The Duggar Debacle


At the grave risk of Duggar fatique—I know; I have it too—there is one additional clue that needs to be addressed. No; I’m not referring to the debate over how the sealed juvenile record became unsealed and now spread all over the known world; nor am I thinking about the resignation of Josh from the FRC (Family Research Council); nor the upcoming interview of two Duggar sisters (Jill and Jessa) desiring, from the Fox promo, to set the record straight about their brother and the extent to which he sexually violated them several years ago.

Nor am I concerned to make clear the relationship between the Duggars and the now defunct Vision Forum where Doug Philips once reigned until his sexual escapades became known nor that of Bill Gothard’s and his empire that also faced demise when he was found his own sexual promiscuity problem (do you notice a recurring theme?).

What I want to point out for consideration is the culture created not only by the Duggars but also by many evangelical and fundamentalist groups. This culture is not “cute” or “traditionally wholesome” as proponents of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting may want us to believe. I suppose the reality show became such a hit because it strikes a chord with a more bucolic time, a simpler one, where people had time for mid-day picnics and shopping trips and family-centered activities, like roasting marshmallows over an open fire at the day’s end. The Duggars present a life that seems so easy, even as it is complicated by 19 kids. And, who, after all, doesn’t dream for a time when the complexities we face on an hourly basis weren’t so darn…well…complicated?

But, if we will take the time to peel back the layers that compose the life-style so well-presented by TLC’s hit show, we’ll see that the Duggars present a culture we would do well to reconsider.

Shaped by the idea that women and men are different, yet equal (where have we heard that before?), the Duggars and families that endorse the Quiverful mentality, believe these differences mean that roles are to be followed and that these roles are determined by one’s biology. If you are born a woman, you are to serve men, to be obedient to the man designed to protect you (father, husband), and you are to support and honor him in every way. On the other hand, if you are born a man, you are God-ordained to be a protector and provider. You should lead and your wife and children will follow.

What makes these separate roles so powerful, however, is their connection to God. These roles are the specific ways in which God wants people to live. To violate them is to transgress God’s law; it is to reject God’s plan.

This culture of gender-delineated roles makes it impossible to have equal power distribution. Those in power—in control—will always be men. And this is unquestioned because this is how God intends for people to be organized.

It is no accident that many groups who subscribe to complementarian (separate roles) ideology, including the Duggar family, find themselves at some point facing the problem of abusive power. Those with less power when violated or manipulated or controlled, have no way of identifying it. To do so, is to question God’s plan. Victims will often distrust themselves, and feel guilty if they question how they are treated. It’s a world where the powerless remain so, even as they appear glad about it.

But the Duggar debacle has something to teach those of us who are not in Quiverful cultures, who are not in evangelical or fundamentalist faith groups.

Even in progressive or liberal-leaning faith communities, distribution of power is still unequal. Look around. Take stock of what you see. Look at pastors and leaders, at who has the corner office in the best building on campus, or who makes the decisions despite what others suggest. Even more, consider how little we value the divine feminine.

Are you regularly hearing metaphors and similes for God that are feminine? Do you have a female image of God that automatically springs to mind? Are you just as likely to hear God referred to as “She” as much as “He?” Do you routinely hear prayers to Mother God?

My assertion is this: as long as our images and language for God are masculine and male, our culture will continue to devalue women and their voices. Such devaluing leads—at some point—to abuse of power. Sometimes this abuse will manifest itself sexually; often it will occur in lots of other ways.

So, even if the Duggars represent a small slice of Christianity, their debacle is an opportunity for broader and deeper reflection on the extent to which we all cultivate or blithely accept a culture that shares with the Duggars a distrust of the feminine.