Last year we covered the scandal erupting around the Duggar family when eldest son Josh turned out to be a child sex abuser. Things aren’t getting much better for the parents or their son–but in a way, these developments are kinda good news for the rest of us.
The Somewhat-Mighty, Brought Low.
After accusations were raised that Josh Duggar had sexually abused his own sisters and a babysitter, the family promptly self-detonated on nationwide television. First the Duggar parents had a shockingly bad interview with Megyn Kelly, and then a couple of Josh’s past victims were paraded past the cameras to provide what looked an awful lot like a coached declaration of love and forgiveness.
The family tried hard, but ultimately couldn’t salvage their tattered image. They lost their money-train of a reality show, and though some of the daughters seem like they’re working their asses off trying to resurrect the Duggar reality-TV dynasty, it’s not working out very well. Despite its initial high ratings, advertisers simply want nothing to do with the new show.
And recently even those high ratings plummeted. The show has been renewed, but it’s anybody’s guess about how long that’s going to last while ratings are tanking and advertisers are still playing keep-away. (Accusations of excessive scripting and other sketchy stuff haven’t helped at all–but if anybody still thinks reality TV is real, chances are they aren’t at an emotional stage where they can safely watch reality TV unsupervised in the first place.)
Radar Online has a whole lot of recent news about the family and their associates–including one doozy about a huge, multi-person lawsuit against Duggar mentor Bill Gothard for sexual predation (the real eye-opener: some of the plaintiffs are men). And rifts in the family are getting wider, with even Michelle Duggar reportedly disagreeing with her
lord and master husband about how to handle their son’s reintegration into the clan and society itself.
The problem is, the Duggars have gotten very used to earning a living by showboating on reality TV. It’s clearly a hell of a lot easier than anything else Jim Bob was doing to keep his brood in home perms and matchy-matchy outfits. Josh Duggar threw a wrench into that whole operation–and his entire family seems to be suffering financially as a result.
Worse yet (for them!), the further the veil of secrecy is drawn away from this sick, dishonest, dysfunctional family as a whole, the more awful they and their brand of patriarchal Christianity look.
A Holier-Than-Thou Catfish.
One of the arguably weirdest parts of the whole Josh Duggar scandal involved his bizarre secret life on social media. He maintained a false identity online so he could pick up women on the side. He was a paying customer of Ashley Madison, an infidelity-celebrating hookup site for married folks, but he found action wherever he could.
In his aggressively-fundagelical homeschooling experience, he hadn’t learned much about science, but oh, he sure had found out about lying. So he made a fake account on various social-media sites, grabbed a stranger’s photo off of the internet and set it as his profile pic, and began searching for partners.
After some unspecified number of adulterous flings, everything came crashing down around his ears when he got discovered there too.
(One of his extramarital partners has since withdrawn her accusation of being treated violently by him during their trysts, but that still leaves a lot of “oh no he DI’NT” territory to be explored. Not everyone appears to believe the recanting, either, with some folks I’ve seen online speculating that Jim Bob might have paid the woman off to walk away from the story. If you think that’s the wildest allegation to trail along at this guy’s heels, well, it isn’t.)
In short, Josh Duggar’s behavior is absolutely everything we would ever expect from a man who grew up as part of the first generation of kids raised entirely on Quiverfull/right-wing Christian teachings about men, women, sex, and relationships.
In astonishingly short order after his unmasking, Josh Duggar lost a cushy sinecure with a hate group friendly to the Duggars’ brand of toxic Christianity, saw his political aspirations take a nose-dive into the dirt, and got himself enrolled in a weird fake-rehab place to pray away his sinful desires–which was the second such fundagelical “rehab” he’d done since his parents had finally decided to deal with the sex abuse they’d known about for years.
At that point, though, he more or less dropped off everyone’s radar.
That’s probably where most folks expected him to stay.
Consequences for Me, But Not For Thee.
Around this past March, Josh Duggar got out of his fake-rehab stint. His parents promptly released a statement that said, in part, “We look to God for help and guidance and place all of our trust in Him.” (Because, ya know, trusting in “god” had done so much good up till then for the little girls their son had abused.) Now, they said, Josh was going to “focus on rebuilding relationships with his family.” (Since goodness knows, what’s really important here is the sex offender’s relationships with his onetime victims, all while living again under the same roof as the parents who did absolutely nothing to protect those victims beforehand.)
