The church ‘deals’ with sexual assault
Grace is not prison and counseling is not consequence. | Photo Illustration by Thecla Li / THE CHIMES
We all remember the Duggars: a family who had represented the extremely conservative qualities of the Christian faith until May of 2002. The eldest Duggar child, Josh, then began to come forward with multiple confessions of sexually assaulting victims—including his younger sisters—to his parents.
Below is an excerpt detailing the father, Jim Bob Duggar’s interactions with the police and the church’s elders to determine actions to prevent possible future occurrences of sexual abuse:
“Jim Bob Duggar, according to the police report… says the elders agree... Josh needs treatment.”
Jim Bob Duggar tells police that Josh Duggar went through a Christian counseling program from March 17 to July 17, where he "did manual labor and had counseling," according to the 2006 police report. It's unclear whether the counseling program was with a certified counselor, and Jim Bob Duggar tells police he cannot recall the name of the facility, according to the report.”
According to this report, Josh’s only recorded repercussions for multiple cases of assault of a minor and incest included five months of “counseling” and “treatment.”
Since this case, the eldest Duggar’s “counselor” has also been charged under allegations of sexual assault.
Yet, besides discussion within the church community, there seems to be no justice for the victims who are forced to live with feelings of exposure, exploitation and, in some cases, the violation brought upon them by their eldest brother.
Flash forward to 2018.
At Highpoint church in Memphis, Pastor Andy Savage has taken a leave of absence upon the stepping forward of Jules Woodson, a woman who was motivated by the #MeToo movement and recently came forward, stating that:
“When she was a 17-year-old, she was the victim of sexual assault. Woodson was a member of a youth group that Savage led in a church in Texas (he was 22 at the time), when he drove her to a secluded road, asked her to perform a sex act on him and and touched her inappropriately.”
He has taken a leave of absence. He claimed that Woodson had given consent, yet he was in a role of authority over her.
The church often gives a gospel of grace to those who have done wrong. We see that Jesus spoke with criminals, and even on his dying day, hanging next to murderers, he offered them a place in heaven even though they did not deserve it.
However, the difference between the story of the criminal hanging next to Christ and that of Josh Duggar and Savage was punishment. The criminal hung for his crime. Then there was repentance and forgiveness, and a welcoming into the Kingdom.
I do not suggest that these men suffer the cross. But I do plead justice where justice is due. In this life as Christians, we do receive grace by Jesus’ blood and perfect sacrifice— and thank God for that.
We are also to submit to authority and the government of the place in which we live. If we as the Church continue to come up with “punishments” for sexual assault of our own—of counseling, hard labor and leaves of absence—what makes us better than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s illustration of the puritan Church? Banishing Hester Prynne to the edge of the woods but allowing the cowardly Dimmesdale to run free?
At the end of Highpoint church’s official statement on Savage they stated:
“It has been mutually agreed upon that Andy will take a leave of absence effective immediately. While this audit is being completed, we will continue to support Andy and his family. Please continue to pray for all involved.”
No mention of Woodson. No mention of prison, or even a fine. Only a prayer request for the family of the assaulter and “all involved.” Is this justice?