Q: Are the Duggars Quiverfull?
By their own admission, Jim-Bob and Michelle were so “grieved” after reading the information pamphlet in a birth control pill package that they turned their fertility over to God. (“About Us” para.1 See also, Dallas News). That decision has been the reason for their incredible family size of 19 children. Recently the media has offered several profiles of just who are “Quiverfull” families.
Increasingly, the presence of such large, ideologically driven families is being documented through the medium of the age: reality TV shows and lifestyle cable channel specials, all of which campily depict Quiverfull life as like regular motherhoood, but amplified - more kids, more laundry, more merriment. The most famous of these families, Michelle Duggar and her husband, Jim Bob….
Their fame sprouts primarily from their novelty: in 2008 Michelle Duggar was pregnant with her eighteenth child so far. "So far" is a ubiquitous phrase in the movement… that cutely restates a Quiverfull family's continuing trust in God's control of the womb. But such theological underpinnings are glossed over to make room for the novel details of large family life. (Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, pp 138-139).
Does the decision to trust God and not birth control in their family planning alone qualify them as Quiverfull? Yes. Here’s why: The Duggars wrote: As conservative Christians, we believe every life is sacred, even the life of the unborn. Due to our lack of knowledge, we destroyed the precious life of our unborn child. We prayed and studied the Bible and found a host of references that told us God considered children a gift, a blessing, and a reward. (FAQ #2 para. 3). Among that “host of Bible references” is Pslam 127, verses 3—5, the verse on which the Quiverfull movement has been built:
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. (Pslam 127:3-5 K.J.V.)
The website http://www.quiverfull.com/ says “We exalt Jesus Christ as Lord, and acknowledge His headship in all areas of our lives, including fertility.”(para.1). Mary Pride, a founder of the Quiverfull school of thought has written: “Family planning is the mother of abortion," (Mary Pride, The Way Home, quoted in Newsweek, para. 4).
The Duggars frequently speak out about “causing” Michelle’s miscarriage by the use of birth control pills. They also adhere to Biblically-based abstinence for a set number of days following the birth of a boy or girl. This also supposedly ties in to the teaching of the Institute for Basic Life Principles, the pseudo-Christian organization founded by Bill Gothard. Gothard teaches couples to only have intercourse when the woman is at her “fertile” time each month.
Even breast feeding, which can be a barrier to conception is not to be prolonged for this reason. Back when the couple had a mere 13 children, Jim-Bob was quoted in the New York Times as saying he had “14 [children], really, since my wife is pregnant and life begins at conception'.” (New York Times, para. 11). An admission of such beliefs by a politician in a paper with worldwide circulation can only mean one thing: He believes it.
The Quiverfull idea began in the backlash against feminism. Mary Pride’s book The Way Home and a book by A Full Quiver by Rick and Jan Hess are most frequently cited as giving birth to the Quiverfull lifestyle. Both reject birth control. These books, with the Bible, and often the teachings of Bill Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles and materials from the dominionist Patriarch group, Vision Forum, constitute the “How-To” manuals for prospective Quiverfull couples. (Joyce, Nation, p. 11). The Duggars have been eager and thorough students.
On their TV show, Michelle has always said “children are like flowers, you can’t have too many flowers.” Jim-Bob frequently has said that he leaves the decision of having another child up to Michelle…..but is that true? In Gothardite families the husband is the undisputed leader of the family. “[W]omen live within stringently enforced doctrines of wifely submission and male headship,” (Kathryn Joyce - Quiverfull Book, para. 1). If he wants to have sexual relations the wife says “yes.” Since the wife is not able to use birth control or to refuse her husband is the decision to have another child really hers? Would he really forgo his pleasure if she said she couldn’t handle having another child? Maybe. Certainly in other times men have made such a decision.
