Toward understanding the blame borne by wives in Duggar Family religion in the wake of Josh Duggar’s involvement in the Ashley Madison scandal
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I’ve tried for more than 48 hours to write this, but having watched this scenario play out with other followers of Bill Gothard, it brings up so many disturbing emotions for me, I found myself too caught up in them. As the media begins to report, Anna Duggar will share in the blame for her husband’s sins and divorce will be strongly discouraged if not demonized. I’ve watched it happen with other people who follow this belief system, over and over again.
I don’t know how the family will make her the scapegoat for his behavior prior to their courtship, but they will scapegoat her for his infidelity. The wife’s exemplary performance allegedly and magically prevents a husband from indulging in sin. We see elements of this same mindset in the blaming behavior of Tullian Tchividjian. Such magical thinking rests at the core of all of the beliefs within the Duggars’ cultic excuse for sanitized and superior Christianity.
In May of this year (2015), documentation of Josh Duggar’s molestation of several sisters went public. He resigned his job, and his parents lost their Learning Channel Show which highlights their lifestyle built around the ideology promoted by Bill Gothard’s family-oriented teachings. Their long-standing relationship of mutual endorsement with Mike Huckabee dissolved. I read in a tabloid that the Duggars approached the network with a new spinoff show idea wherein they would counsel sex abuse victims (shame-based/Gothard-style, I would assume). A few days later, news broke about more of Josh Duggar’s questionable behavior when hackers released the names of subscribers to the Ashley Madison adultery website — a service that he stopped using in May when news of his predatory sexual behavior went public. He and his parents confirmed the accuracy of his use of this adultery site on their family blog
Under Old Testament Law, to atone for sin, a family was required to give one spotless sacrifice to be offered at the Temple to atone for their sins, but the Devil was given his due as well. Each family also transferred their sins on to a goat which was sent out into the wilderness as an offering to Azazel, the name of a fallen angel (Leviticus 16). Today, scapegoating represents a surrogate who is used to purge another individual or group of the appearance of wrongdoing. This scapegoat “takes the fall” for another to restore them to good standing.
Berlet and Lyons identify scapegoating as one of the elements of how Right Wing Conservatives process their experiences and respond to them within secular society. Politically, it is a powerful “ideological weapon,” yet those within Christian Patriarchy also use scapegoating in family and personal relationships in much the same way. It’s so much easier to lay blame on a demonized other than it is to either accept flawed reality or take responsibility for a less than perfect outcome.
The Woman Problem
Within the religion followed by the Duggars, gender hierarchy provides a convenient route for scapegoating which protects men and lets blame “roll downhill” on to women — including the blame for original sin. One cannot fully understand the mindset of the Duggars until they acknowledge this scapegoating and the history of the theology that supports it. One must also acknowledge the nature of the indoctrination that families like the Duggars endure, instilling them with empty promises that find their roots in disdain. I’m sure Anna will be presented, over and over again with the challenge, “Me? Obey him?” Just as is true of John Piper, Bill Gothard also draws on this tradition forged by John R. Rice which was carried on by the Independent Fundamental Baptist tradition.
I sincerely wish that I could say that this tradition started in the 20th Century, but I believe that all Rice did was draw on the sentiments of those who preceded him. Author Bob Edwards just published a very moving post about the long tradition of deception in Christianity and the deeply personal journey that drew him to this study. It is well worth reading in its entirety, but this element of it describes just a portion of this long history of “the woman problem.”
Then I came across a historical book that continues to haunt me. It contained court transcripts of all of the women killed by men, acting on the authority of the church, during the Inquisition. It had their names, and the charges against them. Many of the women were found guilty of “witchcraft;” specifically, something called “love magic.” This meant that a man had allegedly been so bewitched by a woman that he couldn’t help committing adultery with her, or perhaps even raping her. Sexual sins committed by men were blamed exclusively on their female partners or victims. I read hundreds of names, maybe thousands. I lost count. I became dizzy. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had stopped breathing. I felt like I was going to die. Something inside me broke.
This notion that women must be subject to men had nothing to do with God, the gospel, servant-leadership, or the love of Jesus Christ. It was born of fear, hatred, and a felt “need” for control. It was prejudice, and it had led to subjugation, oppression and even mass murder.
