The Duggars, if you’re not familiar with them, are an American conservative Christian large family, and not just large, but very large and famously so. Although they’re not Roman Catholics, they don’t believe in using contraception.
They’re the poster family for an American movement called Quiver-Full. They’re famous for putting their family into the public eye on the docutainment programme ‘Sixteen and Counting’, which has risen year on year until I think now they may even be ‘Twenty and Counting’.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that on the surface. I myself, as you know, wanted a much larger family, and I had some contact with the Quiver-Full organisation, read some of their books, would even have considered myself ‘quiver-full’. But of course, fate or destiny, or God, if you will, stopped us at four.
I never quite clicked on the idea that the Quiver-full organisation and community was especially patriarchal until I started hearing stories a few years ago of women who had left the movement and told of abusive husbands and churches. But I suspect it is no more patriarchal than American conservative Christianity in general.
My own feeling is that those of us in the UK who have felt some affinity with the American quiver-full Christians, have done so from a very different cultural background and if the negative stories are true and abuse does go on in a big way, we were quite oblivious to it.
Which brings us back to the Duggars. In the US, in a way that isn’t really true or possible in the UK, conservative Christians are able to surround themselves with a bubble of religious friends and really have no concept of what is outside that bubble – what is going on, how people think. It almost strikes me that they have a completely alien concept of reality, and they’re strong enough in number not to care or to assume that everything they think and do must be right and good.
Las week, the story broke that, when he was 15, the Duggars eldest son Josh molested some of his sisters and possibly another girl outside of the family, but presumably from within that same ‘bubble’.
He apparently knew he had done wrong and confessed to his parents, and their reaction (after some prayer and soul searching which “brought them closer to God”) was to arrange for him to do some penance in the form of helping refurbish a friend’s house, although they called it counselling.
The molested girls, it seems got no counselling at all but were told to ‘forgive and forget’ as though it were nothing more serious than having their pocket money stolen.
All of this was known prior to the Duggar family going on the air with their vision of family perfection and wholesomeness. It would appear that the police knew but chose not to pursue the matter (because the cultural climate there was sympathetic to conservative Christians perhaps), and the television company knew and chose to ignore it.
Since the story came out (it was leaked, apparently), there has been the kind of reaction that you might expect from the non-Christian side of things, all hell has broken lose upon their heads! But from conservative Christians it appears there has been an astonishingly stupid attempt to defend the Duggars by saying that it wasn’t really abuse, or that it wasn’t serious, or that he had adequately repented, or that it is ‘normal’.
My God, I hope and I pray that this is not anything like ‘normal’.
I do have some sympathy for the Duggars, because I myself grew up in a similar ‘bubble’ of American Christian conservative fundamentalism that believed we were right and the rest of the world was wrong. They’re innocent and naieve in a way. It is possible that they genuinely did not understand the gravity of what he did.
Living in a family where sex and sexuality is a taboo, awkward subject, in a culture that covers up nudes in classical art absolutely invites covert exploration.
Incestuous molestation of minors is no small thing! It is a felony crime! The girls in the case were sexually abused! This was not something that could or should ever have been brushed under the carpet as though it didn’t matter.
The Duggars were put into the public eye as representatives of American, conservative, large family, homeschooling Christians, with the television company knowing full well that this business had happened. I can imagine them telling the Duggars not to worry about it. It almost makes me suspect that there was a cynical plan all along to build them up only to tear them down. This does, after all, reflect badly on everybody the Duggars appeared to represent, and how juicy is that!
Do I believe that Josh Duggar’s repentance could have been genuine? That he could have reformed and never even considered or fantasised about doing anything like it again? Yes, absolutely. I have to believe that people can change.
But having repented and reformed, the right thing to do was anything but go on television and present yourself as the face of wholesome Christian family values.
It is likely now that social services will have to investigate Josh Duggar and his own children, the Duggar family and others they have been in contact with.
I hope now that the molested girls will receive appropriate counselling, that the Duggar family will realise what they did wrong and why it was wrong.
Will they pursue a more humble and contrite, private walk with God and question their ‘bubble’? It’s sadly unlikely with all the support they’re getting from within it.