Shame’s lies to victims, perpetrators, and their church(es): a response to the Duggar scandal

curtainsShame’s insidious fingerprints are all over the latest abuse-cover-up scandal involving Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. How could such abuse be covered up for 12 years by a family living life “in the open”? A family with a reality TV show, no less. Shame thrives with a conspiracy of silence, and abuse of all sorts provides ample fodder – but particularly so when you add in the factors of abuse of a sexual nature, abuse of a minor, a perpetrator who’s publicly known, and a perpetrator who belongs to a faith community. As a counselor and a Christian involved in church my entire life, I have seen these scandals played out in a hauntingly familiar pattern over and over again. I want to suggest a few ways that shame keeps an abuse scandal secret in such a scenario.

Shame’s whispered lies for the victim:

1 – It’s up to you to protect your perpetrator’s reputation by staying silent.

2 – God forgives him/her, so why can’t you? (And forgiveness=forgetting.)

3 –  What happened wasn’t really that bad.

4 – You did something to deserve it. You didn’t say “no” – or you were dressing “immodestly” or allowed yourself to be alone with him/her.

5 – To speak up about the abuse would bring embarrassment to you and your family. It’s best to deal with it alone and not bring anyone else into the shame you feel.

Shame’s protective shield of lies for the perpetrator:

1 – It only happened once (or twice or 3 x’s) … so it’s not that big of a deal.

2 – I was young and immature, and I didn’t know better.

3 – The less it’s discussed, the better off I will be.

4 – Because God forgives my sin, I don’t need to ask forgiveness from my victim or talk to the appropriate authorities.

5 – S/he made me do it. It’s really his/her fault.

Shame’s lies believed by a faith community who discovers the abuse (and doesn’t report it immediately): 

1 – God’s reputation is at stake, so it’s best to keep this quiet and not let anyone else know.

2 – We can handle it. No need to get the authorities involved.

3 – The laws of the land about mandated reporting do not apply to us – we’re under God’s law.

4 – It’s up to us to protect the reputation of the perpetrator.

5 – God’s mercy negates God’s justice.

Shame’s role in such a scandal is to exacerbate it – keeping the victims and the perpetrator locked in silence – a place where neither of them can find the healing they truly need. It would have been merciful for the abuse to have come to light 12 years ago instead of today. There would be much less of a scandal-element for the Duggar family, and certainly there would have been more freedom for the victim(s) to know and see justice being done. And to be protected from contact from him. And even for future victims to be rescued from the same.

If you find yourself identifying with any of these places – that of victim, or of perpetrator, or of a faith community member who’s covering up abuse – speak up. It’s the only way shame begins to lose its power. And it’s the only way full redemption and restoration can begin to occur.

*Shame is the subject of my upcoming book with Crossway – shame of all varieties and the freedom and healing that comes through Christ. Expected release date of June 2016.

When Father’s Day is painful

Before I delve into this topic, let me begin with a disclamor: I was blessed to be raised by a Dad who loved me well as his daughter and cherished me and led me to Jesus over and over again and proudly gave me away to the man I married almost 7 years ago. This man has been a father for three years to our twin daughters, and I daily thank God that my girls have such a father to call, “Daddy.”

This isn’t a post about my pain, but it’s a post about the pain so many of you carry on this day. God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and in my calling as a counselor and friend, I have heard your stories and I hurt for you today. And I wanted you to know that someone notices, sees, and acknowledges today’s pain.

Today may be painful because you’re grieving the father you never knew. The father you wish you had known, but whose absence leaves a hole in your heart and your life. A hole that you’ve tried to fill a thousand other ways but it always comes up short.

Your pain may be the absence of a father you knew and loved dearly and who is now gone. Whose death you grieve today most keenly. I’ve written about grief here, and I pray the God of all comfort will meet you in each avenue of sorrow you will walk through today as you know Him as Father and the ever-present one.

Or maybe the pain comes from a father who violated the protection and trust meant to be inherent in your relationship. Abuse of any sort – emotional, physical, or sexual – breaks boundaries established by God and leaves indelible pain, confusion, and deep wounds. Your journey feels long and hard and impossible and dark. You may not even be able to speak of what happened, and so you have to fake a “Happy Father’s Day” to the man who violated you and did what should not be done. And this only adds insult to injury. I hurt for you and with you, and if you need a safe place to talk about this, find a trusted friend or counselor or pastor and begin to share this pain. Speaking about such things feels as if it will multiply shame, but that’s the kingdom of darkness trying to keep you from coming into the light. When light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).

Then there are those of you who long to be fathers, and whether the delay is due to waiting for marriage or waiting through infertility, this day is a painful reminder of what you (or your spouse) are not yet.

Some of you have a combination of what I’ve mentioned already, and so the hurt is multi-faceted and often complicated grief. Such as grieving the death of an abusive father. Or a feeling of fear and dread as you watch your husband becoming abusive in ways your own father was to you. Or celebrating a wonderful father while wondering whether you or your husband will ever become one.

And then there’s the frustration of waiting for your husband to step up and be the kind of father you had or that you pray he would be for your children. Perhaps you found yourself reading the greeting cards and wishing they were actually true. You feel disappointed and you wonder if and when he’ll ever change.

As you grieve today, I want you to know that you’re not grieving in silence and you’re not grieving alone. Not only do I (and many, many others) acknowledge your pain, but we want to walk with you through it. And even if today passes without any other acknowledgement of the burden you carry, there is One who sees. Who meets you even now, carries your grief for you; atones for the sin committed against you; is the perfect and present Father you long for or miss or never had. He is the one who met a slave-woman and her son when they’d been cruelly abandoned by her mistress and were languishing in the desert, expecting to die. Hagar’s name for this God in Genesis 16:13?

You are the God who sees me.

On this day when you will see all of the Facebook and Instagram posts celebrating fathers and painting pictures of beautiful Pinterest-worthy brunches and picnics and barbecues; on this day when you will feel as if you are not seen or known; take comfort that there is a God who sees you. Who sees your pain and your grief and your brokenness. He sees you, and his seeing brings healing, comfort, and light into darkness. I can’t promise the pain will be less, but I know a God who promises his presence with his people in times of distress. And he is the one from whom all the best earthly fathers derive their name. He is the one Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 –

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies
and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction …

And here’s one last thought. All of the images of perfect families with perfect fathers you’ll see today through posted pictures, at church or the brunch restaurant or your next-door neighbors – well, they’re not as perfect as they seem either. And in fact they could be well-constructed masks to cover pain that might be more similar to yours than you know. Take courage to tell your story, whether beginning today or tomorrow; whether with one friend or in a more public sphere; whether in person or email or a blog. Your story will remind others that they, too, do not grieve alone. And you may even be able to put words to what someone else could never express until they read or hear what’s on your heart.