In her interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, Megyn Kelly encouraged the idea that their Christian beliefs were part of the reason that they were being targeted and persecuted.
[Megyn Kelly: ]”Do you think that the backlash against the Duggars has been greater because people object to who you are and what you stand for?”
[Michelle:] “I think some out there do.”
[Jim Bob:] “Yes.”
[Kelly:] “Do you think in particular your Christian beliefs are at issue here?”
Jim Bob responded here with an answer about how people think that Christians are supposed to be perfect, yet we all struggle, and so forth. The point is still made. The Duggars (and Kelly and other supporters) believe that their Christian beliefs have made them a target.
In fact, the opposite is true: The Duggars Christian beliefs are part of the reason that they have succeeded wildly in the past decade. And part of the reason that their son escaped prosecution, and “earned” public forgiveness from conservatives. This is how Christian privilege works.
Altheria Gaston has described the intersection of race and gender privilege playing out in the Josh Duggar story effectively:
“Like many, I think Josh Duggar escaped punishment because of his white male privilege. All U.S. institutions and systems, such as schools and healthcare, are structurally racist and sexist, among other things. As a result, white men receive benefits because of their race and gender.”
There’s another factor at work that hasn’t yet been plumbed to its depths in public commentary and it is Christian privilege. It’s the way that Jesus, and God’s forgiveness, is literally their get-out-of-jail-free card.
Like white and male privileges, Christian privilege affords members of a status-group the ability to do and get away with things that those who are not members of that group could not. It is unearned and unseen, affording advantages that holders of it can actively deny existing, yet count on every day. Examples of things a Christian can assume because of this privilege: Adherence to my religion will be seen as an asset; I can wear symbols of my religion without being accused of terrorism; I know that my workplace calendar respects my religious holidays and Sabbath. We can add to that list: My religious identity will help me escape punishment for criminal activity.
Thus, an intersectional analysis of the case of the Duggars requires that we pay attention to religion, and specifically Christian privilege.
Let me be specific: If the Duggars were not white evangelical hetero-married Christians, their seventeen-eighteen-nineteen-kids-and-counting would never have landed them a reality show and the defense of major party politicians.
To see this, contrast the veneration of Michelle Duggar with the demonization of Nadya Suleman. Their shows and stories gained traction in popular culture at around the same time in 2008. And yet one was vilified, mocked, and scolded while the other was placed high upon the pedestal reserved only for white Christian married women who have a lot of children. One woman, the daughter of an Arab father, was made out to be a monster, literally an animal, with the nickname by which she is known to many: “Octomom.”
And one was protected and celebrated by a family, state, and religion as her eldest son preyed upon her daughters and other young girls. The one who is white, hetero-married, and a conservative Christian hero.
Kathryn Joyce writes extensively on the Quiverfull movement in her 2009 book, describing it as “a self-described ‘patriarchy’ movement, where women follow strict versions of the doctrine of headship and submission and strive to always remain under the protective ‘covering’ or authority of their husbands and fathers.” What seems to be missing, however, is protection from the husbands and fathers, along with the neighbors and brothers. This is the kind of religious subculture of which the Duggars are a part, despite their blog claim that they are not Quiverfull, rather they “are simply Bible-believing Christians who desire to follow God’s Word.”
And they reveal all the deformative power that Christian privilege has in our culture: It protects male power. It idealizes women who have children ONLY if they are married to a man. It idealizes large white families. It allows a young man whose “intellectual and ethical development is stunted by reactionary, dogmatic views about gender and sexuality” to escape punishment for sexual assault. It approves of the message that “women were made to be subservient to men, to be obedient to their masters.”
In short, it enables rape culture with biblical and theological justification.
Image via wikimedia commons.