Josh Duggar and Josh Komisarjevsky: A Tale of Two Joshes
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Two Joshes. Both ATI alumni. Both perpretrators of serious crimes.
But each one received very different reactions from the conservative Christian milieu in which they grew up. And those reactions are worth taking a closer look at.
Josh Duggar was homeschooled by his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, with the Advanced Training Institute — the homeschooling curriculum developed by Inge Cannon (the former Director of HSLDA’s National Center for Home Education) for Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles. According to a police report released last week, Josh molested at least five young girls. Josh began molesting these girls around the age of 14, despite him claiming that he “accepted Christ at the age of seven.” Josh’s crimes were not reported for at least a year, and only then they were reported to a police officer who himself was later convicted for child pornography. His parents willingly covered up his crimes as they were on the brink of political and entertainment stardom.
Though Josh Duggar immediately resigned from his position as Executive Director of FRC Action once the police report became public last week, multiple Christian and homeschool celebrities immediately sprang to his defense. Mike Huckabee declared those angry with Josh to be motivated by “bloodthirst” and praised Josh’s “authenticity and humility” for confessing after his criminal actions were forced into the public eye. Ray Comfort pronounced Josh “a brother in Christ” and dismissed his criminal actions as happening “in his BC [before Christ] days. Such were some of us.” Eric Hovind used the situation to preach about Creationism and make a joke about how Josh should be “punished” by working for Family Research Council (the same organization he just resigned from). Rick Boyer praised the Duggar family as “one of the happiest, holiest, humblest families I have ever met” and said Josh has “lived an exemplary life.” Matt Walsh used the opportunity to condemn not Josh but progressives, penning a tirade entitled “The Duggars Aren’t Hypocrites. Progressives Are.” where he not only denounced progressives but also admitted he wouldn’t “immediately run to the cops” if his own son molested children. Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price at Tullian Tchividjian’s Liberate wrote a poetic defense of Josh entitled, “We are all the Duggars.” Bird and Price waxed eloquently about how, “What happened within this family is many things—tragic and abusive, shameful and selfish, destructive and deceptive. It is all manner of evil, no matter how you look it. But there is one thing that it is surely not: it is not surprising. Not in the least.” Rather, “We are all the Duggars. We are all dysfunctional sinners living in flawed families upheld by grace.”
That was one Josh. Then there’s the other one.
According to friends and family, Josh Komisarjevsky was “a brilliant but troubled young man” who was “very loving, very caring.” Josh was adopted at two-weeks-old by fundamentalist Christians. His father Benedict has been described as “critical, cold, and controlling”; the mother Jude, “quite submissive.”
Like Josh Duggar, Josh Komisarjevsky was homeschooled using material from Bill Gothard’s ATI. Jude said that she and her husband Benedict “had tried to instill Christian values in the boy by pulling him out of public school and educating him at home,” but he had nonetheless “wallowed in depression” due to the death of his grandfather a year earlier. She recalled going into his room at one point and “he had written over and over again on the walls: ‘death’ and ‘die’ and ‘suicide.’”
At some point during his childhood, Joshua was raped by “someone he trusted,” allegedly a teenage child that the Komisarjevsky family had fostered. Several years later, like Josh Duggar, Josh Komisarjevsky molested a younger relative. The church that the Komisarjevsky family attended “rejected psychology, psychiatry, or any kind of mental health treatment, and so did Komisarjevsky’s parents.” When Benedict and Jude discovered the sexual abuse in the family, they — just like the Duggars — did not seek any mental health treatment for either Joshua or his victim.
Right before turning 15, Joshua set fire to a gas station. Since police recognized he had serious mental health issues, he was briefly hospitalized in a mental health hospital and given medication. However, his father did not want him on any medication, and instead sent him to a “faith-based” treatment program.
On July 23, 2007, Joshua and his friend Steven Hayes broke into the home of the Petit family — William, Jennifer, and their daughters, 17-year-old Haley and 11-year-old Michaela. Joshua and Steven held the family hostage for hours. They forced Jennifer to drive to the family’s nearby bank and withdraw $15,000 — on the threat of killing the entire family otherwise. They raped and strangled Jennifer and then sexually assaulted Michaela. William was severely beaten and tied to a post in the basement. Joshua and Steven then doused the house with gasoline and set fire to the house. Haley and Michaela died from smoke inhalation. William managed to escape.
