Hating the Duggars

I love to hate the Duggar family, those far-right, way-fertile patriarchal Christians whose lives were chronicled until recently on their TV show 19 Kids & Counting on TLC.

My hatred is of a recent vintage, I thought. I dated it to when Mrs. Duggar came to Texas in 2013 to speak out in praise of some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country.

"Hey," said some of the women I love. "Mind your own freaking business."

I jumped on board. I personally disagree with Mrs. Duggar's choice to have nineteen children (if, in fact, any woman in the Christian patriarchy movement has choices). Still, even given that till-now silent condemnation, I would never go to her state and advise their citizens that they should limit families to, say, something fewer than fifteen children for the wellbeing of the planet.

Or the wellbeing of the children.

I am so proud of myself.

So superior.

And so full of — well, something rank and foul-smelling.

Because, you see, as appalled as I am by the events surrounding the Duggars, my feelings about them are not simply taking place in a vacuum. As we learned in seminary, my Family of Origin — biological and spiritual — still conditions who I am and how I act, even if those things are conceived as a reaction against my spiritual family.

I was badly hurt by a certain kind of Christian, and my complicated reaction to the terrible revelation that Josh Duggar molested five girls as a teenager and the family has kept it under wraps has made me realize that something is spiritually wrong with me.

I discover, when I burrow down in my deepest heart, that I still have a smoldering anger against the oh-so-religious people who shamed and rejected me — and against anyone who resembles them.

Like, say, the Duggars.

When Josh was forced to resign from his high-profile job as Executive Director of the lobbying arm of the Family Research Center, the family values group formed by James Dobson — another Christian toward whom I have disturbing anger — I was reeling with happiness.

I love hating the Duggars because I think that they are bigots. The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the Family Research Center (who gave Josh the Executive Director job because he is a Famous Christian on Television), an anti-gay hate group. Mrs. Duggar recorded a robocall condemning anti-discrimination legislation in Arkansas because it would, shockingly, allow transsexuals to use women's rest rooms:

I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool's private changing area? I still believe that we are a society that puts women and children first.

Clearly I also love hating the Duggars because I think they are hypocrites. Because it seems that in the case under public scrutiny just now, they did not put women and children first. They permitted a son with a history of molestation to return seemingly unchastened to some of the same people he had molested. They then publicly offered their family and their way of following God to the world as exemplary.

Only here is the other thing. As much as I love hating the Duggars, love saying, in my heart of hearts, "Look how much better I am, look how much better my brand of Christianity is…" I too am a bigot. And a hypocrite.

When I judge the Duggars and the many Christians who believe and practice in ways that resemble theirs because I think they are unenlightened, unintelligent, or narrow-minded, I am a bigot.

Just exactly that.

Do I honestly believe that God speaks in only one voice, that I and people like me are the only ones who got religion right?

Even if the Duggars and people like them may believe exactly that — and look down on me for not getting it — in what way am I any different when I treat them with the same contempt?

Moreover, I call myself a liberal Christian, speaking out for the virtues of compassion and grace over the primacy of judgment.

How am I anything but a hypocrite myself when I fail to extend compassion and grace to the Duggars — and even to Josh? When I fail to see them as beloved children of God? When instead, all I do is judge them?

5/27/2015 4:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Faithful Citizenship
  • Duggars
  • Fundamentalism
  • Progressive Christianity
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Christianity
  • Greg Garrett
    About Greg Garrett
    Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.