“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” Josh Duggar wrote, in a confessional statement he later took down. Indeed, it has been a tough summer for the former reality TV star and executive director of the Family Research Council's lobbying arm, now exposed as a former child molester, porn addict, and Ashley Madison-using adulterer.
But biggest hypocrite ever? Not sure about that one.
What about megachurch Bishop Eddie Long, who, while preaching against homosexuality, sexually abused at least three teenage boys in his charge?
And what about megachurch pastor Ted Haggard who, while likewise preaching against homosexuality and drug use, bought crystal meth and had sex with a male escort/masseur for three years? Or George Rekers, who, while preaching similarly, was caught with a rentboy on vacation in the Caribbean?
For that matter, what about the entire Catholic Church hierarchy, which, while preaching against homosexuality, covered up the systemic sexual abuse of thousands of boys in Europe and America—and still maintains a “gay mafia” in the Vatican today?
How about John Paulk, poster child for the Ex-Gay movement, caught frequenting a well-known Washington, D.C., gay bar?
Or self-hating senator Larry Craig, who tap-tap-tapped his way into a gay sex sting operation in a Minneapolis airport? Or David Vitter? Or Henry Hyde? Or Mark Foley? Or Bob Livingston?
Or – flashback time – televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who publicly shamed fellow tellies Jim Bakker and Marvin Gorman for their infidelities, until Gorman turned around and exposed Swaggart’s own affairs, which he tearfully confessed on national television?
And maybe we could give a group hypocrisy award to pastors Jack Schaap (Hammond, Indiana), David Loveless (Orlando), Grant Storms (New Orleans), Isaac Hunter (Orlando), Larry Durant (Sumter, South Carolina), Sam Hinn (Stanford, Florida), Paul Barnes (Douglas County, Colorado), Lonnie Latham (Tulsa), Earl Paulk (Decatur, Georgia), Joe Barron (near Dallas), Michael Hintz (Des Moines), Todd Bentley (Lakeland, Florida), and Tony Alamo (Arkansas), all of whom were caught with men, women, boys, or girls, and forced to resign in the last decade.
And these are just the sex scandals—I don’t have enough space to include the financial scandals, abuse scandals, and fraud scandals that have bedeviled right-wing Christian churches and organizations over the last few years.
It’s tempting to minimize these stories. They’re so familiar by now that surely the default assumption must be that the anti-gay crusader is probably closeted and gay, and the pro-family crusader is probably on Ashley Madison.
Which makes perfect sense, psychologically. If you’re wrestling with a particular demon, it’s easy to see that wrestling as the most important thing in the world. Philandering family-values types are out there screaming because ultimately, they’re screaming at themselves.
So it’s not surprising that for many of us, there’s a profoundly gleeful schadenfreude when hypocrites are exposed. (Along with profound concern for the LGBT people in repressive regimes whose lives are now in danger thanks to the Ashley Madison hack.) Women, progressives, and queers have had to sit and listen to the likes of Duggar, Huckabee, Santorum, and Fischer talk about us, as if the outright lies they spread about our lives are somehow deserving of deference. So you can’t blame us for smiling when they take a fall.
But here are two reasons to get hopping mad instead.
First, all of the people and institutions I’ve named, while they were lying, cheating, and having lots of illicit sex, were also working hard to demean me and my family, and deny us our civil rights. They aren’t just hypocrites. Hypocrites preach one thing and practice another. But these guys aren’t just preaching; they are actively, and sometimes successfully, restricting my freedom, encouraging my dehumanization, and telling lies about me and people like me.
There are real-world consequences of this preposterous playing-out of religious conservatives’ inner psychoses, and real people who are affected. Kids attempting suicide, repressed men abusing their children and wives, and, of course, the victims of those who “stray,” whose lives can be ruined.
As Caitlyn Jenner said of the transphobia directed her way, I can take the abuse religious conservatives throw my way. But there are a lot of people who can’t—like gay kids trapped in anti-gay religious communities, for example, who attempt suicide at six times the rate of straight kids. Or trans women of color denied their basic rights because of the “religious exemptions” these so-called hypocrites promote, or denied safety by the toxic environment they create.
These individual men stepped down, but their organizations continue to perpetuate violence against the most vulnerable members of my community, condemning bad apple after bad apple, when it’s as clear as day that it’s their profoundly disturbed ideology that is to blame.
Those of us who laugh are privileged enough to be able to laugh. Not everyone is so lucky.
Second, while it may seem inevitable that exposures like Duggar’s Ashley Madison account will somehow bring about the welcome decline of bad religious fundamentalisms, in fact, it’s not clear that that’s happening at all. Actually, moderate denominations—mainline Protestantism most of all—are on the wane, and America’s religious landscape is becoming more polarized. More “Nones” (i.e. people of no religion) on one end, more intense end-times-awaiting, young-earth-creationism-believing fundamentalists on the other.
It’s not clear who will win this battle, if it does shape up that way. Sure, atheists and progressives have rationality on their side, but religious conservatives like Josh Duggar are usually more fervent. And getting even more so: Fully 40% of Americans, and 77% of Evangelicals, believe we are living in the End Times.
That is a dangerous extremism, especially when it’s combined with policies that might well bring the apocalypse about, like ignoring climate change, provoking war with Iran, or supporting settlement expansion in the West Bank in order to hasten the Second Coming.
Latte-sipping rationalists can laugh at these wackos, but the wackos are increasing in number.
One can hope, of course, that this abject failure of sex-negative, repressive theologies to curb human behavior might make people less interested in them. Clearly, repression is not the way to go—just look at these people!
But in fact, each failure of a religious leader to live up to his repressive and judgmental sexual ethic is, in fact, a validation of the need for such an ethic. See, we are all sinners! All the more reason to repress, prevaricate, and judge. By failing to live up to a preposterous and entirely novel sexual ethic (thanks to the double standards of male privilege, no one really expected men to be monogamous prior to the late 19th century), these sad, twisted men end up reinforcing it.
So I’m not actually smiling that much at Josh Duggar’s latest fall from grace. I’m sorry for his wife. I’m sorry for the girls he molested. And I’m mad as hell at the organization he once led, the system of which he is a part, and the twisted version of religion he still professes.
Maybe if they all took their boots off my neck, I’d be able to squeeze out a laugh.
Correction 8/21/15 9:53 AM: A previous version of this article said Duggar was a member of the Family Research Council. Duggar was the head of the council's lobbying arm.