3 Things You Should Know Before Writing About Josh Duggar

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Sarah Joy.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on August 21, 2015.

With the latest round of Josh Duggar scandals, it’s time to address a few things that have been floating around, both in the religious blogosphere and tabloid and mainstream media. If you’re going to write about the Duggars, here are some things you need to know.

Before I begin with my list though, I want to say one other thing. If you defended Josh Duggar the child molester I don’t even want to hear your condemnation of Josh Dugger the adulterer. Consensual sex between two adults isn’t in the same universe as child sexual assault. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to reexamine their life.

With that said, here are some things you need to understand if you’re going to write about Josh Duggar.

1. Fundamentalist ≠ Quiverfull

It’s tempting to conflate the two concepts, especially since those who were involved in the latter insist that they’re the only true fundamentalists, but they’re not the same thing.

Fundamentalism is, at its core, a theological position dating to the formulation of the Five Fundamentals of Christian doctrine and the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the early 20th century. The five fundamentals were the core doctrinal beliefs that those who came to be called “fundamentalists” believed were central to orthodox Christian doctrine. Those fundamentals were the inspiration of scripture by the Holy Spirit and Biblical inerrancy, belief in the virgin birth of Christ, that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin, the bodily resurrection, and that Christ’s miracles happened.

Pretty much every Evangelical church in America believes in those Five Fundamentals, though most of those churches would eschew the “fundamentalist” label because of the additional baggage the term has taken on over the years. It’s entirely possible to believe in the Five Fundamentals and still believe in women’s equality, marriage equality, evolution, and left-wing politics.

What most people, including evangelicals, mean when they refer to “fundamentalists” are people who have taken the first fundamental—inerrancy of scripture, and turned that into an extremely literal and rule-based reading of the text. The distinction that I was given growing up was that fundamentalists are rigid and legalistic. The Bible is a rule book and as long as you follow all the rules you’ll have a happy life.

You don’t have to homeschool to be a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists send their kids to public and private schools. Fundamentalist homeschooling says that if you’re a really good Christian you’ll homeschool your kids, but just as not all homeschoolers are fundamentalists, not all fundamentalists are homeschoolers.

All quiverfull are fundamentalists but not all fundamentalists are quiverfull. Quiverfull adherents will tell you that they’re the only true fundamentalists, but the vast majority of fundamentalists in the last hundred years that the term has been in use have taken steps to limit the size of their families.

Quiverfull is a politicized ideology based on Psalm 127 that says you should have as many children as possible because those children are arrows in the culture wars. It’s explicitly about taking over society by outbreeding the rest of the population.

Fundamentalism itself wasn’t even politicized until the rise of the Moral Majority and related groups in the late 1970s. Prior to that, most fundamentalists believed that Christians should stay out of politics. The quiverfull movement came even later and didn’t gain much foothold until the 1990s.

Bottom line? Quiverfull is a subset of the politicized fundamentalism that developed in just the last forty years.

2. Quiverfull is an Ideology, ATI is a Cult

The Duggars are members of ATI, the high-control, authoritarian homeschooling cult founded by Bill Gothard. Bill Gothard teaches quiverfull ideology, but ATI is about so much more than just quiverfull.

As I’ve written about before, like Scientology, ATI even has its own set of definitions of common words and concepts.


I’m not sure if there’s an aspect of life where Bill Gothard doesn’t tell members how to live. He tells you what kind of bread to eat (whole grain), how to dress (navy blue and white are especially godly), when a husband and wife can and can’t have sex (follow the Levitical purity laws, so wait a week after a woman’s period, 80 days after a girl is born, 40 for a boy), and even how to do road safety so as not to get raped when your car breaks down (really).

If you don’t follow all of Gothard’s rules then you’ve stepped out from under the Umbrella of Authority and are open to all sorts of attacks from Satan.

You can be quiverfull without following any of those rules. Heck, you can be quiverfull and believe that dating is okay and that women can dress however they want. Anyone who talks about the Duggars and doesn’t make the distinction between quiverfull, fundamentalism, and ATI, or who treats fundamentalism and quiverfull as the same thing doesn’t fully understand the issues at play.

3. I don’t know if Anna Duggar will stay, neither do you

I feel the need to emphasize this because all of the tabloid speculation and comments from unnamed “insiders” is just that, speculation.

The only person who knows what Anna will do is Anna, and she may not know yet herself. Whatever she decides to do, she’s got a difficult road ahead for her and for her children, and the choices she makes aren’t going to be easy ones no matter what decision she finally makes. Her life has been turned upside down these last few months, she has a newborn, and the entire world is watching her. For all we know, she’s been weighing her options since the molestation story broke. She may not make a decision for a long time, and that’s okay.

Know this though. Adultery is the one area where divorce is unquestionably Biblical. This idea that because she was raised in a fundamentalist, quiverfull ATI family and married into another one means she can’t leave is bogus. That’s not how any of this works. Leaving because of the molestation scandal? That could have gotten her shunned, told she was being unforgiving and bitter over something that happened before she met Josh and that he’d repented over. Leaving because she discovered he was cheating on her? That’s acceptable because the Bible specifically allows divorce for adultery. It’s a messed up standard, but that’s what it is.

If anybody tells you they know what she’s going to do because of patriarchal culture, they’re bullshitting you.


