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.