I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to do a post on the Duggars. Mike Rice’s submission on Duggar vs Dunham has pushed me towards doing so. My thoughts don’t quite track with the fiercest critics and defenders of the Duggars, though on the whole are more sympathetic to the former rather than the latter view. This is actually expanded upon from a comment I left on Facebook.

I have a weird capacity to be able to understand and, while definitely not condone or less pass, at least empathize a bit with some pretty amoral and immoral stuff. What sometimes gets me, though, is the combination of immoral (or amoral) and reckless.

Some argue whether or not we should extend or do away with statutes of limitations when it comes to sex crimes, but regardless most of us should think twice about holding a 14 year old indefinitely accountable for their actions at that age. We shouldn’t do it for murderers, and we shouldn’t do it for rapists. Thoughts contrary to this sometimes posit that sex crimes are particularly noteworthy because of recidivism, but that’s the same mentality that have given us our inhumane sex offender registries and the like. And in the case of Josh Duggar, it’s not clear that charges would be pursued anyway.

While I cannot quite condone the actions of Jim Bob Duggar in covering up the crime, I can certainly understand them and cannot say that in his shoes, I would do anything differently. Nobody wants their kids to go to jail even if they’re out at 18. Some – with more knowledge of the system than I have – say that treatment would likely be the recourse rather than prison. I don’t know if that’s true, and notably neither did the Duggars. An imperfect handling of the situation is understandable.

And faith is a thing that… well, it’s a thing. It doesn’t go away if you’re a sinner, and for all we know this has been weighing heavily on Jim Bob and Josh for a very long time. The events here have been used to try to argue against their faith or their church, but the case against the former seems rather weak to me. The same goes with ideology, up to a point. A writer for the Daily Beast said something to the effect of “It’s always the right-wing conservatives…” and was quickly presented with an army of counter-evidence. There’s still room to talk about how subcultures deal with sexual violation, however, but we should be wary of using a really broad stroke if we don’t want to get into conversations about how multiculturalism encourages us to look the other way.

The particulars of the subculture to which the Duggars belonged are more damning, however. and this is where things start getting more tenuous. Jim Bob Duggar’s church appears to have long-been comprised of people who tolerated outrageous sexual abuse (and it’s not just that guy). For a father with daughters to be able to look at that with a blind eye, does not lend itself to much in the way of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to other sexual violation of girls. It appears that there were serious problems here, and Jim Bob was more than happy to look the other way in the interest of spiritual morality.

The combination of these things, though, paint a darker picture. And the next bit puts me over the edge: If Jim Bob Duggar truly appreciated the gravity of the situation, and put his family first, he would not have gone the moralizing celebrity route. This isn’t about disagreeing with his views on homosexuality or sexuality more general. This is about disagreeing, in the strongest possible terms, to appointing himself a messenger for these things. Putting yourself in the limelight carries with it risks. Harboring dark secrets means that you don’t get to be a celebrity. You don’t get to draw attention to yourself. You don’t get to run for public office. You are rather obligated, for the sake of your family and keeping the secret that would devestate it, to keep your head low, provide for your family, and not make yourself a target (by, for instance, stating views that would have people opening every closet of your life in search of skeletons).

That Jim Bob didn’t do this, to me, speaks volumes. It tells me that he either didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, or was willing to put his family at risk for the cause of self-glory. It’s the thing that I really cannot find it within myself to cut him slack on, and it by extension colors my view of anything and everything else his family has done. The same applies to Josh, to a lesser degree, who risked his family’s standing and privacy by making himself a target with the Family Research Council and following in his father’s footsteps. Some of that can be attributable to his raising, which leads straight back to the head of his household.

In the end, to me, it all comes back to Jim Bob.

Category: Church, Newsroom

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4 Responses to My Beef With Jim Bob

  1. Michael Drew says:


    On the point on which you criticize him, I’m actually not sure I’m with you here, Will.

    I’m not sure I endorse a rule that says that if you harbor dark secrets, you don’t get to be a celebrity. Hell, I don’t even want to take everyone with dark secrets out f the running to be legitimate candidates for high office. Now, certainly you don’t get to be a celebrity, have dark secrets, and correctly think that you are taking the path that poses absolutely the least risk of exposing your secrets. But… people get to take risks. You could argue that it wasn’t his risk to take – it was his son’s secret. Maybe that’s right, but ultimately I think that comes down to what one father thinks was his responsibility versus what another might think of it. I don’t know that there should be a rule on the point.

    And then there is the question of whether prudence is really something that comes into play when one decides one needs to become a moralizing crusader. There are a lot of things about that that seem like a pretty bad idea from the perspective of pursuing what you or I might think of as the most prudent, fulfilling, or secure of lives. I’m not sure such calculations frequently go into a decision to become a family values crusader. I credit these people for sincerity enough to think they feel a compulsion of some kind to pursue the lives they do. (Maybe I’m wrong to.) Ultimately I feel like if we try to say that we think his decisions were imprudent, we may just be ultimately saying that what he felt he wanted out of life should be more like I think it should have been. Critiques of others’ prudence work only when we think we actually understand what was hoped for in the actions we find imprudent. Do we have any evidence that Jim Bob now regrets the path he took? Hell, do we have evidence Josh wishes his father had not pursued this kind of celebrity, but had instead altered hi life path because of the shameful secret he had created for his family?

    My bet would be that there is a huge burden of secrecy that might be off Josh’s shoulders now, his secret known. Everyone in his immediate family was already aware of the reality. I’m obviously just speculating, but from a prudential standpoint these questions of regret or lack thereof that we don’t know the answer to are pretty critical.

  2. trumwill says:

    It was indeed their risk to take, but it was a bad risk to say. I’m surprised it took this long for the information to come out. The result was damage to their family, their faith, and their cause. There seems to me to be tremendous ego involved, and that’s what I ultimately believe to be driving this. I have difficulty believing that absent this ego, this set of decisions would have been made.

    (An alternative would have been coming clean about it. Which I’d thought about and you may be right that it is ultimately a relief for Josh. This isn’t what they did, though.)

    The end result is that given the choices that they (and I criticize Jim Bob because by most accounts their household structure works in a way that he is calling the shots) made, it’s late in the game to be asking for understanding and empathy, even if affixed to an apology.

  3. jhanley says:

    I’m bothered that I see conservative Christians coming out to say it’s in the past and we shouldn’t make youthful actions a life-long punishment. I fully agree, but I wonder how many of them are sanguine about putting sexting teens on a life-long sex offenders list, or think 12 year old killers should be given life sentences.

  4. Catherine310 says:

    Keep in mind that the sect these folks belong to encourage the concept of the supremacy of the male over the female. So the fact that Jim Bob does not (seem to) consider the well-being of his daughters as important as the safety of his son doesn’t seem odd in that context.

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