facebook, I still think a response blog is warranted. For days after the announcement, my Facebook feed was bombarded with people’s reactions to the news: Josh Duggar cheated on his wife. There was a lot of shock, particularly from people who openly admit their obsession with the family that once appeared on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting.” For them, the announcement seemed preposterous, despite the fact that the show had been cancelled because of yet another tremendous announcement: the same Duggar son had admitted to engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with several girls, including his own sisters. This had occurred nearly a decade earlier, when Josh had been a young teenager, and he expressed deep regret for his actions. Since he appeared so repentant of his behavior (and I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, and believe that he does feel remorse for his actions), many impassioned viewers continued to devoutly follow the Duggar family’s goings-on. And so, just months after the first bombshell announcement, “19 Kids and Counting” fans were astonished and dismayed to learn this new development: the eldest Duggar son admitted to adultery. Their mournful and shocked reactions to the news filled my Facebook newsfeed within minutes of the announcement.
Interspersed between these reactions, there was another type of response. They weren’t incredibly common, but there were enough of them to arouse my concern. They came primarily from my more liberally-minded friends, but the gist of the response was this: of course the Duggars were going to be adulterous because chastity is impossible. Some comments seemed to suggest that couples who want to practice chastity were bound to be adulterous. Others made the rather pessimistic claim that chastity was impossible: apparently, we are all just animals that have no control over our sexual urges. What’s more, if we try to contain them, or heaven-forbid, resist them, we will inevitably fall. Every time. Over and over. Because apparently celibacy when one is unmarried is impossible. And fidelity in marriage is also impossible. According to these people, we are all slaves to our sexual desires, and no one should be shocked by the latest news about the Duggars. Of course Josh Duggar was going to cheat on his wife. It was obviously inevitable. We shouldn’t be shocked in the least.
In a way, I agree with these pessimistic reactions. To be completely honest, I wasn’t at all surprised by the news that Josh Duggar was unfaithful to his wife. But let me qualify that statement: it wasn’t because I think that chastity is impossible. I wasn’t surprised because I think that the Duggars’ view of chastity is wrong, and even potentially damaging, as it was here. Though the Duggars have the best intentions, they have inadvertently made a mockery of chastity. Many people use the Duggars as the representation of all Christians who adhere to any sort of chastity. But the truth is that most Christians are not like the Duggars. In fact, many Christians are critical of the Duggars.
In case you don’t know, the Duggars have very strict rules about the exercise of their sexuality. They are always chaperoned when they go out on dates, and if I’m going to be completely honest, the Duggars would object to having their courting process called dating. The Duggars do not allow their children to date, but rather require their sons to court young women who might be potential wives and their daughters to be courted by young men who might become their husbands. While they court, they are not allowed to hold hands, a practice that continues until they become engaged. They are allowed to share two side hugs every time they see each other- once at the beginning and once at the end- and this is the only physical contact that they are permitted to have. Their text messages are reviewed from time to time by their parents, and most of these texts have to do with theology and religion. They share their first kiss on the altar on their wedding day, in addition to the more obvious gift that is exchanged on their wedding night.
There’s a lot about their courtship rituals that I have absolutely no problem with. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the dating culture either. It’s very egotistical, focusing on our own wants and desires right now, and not giving any thought to the future. Many people date just for the sake of dating, admitting openly that they most likely (or definitely) will not end up marrying the person they are currently dating. In some cases, there even seems to be an unspoken agreement that if someone better comes along, they will end their relationship without any hurt feelings (as if you can guarantee that beforehand). Many people prefer to engage in no-strings-attached relationships, which attempt to be purely physical. The idea of dating with the intention of marrying the person- courting- seems old-fashioned to many of these people. Or it just seems absurd.
But even in the Christian world, you can choose courting over dating without doing it Duggar-style. The Duggars prefer a form of courting that is exclusively family-oriented. Courting involves the two families coming together at different times, spending time together as one large group. The courting couple are not permitted to go out on their own, and their only one-on-one interaction is texting.