This whole story makes me sad for Anna because she was sold a bill of goods, that if you followed all the rules, did the courtship like you were supposed to, and got to work on having the dozen kids while staying under your husband’s umbrella of protection your life will be great. And it’s not. ATI breeds dysfunction and she and the kids are paying the price.

I feel awful for Josh’s sisters too. They got trotted in front of the camera to do damage control and proclaim how he had changed, he wasn’t the same person, and they’d all moved past it. And now they know without a shadow of a doubt that they were sent out in front of cameras to sell a lie and protect the Duggar brand.

There are no winners in this.

8 thoughts on “3 Things You Should Know Before Writing About Josh Duggar

  1. boomshakalaka August 22, 2015 / 1:42 pm

    I like how you winnowed down through fundamentalism, quiverfull and ATI to arrive at the exact subset of fundamentalism where the Duggars reside. You may not be aware of a certain subset of quiverfull where even in the case of adultery, there is to be no divorce (see John Piper http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/on-divorce-remarriage-in-the-event-of-adultery). A related but different subset states that the woman is never free to remarry due to adultery, but only in cases of female adultery or permarital fornication by the woman is the man set free (this comes from Mathew 5:23 and 19:9, where the word used is porneia instead of the word moicheia is normally translated “fornication” and not “adultery”. ) this is taken to mean that only in cases of female fornication before marriage (she was not a virgin and had deceived her husband) is ANY divorce allowed, ever. This translation is taken to mean that women cannot ever divorce, even due to male adultery or permarital sex on the part of the husband. I know this because I used to be a part of that subset.

    These doctrines are not common knowledge to the outside world, but are common knowledge among that certain set of fundy or quiverfill adherents. If this is the case, if that is what she believes to be true, then Anna will never leave or at least never divorce Josh.


  2. lethally August 22, 2015 / 7:20 pm

    This is all so messed up to me, but you explained it really well.

    For the record, I’m not Christian, not American, and don’t know what ATI is (I’ll have to google that!). I’ve been following the Ashley Madison scandal because of how it may possibly affect internet security, which is an interest of mine, and having a bit of a laugh because, well, I figure that anyone who has had their toes burned pretty much got what they deserved.

    However, Anna Duggar is a prime example of one of the victims in all this mess. My view is that fundamentalist christianity is completely messed-up, from what I know of it, and this poor woman has done nothing to warrant any of the mess she’s in. She’s deserved none of it. I’ve never seen her on TV and I know next to nothing about her, but I don’t want to imagine what she’s going through. It must be rotten.

    But really, the general view over here in New Zealand is that it does tend to be the extremists that seem to be the most hypocritical. Josh Duggar being on Ashley Madison? No surprise there at all. It’s just a matter of time before more of his ilk get discovered, I’d bet. The hypocrisy astounds me. It’s like all those televangelists that get caught in gay bathhouses. It’s never any surprise for anyone who knows anything about human nature.

    Thanks for a well-written article though. I sincerely hope that Anna Duggar pulls through this and comes out stronger for it. Only time will tell.


  3. maura August 22, 2015 / 9:00 pm

    i really don’t understand how any woman could have anything to do with quiverful or ati. but if anna is truly quiverful she is not allowed to say no to sex under any circumstance so how could josh have any complaints in that area? the answer comes down t greed. since he was a favored white male child he has been given everything, all women must be subservient to him. he wants what he wants when he wants it and anything else be damned. greed. this has a lot to do with his parents, the movements he belongs to. i wonder if his own children are safe since he also molested a 5 year old when he was 15. these people make me sick. i hope anna comes to her senses divorces him and he never sees those girls again, and that the rest of the duggar children escape from their rotten rotten family which adores money and not christ.


  4. Heart August 23, 2015 / 12:02 pm

    There actually is a contingent that believes there are no grounds at all for divorce, including adultery. One is supposed to practice unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness if the partner commits adultery. Significantly, it’s fundamentalist/Independent Baptist types that teach this and that is the Duggars’ theological background.


  5. SavvyD August 26, 2015 / 10:26 am

    Seriously messed up in so many ways. You can legally pursue annulment if someone deceived you ins some way into marrying them or even if you want children and they don’t. This doesn’t qualify for annulment, but how awful! She’s faced with a horrible choice. And yes, Josh having been a celebrity makes the pressure higher to forgive, stay with him, and put on a good public face because everyone is watching and Jesus. The Lord forgave humanity for their sins, so watch Anna be pressured into staying with lots of “support” from the Duggars. So seriously, I feel sorry for these people, but they did live literally in a glass house – and their own family was the one throwing bricks at it.


  6. brgulker August 28, 2015 / 12:44 pm

    I would add a fourth:

    To an extent, all of the Duggar children are victims of their parents – including Josh.

    I don’t mean this an excuse for him; he’s culpable for his despicable actions.

    But no child should ever be subjected to the quite literal freak show that the Duggar parents made out of their family and children.


  7. plain eng September 1, 2015 / 6:07 pm

    I claim to be a winner in this… as information comes out and reveals the woo-woo of belief, I am supported in my leaving the crock of Christian belief in this hemisphere. I am further encouraged to support and live as a human being among human beings, all of us somewhat lacking in the perfection standards set by various and sundry agencies and experts. I feel happy to know that this information is out there and available to those born into cultic surrounding, particularly the excessive abuse of ATI and Billy boy, the abuser. That revelation of day to day knowledge is winning to me, is consciousness that deserves to be recognized, appreciated.


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