Trigger warning: discussion of child abuse, rape and spiritual authoritarianism
The Duggar family from the reality TV show “Nineteen Kids and Counting” has been appearing on my news feed as many people applaud the parent’s homeschooling, teachings on modesty, and expectations of courting instead of dating for their family. After all, parenting that many children with that much patience and organization is impressive compared to the managed chaos, fear of failure, and befuddled state most of us feel when parenting and I can see the appeal of trying to incorporate a few of their techniques into your own family. It seems that they must have all the answers to raising obedeient children in an organized home. The quandary is that the Duggars follow a specific doctrine that is problematic in its authoritarianism which is a ripe environment for abuse.
When I was first introduced to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, it was in a video played in my former church many years ago. I was either in high school or college and the video portrayed the Duggars as pro-life and as embracing every child as a blessing. This was belief didn’t really stand out as anything unusual in Evangelicalism and most people still believe that they are normal Evangelicals who just choose to have more children and have more strict parenting than most. The only difference that is readily seen between them and most families is their choice not to use any birth control and as result, have more children than most families. The number of children the Duggar family has has sometimes been criticized by others, however I believe that as a couple, it is their choice the number of children they have and because they both seem to enjoy parenting and can provide for their family, there is no reason for outside comment of the number of kids for them (or anyone else). What is more concerning is their belief system, often called Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull deriving their name from Psalms 127:3-5: Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. Most Christians don’t even know this movement exists but it has become more prominent, especially in the homeschooling community. In fact, it seems that many people who choose to homeschool because it is the best option for their family often find that Patriarchal curriculum and publications (Vision Forum, Grace and Truth Books, Rod & Staff, American Vision, and Above Rubies) are the only ones readily available in home school conventions (see Homeschoolers Anonymous).
Christian Patriarchy or the Quiverfull movement is not a denomination but a belief set that has several common components as follows (see the link at No Longer Quivering “What is Quiverfull” for a more detailed description):
- Patriarchy- a hierarchical family structure with the father being the leader of the household
- Courtship or Betrothal instead of dating
- Sheltering of the children – such as homeschooling and isolation from outside influences
- “Biblical” Manhood and Womanhood- males and females are designed to fill certain rolls
- Home church/Family-Integrated Church
- Modesty, especially of the way women dress so they will “not cause their brother to stumble”.
If you are a reader of my blog, you will probably guess I don’t agree with any of the above tenets (with the exception of Home church/Family-Integrated church- which I have no strong opinions on). I have already addressed my concerns about most of them in posts such as The Man is the Head But the Woman is the Neck and She Can Turn the Head Whichever Way She Pleases ; Maybe We Should Break Up ; What About Paul?; Ask Why? ; Stop Treating Males Like Idiots; and Jesus, Paul, Modesty, and Personal Responsibility .
What I am most concerned about is the higher likelihood that abuse will occur in Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy families and churches based on their highly authoritarian structure. In the amazingly excellent article By Grace Alone by Kathryn Joyce (if you haven’t read this yet, please make time to do so), Joyce interviews Boz Tchividjan, grandson of Billy Graham and a former prosecutor of child abuse cases. She states regarding his investigations of child abuse through his non-profit G.R.A.C.E.- Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, “Common threads run through the stories: authoritarian settings where rule-following and obedience reign supreme; counseling techniques that emphasize victims’ own culpability; male leaders with few checks on their power; and, in the eyes of many Christians including Tchividjian, a perversion of the Bible to justify all three. ‘When you have this motley group of many denominations, this independent environment, and then this distortion of scripture, that’s an environment where abuse can flourish,’ Tchividjian says.”
Flourished is an accurate word for the abuse that has occurred in these tightly knit and tightly controlled communities. Doug Phillips, the former president of the Vision Forum was recently sued for years of sexual abuse of a woman. Bill Gothard , founder of the Institute of Basic Life Principles, recently resigned after allegations came to light of him sexually harassing and abusing as many as 34 women. Michael and Debi Pearl’s parenting techniques in their book To Train Up A Child has been linked to the deaths of three children. There are also countless stories of abuse occurring within private homes of this movement such as the recent case of six brother’s sexually abusing their sister for ten years. Abuse can happen in any environment, however with these cases the abuse went on for many years before being uncovered due to the emphasis of obedience to authority and perfect outward appearances instead of transparency. Those who come forward are shamed and silenced and the abuse is often not reported to the authorities. Joyce also writes in By Grace Alone “‘The reason why offenders get away with what they do is because we have too many cultures of silence,’ Tchividjian said. ‘When something does surface, all too often the church leadership quiets it down. Because they’re concerned about reputation: ‘This could harm the name of Jesus, so let’s just take care of it internally.’ ‘Jesus doesn’t need your reputation!’ Tchividjian declared. ‘When somebody says that, it’s a lie. Keeping things in the dark and allowing souls to be destroyed by abuse, that shames the Gospel. Jesus is all about transparency.'”
While the Duggars themselves seem to have a loving home and non abusive home, please use critical thinking before espousing their parenting techniques and their beliefs; they are quite a bit more dangerous and complex than appears at first glance.
For more information please visit:
The Homeschool Apostates by Kathryn Joyce