The Duggar Thing


I have been very hesitant to step into the latest Duggar mess. For those who don’t know, the Duggar family is the very large family featured on television’s “19 kids and counting.” The family is Christian, homeschooled, and followers of Bill Gothard.

Recently the news brought out some facts about the oldest son of the family, things that happened when he was fourteen and fifteen years old. It was obviously handled poorly, and now the whole world seems to be either attacking or defending the family. I won’t go into detail about the crime or about how it was handled. I will only say that I have known some families who have been through this, and that it is very difficult to “handle it well.”

However, when I first learned of this I happened to read the statement made by the boy’s parents. (This young man is now married with his own children. The events occurred 12 years ago.) The parents made the statement, to People magazine, that they were shocked when it happened.

“When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.”

In that brief statement is a revelation. In just nine words, the Duggars summarize why legalism does not work to curb sin.

“We had tried to teach him right from wrong.”

When spirituality can be reduced to a list of things that are right placed against a list of things that are wrong, there will be no victory over sin. The desire to make spirituality a lazy process of list-keeping is what has harmed the church’s testimony in the world and the Christian’s ability to live rightly.

There are so many reasons this is true. First, evil has a draw upon the human heart. Putting something on a list and calling it wrong simply does not make it easier to avoid. In fact, there seems to be more of a draw once we identify something as wrong. We want to know why it is wrong. We want to understand the wrongness of it. We want to experience it so that we know what to stay away from. Even those who belong to Jesus are still drawn to evil by the flesh. The old ways are strong habits. If we have learned anything through our lives and by observing others, we should have learned that people find ways to do and to justify evil actions.

Second, no one knows who gets to write the lists. Most churches and teachers will claim that their lists come from the Bible—even when those lists contradict each other. Yes, the Bible does warn us against certain actions and attitudes, but some of the lists presented to us are far more detailed than anything the Bible teaches. The detailed rules of the Pharisees are nothing compared to the judgmental systems of some churches today. In fact, most lists are not published at all. People learn right and wrong by the acceptance or rejection of those around them. Sometimes people don’t learn that something is wrong until after they do it.

Third, the list of wrong things gets a lot more attention than the list of right things. We tell young men what they cannot do, but rarely tell them how they ought to handle the desires and stresses that come their way. We have long lists of sins, particularly in some areas, with almost no indication of what is right. One blogger recently wrote about the Duggar thing and suggested two boxes, one with wrong sexual practices and one with right. The one with the wrong practices was full while the one with right practices had only one, “Marriage.” But there are more than two boxes, because the listmakers will tell us all kinds of things that are wrong in the marriage relationship as well. It wouldn’t seem far out of line to say that almost all of our attention has been given to the things that are considered wrong. So much so that some young people have reported that the only sexuality they knew anything about was what they were supposed to avoid.

Fourth, there are no lists like this in the Bible. What? How can I say that? What about the Ten Commandments? If you read the Ten Commandments and understand the many rules given to the community of the people of God in the Old Testament, you will see what Jesus saw. There are only two rules. Love the Lord and love others. Jesus summarized “all the law and the prophets” under those two rules.

And Jesus said something else we should remember:

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

We have called this the “Golden Rule.” It summarizes our relationship with others in a very simple and straight-forward way. We could call it respect or even love.

The legalist tries to live with a long list of things to avoid and strives to keep his own actions away from that list. But maybe that isn’t necessary at all. Maybe if we learned to respect others and to care for them, to treat them the way we would like to be treated, we would find that the lists are not all that necessary. Maybe if we taught our children, from the earliest ages, that others have value and a right to be respected, that no one should be abusers or abused, and that those who are weak should be protected by those who are strong—maybe the sins we say they should avoid just wouldn’t enter their hearts and minds.

You see, lists will never help us do right. Rules and punishments can only force certain behavior, not change our hearts. Legalism is about rules, learning right from wrong. Grace, or the gospel of Jesus, is about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others. The only thing that makes a difference is relationship. Loving one another is the answer.

Love God and love others. Those are the only rules we need.


Filed under grace, Legalism

23 responses to “The Duggar Thing

  1. Kitkat

    Well said!

  2. Still Reforming


    I would also want to add – neither in defense nor criticism of what the Duggars stated – that journalists and editors are wont to take sentences and direct quotes and “fiddle” with them, for lack of a better word. Full paragraphs that might add context are taken out. Sentences are moved around either to save on space requirements or to make something appear other than what it was intended, etc.

    I just want to give the Duggars the benefit of the doubt here with respect to any interview they might have given to People magazine. I would hope, however, that by now, given their long history with media, that they would be fully aware of the manipulations of those who hold the reigns of power with respect to the printed word.

    Also, things can be easily stated or slip out unintended when that’s not what was meant. I don’t know their theological leanings. I’m unfamiliar with Bill Gothard. I do think that following a list of do’s and don’ts can only lead to trouble. We can’t save ourselves by works – and if we had any merit in ourselves at all, Christ’s work would be unnecessary.

