If there is anything that the Duggars love more than tater tot casserole and Aussie Instant Freeze Hairspray, it is the Institute of Basic Life Principles (which is the umbrella organization that runs, among other things, the Advanced Training Institute, providing homeschoolers with a Bible Based curriculum, including the promotion of ideas around Young Earth Creation), the organization founded by fallen leader, Bill "Grabby Hands" Gothard. And why does he deserve this delightful moniker? Bill has harassed and assaulted many women in his organization. In response, the Duggars' increasingly glamorous fundamentalist sheen is perhaps being used to distract us from his multitude of sins.
So let's start with who Bill Gothard is. Bill Gothard is the famously unmarried, 79 year old head of an organization which emphasizes women's Godly obedience to men within the confines of marriage and separateness from potentially harmful secular influences, like public school, television or the democratic party. Micah J. Murray, who grew up in "Bill Gothard's homeschool cult," wrote that Bill Gothard cultivated an atmosphere that was "system of absolute authoritarianism" that built on "the idiosyncratic whims of an old man with way too much money and power."
Earlier this year, 34 women brought forth allegations that Gothard sexually harassed them and 4 women reported being sexually assaulted. In response, Gothard was forced to step down from his leadership when he was placed on indefinite leave. Gothard has since spoken out, basically denying the allegations in the smarmiest of ways:
This emphasis on outward appearance was also manifested by bringing selected young people to serve at the Headquarters and causing others to feel rejected and offended by my favoritism. My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.
Many critics, including Recovering Grace, an organization dedicated to giving voice and offering support to former Gothards' adherents, have not only gathered stories of Gothard's assaultive behavior but have written about the way that the entire culture of the organization was built around blaming sexual abuse on the sins of the victim. One such example was from the "Lessons of Moral Failure", which teaches families how to deal with issues of child abuse and molestation. They discouraged engagement with formal authorities or removing the abuser from the home while they are in treatment (which is usually considered a minimal precaution in such cases). Rather, every transgression was a call for the family's patriarch to insist on greater moral purity for the entire family, including the victim.
One scenario included an older brother who was found to be molesting his younger siblings. The cause? His younger siblings' lack of modesty. His siblings were often coming out of the bath without their towels, which was the first problem. Secondly, the younger sisters "used to wear dresses, but they were young and not yet aware of modesty. They did not behave in them as they should." I worked for quite a while counseling young people who had committed sexual offenses, including ones who assaulted their younger siblings. It likely comes as no surprise that not only is the reasons ascribed to his crime offensive, but it is absurd as well. In fact, helping to dispel ideas that blame the victim was part of the treatment protocol. This scenario does definitely speak to the Gothard view that girls and women were constantly tempting men into sin through exposure to their flesh though, which often inform all sorts of life choices.
It does not seem especially surprising that their leader would violate the women in the church, given his special blend of misogyny and megalomania. But the special wrinkle that was introduced was that in the middle of this sex scandal, the pickle-making, hair-spraying, baby-having, Rick Santorum-loving Duggarnaut are gracing our televisions once again in the current of 19 Kids and Counting on TLC. Why is this relevant? The Duggars are by far the most famous adherents of Bill Gothard's teachings and in turn, they consider the show a ministry to teach the world about the wonders of the Christian side hug. They are the most special Gothard snowflakes outside of Bill himself.
As evident by Josiah's admittance to the ALERT academy (which teaches young Christian men paramilitary training), their continued participation in the ATI Home School Conference (the picture above is Jinger giving a speech at this years conference) and Journey to the Heart, the Duggars certainly still embrace the Institute in Basic Life Principles Institute. What is less clear is whether they embrace the idiosyncratic whims of their fallen leader. The Institute of Basic Life Principles have not really said anything publicly about disowning or defending Gothard and the Duggars have been mum. In that vacuum, all that's left is for me to look for possible evidence of a response.
So, what follows may be the greatest Duggar based conspiracy theory that you've read this month. Ok, it's not that great but it's a theory.
Now, it is well known among Gothard's that the kind of crunchy, curly home-permed hair favored by Michelle and the clan in the early season is based on preferences of Gothard, who loved long, wavy womanly hair and damn the woman who does not possess sacred this crown. Now it may be a small thing but witness the evolution of the fashion of the Duggars.
First here they are in their pinafore wearing glory in their first special, 14 Kids and Pregnant filmed in 2003:
This was back in the day where they wore similar clothes. They had matching perms. They refused to show their knees. Michelle's rebellious spirit and her days as a bikini wearing, lawn mowing cheerleader were thoroughly crushed. They were model Gothard citizens. They fought against late term abortion. They stocked canned foods like a paramilitary group. They sang off-tune renditions of Amazing Grace (okay, well they still do that).