Today, with birth control the norm, we find it hard to believe. Many a Catholic couple of years gone by have lived out a platonic marriage-- at least until the wife’s child bearing years have ended. Given the frequent, enthusiastic kissing and other shows of affection on their TV show though, it is doubtful that he would agree to a platonic life. Given their fervent belief in the rightness of allowing God to control their fertility and that they clearly see “that a woman's constant sexual availability to her husband is not only her wifely "duty," but also at the heart of her "ministry" as a believing Christian” (Byrnes, T A (Summer 2009). Patriarchy: the glue that holds the culture war together. Conscience, 30, 2. p.52(2).
I doubt that a platonic marriage will ever exist between Mr. and Mrs. Duggar. ““Our bodies are meant to be a living sacrifice,” write the Hesses. Or, as Mary Pride, in another of the movement’s founding texts, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, puts it, “My body is not my own.” This rebuttal of the feminist health text Our Bodies, Ourselves is deliberate.” (Joyce, Nation, p. 11).
One reviewer recounts Kathryn Joyce’s relentless documentation of the Quiverfull lifestyle’s “pretty distasteful practices… including early arranged marriages; constant pregnancy and childbirth; absolute female submission to male authority, whether in the person of a father, a brother, a husband or most cringe-inducing, a self-appointed pastor. Joyce recounts story after story of girls being raised for submission….. ((Byrnes, T A (Summer 2009). Patriarchy: the glue that holds the culture war together. Conscience, 30, 2. p.52(2).
Joyce herself has defined Quiverfull families thus: “Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship—'Father knows best'—and female submissiveness.” (Joyce, Nation, p. 11).
Do the math on this alone and the Duggars add up to 100% Quiverfull. Another aspect of the Duggar’s life that speaks plainly to being Quiverfull is the isolated life-style they have chosen and which they show us on their TV program. (I am told this, and their religious beliefs, were made very clear in the original airing of “14 Kids and Pregnant” which has since been re-edited. I have only seen the re-released version.)
The family generally does everything together. Friends are discouraged except from like-minded families and in fully supervised settings. Children are not allowed to enroll in sports leagues or other activities that “disrupt” family life. The individual never comes before the family and reflects the Duggars oft-repeated maxim “Jesus first, others second, yourself last.”
When the Duggars made a rare made-for-TV-appearance at a local elementary school this was well illustrated: all of the Duggar children in attendance were below or above the age appropriate to the school. When one of the eldest girls was asked to recommend a favorite book to the children, she struggled to come up with a Quiverfull-favorite “Before You Meet Prince Charming: A Guide to Radiant Purity” by Sarah Mally—a book wildly inappropriate to the age and setting.
While we have seen the Duggars go to “broomball,” (a sport few have even heard of) they naturally went as a family and while there were a few outsiders on the ice, their interactions were very stiff at best. The “friends” we have been introduced to on “16/17/18/19 Kids and Counting” are all like-minded and most are openly members of Bill Gothard’s ATI/IBPL organizations. While we have been told the Duggars participate in home church (often another tell-tale sign of Quiverfull life) we have not been introduced to all the families. This leads me to believe that all may not be members of ATI, but are simply “like minded.”
The Duggar children have been shown to be clueless of such things as the rules of baseball or why Dolly Parton is famous. They knew only that “Miss Dolly” promotes reading and likes kids! Right…. There are no minorities visible in their lives, although that is not a-typical of white middle class families in suburban and rural areas. Finally how many “average” teenagers would ask for quotes from “the Founding Fathers” to adorn their bedroom walls or to share a bedroom with siblings ranging in age from birth to 18? Probably none—outside of those educated in revisionist Christian Dominionist history and born into a Quiverfull family?!
On the TV special “16 Kids and Moving In” we met the Holt family. Jim Holt is a long-time friend of Jim-Bob and is also active in Arkansas politics. His similarly large family had been linked to the Duggars publically thru their “fellowship” gatherings and thru broomball at the local rink. Duggar and Holt campaigned for each other as well. In the show the children are shown mingling and talking with the adults—evidence of how well “socialized” they are compared to public school kids who spend all day with age-mates. Mysteriously, the friendship cooled after the Duggars TV shows began.
