Last Thursday, Josh Duggar’s sexual misconduct once again caught his famous reality tv family under the projectors. The 33-year-old was arrested on Thursday on federal charges of receiving and possessing child sexual abuse material, charges that carry a potential sentence of 20 years in federal prison. A few years prior, in 2015, Duggar made headlines after InTouch released a redacted, FOIA-obtained police report in 2006 that implicated Josh in the assault of five girlsthe youngest of whom was only five years old.
It was a scandal on the heels of another scandal in the Duggars’ Christian home community, centered on the community’s patriarch himself. In 2014, Bill Gothard, the never-married and childless founder of the evangelical family ministry and homeschooling organization Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP), was ousted from his own organization after more than 30 women have come forward with allegations of his sexual misconduct. Although Gothard never managed to regain status or authority within the IBLP organization, the Duggars are still regular attendees and speakers at IBLP conferences.
In fact, Jim Bob and Michelle were in Big Sandy, Texas getting ready to give a speech at the IBLP Annual Family Conferences last week when an arrest warrant was issued for their son.
The prevalence of sexual predation among IBLP leaders and followers is no coincidence. Like Chrissy Stroop writing here on RD, Josh Duggar’s indiscretions are just a symptom of much deeper theological roots that allow abusers to gasse, shame and isolate victims. Stroop claims – rightly, I think – that the Duggars’ beliefs are just a more extreme iteration of the theological positions taken by the lion’s share of American evangelicals: namely, complementary gender roles and the culture of purity. , supported and reinforced by a structure of patriarchal authority.
But what exactly are the beliefs about authority and gender that drive House Duggar? On their long-running TV show, their family blogand their memoirs, the Duggars offer a picture of some of the beliefs and practices that structure their family life.
Umbrella of protection and authority
One of the fundamental tenets of the IBLP is the authority structure that underpins divine and human relationships. An IBLP chart illustrates this system as a nested set of protective umbrellaswith God protecting and governing husbands, who protect and govern wives, who (with their husbands) protect and govern their children.
Like the IBLP website details, a godly wife realizes that “helping her husband achieve his goals and dreams” should be her “primary responsibility.” Even when a wife thinks her husband is going down the wrong path, teaches the IBLP, she should not “take over,” but rather “wisely appeal bad decisions and then give him the opportunity to fail.” Indeed, it is this kind of “adversity” that will allow him to build loyalty and cultivate “a gentle and quiet spirit”.
When Josh married Anna Keller, whose family is also deeply involved in the IBLP, they professed their support for this scaffolding structure of authority in their own relationship. In Josh and Anna’s special wedding for 17 children and countingAnna’s father, Mike Keller, describes how this system influenced the two families’ approach to the marriage of their children:
“The way God ordained it all, Josh becomes the authority in marriage. He becomes his authority, not me, and that’s how God designed the transfer of authority. And that’s a good design,” Keller told the camera.
Chains of Command and Instant Obedience
The Duggars note that they extend this authority structure to their children via what they call a “chain of command” determined by birth order. In Growing up Duggara memoir co-written by sisters Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger Duggar, the siblings tell,
“Mom and dad banned the phrases ‘You can’t tell me what to do!’ and ‘You’re not my boss!’ back home, and they remind the younger ones that their older brothers and sisters are their elders and they should treat them as such. So Johannah can ask Josie to help her pick up the toys in the playroom, and Josie has to.
Not only are the Duggar children tasked with obeying the demands of their older siblings and parents, but they are specifically tasked with obeying in accordance with the mandate of the IBLP”obedience points”, described by the Duggar girls as “instant”, “joyful”, “thorough” and “unconditional”.
Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar also emphasize the importance of unquestioning obedience to authority figures in their own memoirs, 20 and counting! The couple write that they teach children to play an “obedience game” to “make instant obedience fun”. During the game, both Duggar parents will give nonsensical instructions to the children (Michelle gives the example of telling a child to stand on a square of tiles and scratch his head with his left hand and rub his belly with their right hand while counting to fifty”) Children should respond, “Yes sir/ma’am, I’d love to!” and then instantly complete the task.
Differences created and sexual needs of men
As Chrissy Stroop notes, much gospel discourse lacks a solid understanding of consent. This trend is often fueled by a theological understanding of men and women as inherently different in both biology and behavior. The IBLP teaches, like many conservative Christian theologies, that “God created male and female and made a clear distinction between them”.
A key difference the Duggar family identifies between men and women is a difference in sex drive. In her blog, Michelle Duggar recounts a friend’s advice that while other women might iron Jim Bob’s shirts and make him lunch, only she can provide him with sexual intimacy. Michelle encourages female readers to “be available, and not just available, but happily available” for their husbands.
“Smile and be ready to say, ‘Yes, honey, I’m here for you,’ no matter what, even if you’re exhausted and pregnant and maybe not feeling the way he feels,” writes Michelle. “‘I’m always here for you and I’m going to fulfill that need because I know it’s a need for you.'”
Just as the IBLP teaches that women should not usurp authority from their husbands in other areas, so does the organization. to assert that “God grants spouses full access to each other’s bodies for sexual gratification”. Identifying that wives might be the party in the marriage most likely to want to abstain, IBLP directs wives, “Resistance or indifference to your husband’s need for physical intimacy is the unspoken crushing of his spirit. “
While a belief in the “natural” sexual voracity of men doesn’t immediately present itself as fodder for the cycle of abuse, the Duggars’ response to their son’s assault of his own younger sisters illustrates the danger of such a belief. In their first television appearance after the 2015 scandal, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that they had “safeguards” in place that they said would ward off any internal sexual predation.
“We don’t let the boys babysit,” Michelle said to Kelly. “There are just a lot of things that we have put in place. You are not alone in a room with someone else. Always be visible and, you know, little ones don’t sit on the laps of big boys or people you don’t know, or even family members, unless it’s your daddy.
By suggesting that the risk to his daughters was the proximity of any boys or men, Michelle Duggar simultaneously normalized the predation of her son as something “any” man could do and did not protect her children from their abuser more completely than they protected them from any other man. That is to say, not enough.
While the Duggars’ beliefs about gender and authority represent an extreme iteration of the broader evangelical theologies of gender and submission, they nonetheless demonstrate the logical conclusion of such theologies. As long as wives and children are exhorted to “instantly” and “joyfully” submit to their “God-ordained authorities,” even in the realm of sexual gratification, we will continue to see a pattern of abuse and concealment in the evangelical world. church.