After doing wrong, we usually want everything to be all right. If we can patch things up with minimal cost and personal discomfort, so much the better.
Josh Duggar’s got a steep hill to climb, and I have no intention of piling on, but something about his public statement galls me. Here’s the full thing with some additional emphases:
Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life. I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.
That’s more than 20 personal references and only two passing nods to his victims and the harm he inflicted. What’s more, he blunts the second reference. In the first he mentions people he “hurt,” but the second only mentions “those affected by my actions.”
And it gets even worse at the end because Duggar plays the Jesus card. He asked Christ for pardon, he says, and we should all know that he’s grateful for the forgiveness.
It’s impossible to escape the idea that the entire focus of Josh Duggar’s statement is Josh Duggar being okay with Josh Duggar. As if anyone cares about that.
This seems like a wider issue. Public apologies very often feature people saying they accept full responsibility without actually accepting any. And the religious version of this is particularly irksome because the offender doesn’t really feign any acceptance of responsibility. Jesus already has it covered, and the rest of us better not judge.
It just doesn’t work. Why?
When confession was made in the ancient church, it was not wholly about righting oneself with God, though that was obviously part of it. It was also about repairing the breach in the community caused by the wrong. The priest to whom one confessed brokered the various peaces and set the necessary restitutions in his parish.
Sin is a communal problem and requires communal redress. What’s galling about Josh Duggar’s statement is that it’s all about him. It’s as if the victims don’t really factor.
Worse, we’re supposed to rest easy. Josh Duggar is off the hook because Jesus has taken care of the mess. That may be true so far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough. And that’s why public “apologies” that reference God this way are so unsatisfying. The admission is totally beside the point.
This is not unkind or unspiritual. Even Jesus said a person at odds with his neighbor must work that out before going to the temple.
The community still needs some measure of redress, regardless of what an offender and Jesus have worked out on the side. Without that, it’s not confession. It’s just another form of evasion.
Joel J. Miller is the author of several books and blogs for Ancient Faith at blogs.ancientfaith.com/joeljmiller, where this piece was originally posted.