A few weeks ago, the internet exploded over the scandal that reality TV star Josh Duggar had sexually abused a number of child victims in his teenage years. It would be purely redundant to rehash the myriad of opinion that's been published over the controversy. But I think it's important to settle on one important question: is Josh Duggar redeemable or will he forever be identified as a molester?
Those who have opposed the Duggar's worldview and beliefs have been fierce with their criticism, but I suspect that's more of an intention to exploit another example of alleged hypocrisy from conservative Christendom in order to oppose it more. I don't think it would be too far off base to say that the injunction against Josh Duggar is ultimately a red herring-- people care not so much his past history as they do his current worldview and values (which is often lambasted by secularists).
It's convenient to paint Josh as once a child molester, forever a child molester, because it enforces the narrative that Christians really are just hypocrites. Whether or not people can change isn't really the question being discussed. But at the same time, I think this points to a rather interesting tenet of pluralistic religion. People want a tolerant gospel-- one that assumes you will never change-- but not a redemptive gospel-- one that changes you by God's redemptive work.
For Christians, the most fundamental distinction to make is what our identity was and what our identity is. Paul's famous words to the Church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:17 underscores a most important distinctive of the Christian faith: we are made new in Christ-- our old identity in the flesh and in sin has passed away.
The tricky part is that this reality doesn't exactly manifest itself clearly in the Christian's daily livelihood. A saved believer often looks very much like his old self, falling in sin and erring in all areas of life. Theologically, we attribute this to the ongoing battle between flesh and spirit (Gal 5:17). But what does this mean for someone like Josh Duggar? If he truly believes on the gospel and is made anew in Christ, does it matter what he did?
I think a few things do matter. It's clear that Josh did sin, and rather gravely, for that matter. I can't speak to the intricacies of how the subsequent counseling and discipline were administered, but both a spiritual and legal process need to be carried out when criminal acts occur. And on a broader level, the case speaks to the deep need to protect and guard our vulnerable most carefully.
What I think matters less is seeing his past sin as a defining determinant of his present and future self. To be even more explicit, we only reveal our own hypocrisies when we continually paint Josh as that child molester, when, in fact, true repentance will have flung him away from that if he has indeed trusted in Christ as his Savior and Redeemer.
The road to sanctification is a glorious but treacherously slow one. When I think of this case, I don't settle on the fact that Josh was 14 when he committed the abuse (14 year-olds are absolutely mature enough to know right from wrong). Rather, I tend to think of the elapse of time that has occurred: twelve years in all that have passed without an alleged relapse.
This is not an endorsement of some "time heals all wounds" philosophy but a reiteration of the biblical truth that God finishes his work his people (Philippians 1:6). Time can be one testament to show the progressive molding and spiritual maturation that takes place in a believer. This is no different for Josh than it is for any other Christian. What's important is that his testimony in Christ now trumps his past failures and sins.
In point, we, as Christians, should absolutely believe that God not only saves, but redeems. This is what is so powerful about his gospel-- it doesn't simply love people and tolerate them for who they are, it makes them completely new! That is the difference between child molester Josh Duggar and new-creation-in-Christ Josh Duggar.