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.

An Open Letter to Anna Duggar

Dear Anna,

We don’t know each other. But I feel a connection with you and Josh because, like both of you, I grew up in a conservative Christian home and was homeschooled my entire life. Like Josh’s parents, my parents were leaders of homeschool groups and organizations (albeit on a smaller scale than Josh’s). So I grew up under the spotlight. I am familiar with living a life where your every move — and every stumble — has the potential to be examined by all sorts of people ready to critique you.

Of course, there’s also a huge chasm between you and Josh and myself. Whereas Josh and his parents — and consequently you and your children — have become new faces of the conservative Christian homeschooling movement we all grew up in, I now help facilitate a very different movement: the rising voices from alumni and graduates of the conservative Christian homeschooling movement who are speaking up about the abuses and pain they experienced. I have no idea if you’ve ever heard of Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out. And if you have, I’m guessing you probably heard about us in a negative way — that we’re apostates, the Benedict Arnolds of homeschooling, the greatest threat to homeschooling freedoms, and so forth. So it’s highly probable you will never even read this.

But if you do, here’s all I really want to say: My heart breaks for you and your children and I’m so sorry for all the pain you have gone through this last year.

I have seen the Internet gleefully throw parties over the transgressions of your husband. I don’t want to minimize those transgressions, and I hope you know we should not minimize them. Child sexual abuse destroys bodies and souls. I know this personally, as I was sexually abused as a child. What Josh did is inexcusable and it is important that we talk about that. If you haven’t already, please talk about it. Get Josh to a qualified, licensed therapist. Ask him the hard questions: Does he still struggle? Does he think about hurting your children? I know these are uncomfortable questions but they need to be asked. Your children deserve to be safe and you deserve to know the truth.

But you and your children do not deserve to reduced to the punchline of cruel Internet jokes. You do not deserve to be bullied into leaving your husband or shamed for making your own decisions in that regard. I know many people are doing those very things and my heart goes out to you. You deserve better than that.

What Josh did years ago — molesting children — and what Josh did recently — cheating on you — doesn’t just impact Josh. They impact you. They impact your children. And it makes me furious to see so many people talk about and mock Josh as if you and your children do not exist. So many people seem to pay no regard to how their words and their actions will impact you. They want to redefine your last name to refer to sexual abuse, even though you and your children never abused anyone. Yes, Josh has hurt many people. Yes, we need to talk about that. But you and your children will live under that shadow for the rest of your lives. We need to remember that.

I also want you to know that what happened — Josh cheating on you — is not your fault. What your spouse or partner does by means of his own will is never your fault. And anyone telling you otherwise is lying. Anyone telling you otherwise is victim-blaming and victim-blaming is wrong. It is not your fault that Josh chose to break his wedding vows. It is not your fault that Josh could not control his sexual urges. It is not your fault that he betrayed you.

It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.

Marriage (and all relationships, really) are about communication. And Josh failed to communicate his needs and struggles with you. Instead he threw you to the wolves of his infidelity. Even worse, his infidelity was on a site that got hacked, and now most people around the world know in explicit detail how he hurt you. In fact, they might have known he hurt you before you knew. And they chose to disclose that fact with explicit details that served no purpose other than to shame and laugh at your husband. That just kills me. I’m so sorry you had to find out like this.

I know all sorts of people online are giving you unsolicited advice now. They’re saying you should divorce Josh, you must leave him if you truly love yourself, you better flee from him if you love your children. Anna, that’s not their place. And it’s not my place to tell you what to do, either.

You — and you alone — have the right to decide what is best for yourself.

I hope and pray that you do make your decision based on that criterion (and that criterion alone) — namely, what is best for you. You deserve to be happy, healthy, and safe, Anna. You really do deserve that. I know that the homeschooling world we grew up in often said otherwise. It often said that, as a woman, your place was to please your husband. That your needs were less than your husband’s needs. That you had fewer rights to happiness and health.

But the world we grew up in often lied. It is within your rights to make decisions that guarantee your happiness and health. Do not feel you must make your decision based on any other criteria — what is best for the Duggar Family™ Brand, what your religious subculture demands of you, what Josh demands from you, etc.

The only exception to this, of course, is if staying with Josh puts your children in danger. I don’t know Josh, and I don’t know if you lay awake at night worrying if Josh’s allegedly “in the past” actions of molesting children truly are in the past. I don’t know if you have picked up on warning signs, slowly but ever so surely, indicating that he might hurt your children. I just don’t know. But I do know that if you are worried, if your inner radar is going off, please do not wait to act. Please do everything you can to protect your children, even if that means hurting the Duggar Family™ Brand and betraying your religious subculture. The Duggar Family™ Brand and your religious subculture are not Jesus. They are not your gods. They do not deserve your absolute obedience. Jesus calls us to follow him and part of that call is to protect children from adults who would harm them. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” If you have questions or worries about this, I highly recommend checking out the resources from Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), an organization run by Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian. My organization HARO also has resources on child abuse.

To be honest, Anna, I don’t pray much anymore. From a young age I was praying to Jesus. From a young age I learned how others prayed in public and I strived to imitate them. I strived to pray my public prayers in a way that elicited those “Amens” and “Yes, Father”s that proved someone knew how to pray well. And I’ve seen so much hypocrisy among both myself back then as well as other homeschool leaders who prayed one way but lived their lives another way. So praying these days leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

But I want you to know I am thinking prayerish thoughts for you.

We here are Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out are thinking about you and wishing you the best.

If you ever need help or support from fellow alumni, we’re here for you.


Ryan Stollar

HARO Executive Director