There have been unconfirmed rumors that the eldest Duggar child, Joshua, was “betrothed” to one of the Holt girls, but that betrothal never went forward into marriage, possibly due to some transgression of rules by Joshua Duggar. (Google "Duggar - sin in the camp.")
Another family, the Forsyths, own Fort Rock Family Camp and were featured an the episode in which we were invited along on a Father/Daughter camping retreat. While the Forsyths have only two children, they clearly live a family-centered, Patriarchal lifestyle—as was shown on an episode of “World’s Strictest Parents.” While on this retreat we also saw Jim-Bob being a “father to the fatherless--” reaching out to girls who had lost their father to death. This was to show that the Duggar children DO have friends beyond their siblings.
Then there is the Bates family. Gil and Kelly Bates are long-time friends of the Duggars who have recently become closer as their mega-families (all of similar age) begin reaching Courtship age. They have connected at ATI family events and the Duggars have been shown designing and helping build almost an entire new home for the Bates family. Like the Duggars, the Bates speak openly about changing their thinking to allow God to plan their family. In fact, Kelly Bates said “I always told my family I wasn't going to have any children….I was very career oriented.” “[Kelly] said she wanted to work with special needs children or in some kind of ministry.”
It is my belief that a few ideas have been “road tested” for the Duggars by the Bates. One such is the idea of grown unmarried daughter continuing her education after her GED. In the last season of “18 Kids and Counting” we were introduced to the tremendous musical talent of Erin Bates and were informed that she had turned down a chance to study music in college. Apparently this did not go down well with viewers. Erin was allowed to take a music theory course at a local ultra-conservative Christian school—Crown College. One of the older Duggar girls even got to go along to see the college.
The second “test drive” by the Bates is the possibility of college study on a larger scale than merely a necessary class. They have acknowledged that that their eldest son “Zachary earned a high score on his ACT test, has a high school degree and is now immersed in college-level studies.” Could this be testing the waters for a Duggar boy or Girl? Not likely, given Gothard’s teachings, but still a possibility.
Another way we know the Duggars are Quiverfull is by their children’s pat answers. In each of the episodes when a new baby has been announced the kids are always “thrilled.” So, too, are the Bates children—shown “celebrating” Mom’s positive pregnancy test early in the morning on the long drive to the Duggar’s home. We were treated to a family “vote” on the new baby’s name, too [for Jordyn]. It is very telling that the older girls speak of “our little kids” in ways normally only a mother would speak. A hallmark of such families is to have the older children (especially the older girls) help out with the housework and child care. The little children are routinely shown being helped, instructed, scolded and comforted by their big sisters. Still, it is “Daddy” whose word is law. The command “Daddy says no one is to play outside,” was shown in one episode to elicit immediate obedience.
The Duggar children, after age 8, are expected to help their younger siblings thru the family’s “Buddy System.” The “big Buddy” helps the little one get dressed, do school work and even help them learn to play the piano or violin. Jim-Bob has written in their book that “The buddy system brings much joy to our home.” The family also uses what they call “jurisdictions” which divide the household chores among the children. “Many hands make light work,” is a favorite Duggar saying. The most arduous chores—such as meal preparation and the never-ending laundry, however, are in the hands of the elder girls and have been since they were pre-teens. [“14 Kids…” “16 Kids…” “Raising 16 kids”]. In the early Duggar TV specials the older girls were visibly exhausted and shown bizarrely wearing dress coats and carrying diaper bags and shoulder purses all before reaching their teens.
