An Open Letter to Duggar Defenders

The problem real here is that you very likely do not understand the Duggar’s subculture

The Duggars are part of a very specific subculture of the Christian homeschooling world, one dominated by leaders like Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Bill Gothard of ATI, whose incredibly restrictive teachings and controlling practices have earned them the adjective “cult-like.” These organizations and leaders teach that children must be trained to obey their parents completely, without question, and with a smile; that women are not to have careers and that daughters should be actively discouraged from considering such; that adult daughters must continue to obey their fathers and must marry through parent-controlled courtships; that college attendance is problematic for children of either gender but especially for girls; and that marrying and having large numbers of children is the only godly path available.

 

More than two years ago I wrote a blog post titled My Concerns about the Duggars. To this day it continues getting hundreds of hits daily, along with the random comment. Probably half of the comments left on it defend the Duggars as upright, responsible people raising healthy, well-adjusted young people. These comments often lash out against me, calling me bitter and so forth. I’ve often thought of responding to these comments with further blog posts, but so far I haven’t.

Today that changes. This post consists of four parts, which deal with the Duggars’ subculture,  the argument that they are happy so nothing must be wrong, the idea that the Duggar parents are teaching their children “responsibility,” and something many who watch their show may be familiar with—that the Duggars believe in shunning (i.e. cutting off all contact with) rebellious adult children.

In this post I want to write specifically to what I call “Duggar Defenders.”

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You likely think you know all they need to know about the Duggars from watching the TV show. First of all, this is not how TV works. But that isn’t the only issue. The problem real here is that you very likely do not understand the Duggar’s subculture. You assume that they are a typical American family with an extra 16 children. You assume that your culture is their culture. It is not.

The Duggars are part of a very specific subculture of the Christian homeschooling world, one dominated by leaders like Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Bill Gothard of ATI, whose incredibly restrictive teachings and controlling practices have earned them the adjective “cult-like.” These organizations and leaders teach that children must be trained to obey their parents completely, without question, and with a smile; that women are not to have careers and that daughters should be actively discouraged from considering such; that adult daughters must continue to obey their fathers and must marry through parent-controlled courtships; that college attendance is problematic for children of either gender but especially for girls; and that marrying and having large numbers of children is the only godly path available.

Within the last year, Doug Phillips has been outed for sexually abusing a young female employee and Bill Gothard was exposed for decades of sexually grooming the teenage girls sent to him by their parents for instruction. In spite of their close ties to both men, the Duggars have yet, to my knowledge, to speak a word against either.

I have heard some of you argue that the Duggars are no longer following all of Phillip’s and Gothard’s rules. This doesn’t fly with me. If this is the case, the Duggars have been promoters of both men for so long that they really have a responsibility to speak out here. But more than that, I don’t see it. Yes, the Duggar girls are dressing more trendily today than they did ten years ago, but they’re not wearing anything the older Phillips girls wouldn’t have been seen in—or anything I wouldn’t have worn. They’re still keeping the code. When the Duggars send one of their daughters off to college, then I might believe that they are stepping away from these leaders and their teachings. Until then, pardon my skepticism.

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