And now look at this picture:
This is Jessa Duggar and the guy she can barely stand, her soon-to-be fiancee (Jim-Bob-willing), Ben Seewald. You notice a few things? Jessa,who has become the most Godly Breck girl in creation has dispensed with the curly Gothard hair for a straighter and more stylish look. And she is not the only Duggar who has exited the home perm train. But it's more than just the hair. Jess is showing knee. KNEE. What's next? Darwinism? Drinking? VOTING DEMOCRAT? I mean, shit, Anna Duggar is already eating Tilapia, it's a pretty slippery slope. And remember, they adhere to a religion that emphasizes womanly modesty above all else because they blame women FOR EVERYTHING. Because men are sinful and all their superior brain power can't help them decide to keep it in their pants. So Jessa slyly challenging those restrictions is a big deal. And her make-up is always on point. She is my idol. She's so smirky.
And if you don't believe that showing the knee is scandalous, watch some of the earlier seasons. There is a scene where Jim-Bob was worried that Jordyn's dress was too short. Now Jordyn was THREE years old at the time. Seriously. And the dress fit— she hadn't outgrown it clearly, but it showed too much leg for a three year old. (And don't forget, even young children are seen as objects of sin if they aren't sufficiently modest) Another episode had Michelle Duggar waterskiing in her modesty bathing suit and when her knees were showing, she had the producers put a black bar over them because they were exposing something that was private. Knees are for Jim Bob only, not for the lascivious knees fetishizing public. However, all that has changed. Between Michelle's recent foray's with slingshotting and Jessa's wild knee exposure, anything goes.
And that brings me to the other thing—why are these Duggar girls finally dating with a purpose after not courting at all for years? Is it because the Gothard institute needs a shiny image makeover and the beautiful Duggar girls and their Bible Thumping ways are here to distract you from the evils of the Gothard sex scandal? I mean, I think Jill Duggar really, really likes her fiancé, Derick Dilliard (on the next episode of the Duggars, Jill is admonished for giving Derick "more than a side hug"). But Jessa's perpetual smirk indicates that she thinks that her engagement to Ben is just bullshit. The entire season is based around the family trying to convince her to be vaguely nice to him. Don't believe me?
Here is an quote from Jessa talking to her mother during the episode of the Duggars in Nepal: "He keeps telling me things like 'I want to give you all the flowers in the world' and I said 'Where would I put them?'" I'm sorry. You will never convince me that Jessa wants to marry Ben. I think she just fell into it because they needed a storyline and Jessa is the most glamorous Duggar. Jill suddenly wanting to swap tater tot recipes with Derick is merely a coincidence (So is Jana slowly dying inside). And I'll bet Jessa is pissed that now she has to fornicate with that wet blanket. I wonder if that is why she is still courting Ben while Jill is already set to marry Derick next month, even though Jessa's courtship started much earlier. She is figuring out how to get out of that courtship, all Zach Bates' style. (And yes, yes, I know, Erin Bates took three years to get married and have her pink room but she was in college, learning piano and such, not sitting at home, becoming an expert at makeup contouring and taking selfies like Jessa).
It's all suspicious. Of course, the courtships could be related to the idea that Michelle cannot have any more children so she can finally let some of her childcare go and live their own lives. Perhaps.
On a side note, Michelle seems awfully spunky this season. Regardless of her recent visit to her pregnancy doctor (I think that was just for the sake of placating the Quiverfull types to show that they have done EVERYTHING THEY SHOULD), I think she enjoys not having to care for a young infant. In fact, during a recent chess game with her son Jeremiah, the following event occurred:
Jeremiah explains the rules. Now she finds out the queen can go anywhere she wants and Michelle thinks that should be like it is in life—"we women should go wherever we want." Michelle discovers feminism.
Join us, Michelle. Join us. Bill Gothard can't bother you anymore. You and your daughters can go anywhere they want. You can even send your kids to an unaccredited Bible College, like they've always dreamed. And let me say this—Michelle would have NEVER said this a year ago. NEVER. Especially when she was wearing that blasted pinafore. She was far too obedient and worshipful of Jim-Bob.
So in conclusion, they are sort of representing the Gothardists but with a new bad ass attitude—the kind of rebellion that Opie during the early days of the Andy Griffith Show might have affected, which makes me think that they are ambivalent. I mean, they'll attend the conferences and they'll be the stars of that organization but like Jessa's courtship, I suspect that they think it might all just be bullshit. At least I hope. Otherwise, my dreams will be crushed and I will feel empty and directionless, like Jana, the forgotten Duggar. And rest assured, there is almost no chance that the Duggars will discuss the Gothard scandal in any direct way so speculation is all we have and we have plenty.
Either way, screw Gothard. I hope all of the women who have been harmed by him find peace and justice. And stay tuned. Perhaps next year, Jebediah will discover how to be metal and then we all shall rock more.