The older children also are expected to uphold the teachings and standards imposed by the parents. Viewers were recently treated to Joy-Anna Duggar [a preteen at the time] covering a TV screen and using the family code word “Nike” to prevent her younger brothers from seeing something inappropriate. She did not want them to be “defrauded” by the image on the screen, but could not really define the term “defraud.” Her sheepish Grandmother explained that Joy-Anna had been taught to do this. Very recently we saw Josh Duggar and wife Anna back home helping care for his siblings while Michelle and baby Josie were hospitalized. He spoke of having to reassert his authority as the eldest sibling.
Various Duggar children were shown at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival enjoying “wholesome” family entertainment, such as the movie “Fireproof” and speaking out about how badly this is needed. Strangely, many of the Duggars watching these films were way below the target audience age, but being a Quverfull and Patriarchal family, they all went together.
The kids have all been shown participating in activities at an ATI family event in Big Sandy, Texas and, we have been told, Josh Duggar met his wife, Anna, in a concession line at one such event. While the boys mostly went off to enjoy themselves rappelling and doing other fun things, the older girls were volunteer helpers with all the little children’s activities at the event and only enjoyed a break for the combined orchestra’s practice and performance. Later in the same year, the oldest girls earned a break from housework and child care and attended an ATI girls retreat designed to reinforce the teachings they have grown up with.
The Duggars are also part of the “debt free” and “self supporting” wing of the Christian right. Jim-Bob gives credit to ATI’s financial guru, Jim Sammons--even linking to Sammon’s program on the family web site. The Duggars and their most visible friends eschew jobs in favor of family-owned businesses. Keeping the family together in the home, in homeschool and in family- and home-based business is essential to Quiverfull thinkers.
Jim-Bob Duggar has been very “blessed” by some of his real estate deals. Examples shown on their show were land rented out for a cell phone tower as well as a former chicken hatchery that is leased as commercial and warehouse space. In their book he gives even more details of fortunate real estate deals. Michelle explained on the show that they worked “really hard” when they were young to be able to “relax” now.
The Duggar sons are expected to follow this line of thinking in their own careers. To date 3 sons are now done with their “education,” have a GED and are in business. Josh, following in his father’s footsteps, has a used car lot. John David, again in his father’s footsteps, has a towing business. Joseph, who is currently at the family home with elder brother John, has not been identified as having his own business but is said to be helping John. To mainstream America, these boys are not educated to the point of having a job at much more than McDonalds. In fact you cannot even enlist in the U.S.Marine Corps with a GED! But in Quiverfull families, this is normal.
The Duggar friends all have similar business—the Stanleys have a construction company, the Bates own a tree service company, the Maxwells have a family business producing materials for family scheduling.
In their book, the Duggars provide mere lip-service to the idea that their children could realistically aspire to more: “If one of our children is called to a specialized field, such as medicine, we will help him or her prepare for it. But our main educational goal is to give them as much knowledge and as many skills as possible to prepare them for adult life. While we value academics, we also want to prepare them to run a household or support a family with skills such as cooking, sewing, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, money managing, negotiating, and sales experience.”
The Duggar daughters have been shown via the Discovery Health Channel’s web site to have career goals. The joke is on the readers however, as each girl has chosen a Gothard-approved goal like nurse, midwife, missionary, beautician. Helpfully, ATI has training programs in each of these areas. The Duggars also have shown how they teach the girls to change the oil in the car or change a flat tire as well as showing the boys learning to cook or doing some housework. This particular episode of the show seemed hopelessly “staged.” Especially when the girls were shown in the garage learning about the car—all while little Johanna toddled about in such an inappropriate setting!
The Duggars show up consistently as visitors for “fellowship” with other openly Quiverfull families on their family blogs. The Maxwells, a family who sings and ministers together and whose adult children continue to live with their parents and under their authority, have not only been seen visiting with the Duggars, but have had their “Chore Packs” and “Managers of Their Homes” Scheduling product featured on the Duggar’s show. Links to other family visits:
Maxwell Family: Fellowship on the Road
Joel's Journey: Visiting the Duggar Family...
