Life with Gracie: Josh Duggar protested too much


Gracie Bonds Staples is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for daily newspapers since 1979, when she graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi. She joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2000 after stints at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Sacramento Bee, Raleigh Times and two Mississippi dailies. Staples was recently promoted to Senior Features Enterprise Writer. Look for her columns Thursdays and Saturdays in Living and alternating Sundays in Metro.

So Josh Duggar isn't perfect.

No surprise there, really. But after years of presenting himself as a moral role model, one of the stars of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" admitted last week that in his teen years, he molested five underage girls.

Now everybody and their mamas want Josh’s head on a charger. How dare he turn out not to be who we thought he was and worst, who he told us he was over and over as he railed against the flawed among us.

How dare he turn out to be, well, just like one of us.

Notice I didn’t say Christian and I didn’t because many people believe being Christian and perfect are synonymous. They are not.

Now we know that neither Josh nor his parents, who helped cover up his abuse, are perfect either. And let me hasten to say that neither am I.

I cringe every time I hear someone cast aspersions on others. In most cases, history has shown, they are projecting their own shortcomings and missteps onto others.

Newt Gingrich, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana all did it to Bill Clinton, when they lambasted the former president for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but were found to have had their own affairs. Rush Limbaugh did it to the drug addicted only to have to admit that he himself was addicted to painkillers. As a U.S. senator, Larry Craig of Idaho did it, taking every opportunity to oppose same-sex marriage but then resigning after being caught in an investigation of male prostitution in the Minneapolis airport. And Strom Thurmond, a segregationist, did it. He fathered a child with an African-American woman.

“There are so many examples of reaction formation, projection and displacement, especially visible among politicians and evangelical Christians who want to serve as moral models and influence social policy but are often in conflict with their desires,” said Susan D. Rose, sociology professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.

The temptation is to separate the wheat from the chaff along political and religious lines, but I’ll leave that to others far more willing to render judgment than I, remembering that none of us is without transgressions.

And so it’s not surprising, with a family this size, that “19 Kids and Counting” has come under fire before now. The family matriarch Michelle Duggar, for instance, incurred the public’s wrath last November when she likened transgender people to “child predator(s)” in a robocall.

When will we ever learn?

Every time we point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at us. That’s true even when we condemn those caught in a fault as I’m sure Josh Duggar has learned the hard way.

Duggar, 27, said last week that he was "deeply sorry," and "acted inexcusably." He also resigned his post with the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying organization, although there are some who've said he shouldn't have. That may or may not be true, but he most certainly should have been punished for molesting those five kids. To this day, that hasn't happened. Not only was he never arrested, he was never even charged. And I would add that he and his family may not be the only ones in denial or involved in a cover-up if it is true that a judge allowed police records to be burned.

If it’s true the very thing we dislike about ourselves is the thing we hate most in others, maybe this is why. Maybe never feeling the consequences of our actions renders us to a life of torment — of ourselves and others.

For years as executive director of the FRC’s political arm, Duggar promoted the organization’s anti-LGBT talking points, including claiming that his lesbian aunt “chooses” her “lifestyle” and that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a threat to children.

No surprise there, Rose said.

“Those who protest too much often are struggling, obsessively, with desires or feelings that they do not want to admit to or own. They may project their own feelings or insecurities onto others — needing to hide or deny how they are feeling or what they are enacting given the cognitive or emotional dissonance within and what it may do to their public status,” she said.

Rose likened this to a defense mechanism that I would argue many of us use in small or large ways. But it is particularly problematic when individuals assume an influential social status that assumes a certain moral ground. The hypocrisy affects not only them as individuals but as social actors.

To a lesser extent, Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, said this is a form of self-control.

When we accuse others, we help to create a climate in which such behavior is likely to be punished.

Either way, he said, Duggar’s finger-pointing is nothing new.

“Pots have been calling kettles black since long before Jesus asked ‘he that is without sin among you’ to cast the first stone in John 8:7,” he said. “The reason is simple: When you know that your actions are unacceptable in some way, you deflect attention away from you by accusing others of doing those same things.”

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