I can totally see why Jim Bob is so pissed off about this rejection of his son. He’s in very tight with his hometown’s power structure. Besides dabbling in politics himself and being deeply involved with Jesus Party Republicans on both the local and national scene, he is on very friendly terms with most of the area’s cops. As a realtor and commercial-property investor, he has his hands in some of the area’s businesses as well. I’ve always had the impression that he thinks of himself and his family as fundagelical royalty.
But Jim Bob’s attempt at spin-doctoring involved throwing the officials of “his” town right under the bus by issuing shocking accusations of malfeasance against them. I’m sure that didn’t go over too well. I honestly don’t even know what he was thinking. (Maybe “consequences” are for the little people, not for exalted souls like himself.)
Then to see what he doubtless considered “his” town vocally and publicly refuse to have anything to do with Josh surely spoke volumes to him about just how much they trust his assessment that the problem’s over–and about just how willing they are to play along with his self-deceptions. It’s already bad enough that his own children are no longer willing to play along with the patriarchy party lines, but the town’s unwillingness to do so has got to be just the cherry on top of a particularly awful sundae.
The Unkindest Cut.
In what is possibly the strangest fallout yet of the whole sordid Josh Duggar story, he’s now being sued by the guy whose photo he used on his fake social-media account.
It turns out that the guy who’s actually in that photo is really upset about having had his image stolen. He claims he’s being humiliated, harassed, and teased because of Josh Duggar’s unauthorized use of his photo. He’s also fairly religious, and claims in his lawsuit that his family is facing harassment as well thanks to this indirect and all-too-close association with a complete hypocrite like Josh Duggar.
I wonder if Josh or his parents ever saw this lawsuit coming.
They probably didn’t. After all, it’d been a year since Josh’s fall from grace. In fundagelical years, that’s, like, forever and gone. They were already acting like they were in the clear at last.
The Second-Oldest Profession in the World.
It’s not uncommon at all for a disgraced Christian to stay out of the limelight for a while, then cautiously return to their previous positions. Their culture all but welcomes them with open arms. Right-wing Christians are taught that they must forgive those who do wrong in their culture, or else they are committing a grave sin themselves, making full ostracism difficult if not impossible. Their narrative of “Jesus forgives anything!” means that officially, they have to pay lip service to the idea of any crime or defect being curable with enough Jesus Power.
But then that narrative smacks right up against the stone-cold reality of a guy who sexually attacked and abused his very own sisters, then went into business trying to control other people’s sex lives and demonize people who his culture didn’t think were moral enough to be left alone. That’s a level of hypocrisy that the narrative struggles to contain.
Rare indeed is the fundagelical who is disgraced and then stays out of ministry forever. Out of every single Christian I’ve ever discussed in my Christians Behaving Badly tag, I don’t remember a single one who found a real job and left the Christosphere after a scandal. Mike Warnke, Ted Haggard, Tony Anthony, Eddie Long, Mark Driscoll, Matt Pitt, you name ’em, they’re still in some sort of ministry or doing whatever it was they were doing before they got disgraced. They wouldn’t know how to earn a living otherwise.
And until recently, they never had to worry about doing so.
There was a time when a slow, gradual return to Business as Usual would have been totally fine by Christians and everyone else–if they even knew the return was happening. (It wasn’t until I began blogging that I even found out whatever’d happened to Mike Warnke!)
That time appears to be over.
I’m just surprised that the Duggar parents waited a whole year before trying to sneak their son past audiences again. He’s been very, very quiet on social media until recently, and indeed, only in the last month or two has his family started to mention and include him almost as an afterthought in their social-media posts
Oh, but the backlash they’re getting is almost comical in its scope and intensity. Last month, when the parents mentioned in passing on their Facebook page that Josh’s favorite Bible verse was Joshua 1:9 (“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest”), the snarky reaction from their followers would have done Roll to Disbelieve readers proud!
I’m not sure Christians are at a point yet where they are able to wash their hands entirely of slimeballs like Josh Duggar and his odious parents, but the backlash that this family has faced is certainly a lot bigger–and a lot more concentrated–than anything I’ve seen before.
Maybe it’s just my perky, naive optimism speaking, but maybe even Christians are starting to think they’ve had damned well enough of people like the Duggars, and that maybe, just maybe, they’re better off finding some other, more wholesome stuff to watch on TV.