Cloudy eyesight and sexual misconduct: Three recent cases

June 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 1, 2015

No two ways about it: The latter half of May was a bad time for self-appointed arbiters of morality.

The trouble for the God squadders began on May 18, when Queerty reported that a Michigan pastor named Matthew Makela had been an active user of Grindr, a hookup app for gay men. This was despite the fact that Makela, a married father of five, was an outspoken opponent of homosexuality.

This was small fry, however, compared to l’affaire Duggar. The day after Makela was outed, InTouch reported that Josh Duggar, eldest son of the prolific Arkansas family of reality television fame, had sexually abused minors when he was a teenager. Some of the victims were reportedly his own younger sisters.

Duggar admitted that he had “acted inexcusably” and “hurt others” as a teenager and resigned his position as an official with the Family Research Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group.

And just last week, a once-powerful politician who had quickly sunk into obscurity was indicted by the federal government. The Chicago Tribune reported that Denny Hastert, speaker-of-the-house turned lobbyist:

was charged with one count each of structuring currency transactions to evade currency transaction reports and making a false statement to the FBI, counts that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Indications soon emerged that the former politician had agreed to pay $3.5 million to a young man whom he’d apparently known — and, presumably, sexually molested — decades ago when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in a small Illinois town.

Hastert left Congress in 2007 after 10 terms. He served as Speaker of the House for eight years, longer than any other Republican in history. Significantly, both his arrival in and departure from that role were attributable to sexual misconduct scandals.

President Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity helped lead to his impeachment, which was one of the final accomplishments of the U.S. House of Representatives under GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich. Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican, was chosen to replace Gingrich as speaker in 1998, but he never got to assume the position. Livingston had been an outspoken critic of Clinton’s philandering, and when pornographer Larry Flynt revealed information about Livingston’s own extramarital affairs, he stepped aside.

Shortly before the 2006 midterm elections, reports emerged that a Republican congressman from Florida had sent sexually suggestive messages to congressional pages; Hastert was criticized for not taking action upon first learning about his colleague’s inappropriate behavior. These revelations helped Democrats retake control of the House, although the Bush administration’s bungling of both the Iraq war and the response to Hurricane Katrina certainly didn’t help matters much.

As Joan Shipps of Raw Story noted, Hastert consistently voted against legislation to help gay people. In 1998, he had top marks from the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coalition. When Clinton’s impeachment was being debated in the House, Hastert said, “The president’s inability to abide by the law, the Constitution and my conscience have all led me to the solemn conclusion that impeachment articles must be passed.”

Makela also took a holier-than-thou approach to those whose morality he found wanting. He compared same-sex attraction to a disease, writing that “[w]e don’t tell a person born with tendencies to abuse alcohol to keep on giving in to his innate desires because he can’t help it. We try to help him in his struggle.”

He’d also encouraged a teenage gay parishioner to kill himself, according to a Michigan television report:

Jennifer Kish is angered over the recent revelation that Matthew Makela might be gay, not because of his alleged sexual preference, but because of how he treated her son while they were parishioners at his church.

Kish said her then 17-year-old son Tyler suffered from serious depression and was considering suicide because he was told by Makela he was going to hell because he was gay.

“If he was going to go to hell for being gay then he might as well go to hell by committing suicide,” Jennifer Kish said, regarding how Tyler Kish interpreted Makela’s comments to him.

But if anything, the Duggars were even more energetic in making moral pronouncements. Although the Duggars disavow this specific label, the family shares many of the beliefs of a fundamentalist Christian movement known as Quiverfull, a philosophy that holds men in greater esteem than women. Family members have called homosexual acts as immoral, including Josh, who in 2012 praised his family as being “the epitome of conservative values.”

When the family’s patriarch, Jim Bob Duggar, ran for U.S. Senate in Arkansas against incumbent Tim Hutchinson in 2002, his website proclaimed that “[r]ape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.” (That passage was part of a statement opposing rape and incest exceptions for abortion.)

Duggar’s Senate run ended in a Republican primary loss after he’d learned that his eldest son had molested sleeping girls in the family home. Two years later, the Duggars appeared in a TV special called 14 Kids and Pregnant Again. Two years after that, in 2008, the family’s TLC series began airing under the title 17 Kids and Counting. (Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar now have 19 children.)

For years, the Duggars felt comfortable personifying Christian conservative values and telling Americans how to live their lives while staying mum about Josh’s admitted molestation.

Now, hypocrisy and sexual misconduct have no political affiliation. (For examples of this, see former president Bill Clinton; former congressman and San Diego mayor Bob Filner; and TV star Lena Dunham.) But there’s some extra unseemliness when the bad behavior comes from people who are eager to condemn those whose conduct differs from their prescriptions.

I don’t often go for biblical references, but these situations remind me of a passage from Matthew: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

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