With its hundreds of allegations of abuse alongside hyper-strict rules about marriage and dress, the Duggars' church is not your typical, wholesome house of worship.
The Truth About The Duggars' Church
We talk about the below topics:
- What is the Independent Baptist Church?
- The church's rules for women
- The church informs dress
- Race and Independent Baptists
- Religion informs marriage
- Homeschooling in the church
- The dark history of the church
- Sexist criticism
The Duggar family belongs to the Independent Baptist Church, also known as "the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists or IFB."
The particular branch is more stringent than other Baptist churches, and many adherents tend to have more children due to their belief that using birth control is sinful.
IFBs often worship in people's homes rather than churches. Unlike many Christian denominations, Independent Baptists reject the concept of a "universal church."
Instead of following a global head or leader, the individual relies solely on the Bible to guide the course of one's life.
Check out Web Story:
Grace Baptist Church notes,
"Each person is individually responsible for his decision to accept Christ. [...] The believer is eternally secure and cannot lose salvation."
The Duggars and their church have gotten a lot of flack for certain attitudes surrounding a woman's place in that world, but this attitude is common in the Independent Baptist Church.
Harkins described her experience as a woman in a piece for Independent Baptist,
"Since the husband is to be the head of the home, the wife's role in the home is to be in submission to her husband [...] Real peace only comes when we acknowledge the God-given role of our husband as the head and we in submission to them."
She even detailed how her husband dictates what she's permitted to take on,
"Now, I go to my husband and tell him the situation, we discuss whether I should or shouldn't agree to something, and then I can give an answer.Either, 'Yes, my husband said I could' or 'I'm sorry, my husband said he didn't think I should be taking any more on right now.'"
While every family's situation might be unique,
Michelle Duggar wrote a blog for her wedding anniversary that revealed her and her husband's own basic understanding of married life as informed by their church.
"A man needs a wife who honors his leadership [...] A man needs a wife who will make appeals, not demands [...] A wife needs a husband who demonstrates spiritual leadership."
A man as the head is obviously the running theme here.
Surprisingly or not, clothing is a huge part of the Independent Baptist Church's practices.
The church's leaders stress that there's "no dress code" but say that "many of our members dress in a way fitting to meet with any King or Dignitary, after all, we are here to worship the King of Kings."
They suggest a more "traditional" look, with men in ties and "the women in modest dress."
Modesty is certainly the theme when it comes to dressing, particularly for women.
"In one word, describe your style."“Practical.”"Comfortable." *laugh*“Classic.”"Cool.""Ugly".
In their book, "Growing Up Duggar," Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger Duggar explained how their outfit choices center around their religious views, writing:
"We do not dress modestly because we are ashamed of the body God has given us; quite the contrary.We realize that our body is a special gift from God and that He intends for it to be shared only with our future husband [...] We avoid low-cut, cleavage-showing, gaping, or bare-shouldered tops and, when needed, we wear an undershirt.We try to make it a habit to always cover the top of our shirts with our hands when we bend over. We don't want to play the peekaboo game with our neckline."
While the Duggar daughters have broken their dress code as they've grown and become independent women, they were certainly raised to be conscientious about this as kids.
There are some interesting statistics when it comes to race in the Independent Baptist Church: By a landslide, members of the church are white.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center revealed that among individuals who belonged to the church, 88% were white, fewer than 1% were Black, 1% were Asian, and 6% were Latino.
Immigration statistics about the Independent Baptist Church taken from the same year revealed that only 4% of its members were immigrants.
The Independent Baptist Church has been accused of racism. Per Patheos, some members believe that "Black people bear the 'mark of Cain,' and so are cursed."
In a piece for Good Faith Media, Bruce Prescott, the former Executive Director for Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists recalled attending an IFB youth camp where "only whites were invited."
Pastor Kenny Baldwin even called the church out during a sermon, saying,
"I've never seen a more racist group of people than Independent Fundamental Baptists."
There was an instance where Amy Duggar, niece of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, got called out for supporting All Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd. She was quick to apologize, tweeting
"I want to extend my sincere apologies for tweeting about all lives matter.I'll be honest I was confused, ignorant and I have a lot of learning to do."