    • Perhaps unfortunately, I am very familiar with Bill Gothard and his teachings. I understand what you are saying, but I see nothing in this statement that I haven’t heard many times from Gothard followers. I do not doubt that the simple statement is a direct quote. Gothard followers will testify that the list of wrong things was long, confusing, and condemning.

      • Still Reforming

        Thank you, Pastor Dave. I shall have to read more about Gothard and his teachings, as I think I have seen his name mentioned before on another Christian blog I respect. It’s surprising to me how legalistic some systems (churches, leaders, etc) can be and attract large followings. Perhaps it is an appeal to the pride within human nature that wants to be able to add something to one’s own salvation, as if we actually could.

      • Check out There’s a lot there. I have written several things for them over the past couple of years. The site is run by young people who grew up under the same program the Duggars are part of. There are some troubling things revealed there.

      • Along with the lists of right and wrong are the lists/”steps” Gothard has assigned to achieve the rights and correct the wrongs.

        All that legalism keeps one self-absorbed and self-righteous. It drives you to the point of wanting to rebel. It’s all so suffocating.

  3. I believe in God but follow no specific religion nor attend a certain church.
    but I have seen people divided and pointing fingers and tsk tsking.
    I try to live by the rule of do unto other as you would have them do unto you. Pretty basic hard to misunderstand, but then not everyone thinks like me either.
    What I see happening with the Duggan’s (and I don’t even watch the show or own a TV) is the whole family has fallen from Grace. I have no opinion on what happened or how it was handled but I do know that no one is perfect, we all make mistakes. Usually its the ones tsking the loudest who have skeletons of their own much worse.
    I remember my mom talking about how a friend’s son was doing drugs and the house got raided and he is a doctor and everyone is talking about it. How a “doctor’s” son was caught doing drugs. I asked her if she called them to see how they are doing, or if she said to the people gossiping, “By the Grace of God we go” if we raised our kids and none of them had that problem. The parents must be worried sick. Where is the compassion?

    • Fellow Survivor

      Carrie, many of the other readers of this post also do not follow a religion. In know I don’t. We follow Jesus. He is an awesome God. It is my hope that you get to know Him more fully and completely. It is my hope that you pick up a Bible and just read and read and read Start anywhere, it does not matter. Get to know God, he reveals Himself in every word. Its actually pretty cool.

      • Still Reforming

        Hi Fellow Survivor,
        Your comment brought this video to my mind, and I hope you and Pastor Dave don’t mind my sharing it. It’s a young Lutheran pastor responding to the false dichotomy often heard today – distinguishing religion from spirituality, casting stones on the former as if it were synonymous with hypocrisy and organized systems of faith. The title of the short video is “freestylin’ – Jesus equals religion.” It made an impact on me when I first viewed it years ago – and it still has the same impact:

  4. I can only think what the Duggers priorities are. Placing their family on Television , the heavy editing of that program and the false image portrayed. I have known a number of families that followed Gothard’s teaching and even lived with one family for a time that espoused Gothard’s views. In public they were a model family. In private you could hear the knives being sharpened with which to stab everyone in the back and claim spiritual superiority over. As you have said here David it boiled down to a bunch of rules and legalistic principles that were used as a weapon against others. It legitimized the narcissistic leanings of the family patriarch and subjugated the women and children removing their right to question or ask questions. I suspect that no matter how squeaky clean the Duggers appeared on camera that like every real family it wasn’t that way when the camera’s were turned off. In light of the allegations, if this had been my family my first priority would have been to protect the victims and the rest of my family by pulling the plug on the reality program. As to that program it presented a very false image of life and our daily struggles as Christians. Why didn’t we ever see family melt downs, the kids pulling each others hair out , Jim Bob and Micheal standing on the front lawn wondering on earth they were thinking? Nope, all we ever saw was an image! That image and the money was more important than the family and in this case the victims. Knowing how Gothard deals with abuse and guilt; and as is apparent from both Josh and his parents is that a mild apology was given it was an admission that in reality diminishes the true seriousness of what has happened and victimizes the victims.

  5. Rachel

    Brilliant, as usual, Dave! I find so many things crystallising in my mind as I read. Thankyou for the clarity of your thoughts and words here.

    In relation to my N, I suppose my biggest sorrow is the loss of his love for Jesus, which is the root of sin. Yes, the relationship is paramount in the Christian life. What a heavy and unliftable burden it would be to avoid sin if we were not motivated by love of another, The Other! How stark and cold an experience to try to live well and not to offend God (sin) if we don’t really know Him. My N was motivated once upon a time by his love for the Lord to make good effort to avoid sin and to be loving to his neighbour, including me. Something went wrong and over years the motivating love has withered and died and we are left with a wilfulness which is terrible in its destructiveness of others and of him.

    On another angle regarding the Duggar case, what about those of us who have experienced criminal activity as part of our experience of abuse? I have been advised by a faithful and wise minister in the church that I should inform the authorities of these incidents and also take the advice and guidance of those in a position of helping such victims. Isn’t it sometimes the case that within the church people often try to deal with things in a way which does not ” render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”? The civil authorities do have authority to investigate and judge in such cases and I think that often the church wishes to deal with it ” in house” thus avoiding both the scandal and the justice which is actually legitimate.

