Spirit of Forgiveness

Spirit of Forgiveness

Pentecost 4

As mankind learned how to understand the nature that surrounded him/her, it became possible to live in one place. There was no longer a need to travel when local water supplies were exhausted. There was no longer a need to travel to find weather suitable for living and finding food sources. Food being a basic human need, the gods and goddesses associated with such are evident in every culture throughout the history of mankind. Also present are the fertility gods, not only to represent the desire for fertile plants which would result in plentiful harvests but also for healthy families. After all, a healthy family is the most basic need for one’s future.

The past week in the television world has been full of the news of a very popular and some might term fertile family. The stars of a television reality program entitled “19 Kids & Counting”, James ‘Jim Bob” and Michelle Duggar were known for being the parents of nineteen children. They were also equally known for their conservative Christian views and their international mission work in places like Central America and Nepal.

What is not as well-known is the fact that, in a demographic like conservative Christians, the program’s title was in error. Jim and Michelle Duggar would have been considered to have had twenty-one kids since they lost two during pregnancy. The program began airing under the title “14 Kids & Counting” and continued through their last miscarriage, the birth of their four grandchildren (two more are expected this year), and the wedding of three of their children.

The mention I make of their being a parent to twenty-one children is not just me being nit-picking. It is the core of the debate in this country regarding abortion rights. The moment when life begins has been the subject of many of the world’s religions and the mythologies of the planet. The Duggars were always on the side of the anti-abortion proponents which believe that a life is begun at the very moment of conception. It is confusing, therefore, that they consider themselves the parents of only nineteen children.

Although very closely aligned to the Southern Baptist denomination, Jim Duggar had his own independent church which first started meeting in his own home. This was a common practice when the colonists first lived in the United States. The recognized national religion was the Anglican faith of the English colonists but there were also Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans. The Roman Catholics set about building places of worship but the other groups often met in someone’s home. Later, as the land was explored, the Anglican community had family chapels which served entire neighborhoods. The area of Maryland known as the Eastern Shore was populated with Chapel Churches, those informal meetings for worship that were under the jurisdiction of one parish that served a large geographical area. The Duggar following soon outgrew the Duggar home, though, and another building was found. In fact, real estate became Jim and Michelle Duggar’s livelihood and today remains their primary occupation.

Also a concept which dates back throughout time is the role of women in the life of man. Recently a couple celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary. I had been present at their wedding and remember it well, not so much for the actual wedding or how my friends looked but for the sermon preached. It was the first time I had heard the Baptist belief that the man in the “brains” of the family and the woman the “heart”. In the sermon preached that day the pastor explained how the man is to make all the decisions since the female of the species if weak and not as intelligent. What struck me that day was how similar the Baptist and Roman Catholic thinking about women were. Two denominations which are often at polar ends on every subject were parallel in their discrimination of women.

The recent fracas regarding the Duggar family concerns a belief they hold which is very similar to the female belief I just mentioned. I should note that there are also other religions and denominations which believe similarly. The Duggars believe that men are very visual creatures and as such are tempted by the female form. Although they do not believe women should be leaders or ministers in an official capacity due to their lack of ability, they somehow believe women are completely accountable for the sexual desires of the men who they might pass on the street. Women are apparently responsible for the sexual morals of every man, known to them or a complete stranger. It is for this reason they are to dress modestly. This is also the reason Islam required women to be fully or partially covered and why, for many years, both the Roman and Anglican churches believed women should cover their heads when in worship. It is the reason behind a nun’s habit.

In 2006 a television production company and studio, Harpo, was sent an anonymous letter regarding the Duggar family. They forwarded the letter which mentioned a criminal infraction of the law to the appropriate authorities in the hometown of the Duggar family. A police report was begun and an investigation followed. No action, however, was taken as the statute of limitations, the time for prosecuting, had passed. Earlier this year, with no apparent reason given other than a blind attempt to uncover such gossip, a magazine filed paperwork under the Information Act asking to see any and all police reports regarding this family. The freedom of the press guaranteed by the US Constitution enabled such a request to be filled and the magazine received a copy of said police report. The police report was initiated in 2006 regarding incidents which allegedly occurred in 2002. It should be mentioned that they first news of such events came from the perpetrator himself, the Duggar’s oldest child and son.

IN the police report the parents of this child, Jim and Michelle Duggar, made note of the corrective actions they themselves undertook towards their son. It was a heartbreaking time for them. They lived their religion as best they could and yet, their son had committed grievous acts, sins, against his neighbors, some of whom were his own female siblings while he himself was a child – at least, to most of us he would have been a child.

The laws in Arkansas regarding marriage are not the laws in most of the United States. They are reminiscent of another time and place and are very similar in age requirements of the laws in many third world nations. There are also other southern states with similar laws. These laws maintain a very young age for marriage, even though in every other aspect these children would still be considered children. Because of the laws in his native Arkansas, the oldest Duggar child would have been eligible to marry at the time he committed these acts. For many, that would have made him an adult in such matters.

