A Case for Calling the Duggars ATI Rather Than Quiverfull

A Case for Calling the Duggars ATI Rather Than Quiverfull September 4, 2015

I wrote recently about some of the many definitional issues surrounding the term “quiverfull.” If you have not already read that post, you can do so here. But in this post I want to go farther and argue that we need to be calling the Duggars ATI, not quiverfull, because their primary identification is with Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute and their quiverfull beliefs stem from that organization. More generally, I would argue that accuracy demands that we be clear about what leaders and what organizations any given Christian homeschooling family follows. This is because umbrella terms like “quiverfull” or “Christian patriarchy” erase and blur distinctions that can be critically important.

Let me give you an example of why this matters. Take a look at the framing of this question InTouch recently asked No Longer Quivering founder Vyckie Garrison:


The way the reporter framed the question is a problem, because quiverfull is not monolithic. Instead, it is an ideology that is held and taught by a wide range of people. How a quiverfull person will feel about an illegitimate baby will depend on which leader and organization they follow. In this case, InTouch should be asking “How do people in ATI feel about an illegitimate baby?” But because they (and we) have gotten so used to using the umbrella term when talking about the Duggars, they may not even know that question exists.

Here is Vyckie’s response:

Vyckie longer

Vyckie was close to Nancy Campbell’s ministry, Above Rubies, and within those circles this answer makes perfect sense. Campbell emphasizes mothers and babies and childbearing. She writes constantly about what blessings babies are and urges women to accept all of the blessings God chooses to give them. In addition to her involvement with Campbell, Vyckie was heavily involved in a form of anti-abortion activism that emphasized that babies are always—always—a blessing. That this would have been her position on illegitimate babies when she was quiverfull makes perfect sense.

The problem is that the Duggars are an ATI family, not an Above Rubies family. Even though both groups can be termed quiverfull, they are in fact very different. ATI was founded by Bill Gothard, who spent decades dictating the minutia of ATI belief and practice, and that comes with very specific beliefs—beliefs not shared by Nancy Campbell or Above Rubies. That is why I said InTouch asked the wrong question. They needed to ask what ATI teaches about illegitimate children, but because the Duggars have been overwhelmingly labeled “quiverfull” rather than “ATI,” they didn’t know to ask that. And that’s a problem.

Several homeschool graduates who grew up in ATI families mentioned this differences at play here in comments on Vyckie’s post, explaining the specifics of ATI theology on illegitimate children:


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Yes, that’s right—Gothard taught that the sins of the parents were passed on to the children. This was called “intergenerational sin” and it is why Gothard was generally negative about adoption—he argued that adopted children come with all sorts of problems because of the sins of their parents, and advised parents to only adopt children in situations where they knew their family background. Gothard’s specific teaching about intergenerational sin is crucially important to understanding how families like the Duggars—followers of Gothard’s ministry—would view an illegitimate child.

I suggested in my previous post that we need a new term for this overarching parallel universe that is the Christian homeschooling world of Bill Gothard, Michael Pearl, Nancy Campbell, etc. But now I think that maybe, instead, we need to focus instead on which leaders and organizations a given individual or family is following rather than making generalizations about the group as a whole. I am just as guilty of speaking in generalizations as anyone else, and it’s something I plan to work on.

Labeling the Duggars ATI rather than quiverfull may also help call attention to the cult-like and oppressive teachings of Gothard. The term “quiverfull” applies to only a specific aspect of the Duggars’ beliefs, and using that label minimizes the reality that the Duggars are quiverfull because they are ATI. It allows the public to focus on their large family rather than their cult-like beliefs. Drawing attention to ATI and Bill Gothard makes the problem more tangible. Changing the terminology we use may make it harder for the media and the public to ignore the harsh realities of ATI’s teachings when talking about the Duggars.

There is absolutely a place for attacking an overarching ideology, but those efforts must be supplemented with efforts to oppose and criticize individual leaders and organizations that promote that ideology. If our efforts skew too far toward addressing the ideology rather than the organizations that promote it, we become less effective. Quiverfull beliefs propagate through a network of leaders and organizations. They do not just appear out of thin air. We must be comprehensive, tackling both ideas and people, both ideologies and organizations.

And so as we go forward, let’s label the Duggars “ATI” and emphasize the importance of Gothard’s teachings to the Duggars’ beliefs while also addressing the problems inherent to quiverfull beliefs more generally. It can’t be either/or. It has to be both/and.

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