Josh Duggar and The Tale of Two Boxes

CC image “Magnifying Glass” courtesy of Flickr, Auntie P.

by Libby Anne. The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love Joy Feminism.
It was originally published on Patheos on May 24th, 2015.

In the wake of revelations that Josh Duggar sexually molested five girls in two families as a teenager, I’ve seen some Duggar supporters argue that progressives and liberals don’t have any room to criticize Josh given that . . . well, let me just show you:

Screenshot 2015-05-22 01.05.51

Text as follows:

If this boy had been experimenting with girls in a non-Christian family, then he would have been encouraged. I know a family that were proudly showing photos of the their teenage son on a trip to Disneyland unchaperoned with his girlfriend. It’s “normal.”

Sexually molesting prepubescent girls is wrong whether the family is Christian or not. I know an awful lot of non-Christian families, and none of them are okay with preteen girls being sexually molested. Also, sexual molestation is not the same thing as two teens playing around. Yes, there are boys and girls who start dating and experimenting sexually as young very teens (though this is rare—a full 70% of high school students are virgins), but that is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a teenage boy sexually molesting prepubescent girls while they are sleeping.

This isn’t the only place we’ve seen this, either:

Screenshot 2015-05-22 01.08.25

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Case you hadn’t noticed there are a few articles on the subject today. Hit pieces masquerading as “I want you to have reliable information” pieces is another. It’s astonishing how promptly and completely the whole Progressive cannon gets discarded when the perp is a Christian White Man—even if that man is child.

This “progressive cannon,” presumably, is progressives’ acceptance of sex outside of marriage. In other words, this commenter appears to believe progressives take an “anything goes” approach to sex but hold white Christian men to a different standard. The assumption here is that progressives wouldn’t have a problem with, say, an atheist sexually molesting children—but that could not be further from the truth.

What is going on here, exactly?

In short, there seems to be an assumption among some social conservatives that because progressives do not see premarital sex as sinful and wrong, they aren’t in any position to criticize Josh Duggar’s actions. In other words, because (in their view) progressives take an “anything goes” approach to sex, they argue, progressives are being hypocrites when they condemn Josh Duggar. This assumption is based in a serious misunderstanding of progressive sexual ethics.

This goes back to my “tale of two boxes.”

Social conservatives tend to divide sexual acts into “marital sex” and “non-marital sex.” For social conservatives, child sexual molestation is in the same category as gay sex or consensual premarital sex. When divided in this way, sexual molestation doesn’t look all that different from consensual premarital sex—though both are considered sin. This is why the Duggars can talk about Josh’s “mistakes” the way they do—as though it were simply him going too far with a girlfriend, or viewing pornography. Because for them, they’re in the same category—sexual contact before marriage.

Progressives do not have ethical or moral problems with premarital sexual intercourse—but they very much have a problem with child molesting. To conservatives this can look like an inconsistency—even hypocrisy—but it’s not. Progressive sexual ethics center around consent. Sexual contact that is consensual is okay. Sexual contact that isn’t consensual is not okay. And because children below a certain age do not have the necessary understanding and lived experience to be able to consent, child molestation is de facto nonconsensual.

There are all sorts of problems with putting any sexual contact outside of marriage in the same category. For one thing, victims of sexual assault, including children, may end of feeling that they are in some way guilty of what happened—after all, sexual contact outside of marriage is considered sin. For another thing, a teenager sexually molesting children may be treated as a similar offense to a teenager having consensual sex with his girlfriend.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen numerous Duggar fans—primarily social conservatives—defending Josh Duggar. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” “We all make mistakes sometimes.” “His sisters forgave him, so we should forgive him too.” “Christ’s blood covers a multitude of sins.” “This should have remained a private matter.” “Who are we to judge.” “But for the grace of God go I.” “We all have a past.”

It seems it’s social conservatives who are quick to make excuses when children are sexually molested—and yet somehow they think it’s progressives who don’t have a problem with child molesting.


  • This may be the best explanation of conservative and progressive views on sex that I’ve ever read.

  • Pingback: Recommended Reading: Conservative and Progressive Views on Sexual Morality | Outgrowing and Out-learning Religion

  • Thank you. It’s not that hard to decifer the difference between molestation and teens fooling around. That is unless you are trying to make excuses or cover something up. I’m not too shocked by the conservative Christian response to this, but definately disappointed.

  • I, too, very much liked the Churchian vs. “Progressive” sexplanation. If I steal it–I mean use it for research–I will give full credit.

    RE: the folks saying that bigotry against white men is a thing–it is, but our culture is starting to get better about it. Bigotry is bad, abuse is bad; the gender/ethnicity of abusers and victims doesn’t matter. I’m hopeful we’ll get it settled soon. (Now, if we can add some diversity to the media’s “missing white girl” trope, that’ll be progress!)


    If anything, the response to the Josh Duggar story is a weird exercise in seeing Churchian folks try to use [what they perceive to be] lefty Progressive tactics against Progressives.

  • Viewing the matter through the appalled eyes of a ‘progressive’, I have been shocked -and chilled – to read astonishingly trite and deeply offensive apologia from evangelicals on various forums. I remain appalled, but considerably enlightened. Thank you for your clarity.

  • A lot of conservatives are just fine with marital rape, too, which progressives think is wrong because it violates consent.

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