It’s Not Just about Josh Duggar (Some Compiled Readings)

It’s Not Just about Josh Duggar (Some Compiled Readings) August 23, 2015

In the aftermath of the revelation that Josh Duggar had an Ashley Madison account, I want to pause to promote some articles making some good points. First and foremost is this absolutely superb blog post by Elizabeth Esther, who points out that this is not just about Josh Duggar:

This isn’t just about Josh Duggar. It’s about aentire system of abuse (see also my article for TIME magazine).

This isn’t just about one guy’s sexual screw-ups. It’s about American Christian culture as a WHOLE and OUR really messed up relationship with sexuality.

This isn’t just about the downfall of one family, it’s about an ENTIRE Christian culture that is now reaping the bitter fruits of our misguided, ugly “culture wars.” This is about an entire CULTURE of American Christianity that equates political victories with moral ones.

The biggest mistake we can make right now is to believe that what is happening in the Duggar family is an isolated incident and isn’t indicative of the broader, American Christian culture.

This is about an American Christian culture that made insane promises like: “If you just wait until you’re married to have sex, everything will be wonderful.”

This is about an American Christian culture that turned purity into profit; using a 21-year old kid named Josh Harris to promote the fantasy that if you just “kiss dating goodbye,” you’ll end up with a faithful, godly, loving spouse for the rest of your life.

Next is an article for the New Yorker, written by Andrea Denhoed, another Christian homeschooling graduate, who draws important connections between this revelation and the fall of Christian homeschooling leaders Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard in 2013 and 2014, both of whom sexually molested young women in their employ.

This revelation comes at a time when the niche of conservative Christian homeschooling to which the Duggars belong can’t very well afford another disgraced celebrity. (I should note here that I grew up with Christian homeschooling, although I no longer have active connections with the community.) The past couple of years have been punctuated by scandals involving prominent figures in the movement. In October, 2013, Doug Phillips, of the Vision Forum, an organization that promoted the idea of “Biblical patriarchy,” stepped down from his role as president after being accused of sexually assaulting his children’s nanny several years before. In March, 2014, Bill Gothard, the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a homeschooling organization that promotes a strict conservative life style, with an emphasis on extremely modest dress and on women’s place in the home, was put on administrative leave (and later stepped down); an organization called Recovering Grace had released allegations from multiple former female employees of Gothard, many of whom were teen-agers when they worked for him, accusing him of sexual harassment. 

Finally, there is this article from Diary of an Autodidact, which points to parallels between Josh’s situation and the sexual mores of the middle ages. I found this article interesting because of how profoundly sad it is, on some level, that Josh felt he could not find the sexual intimacy he was looking for within marriage.

[I]n the romances of Chivalry, the fair lady that the knight fights to please is married to someone else. The romance is adulterous by definition

In fact, it is necessary to the romance, because marriage was for legitimate offspring, not love. Marriages were for political alliances, finances, and any number of reasons, but they were not a romantic pairing. In most cases, the woman, at least, had no choice in the matter. She was subject to the bargains struck by men. 

So the outlet for real romance was adultery. Because that was a chosen – and equal – relationship. After all, lovers owed no duty of obedience the way wives did.

Also striking in the stories is that they weren’t always consummated. Some affairs were physical in the usual sense, but others were torrid emotional affairs – clearly adulterous in spirit, but less likely to result in offspring.

The parallel here is interesting. Dude in an arranged marriage, making legitimate offspring to populate the Reconstructionist Army Of God™. (Hey, that’s four arrows in the quiver already!) Looks for some vanilla sex or non-sex on the side with an equal.

Now, again, Josh has behaved abominably, and there is no excuse for this sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong.

But it isn’t a surprise that it happened. And it strongly resembles a pattern from the glorious past. (Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard borrowed another classic technique from the past: hit on the servants.)

The ironic thing is that Josh and Anna were told that marrying through a parent-guided courtship and saving sex for marriage would give them a relationship that would withstand the ages. In other words, whatever parallels the Diary of the Autodidact may see between Josh’s philandering and the courtly romances of a time long past, that is definitely not what Josh or Anna were signing up for. They expected to get it all—the arranged marriage with its dutiful parcel of children, and the steamy intimate marital romance.

Elizabeth Esther is right. This isn’t just about Josh, and it isn’t just about the Duggars. It’s about an entire culture built upon promises it can’t keep. It’s about communities and leaders that promised young people that if they would only guard their emotions and save physical contact for marriage, their connection with their spouse and the sexual satisfaction they have in marriage will be more deep and meaningful than they can imagine—a promise that, for Josh and Anna like for so many other couples, turned out to be a lie.


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