|"Christ and the Adulteress," Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c.1600|
But as I've been reading Christian articles and blogs about this series of events, it's struck me that almost all of them are focused on the level of the individual experience: How could he have done that? What a lie my husband, my pastor, my friend, must have been living all these years! How do I as a spouse, as a colleague, as a pastor respond to this revelation? Many of these articles and blogs are quite good and worth reading, making valuable points about personal sin, about the nature of addictions, and about the balance of grace and judgment. Most, however, carry a note of shock that this sort of behavior could have actually been carried out by Christian celebrities, by pastors, by theologians, etc.
|"The Garden of Earthly Delights," triptych detail, Hieronymous Bosch, c.1500|
I'm going to use a rather glib and stereotyped analogy here, not to promote any sort of sexist agenda, but simply to help Christian men and women who find themselves shocked and confused at all this to understand the difficulty that these temptations pose for many men. Imagine that you're one of those sorts of women that is thoroughly interested in shoes, who can spend hours clicking through webpages or strolling through stores, browsing the selection of boots and pumps and flip-flops. Now imagine that the world around you is transformed into a rolling, unending supply of the most beautiful shoes you've ever seen, on display for you, vying for your attention, free to try on or even buy at unbelievably low prices. Now, imagine further that someone asks you not to pay any attention at all to the shoes--not to try them on, not even to look at them--simply pretend the shoes do not exist at all. That's a little bit like what we're having to ask Christian men to do in this Internet age. Indulgences and acts which the sheer power of public shame kept previous generations of men from doing are now offered up easily and privately by the Internet. Should our men be able to keep pure from sexual temptations? Yes. But it's an unbelievably hard battle we're asking them to fight, and our reaction to those who fall in that battle should have at least as much compassion as judgment.
I also want to raise a question that only a few people have been asking since this story began. Have we, as the church, failed these men? As I reflect on the upbringing I had, and the one I suspect Josh Duggar had--both, I should note, with the best of intentions from parents and pastors, and always solidly based in biblical ethics--it strikes me that we're asking young men, whose bodies are surging with hormones, to pretend that they are asexual beings, at least until they get
|"Paolo and Francesca," (punished in hell for lust), by Ary Scheffer, 1851|
Perhaps there's a line somewhere that can be drawn between "proper desire" and "lust," but for many Christian parents and pastors, that's too much of a gray area for comfort when it comes down to actual behaviors. Should we tell our teenage sons it's OK to ogle cheerleaders? I'm not sure I would be comfortable with that advice, but at the same time I acknowledge that we're putting our young men into what is, for all but an exceptional minority, a no-win scenario.
So what's the answer? How do we celebrate the good, God-given sexual drives of our young men while asking them not to use them? I don't think that simply telling them never to entertain a lustful thought is a feasible answer. But I'm not sure I really have a better answer, either. Our culture has backed us into a corner, such that we've become so isolated from one another, so cut off from the old, humble community events that lifted sexual attraction into the realms of the immanent beauty, that we really have nowhere left to go. We've traded most of our honest, person-to-person communal interactions for the individualized isolation of Netflix and Facebook, and so we have almost no places left where men and women can be together simply for the purpose of being men and women together. So what's the answer? The only suggestion I can think of is drawn from historical experience; it will sound a bit ridiculous at first blush, but hear me out. I think we need to bring back dancing in our Christian communities. Not the modern bump-and-grind pornographic dancing of the pop stars, nor the ridiculously individualized "dance moves" that make for instant popularity at middle school mixers. We need to bring back balls and waltzes, contra dancing and square dancing--a way for young men and young women (and married men and women too) to come together and celebrate the "proper desire" of being male and female in a way that does not shame it, but exalts it into something beautiful, something joyful and free.
|"The Ball," Julius LeBlanc Stewart (1855-1919)|