I almost feel a moral obligation to write about the Duggars—not because I am a former fundamentalist who wrote a book about that kind of life— but because I'm sick of the gleeful, click-baity tabloids dominating the narrative.
So, let's start there.
To the tabloids: shame on you.
I have no idea how tabloid editors sleep at night. They clearly have problem devastating the lives of four young women in pursuit of pageviews and money. Editors, if you truly CARED about the victims, you would have redacted and redacted and redacted until their identities were fully and completely protected. You cannot pretend to care about women while simultaneously destroying their privacy. Period.
To Jim-Bob & Michelle: I hear your story. Do YOU hear it?
There is something missing from the story Jim-Bob and Michelle told tonight. I've heard many, MANY Christians tell difficult stories about their lives and I know when I can trust the words they're speaking because there are three essential ingredients: humility, responsibility and understanding.
The first missing piece of the story was humility.
Let me explain by summarizing the Duggars' main talking points: "We did all the right things. Josh repented. Everyone is fine. We love Jesus and that's why we're being victimized by the media."
Nowhere in the interview did we hear Jim-Bob or Michelle express regret for launching a reality TV show in the immediate wake of the abuse (Josh was 15 when he was sent to a "Christian treatment center" and the show began when he was 16). Nowhere did they express sorrow for how badly they had handled things when they FIRST heard about it— a terrible lapse in judgment that led to further molestation incidents.
The second missing piece was responsibility
Instead of taking responsibility for how they handled things, Jim-Bob and Michelle repeatedly deflected, shifted blame and defended their actions. At one point, Jim-Bob said he'd talked with "other families who had worse things happen." Did you catch that? Basically, Jim-Bob is saying: "Hey, what Josh did is NOTHING compared to what so-and-so's son did!"—which is really no defense at all but essentially an admission that there is ALL KINDS of sexual molestation happening in homeschooling/Quiverfull/ATI/Gothard families. I really hope the authorities follow up on that.
It was pretty clear that the Duggars viewed themselves as the true victims. Michelle suggested there was "an agenda that purposed to twist and slander" them. Essentially, Michelle is saying: "People hate us because we love Jesus." You know, I'm really, really weary of Christians saying this. It's a cop-out. The truth is that this whole thing could have been avoided if the Duggars had simply been upfront and honest BEFORE they signed onto a TV show.
By not taking responsibility for the abuse going on in their own family, the Duggars simply participated in their future "media victimization."
The third missing piece was understanding
In talking about the sexual molestation, Michelle said: "Every one of us has done wrong things. That's why Jesus came!" Michelle doesn't understand how this statement downplays abuse. Jim-Bob said: "This wasn't rape or anything like that"—I mean, what kind of comfort is that to victims of sexual abuse? It's like saying: "Hey, at least you weren't raped."
But those statements demonstrate the critical flaw in the Duggar fundamentalist theology; it's why they don't see sexual molestation as particularly worse than, say, lying about how many cookies you stole from the cookie jar. When everything is evil, NOTHING is actually evil.
What the Duggars fail to understand is how serious sexual molestation is and why it's not something you can just resolve at a "Christian Treatment Center." It's not something you sweep under the rug when a TV show knocks on your door. I think what most disturbed me about the Duggar interview was the way Jim-Bob kept trying to direct the interview to IT'S ALL RESOLVED NOW when what we really needed to hear was that he truly understands the gravity of what happened and why his subsequent actions were so disturbing. THAT was missing from the whole interview. THAT is what makes me worry for the safety and wellbeing of his other children.
Hear me on this: I truly feel pity for the Duggars.
Watching their interview reminded me of the time I had to confront my cult-founding grandfather about the domestic violence happening in our family. Although my grandfather never admitted to his cover-ups (at least Jim-Bob admitted bad things happened), I recognized the similarities in speech and tactic.
Like my grandfather, Jim-Bob had a lot of "Christian-speak" going on. Jim-Bob talked about Josh becoming "a new creature"—I can only imagine how that sounded to a secular audience. A new what? What's a new creature? But this is the only language Jim-Bob has to describe what happened. Fundamentalism is, by its very nature, not a language of the heart but of a cold, black-and-white theology.
Like my grandfather, Jim-Bob's answers to direct questions were vague and dodgy. On the one hand, I was relieved to hear that all the children involved had received "professional counseling." Then again, every fundamentalist I knew never took their kids to professional counselors. So, I was left with more questions than answers: what sort of professional counseling? And what kind of "Christian treatment center"?
It took me a long time to forgive my grandfather for the abuses he wrought on my family and so many others in our cult. My heart softened when I stopped seeing him as evil and began seeing him as a terribly, terribly sick person. I forgave him when I realized his lies had so sickened him that he was fatally ill with religious addiction.
And this is how I feel about the Duggars. In my heart of hearts, I feel nothing but pity and sadness for them because this is a terribly sick family.
This is a family so entrenched in the story they've told themselves that even if reality differs, the Duggars would rather see themselves as victims of persecution than admit something might be wrong with the story they're telling.
That should break all our hearts.