By Thomas Ehnert
A part of me feels sorry for Josh Duggar and Kim Davis. Let me explain.
Josh Duggar is the oldest of the famous 19 kids of the TLC channel’s reality show 19 Kids and Counting. He has admitted to molesting a number of his sisters when he was a teenager. Recently it was revealed that he also had extra-marital affairs. He was raised to believe that sex is for a husband and wife only, and that all other sex is evil. He was not allowed to explore his sexuality in an open, healthy way by going to school and having girlfriends, let alone sexual partners. Instead he was homeschooled. He and his fiancée couldn’t even kiss until they were married. Then he became the poster child for religious family values. The whole situation was ripe for disaster.
Now Josh is in religious sexual addiction rehab. Guess what he’s being taught? Is he being taught that his behavior can be, at least in part, attributed to his beliefs, and if those beliefs aren’t working for him (they clearly aren’t), he can change those beliefs? Is he learning to accept his heterosexuality and express it in healthy ways? No. He is being taught that the “cure” for his sexual “sin” is more of what has already failed him: more prayer and Bible-reading, more binding of his conscience more tightly. In other words, more of his problem will be his solution.
A part of me also feels sorry for Kim Davis. She’s the county clerk in Kentucky who feels it would violate her conscience if she were to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I understand that by bringing up her past (marriages, infidelities), some are trying to point out the inconsistencies between what she says and what she has done. Still that makes me a bit uncomfortable. By attacking her for her behavior, aren’t we actually sinking to the same level of the Religious Right? Aren’t we shaming her by the same biblical standard, by which she is judging us as GLBT people? “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” as Tevye said, leaves us all blind and toothless.
Why does she feel the way she feels? Did she, through knowing people who identify as GLBT, observe rationally that these fellow human beings are incapable of love? No. Kim Davis has the same problem Josh Duggar has. Her problem is that religious indoctrinators shamed her over her past, in order to make her find relief in their gospel. The vehemence with which she condemns same-sex marriage is the vehemence with which her conscience condemns herself. I can’t help but feel she is being used by political leaders as a martyr for their pseudo-religious cause… for their political control. She is also being used by religious leaders as a martyr for their pseudo-political cause… to further their religious control.
A part of me feels sorry for both Josh Duggar and Kim Davis. Both are victims of spiritual, emotional, and verbal abuse perpetrated by trusted religious leaders — in Josh’s case, his parents, and in Kim’s case, her minister. Both are victims of a worldview that has a low view not only of human sexuality, but a low view of human rationality — forbidding people to make rational decisions for themselves without coercion. Instead of attacking the victims of the institution, perhaps our energy might be better spent looking at the institutions, both political and religious, that are indoctrinating the victims and using them to advance institutional causes.
This is precisely where our GLBT worldview has so much to offer society. Because we historically were thrown out of so-called “Judeo-Christian” cultural norms, we established our own norms, based on reason and natural human needs. In other words, up until now, we enjoyed complete freedom of conscience when it came to how we wanted to “do” relationships. Our relationships do not conform to the heterosexist version of what relationships “should be.” Our relationships are not dominated by gender-role expectations. Our relationships have not been coerced by family pressure to marry or have children. We have not been bound in any not-so-holy “wed-lock.” We only had free choices based, at least ideally, on mutual respect and love. We have family values. It’s just that our values were never imposed on us. They were developed freely, by our own consciences.
Imagine a world where all couples, GLBT or straight, could decide together how they want to live their sexual happiness. Imagine a world where teenagers, GLBT or straight, could explore their sexuality in a healthy way, without fear or a need for shameful cover-ups. Imagine a world where individuals are empowered to make sexual choices that make sense to them at the point they are at in their own lives, with the freedom to change direction when what they are doing isn’t working for them anymore?
I hope Josh and Kim find that freedom of conscience. The freer everyone’s conscience is, the less likely anyone is to impose their conscience on others. What we would then have is a society and relationships where people actually, simply, and rationally do unto others as people would want done unto them. That is conscience equality. While marriage equality will bring legal benefits to same-sex couples, GLBT family values would bring greater freedom to society’s understanding of marriage, gender roles, sexuality, and humanity.