Greg Garrett: Hating the Duggars


I love to hate the Duggar family, those far-right, way-fertile patriarchal Christians whose lives were chronicled until recently on their TV show 19 Kids & Counting on TLC.

My hatred is of a recent vintage, I thought. I dated it to when Mrs. Duggar came to Texas in 2013 to speak out in praise of some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country.

"Hey," said some of the women I love. "Mind your own freaking business."

I jumped on board. I personally disagree with Mrs. Duggar's choice to have nineteen children (if, in fact, any woman in the Christian patriarchy movement has choices). Still, even given that till-now silent condemnation, I would never go to her state and advise their citizens that they should limit families to, say, something fewer than fifteen children for the wellbeing of the planet.

Or the wellbeing of the children.

I am so proud of myself.

So superior.

And so full of - well, something rank and foul-smelling.

Because, you see, as appalled as I am by the events surrounding the Duggars, my feelings about them are not simply taking place in a vacuum. As we learned in seminary, my Family of Origin - biological and spiritual - still conditions who I am and how I act, even if those things are conceived as a reaction against my spiritual family.

I was badly hurt by a certain kind of Christian, and my complicated reaction to the terrible revelation that Josh Duggar molested five girls as a teenager and the family has kept it under wraps has made me realize that something is spiritually wrong with me.

I discover, when I burrow down in my deepest heart, that I still have a smoldering anger against the oh-so-religious people who shamed and rejected me - and against anyone who resembles them.

Like, say, the Duggars.

When Josh was forced to resign from his high-profile job as Executive Director of the lobbying arm of the Family Research Center, the family values group formed by James Dobson - another Christian toward whom I have disturbing anger - I was reeling with happiness.

I love hating the Duggars because I think that they are bigots. The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the Family Research Center (who gave Josh the Executive Director job because he is a Famous Christian on Television), an anti-gay hate group. Mrs. Duggar recorded a robocall condemning anti-discrimination legislation in Arkansas because it would, shockingly, allow transsexuals to use women's rest rooms:

I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool's private changing area? I still believe that we are a society that puts women and children first.

Clearly I also love hating the Duggars because I think they are hypocrites. Because it seems that in the case under public scrutiny just now, they did not put women and children first. They permitted a son with a history of molestation to return seemingly unchastened to some of the same people he had molested. They then publicly offered their family and their way of following God to the world as exemplary.

Only here is the other thing. As much as I love hating the Duggars, love saying, in my heart of hearts, "Look how much better I am, look how much better my brand of Christianity is..." I too am a bigot. And a hypocrite.

When I judge the Duggars and the many Christians who believe and practice in ways that resemble theirs because I think they are unenlightened, unintelligent, or narrow-minded, I am a bigot.

Just exactly that.

Do I honestly believe that God speaks in only one voice, that I and people like me are the only ones who got religion right?

Even if the Duggars and people like them may believe exactly that - and look down on me for not getting it - in what way am I any different when I treat them with the same contempt?

Moreover, I call myself a liberal Christian, speaking out for the virtues of compassion and grace over the primacy of judgment.

How am I anything but a hypocrite myself when I fail to extend compassion and grace to the Duggars - and even to Josh? When I fail to see them as beloved children of God? When instead, all I do is judge them?

When I don't live up to my own values, I am guilty of everything of which I accuse them.

Bigotry. Hypocrisy. And more.

What I am most ashamed of is my gleeful reaction to this scandal. When I delight in the Duggars' ironic and precipitous fall, when I ignore that real live human beings were and are and will be hurt by these acts and their public exposure, I simply am not living up to my calling as a Christian, progressive or otherwise.

I am called to love, to pray for those suffering, to forgive. And I am failing in epic fashion where this family is concerned.

What Josh did ten years ago was wrong.

What his family did in the ten years since was a mistake.

And what I do in celebrating their disgrace, in failing to forgive them their particular version of the sin endemic to our apostate race, and in not recognizing how my deep-set feelings of anger and shame continue to interfere with my call to love God and my neighbors are my own form of abomination.

"You should be ashamed," someone says to the hero of my novel Free Bird, Clay Forester, another struggling Christian from a difficult Family of Origin.

"I am," he says. "Pretty near all the time."

But we don't have to live there. We can change. We can forgive and be forgiven.

That is at the heart of our faith.

Rick Warren - another Christian I'm irrationally fond of disliking - puts it this way. We are called to more, he says. To better. To forgiveness, because we have been forgiven.

In fact, you might want to pray with me, if you find yourself similarly afflicted, this prayer from Dr. Warren which turns out to be, to my great and growing chagrin, both wise and spiritually appropriate to my current malaise:

Dear Jesus Christ, you know I've been hurt by others. You know that my resentment has made me act in ways that have been unreasonable and unhelpful and unhealthy. I need your power to release and forgive those who've hurt me so I can stop letting them control me. Would you please replace my hurt with the peace of Jesus Christ? God, I realize that I've hurt a lot of other people with my habits and my bad decisions and my hang-ups. Would you please forgive me for the way I've hurt others? Help me to make a list of those I've harmed and in the right way at the right time to humbly seek to make amends. Jesus Christ, I want to refocus my life on you. I want to face the future courageously with love and peace in my heart. Would you replace my resentment with your love, my bitterness with your grace? Thank you for your graciousness to me. Thank you for forgiving me for the things that I've done wrong. In Jesus' name. Amen.

From Greg's blog, Faithful Citizenship, at