When Grace is Given Only to Abusers
I’m a big fan of grace. I love that it’s a core tenet of the Christian religion; we don’t just base our faith on the existence of our sin, but on the fact that this sin has already been paid for and covered by Christ. My faith is not one where I have to earn love or acceptance or forgiveness–it’s already been given to me. Grace is great. Yay grace.
Unsurprisingly, I’m not a big fan of abuse. Especially sexual abuse. Worst even, if that abuse is carried out on a child. In the line of things we can experience as humans, the grace of God and the evil of sexual abuse are about as far from each other as possible.
I’ve seen quite a few friends, writers, theologians, and even politicians, seemingly making this same point this week–that sexual sin is evil and heinous, but despite this, God’s grace still covers abusers. Each time I’ve seen this argument made I’ve wanted to grab a Bible and throw it at the person making it.
This is not because–in theory–I disagree that God’s grace covers all sin. But because the grace they were talking of is not from God. The grace they are referring to is the one granted to certain “sinners” and not others, given selectively, and often politically.
This is the grace of Christian celebrity. Well, the “right” kind of Christian celebrity.
I know this because, as the “wrong” kind of Christian (the feminist, non-submitting to my husband, supportive of LGBT people kind) I’ve received very little grace from the majority of mainstream Christians. Of course, what I’ve experienced pales in comparison to what my LGBT Christian friends have faced from their religious churches and families. Weirdly, for myself and my friends, there aren’t as many statements of support as there are condemnations and demands for repentance.
But personal anecdotes aren’t evidence right? Maybe I’m just a jerk and that’s why people don’t like me (very possible.) Thankfully for my argument, I’m not the only Christian whose experienced a lack of grace from her “brothers and sisters” when confronted with “sin.”
The furthest memory I have of a popular Christian “falling from grace” (so-to-speak) is Amy Grant. Back in the 90’s, when I was growing up, Amy Grant was one of the hugest, most successful artists in Christian music. She was like a more wholesome Taylor Swift. Amy had the first Christian album to go platinum, and was (to my knowledge) the first Christian artist to crossover and have a #1 hit song on the Billboard charts. Her fan base was solidly, overwhelmingly, Christian. Some fans were displeased when she went more mainstream, but the real waves weren’t made until 1999 when Grant filed for divorce, and then remarried a year later. Even though I was only 14 then, I remember how all anyone could talk about was how sad it was that Amy Grant had lost her faith. How wrong she was, how the popular culture had changed her, and how much they’d miss listening to her music. Christian stores removed her albums from their shelves. Popular Christian leaders and magazines released statements of disappoint in her choices. And her career was never the same.
You know what Amy Grant didn’t get? A whole bunch of articles written by conservative Christians reminding everyone about grace.
More recently is the public “farewell-ing” of pastor, author, and speaker Rob Bell. Bell, who was riding a long wave of success and popularity among both progressive and not-quite-as-progressive Christians, published his now infamous book Love Wins and the religious shit hitteth the fan. For his heinous act of asking questions about our modern understanding of hell Rob was publicly attacked by a barrage of religious leaders, many who before had worked with and spoken of him fondly. John Piper’s infamous “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet has almost become a meme in Christian culture, for it’s brevity and ridiculousness. In 2011, you could not randomly click on an article on the Christian net without seeing some kind of rebuttal or warning about the dangers of Rob Bell’s book, and by extension, his faith. I watched all of this from the side of someone who thoroughly enjoyed Love Wins and found its questions stirring. I read many, many articles, posts, and tweets surrounding the book and controversy, from people on all sides.
You know what I didn’t see? A plethora of Christians who disagreed with Bell’s book reminding everyone that God’s grace covers even those believers with differing theology.
Of course, these are just two examples. There’s also the backlash that followed when Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of hugely popular Christian band Jars of Clay, tweeted a modest support of same-sex marriage. It was so fierce and swift that he was forced to issue clarifying statements, no doubt to quell whatever damage his band-mates and managers feared. There’s also the ostracizing of Christian singer Jennifer Knapp, who lost almost all of her supporters once she came out as a lesbian. Again, two examples of Christians who did such heinous things as send a tweet and come out of the closet, nearly having their careers destroyed because so many Christians swiftly and immediately rushed to condemn and turn their back on them.
I’ve watched all of these Christians face the wrath of the religious populous with the same disgust I feel now that Josh Duggar is basking in support. Josh Duggar, in case you’ve been in a coma, is the oldest son of the Duggars, an Arkansas family made famous by TLC for having 17 children who all live under strict religious patriarchy. Josh confessed to molesting at least five girls, four of whom were his sisters, over the period of at least one year. He confessed this after the details of the abuse allegations leaked to the media.
Almost immediately, I saw people defending Josh. First it was that popular plea for us to “wait for the facts.” Once those came in and confirmed what everyone feared, the defenses changed to something along the lines of, “he was 14, this was over a decade ago, the media is just trying to attack a good family” or, “we’re all sinners, what he did was wrong, but he without sin cast the first stone.” And of course, my favorite, “God’s grace covers all sinners.”
First of all, I don’t pay my taxes to pay for God’s grace. I pay them so that the agents of the law can protect me and my family from criminals and predators, of which Josh Duggar is both. No where in the Bible does it say God’s grace is a legal pardon. Jesus didn’t get that thief on the cross next to him down, remember? He served His (unjust) punishment right next to the man He later welcomed into paradise. What I want more than anything is for Josh Duggar and predators like him to not be able to skirt around flimsy statutes of limitations, or use powerful family and friends who call in favors to avoid persecution for sex crimes. Remember–justice and grace are two different things. There’s no justice in sexual predators walking free.
Secondly, if your first response when faced with the news that a popular Christian celebrity molested his pre-pubescent sisters is a reminder of God’s grace, there is something wrong with you. I mean that seriously, not facetiously. Sexual abuse, especially of minors, is a disgusting, revolting, maddening evil. It should make us recoil and feel those warning hairs rise on the back of our necks. It should twist knots in our stomachs and cause our appetites to cease. If you value the autonomy and lives of women and girls, hearing about their abuse should break you. Like it absolutely breaks them. Even more so if this abuse was carried out by the hands of someone who claims to follow Christ. A Christian sexually abusing a child is an evil of which I can’t find comparison.
Part of being a Christian is (or should be) a duty to “the least of these.” While the meaning of this has been debated recently, all who have studied the Bible can agree that the protection of children was sacrosanct to Jesus. Their harm is a grievous sin. As Christians, our response to grievous sin should always first be to the victims. Caring for them, supporting them, loving them. This is what it means to be salt and light. Then, and only then, can we begin to wrestle with the unfairness and pain of what it means for God’s grace to cover everyone. Lest we forget, this idea of grace should not be one that’s easy for us to accept. It’s one we often have to struggle with, and pore over, and argue with God about. I know that (if Josh Duggar truly is a Christian, which judging by his “fruit” he’s not) grace that covers harmful families like The Duggars under the same net as people like me, is something I don’t stomach easily.
But that’s because God’s grace is not the same as man’s. God’s grace doesn’t just extend to conservative Christian celebrities who star on reality TV shows and fit the idea of what we think a “good” Christian should look like. God’s grace doesn’t lift and wain and falter with the political tides. It’s not something that we have any say over, whatsoever. And it’s certainly not something that nulls the rights of victims of abuse.