    My N committed criminal acts against me in various forms, he has so far escaped any scrutiny from within or outside the church, surely this can’t be right?

    Does anyone have other thoughts on this?

    • Rachel, Godhas given us the civil authorities as part of the authority structure ( which is why God calls us to pray for them). You are doing the godly, Christian thing when you turn your abuser over to the authorities ( and you may save another person from being the next victim).

      Hugs to you sweetie-girl. Be prepared. There are those who don’t like TRUTH being exposed to the light! if you need encouragement or back up across the internet please email me.

      Love jill

  6. Recovering

    I feel like there is so much I want to say on this. I have done the Basic Life and Advanced Seminars. I thought there were some good things in them. It seems to me it’s what people DO with the information that causes so much turmoil. The WHOLE point for me with the Duggar mess is that they went on national TV AFTER all this happened. They professed to not even allowing TV in their own home but I guess it was okay to make something like $40,000 an episode on TV. Anything they were hiding was going to be dirt for the media to find. I always wondering what was lurking because if it looks too good to be true it probably is. Dave, do you think all the Gothard teachings should be thrown out? I do still believe the Basic Seminar had good points in some areas. Just your thoughts.

  7. sandra

    Hello Everyone,
    I don’t get that channel so I don’t follow all the details. But I did have a very serious legal problem within my family that only grew worse as it dragged on.

    I came across (“a cross” ?) a quote which struck me:

    By Reinhold Niebuhr
    Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can only be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice. Justice requires that we carefully weigh rights and privileges and assure that each member of a community receives his due share. Love does not weigh rights and privileges too carefully because it prompts each to bear the burden of the other.

    It doesn’t indicate the piece this quote was taken from. But I found this meaningful in my situation. Please overlook it if it is not relevant to the issue about the TV show I don’t know about.

    Best regards

  8. Liz

    I find it appalling how quickly people have pounced on the Duggar family. This happened when Josh was a teenager. I don’t know whether I would have handled it (with my own teens and young adults) any better than Jim Bob and MIchelle did. To my mind, it doesn’t mean that the entire family has lost its way, or that Josh is a pedophile. We all make mistakes, and this happened 12 years ago. Can we really say that one sin is worse than another? All are an abomination.


    • Hi Liz!

      One of the consequences of public life is public judgment, I am afraid. I agree that this is being taken too far. It is far easier to say how something like this should have been handled than to actually do it in your own life or family. Obviously, the unbelieving media jumps on something like this as a way to point to hypocrisy among Christians. But the recent stuff with Gothard and Philipps and others has made believers aware that there are, perhaps, many rotten apples in the barrel. For too long the church has swept these things under the rug. I suspect that the over-reaction is something of a correction. In the meantime, as you allude, there are real people being affected in all of this. Whatever we think of the Duggars and their “fame,” we should be sensitive to what must be great pain in their family right now. Nothing of that minimizes the sin or its effects. But the Lord loves the Duggar family just as He loves all of us.

      • momof4

        This is not an over reaction by any means. Sexual abuse is rampant in the church…hidden, minimized, ignored. The attention and outrage are completely appropriate.

      • I don’t mean to sound harsh but maybe the fall out form this is part of a naturally correcting process. Why shouldn’t secular media be critical of this? Gothard’s teachings which the Dugger’s represent are their own undoing. As my own experience with Gothardites reveals. Sin is replaced by mistakes and bad decisions, there is no empathy for or mention of the victims, there is no true admission of guilt or personal responsibility. There is only a mild apology which is meaningless because it is bereft of sincerity or compassion. This is truly the narcissism that underlies Gothard’s world view.

  9. Pingback: The Law, Wrongly Used, Only Promotes Sin — Including Abuse | A Cry For Justice

  10. momof4

    My concern is the health, healing, and protection of the victims and wondering of Josh is in a place of counseling and accountability.
    I see the sexual abuse as fruit of the quiver full and “biblical patriarchy” movement. It’s also the fruit of a cultic, totalist spiritual walk the forces conformity through often coercive and abusive practices. I know, I was once a part of a similar group and abuse is rampant.

    The overriding issue for me, is how again, the victims are invisible. We mention the parents, Josh, but what of the molested girls? Who is advocating for and protecting them???

  11. David I agree with you that God loves the Duggers the same as He loves the rest of His children. That begs the question about how does the church reach out to them in a practical way that both reaches the victims as well as the perpetrators? The conflicting issues here are that the Duggers are in some ways as much a victim of the Gothard’s theology as are Josh’s victims are of his abuse. The teachings of IBLP/ATI has a tendency to insulate its adherents from outside criticism because it see itself as superior. Once again it comes back to that over arching overt and covert narcissism that is entrenched within those teachings. I don’t blame Jim Bob and Michelle for what Josh has done I simply have this incredible feeling of loss and invalidation for Josh’s victims and the way His parents may have helped to cover it up. How do you reach out to that kind of situation?

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