A Pastoral Reflection: “Nineteen Kids and Counting”


Who decided that the Duggars ought to be the fresh new face of family values?

Somebody who’s probably on LinkedIn right now, that’s who.

But somebody did, and whoever it was wasn’t alone.  The now-disgraced Josh Duggar, the eldest son and the broken perpetrator of an unspecified number of acts of molestation, was hired by the Family Research Council for what he seemed to represent–family values on steroids.

With the revelations about his past now resulting in the end of the show and his resignation from the FRC, it seems clear that, whatever he represented before, what he represents now is scandal.  Whatever the flurry of speeches by the family values crowd for a media cycle or two about forgiveness, healing, grace, and redemption, the Duggars are no longer assets to the movement and will be sidelined.

Their fifteen minutes are over.

Sad. It all began with such promise.

The thing about t.v. families, fictional or non-fictional, is their power to normalize the peculiar arrangements by which we come to live.  Think of the Brady Bunch and blended families.  Or Ozzie and Harriet actually sleeping in the same bed, forever revealing that couples…well..you know.

They do this by presenting families as made up in different ways, but as largely trying to make their way through broadly familiar realities.  In a way, who the parents are and the circumstances within which they live may start out seeming foreign, but before long, those differences appear alongside humdrum realities like potty-training, homework, sibling rivalry, or how smoothly the grown-ups manage bed time.

Let’s name that this is not always a triumph for sociological complexity.  All t.v. families are full of assumptions and implicit proposals what what is normal, with a capacity to alienate as well as to broaden one’s view.  Even so, it still feels true that whoever “we” are out their watching, over time, it becomes just that much harder to see our t.v. friends as “them.” Instead, we recognize that they are yet-another variation on “us.” If that is the case, then there is great power in that.

Right or wrong, however it is that we had come to have “19 Kids and Counting,” such thinking had to be part of the plan–to normalize a particular fringe-of-the-fringe of the Religious Right: one particularly marked for its baffling commitment to being fruitful and multiplying as the ultimate means to a largely undefined corpus of ends.

And that’s just it.

Because as the uncontested accounts of Josh Duggar’s molestation and its aftermath so clearly show, having the children was more important than, say, loving, protecting, or healing them.

The Bible is not ambiguous on the matter of sexual molestation, particularly within families.  Yet the response of the Duggars was ambiguous, to say the least.  For one thing, it is hard not to wonder what happened to their inerrant view of Scripture, their understanding of paternal (indeed, patriarchal) authority, the responsibility of Christians to submit themselves to the ruling authorities, or to speak the truth at all times. (I could go on.)

And this is before we even get to the finer points of how the Bible understands the rights of women to defend their own bodies or to seek justice when they have been attacked.

If television teaches us to see the similarities that abide alongside our differences, the Duggar scandal has achieved the opposite effect, by bringing that “largely undefined corpus of ends” into bold relief in all its shameful, self-serving, retrograde detail. And what a monstrosity it turns out to be.

They set out to make their vision of faith look irresistible.  They’ve shown us that the only proper religious response is to resist it with all our mind, and soul and strength.

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