Meanwhile, Jill Duggar expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement in a post on her Instagram Stories that read in part, "I stand with you."
The Independent Baptist Church has very strict opinions about marriage and sex.
The Doctrinal Statement of the church reads,
"We believe that the institution of marriage was designed by God to unite one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment. We also believe that sexual intimacy is a gift from God that is to be expressed only between a man and a woman within the bonds of such a marriage."
The Duggar family has made major headlines for their stringent rules around courtship and marriage. On "Today" in 2014, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar addressed these, stating that courtship is "dating with a purpose," and the process is prayerful and open to God's will.
Couples don't kiss until their wedding day or hold hands until they're engaged. Michelle explained,
"We believe it's best for them to save the physical part for marriage.That way there are no regrets."
"I didn't know you were gonna ask me today! Joe! This means we can hug."
The parents are included in texts between courting couples, and dates are chaperoned.
Michelle had an optimistic view of the entire closely supervised ordeal.
"There is no failed courtship. A parent that loves and cares for their children, they want the best relationship for their child. It's fun to be involved in the whole process of choosing it."
Homeschooling is a huge part of the Duggars' church and lifestyle. The family uses a curriculum by the Advanced Training Institute, which is, according to its website,
"Biblically-based home education program for families who desire to raise up sons and daughters who are 'mighty in Spirit' and able to impact the world for Jesus Christ."
The curriculum has been flagged for its many problematic principles.
Gawker pointed readers to a worksheet called "Lessons From Moral Failures in a Family."
The worksheet presents an example of an older brother molesting younger siblings; once the boy "repented," the worksheet presented a series of questions.
"What teaching could have been given to each child to resist evil?" one read. Another question was: "What factors in the home contributed to immodesty and temptation?"
A later takeaway from the boy himself was that his parents should have kept him "extremely busy" as a potential preventive measure. The worksheet became even more problematic when a section on "The need for modesty in the home"
suggested that the mother should have dressed her young daughters immediately after their baths.
Even the historical sections were thickly embedded with Biblical references, like the city of Nineveh. In another booklet, one of the questions was "How did a great city mourn over sin?" The program has been targeted and criticized for its stringent and narrow curriculum.
The founder of the homeschooling program used by the Duggars and other families in the Independent Baptist Church, Bill Gothard, was accused of sexual abuse, according to The Washington Post.
A branch of this homeschooling ministry included the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which focused on creating "religious seminars," according to the New York Post.
In 2016, 10 women "filed a lawsuit against" Gothard on the grounds that they were allegedly harassed and sexually abused, and then the cases were covered up by the institution.
Over the decades of Gothard's involvement, "more than 30 women," including minors, came forward. He denied the allegations saying,
"Oh no. Never never. Oh! That's horrible.Never in my life have I touched a girl sexually. I'm shocked to even hear that."
He declined to comment further.
In 2018, the Star-Telegram published a report that over 400 allegations had been made from 187 different IFB institutions. In one case, the newspaper reported,
"Another girl's parents stood in front of their Connecticut congregation to acknowledge their daughter's 'sin' after she was abused by her youth pastor, beginning at 16."
"Josh has done some very bad things, and he's very sorry."
In light of the abuse within the Independent Baptist Church and the abuse allegedly suffered at the hands of the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, many survivors spoke up about Josh Duggar and his conviction.
He was taken into custody in December 2021 for possession of child sexual abuse material.
A former member of the religious community, Lara Smith, spoke to the New York Post about the belief system that enabled Josh's behavior saying,
"With [abusers like] Josh, the whole environment set him up for success in his disgustingness [...] We were taught our bodies don't belong to us. They belong to God.And so in that realm, anything that happens, God wants it to happen."
Another member of the community, Heather Heath, knew friends who had been sexually assaulted and told the Post that the young women were told to confess these traumas as if they were responsible for them. She explained,
"If we had been assaulted, we had to confess what we did that brought the assault on us."
The underlying message was that there was no accountability for the male perpetrators and that the psychological and physical burden was carried exclusively by the survivors. Girls were often told that they had tempted the men. Smith emphasized this lack of accountability for men:
"You need to be very careful what you do, what you say, what you wear, how you act because at any moment, you could trigger a boy, basically."