19 Kids and Counting and Pedophilia in a Christian worldview

There is a show on TLC called “19Kids and Counting” which follows the life of a large family based in Arkansas. My wife loves the show. The show’s been on for ten seasons, but now it’s being suspended.

One of their sons, many years ago while a teenager, molested five girls: some his sisters, some their friends. This tragic news is a hot topic these days.

Because of this popular news, pieces have been written to speak about pedophilia (= when an adult or older adolescent maintains a sexual attraction toward prepubescent children). Though, of course, I have no idea if their son has that condition or not. Based on the interviews I've heard, it seems he does not. Several studies demonstrate that it is not uncommon for early teens, especially around the age of fourteen (the age Josh was), to experiment sexually with younger siblings and friends. Studies demonstrate that 95%+ of them never do it again.

Sexual behavior has long been a hot topic not only in various cultures, but among clinical therapists. 

For example, for a very long time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. In fact, in the first “Bible” of therapists, the DSM, homosexuality was labeled a mental disorder. Things changed in the 1960s: societal views towards homosexuals changed, there was constant political lobbying in favor of homosexuals, and some other psychological studies were conducted. 

Thus, the DSM changed its description of homosexuality in the 1970s. What changed? Instead of homosexuality simply being a mental disorder, they clarified: it needed to cause personal distress for it to be a disorder. So, if you accept your homosexuality so that it doesn’t cause distress, then you don’t have a disorder. Your feelings of acceptance of your behavior decide whether or not you have a disorder.

Even this was heavily opposed by the LGBT community. By 1986, homosexuality was removed entirely from the DSM (for more, click here).

The same seems to be coming true of pedophilia. It has always been considered a mental disorder. In the most recent DSM-5, they have now changed how to define pedophilia. Here is what the DSM says:

“To be diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder, DSM-5 requires that people with these interests:
  • feel personal distress about their interest, not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval; or 
  • have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.”

So it is once again: your own feelings of distress get to determine whether or not you have a mental disorder. Moreover, it must not cause distress in someone else or it involves sexual behavior in “unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.

Why the change? The DSM tell us: “It is a subtle but crucial difference that makes it possible for an individual to engage in consensual atypical sexual behavior without inappropriately being labeled with a mental disorder.”

So, to make this clear once more, based on the DSM, if your sexual attraction to children (1) doesn’t cause you distress, (2) doesn’t cause someone else distress, or (3) doesn’t involve sexual behavior with someone who can’t give legal consent, then you don’t have a mental disorder.

Therefore, in order to have sex with a child without being considered to have a mental disorder, you need (1) to accept your own behavior so that you don’t feel distress; (2) to find a child that also accepts that behavior; and (3) to find a country where children have legal consent or petition your own government’s view of legality and have it changed.

Here are a few quick reflections:

1.  To be very clear: morality is not determined by legality. It was legal to do all kinds of awful things to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. What rational person thinks that their behavior was moral? Once again: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s moral. That’s not how humans determine morality based on any moral system I know.

2.  It is certainly obvious that what a culture determines to be psychologically healthy and legal, greatly affects the moral acceptance of the behavior. This is why the two major fights of various interest groups are always to (a) change the clinical view of the behavior and then (b) change the legal view of the behavior. When these two things are accomplished, societal acceptance is very close behind (since society typically thinks whatever is considered psychologically healthy and legal is moral).

3.  It seems to me that when behaviors are defined based on causing distress, "healthy," or legal, we are not too far from accepting nearly all sexual behavior. Does this sound melodramatic to you?

For centuries, the ancient Spartans and other Greek city-states completely embraced pedophilia. They were convinced that the more the man found the boy attractive, the greater the teacher they’d be. There are countless painting and reliefs of the period that document this phenomenon (notice where the man's hands are in the painting on the right). Eventually this practice went away. Eventually it was considered quite taboo. It went from full acceptance to taboo. Imagine that. (It still occurred, but it became unpopular to do so.)

My point here is: the Greeks made arguments in favor of pedophilia for centuries. Real, genuine arguments. I see no reason why the same can’t be done today. In fact, they are being made by pedophiles all over the world. It's just that they are in the minority...for now.

What possibly would stop pedophilia from being fully accepted, regular practice among the supposed 1% who are attracted to children? Is it that hard to imagine that after gradual media attention and lobbying that pedophilia will become more and more accepted? 

(I remember not long ago when a man wrote a “how to” manual on how to have a sexual relationship with boys. Click here to see that I'm not lying. It was sold on Amazon. After a huge outcry, it was removed from the website. I wondered back then how many more years it’d be before works like that were allowed to be sold.)

In a Christian worldview, one might argue that morality is determined by two main ways: 
(a) implementing ethical norms presented in Scripture; and (b) natural law (= looking at the way things seem to be designed). Christians certainly do not determine morality by the criteria of “Is it considered psychologically healthy?" or "Is it legal?" or "Does it cause distress?"

Now, I’m not suggesting that the DSM is a clinical text outlining morality! My point here is simply to highlight that the typical cultural belief that when something is considered psychologically healthy and is legal it is moral, doesn’t work within Christianity.

So, I’m not criticizing the DSM for not getting its morality right since that’s not its purpose. Instead, I’m trying to help bring clarity to the fact that if you think something is moral just because it’s considered “healthy” and “legal,” then you do not possess the Christian worldview.

Moreover, in the case of pedophilia, I see no reason to think that in the years to come, further arguments won't be made in utter favor of pedophilia. Media attention will escalate. Social pressure will cajole. Lobbyists will convince. Step one: it will eventually be removed from the DSM altogether. Step two: the “legal consent” of minors will be adjusted. And pedophilia will be an accepted sexual behavior for humans.

Finally, even if that happens…it will never be, at any time, the Christian thing to do. According to Jesus, sex is designed by God to occur within a marriage of one male and female adult (see Matthew 19). I pray that our culture doesn’t budge on this issue. I do. But, for now, I pray mostly for the Church. May we stop trying to fit in to our culture and falsely credit the “Spirit’s movement” to the whims of this age. A Gallop poll doesn’t equate to the movement of the Spirit. And it’s time for the Church to wake up from our slumber. These children need a hero. They need a defender. And before we know it, we’ll be the only ones left who will be willing to take on that role.