Andrew and I also courted before we got married, but our families didn’t spend time together before our wedding (though it would have been wonderful if they had been able to meet beforehand, don’t get me wrong). Andrew spent a lot of time with my family, which was inevitable since I was still living at home. We had family barbecues, family dinners out on special occasions, and family trips into NYC for sight-seeing. Occasionally, Andrew and I would be able to arrange a trip to see his family in Massachusetts, and these trips also involved much of the same. For the year that we dated, Andrew and I spent a lot of time with each other’s families, but we also spent a lot of time alone. Our courtship was also very family-oriented, but we also had opportunities to just be alone. Andrew and I spent a lot of time discussing theology and religion, our expectations for our relationship, and our future together as a couple and as a family. But we also spent time holding hands, cuddling on the couch, kissing goodnight before saying goodbye. And yet even with all of this physical contact, Andrew and I remained chaste.
Before I go on, let me just get one thing straight. As I said before, I don’t think everything that the Duggars did was wrong. I agree with their analysis of courting versus dating. I agree with their decision to save sex for marriage. I don’t even see the problem with waiting until marriage to kiss. Though Andrew and I didn’t wait until marriage before exchanging our first kiss, I know other couples who have chosen to do this. And I think their relationships are very healthy and very chaste. I admire these couples immensely, and they have always been models of chastity for Andrew and me.
I don’t believe that the Duggars are the best models of chastity. They see all physical contact as an opportunity for sin, and thus it should all be avoided. They invest actions that can be completely innocent with the potentiality of sin. But not just the potentiality, but the inevitability. Because pre-marital hand-holding will inevitably lead to pre-marital sex. Because avoiding holding hands will prevent a person from engaging in sex before marriage.
Alright, I’m being a bit facetious, but the truth of the matter still stands. The Duggars avoid holding hands and kissing because they believe that such actions open the door to other sexual behavior, namely sex. In their desire to live chastely, they have labeled all physical contact between non-related opposite sex persons, particularly those who are interested in one another, as leading to the occasion of sin. These acts, which could have been innocent, become opportunities for sin. They become evil unless you’re engaged or married.
The Duggars had to address the same question that every person seeking to live chastely has to ask: how far is too far? Mr. and Mrs. Duggar drew a very definitive line to answer that question. Holding hands while courting (if not engaged) was too far. Kissing while unmarried was too far. Cuddling before marriage was too far. Obviously, sex and cohabitation were not an option. The Duggars made the line very clear with their children- they were allowed to exchange side hugs when saying hello and goodbye, but that was it. That was the line.
Andrew and I also had a line that we didn’t cross, but it was not so simple as eliminating all physical contact. In many ways, the Duggars have it easy. They have a very definitive line, and the line is clear from the very beginning. A potential boyfriend or girlfriend must be approved by Mr. and Mrs. Duggar, and they very clearly state the rules for courting their daughter or being courted by their son to the interested party. Temptation is limited, but fear drives all actions. They avoid signs of affection such as holding hands and kissing (and I’m not even talking about kissing on the lips here) for fear that they will lead to something more. As much as they might like their significant other and enjoy their company, their actions are ultimately driven by fear. They might grow to love their spouse, but the underlying fear that drove their initial interactions will always be there, stifling their love.
Andrew and I did not have it so easy. Our line was set in stone, but there were a lot of nuances that we needed to figure out together. We prayed together, took the advice of couples that we admired, went to confession when needed. Our chastity was something that we worked out daily, and sometimes it was difficult. Andrew and I held hands. We kissed. We cuddled. But those actions were all done innocently. When we perceived that something might lead to temptation, we avoided it. When one of us was feeling particularly weak, we changed course. It required that we be strong in the face of temptation, but through prayer and communication, we persevered and grew as people and as a couple as a result. Our trials and triumphs enabled our love to grow.
