In recent years, the name Duggar has gone from a synonym for a certain brand of squeaky-clean family-friendly entertainment to a byword for the sort of hypocrisies and scandals often found at the heart of the world’s most secretive cults.
It’s impossible to separate the family’s religious beliefs from their rise to the the near-top of the reality TV totem pole, as so many of the practices that have made the Duggars fascinating to millions of outsiders are rooted in their faith.
Of course, it wasn’t so long ago that those same controversial beliefs nearly brought the Duggar empire tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.
But for as much as we know about the specifics of the Duggar creed (sex is for procreation between man and wife only; women are forbidden to wear pants or hold jobs, etc.), a lot of the larger questions regarding their religion remain sources of debate and speculation.
For example, the biggest Duggar-related mystery of all may have more than one answer, as the family has been accused of giving misleading answers when asked what faith they belong to.
Remarkably, it’s a question that you’ll never hear the Duggar kids fielding publicly.
Instead, they defer to Jim Bob, who has stated (on the rare occasions he’s addressed the issue himself) that he and his family are Independent Baptists.
Despite their name, Independent Baptists are an ultra-conservative lot with little tolerance for personal freedom.
They exist on the fringes of American Christianity, and are not a recognized sect, so much as a loose network of individual congregations.
Ultra-conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell abandoned the Independent Baptist Church for the more moderate Southern Baptists, which should tell you all you need to know about how extreme the IB belief system is.
Amazingly, the Duggars fall far to the right of even the most conservative Independent Baptists on most issues, which has led many to the conclusion that Jim Bob is taking his cues from somewhere other than the leadership of the IB Church.
To answer the question of where the most extreme Duggar beliefs and practices originate, we need to turn our attention to the Quiverfull movement.
There’s debate as to who founded the movement, but it’s widely agreed that Quiverfull was popularized by the Reverend Bill Gothard in the late 1970s.
In 2015, Gothard resigned in disgrace from his post with the Quiverfull-centered Institute for Basic Life Principles amidst a flurry of sex assault and harassment allegations.
He and his organization have shelled out an undisclosed amount of cash to keep the accusers at bay, but dozens of new allegations have surfaced over the past two years.
For that reason, and because of the movement’s extreme right-wing beliefs, the Duggars have been hesitant to publicly associate with the Quiverfull movement, but there’s no question that they’re believers in many of Gothard’s teachings:
The Duggars use Quiverfull teaching materials in homeschooling their children.
When they sent Josh Duggar to rehab after his involvement in two consecutive sex scandals (one of which involved the molestation of five young girls) they chose a faith-based facility with the approval of Gothard’s IBLP.
The Duggars called Gothard a close family friend and “an inspiration” in 2014, but cut ties with him (publicly, at least) following allegations that he groped and assaulted dozens of young male and female employees.
The most telling sign that the Duggars are Quiverfull devotees, however, is the fact that it was Gothard who first espoused the notion that it is the duty of Christians to have as many children as physically possible:
“In the Quiverfull movement, your kids are blessings from God and they are also weapons in the culture war,” exlained USC assistant professor of religion Cavan Concannon.
“Some people in the movement would say that part of having a lot of kids is an attempt to birth more conservative Christians in a world that doesn’t have enough of them.”
Some have wondered how the Duggars can reconcile their wealth and fame with their devotion to a religion that preaches the importance of poverty and humility.
Simply put, they see themselves as soldiers in an apocalyptic culture war, and they believe that TV is the most important weapon in their arsenal.
Jesus Christ said, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” but Bill Gothard said, There’s power in numbers, so help me expand my following through procreation and mass media.
The Duggars have left little mystery as to which message they value more.