There are many other issues involved in discussing this case. While the family believes that men cannot control their sexual desires, one does wonder if a man seeing a sleeping female can then accuse the female of being enticing while sleeping. Also the age of the offender must be considered. In every town there are kids of that same age “making out”, exchanging innocent kisses and exploratory touches behind the baseball bleachers, under the boardwalk on the beach, while walking home from a local school event or at the movies. Are these kids simply being curious or are they hardened sexual offenders?

The Roman Church began limiting women in their role in life when a female leader of Scots held back the world’s strongest army and prevented any Roman presence in Scotland. Although the two countries and cultures have a long-standing battle from their shared Gaelic roots, it was this Scottish female who prevented the Romans from even attempting to touch foot on the island nation of Ireland. Scripture began to emphasize Eve’s role in the ejection of Adam and Eve from their Garden of Eden home. The allure of the female became to root of all sin and the reason for discomfort during childbirth. It may seem like all fertility gods were female but the truth is that the Egyptians had a male fertility god known as Min in the fourth millennium BCE. They at least believed that mankind was responsible for his/her feelings, not just the female of the species.

The Duggar television program has been removed from the airways and whether or not it returns remains to be seen. What can be seen is a lack of attention to detail and the last twelve or thirteen years of the offender’s life. What is not seen is a spirit of forgiveness. I completely agree that the parents did not according to law or common sense in their reactions to their son’s misdeeds. Nowhere is made mention of any help for the victims of these misdeeds. Did anyone care about them? If they needed nothing, then one must question how severe the misdeed were.

I do not believe the police report was complete and deeply regret the witch hunt this magazine undertook in a misuse of the freedom of the press. Said report was last week ordered destroyed by a sitting judge. While this is highly uncommon in an ongoing case, the statute of limitations made such an action possible and some would claim even advisable. After all, paperwork that has no purpose has no need to be kept, even if only for gossip mongers to use.

I do not believe women are the root of all evil. The parent of sons myself, I held them as accountable for their actions as I held myself or my daughters. If men are the “brains” of a the world, then why are they not being held to a higher standard of accountability? You cannot expect to be both boss and servant, guys. If you are smart enough to interpret scripture, then you can interpret a recipe or how to operate a vacuum. Science has proven that bearing a child does not give a woman hidden insight into why that baby is crying. Experience and a will to accomplish does, though.

The most troubling aspect for me of this Duggar incident is not whether or not they overstayed their time on reality television. I think the term reality TV is a misnomer and a lie. No one acts on camera the same as they do off camera. Leaders from every country in the world have been caught with open microphones and prove that statement. It is not even the Duggar family belief system that enabled them to think the actions of their son were not completely his fault since as a male he is at the mercy of how women present themselves. It is not the lack of follow-up for these actions nor the also lack of follow-up actions of the local authorities and legal system.

The only person who has made a statement in this case is the perpetrator. He admitted his actions at the time, two years before proposing to his wife, and now before the media and in resigning his position as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for such conservative Christian views. He confessed before man and his deity and asked for forgiveness. In a nation of countless religions and spiritualities based upon the concept of forgiveness, this young adult who has led an exemplary life since the time of these misdeeds, this young man has found a nation of bullies and little of any forgiveness except from his wife.

This lack of so-called religious response is the most troubling to me. It was not just the Emperor Marcus Aurelius showing clemency to the vanquished after his success against tribes that defined forgiveness. Almost every religion and spiritual belief system includes forgiveness. In the Judaic belief, if one sincerely confesses his/her sin to another, that person must forgive. In the Christian faith the messiah Jesus Christ speaks of showing forgiveness one to another. In Islam, forgiveness is encouraged between believers because Allah forgives. Forgiveness is one of the six cardinal virtues in Hindu and the Bhai faith states: “Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves.”

I personally like the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono, which is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with prayer. The were no ancient gods or goddesses of forgiveness and yet, early man did forgive. Not always and that is why we had wars but wars really solved nothing. Today we still have wars and they are still creating more chaos than providing resolutions.

The real tragedy for me is that the television network which aired the Duggar family has lost a chance to be who they claim to be – The Learning Channel. I personally am not that sad to let the Duggar clan go back to their own lives, out of the spotlight and without benefit of cameras or microphones. What I think we now need is a series on how to forgive. Clearly we need lesson in that. We also need to believe in reconciliation and rehabilitation. When we forgive others, we help ourselves. That is the premise for every religion and spiritual system that practices forgiveness. Those that don’t practice forgiveness wither away. Our future depends on our ability to reconcile our past with our present in preparing for a future. The spirit of forgiveness is a walk forward, not a cold stone statue but a living, breathing ability to believe in tomorrow.

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