Staddon Family: Meet the Bates Family
Dotrignac Family: March 14th 2006
Sam Baldwin: Duggars and Baldwins
Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar, their friends Gil and Kelly Bates and others would not be speaking at ATI/IBLP events unless they fully toed the “party line” of Bill Gothard. The Duggars are the “cash cow,” the “draw” for the organization. That party line is “Quiverfull” with a capital “Q”. Do they agree with the idea of “militant fecundity”—i.e. “outbreeding” the liberal right? (Newsweek, para. 6-7). I believe so. After all Joyce writes: Quiverfull women are more than mothers. They’re domestic warriors in the battle against what they see as forty years of destruction wrought by women’s liberation: contraception, women’s careers, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and child abuse, in that order. (Joyce, Nation, p. 11).
The Duggars, in years past, were active in the Right-to-Life movement, attending protests as a family. Recently the tabloid press has reported that Michelle’s elder sister is a partner in a long-term lesbian relationship. While that sister has been shown on the TV show there was no discussion of her lifestyle.
Jim-Bob has been active in politics for years. Eldest son, Joshua, was once known as “the Little Governor” for trailing his Daddy around the Arkansas State House. Josh has also stated his goal of entering politics, although that has not been mentioned on the TV show. For a while at least, Joshua had a part-time business doing “communications” work for politicians. Sadly, his name is the only thing that will help him compete against homeschoolers graduating from Patrick Henry College and other conservative political training grounds. Even his once stated-goal of attending Bill Gothard’s online law school would not help him. Graduates of that institution are reportedly allowed to sit the bar exam in only a few states—possibly only in California. Even the oldest Duggar girl’s have had political experience on the campaign for their Dad and for former presidential candidate and family friend Mike Huckabee.
So, how does all this mesh with a TV reality show? Not very well. There are a few possibilities here.
- First, that Jim-Bob and Michelle, like most parents, have moderated their standards and expectations over time. A household with kids ranging from birth to early adulthood has very, very different needs than a family of under-5s. That the kids, especially the oldest 6, are sporting trendier, but still modest clothing, and better hairstyles is a sign of growing up and of more prosperous financial times for the whole family.
- Second, that they are “white washing” or “soft pedaling” on the Gothard part of their lives to be more attractive to a wider audience. This may also be a requirement in their contract with TLC. Gothard’s true membership figures are not known and the Duggars could be a great recruiting tool to other like-minded families who would not otherwise learn of the organization. Things like the “family uniform” put off “seekers” who might be enticed to become ATI and Quiverfull families. So too are many of the disciplinary practices touted by Gothard’s organization. These would not appeal to a broader audience
- Third, they may have “given” a little on dress in order to conduct “friendship evangelism.” The family's stated goal in going on TV was to reach others for Christ. As then 15-year old Jana Duggar put it in one interview: “'We're able to share with others about Christ and what he's done in our lives,' she said, stressing the family's primary message: 'Children are a blessing and not a burden.'” Out-of-style clothing and bad hair are noticed in all the wrong ways. Looking like “everyone else,” if a bit more modest, helps newcomers to see their lifestyle as attainable and enjoyable.
Which is the truth? While nay-sayers will quickly vote for “selling out for commercial gain,” it’s likely some of each is a possibility. Still, the Duggars would not be invited to speak at all kinds of ATI/IBLP or Vision Forum events without being card carrying members of the Quiverfull party. I believe Jim-Bob and Michelle, as the world’s most visible adherents to Gothard’s teachings, have the organization’s permission to style themselves in a more mainstream mode.
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck ...
So, bottom-line time: Quiverfull is not a denomination - there are no membership rolls or doctrinal statements to sign. Quiverfull is a philosophy and its consequent lifestyle which Jim Bob and Michelle have demonstrably adopted.
Are the Duggars Quiverfull? You bet your life!
Are they Patriarchal? Of course!