Living chastely is not easy, but it is worthwhile. The Duggars, though they desired chastity and valued purity, got it wrong in the end. After a chaperoned courtship with minimal physical contact and few opportunities to grow in their relationship as man and woman, Josh Duggar failed to live chastely. Without a proper view of the human person, human sexuality, and chastity, Josh Duggar fell in the face of temptation. After years of avoiding the near occasion of sin because of an incorrect notion of chastity and the human person, Josh Duggar couldn’t live chastely. He was tempted by adultery and pornography, and he did not have the strength or sense to overcome this temptation. After years of being under the protective mantle of his parents, he couldn’t stand on his two feet when the time came. With an improper view of chastity, Josh Duggar was ill-equipped for what he found in life, and particularly in his marriage. And as a result of his recent actions, Christian chastity is being called into question yet again.
For the most part, I think people were drawn to the Duggars because they were fascinated by the family. They admired them for their good manners, their respect for others, and their dedication to their beliefs. But at the same time, many of these same viewers found their views on chastity comical. They loved watching “19 Kids and Counting,” but would never adhere to the Duggars’ moral beliefs. It was fun to watch, but not so fun to actually live out.
I think many viewers were simply charmed by the Duggars’ way of life. I think many people were fascinated and even refreshed by their valuing of purity, even if they did not think that they themselves were capable of living such a life. They saw in the Duggars something that they desired, but were unsure how to attain themselves. Hence, they were shocked and even traumatized by the news that Josh Duggar hadn’t been as chaste as they had hoped. Their one connection to chastity had failed them.
And then there were those who were happy to hear that Josh Duggar had cheated on his wife- not because they wanted Anna to be cheated on, but because they wanted to be able to tell all their Christian aquaintances, “I told you so” (but aren’t they really the same thing in this case?) They wanted to hold Josh Duggar up as proof that chastity is impossible. Because one Christian failed to live chastely. Because one Christian man with a false understanding of chastity failed to live chastely.
But the Duggars are not synonymous with chastity (and ultimately, all Christians fall from time to time). To equate all Christians with the Duggars is just preposterous. There are plenty of Christians who are critical of the Duggars’ view of chastity, including me. Chastity is more than saying ‘no’ to certain actions. It’s more than saying ‘no’ to sex or cohabitation, and it’s certainly more than saying ‘no’ to hand-holding and kissing. Chastity is also a ‘yes.’ It’s a ‘yes’ to our existence as sexual beings created by God to love and be loved. It’s a ‘yes’ to living a virtuous life that draws us closer to God and makes us more human. It’s a ‘yes’ to love. Chastity cannot be rooted in fear. A weak sense of chastity, or mere prudishness, cannot stand in the face of temptation. It will inevitably fail as man is tempted by lust. It is not accompanied by the strength that comes with true chastity. True chastity is rooted in love, and by the grace of God, the chaste man can overcome the temptations of the flesh. The chaste man is a strong one.
So for those who were dismayed by the news, there is hope. There really are people out there who live chastely. They may not have 19 kids and counting. They may not require that their children avoid holding hands and kissing while courting. They may not be as photogenic as the Duggars. But they are out there. There really are couples who abstained from sex until they got married. There really are couples who opted to avoid birth control throughout their entire marriages. There really are couples who have remained faithful to one another over the decades. Chastity really is possible. And so for those who were not surprised or were even pleased by the recent news, my message is the same. Chastity really is possible. To claim that chastity is impossible because one Christian adulterated is the same as claiming that honesty is impossible because one Christian lied. I have news for you- Christians can and sometimes do lie. They can and sometimes do cheat. They can and sometimes do betray their spouses. But that doesn’t mean that speaking the truth is impossible, that honesty is impossible, that chastity is impossible. It just means that Christians are sinners too. They are not perfect. They are not God. But if you start off with a proper notion of truth, of honesty, of chastity, you will certainly be closer to attaining perfection in the eyes of God.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!