Joshua had specifically targeted the Petit family. A day prior to the killings, he noticed Jennifer and Michaela at a grocery store. He followed them from the store home and made plans to come back the next day with Hayes.
Joshua was found guilty of murder. Evidence of “his strict Christian upbringing, his disturbed behavior as a youth and his parents’ decision not to get traditional psychological treatment for him because of their Christian beliefs” was a significant matter of discussion during his trial. In January 2012, Joshua was sentenced to death. His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was also sentenced to death.
Two Joshes, Two Different Reactions
When Josh Komisarjevsky’s crimes swept across the national, publicized by the media much like Josh Duggar’s crimes, the Religious Right was silent. No Mike Huckabee praised Komisarjevsky’s “authenticity and humility.” No Ray Comfort said he was “a brother in Christ.” No Eric Hovind used Komisarjevsky’s actions to preach about Creationism. No Rick Boyer praised his “exemplary life.” No Matt Walsh said he could relate to not wanting to turn Komisarjevsky in for murder. No Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price saw themselves and the Gospel in Komisarjevsky.
No, they were silent.
Not a single one stood up and said, “We’re all Josh Komisarjevsky.” Not a single one dared to say such an insensitive remark a mere week after he raped and murdered his victims.
No one said, “Oh, it’s okay he murdered someone, he was young and now he’s sorry so hey, let’s make him a television star again!”
No one should have.
Because not only is that horrible, cruel timing, it is also false. Yes, we all have made mistakes. But not all of our mistakes have involved raping and murdering. And Josh Komisarjevsky is not a darling of the Religious Right, so his raping and murdering and molesting is apparently not worth the effort of the Religious Right to defend.
But many want to defend Josh Duggar. Because something is at stake. Something called reputation. Something that, honestly, Jesus does not demand of us. Yet it’s something we love to value over and against Jesus. And it’s a lie to claim that what’s at stake is the Gospel, like Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price pretend. It’s a lie to claim that progressives would be hypocrites to condemn Josh Komisarjevsky.
No, we know better than that. Josh Komisarjevsky’s crimes were sins. So we could say “We’re all Josh Komisarjevskys” but no one’s going to. Because when the crime is murder, we take it far more seriously than when the crime is child sexual abuse. No one is tempted to Matthew 18 a murderer. No one drags the family of a murder victim in front of the murderer and demands immediate forgiveness. No one faults the family of a murder victim for being bitter and angry and loud because of the immense pain rendered by murder. But everyone wants to Matthew 18 child sexual abuse. Everyone wants to handle sexual abuse in house. Everyone wants to silence and shut up the abuse victims and survivors and everyone wants them to behave and speak prettily and kindly.
And no one is going to pull a Matt Walsh on Josh Komisarjevsky because we can see the ludicrous nature of doing so. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem as ludicrous to pull a Matt Walsh on a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.
Why are we so willing to call murder murder — and shocking – but call sexual abuse “yet another sin” and “not surprising”?
Why would we be up in arms if our pastors and religious celebrities wrote poetic, eloquent defenses of Josh Komisarjevsky — but we’re not in arms when they do so about Josh Duggar?
Why would we decry the utter insensitivity to Josh Komisarjevsky’s victims’ families of trying to score theological points less than a week after he wrecked havoc on those families’ lives — but we think it’s appropriate to make the pain of Josh Duggar’s victims’ families into rousing sermons less than a week after their wounds were so carelessly re-opened?
And don’t give me excuses about how Josh Duggar was a teenager and maybe he himself was abused and hey, he offered a public apology. Josh Komisarjevsky’s troubles began when he was a teenager, too, and unlike Duggar, we know Komisarjevsky was abused. We know there are plenty of reasons we could give for Komisarjevsky’s descent into criminality.
There really are no excuses.
The fact is, we have a double standard. We have a double standard for the people we put on pedestals and “only” molest young children versus the people we don’t care about because they are mentally ill and we can dismiss as “demonic” and “evil” and thus explain away their violence. And that double standard is truly damaging, hypocritical, and unbiblical.
What we must be communicating to survivors of child and sexual abuse with this double standard breaks my heart. The way we think we have a right to tear open survivors’ wounds to water our Sunday sermons is, dare I say, demonic.
It is heartless and cruel and it needs to stop.