Read more HERE about how Gothard and the theology that influenced him blame women and children for their own sexual assault.
“Spread Your Legs Theology”
I cannot begin to enumerate the contemporary references to this element of the scapegoating which lays blame on a wife for their husband’s sins against them. Shirley Taylor describes many of them in her first book. I’ll mention a few names that used to carry a great deal of respect. Tim Keller was once chief among them for me but now offers what I find to be disturbingly strange writing about sex, what it should be, and what it should mean. The Mahaneys, the Driscolls, the Wilsons, and pastors and their wives who I know in real life blame the wife for their husband’s sins. I can’t stomach documenting the numerous statements, but do a bit of googling, and they are sure to turn up.
“If your house were cleaner, he wouldn’t cheat… If you gave him enough sex, he wouldn’t cheat… If you hadn’t “let yourself go,” he wouldn’t cheat… If he were satisfied in bed at home, he would never have put photographs of his genitalia online to find flings… Love him with ‘ooey gooey love’ and let love cover a multitude of sins’ by ignoring how he treats you… Be his ‘on demand’ sex kitten’… Be a whore in the bedroom and a saint in the kitchen… If he still cheats, you aren’t trying hard enough… You’re getting just what you deserve and just what you earned ‘…
Shirley (the aforementioned author) privately whispered to me a few years ago, qualifying these teachings as “spread your legs theology.” (I’m glad that she’s finally willing to claim the phrase, as when I first heard her use it, she was not ready to go public. Today, she’s willing to claim the credit.) It sounds offensive, but with this filth that is promulgated in the name of the Christian Faith today, I don’t see it as that inaccurate.
All a woman’s worth is based not in her self and her image that was created in the Image of God but in the anatomy between her legs — a receptacle for conquer through piercing and a baby machine which allows men to take dominion over the earth to redeem it. Why would young men raised with this mindset see women as anything other than an object for their use and pleasure, bound to servile obedience in order to be acceptable to God?
A good part of the world watched the Duggar Family market the formula that promises the raising of perfect and wholesome kids. I feel terrible for the Duggars for buying into the lie as I watch them pay the price for their moral disengagement — the illusion that obediently following Gothard’s plan makes them innocent of the fruit that the plan produces. They had faith in its ability to make them impervious to the problems with which they now wrestle. (Consider also that not all of the family’s problems have come to public light.) I’m sure that in their shock, they will continue to stick by their commitment to the formula, and we will see the “spread your legs” element of it piled upon Anna.
But is it for God’s glory or just as social proof to attest to the validity and the purity of the traditions of men?
The New Altar of Molech
Molech was an Ammonite deity who represented masculinity and the part that man played in reproduction to bring about life, and his consort was Ashtoreth, a female deity of fertility. Canaanites, Philistines and other people in North Africa worshiped these deities and offered their first-born children as live sacrifices to Molech. Ashtoreth was worshiped through shrine prostitution and other ritualistic sex acts. The altars of Molech were statutes made of brass and were heated from the inside, so that when children were placed in the arms of statute, they would burn alive and would then be engulfed by flame. The parents then earned divine favor from Molech in exchange for their child’s life.
I think so often of this image when women within this modern religious movement must willingly bury their talents and their gifts and even their identity as fully human in the eyes of God. They are said to be the indirect and derivative of man, so they are of lesser essence. Their sole purpose is also lesser as they were created for man’s use. They are told that they must sacrifice all to make their religious system work through servility which they must accept with grace and joy.
Like the parents who took their firstborn children to the altar of burning brass as they stood as drums drowned out the voices of their child’s screams, women like Anna Duggar are called to crawl up on the altar of the traditions of men in an act of worship to an ideology that promises to save them.
Who do the Duggars really worship? Is it the altar of a foolish consistency for their own brand, or has Bill Gothard’s version of truth completely eclipsed the simplicity of the Gospel? How is this magical thinking not an example of “spread your legs theology” ? How does any of it glorify God?
My Grief and Hope for Anna Duggar
How my heart aches for Anna and her children. I cannot help but think of this image as I read about Josh’s continued actions. I know well the way divorce — even divorce that is allowed in the Bible because of adultery — is vilified. She was likely seen as the “cure” what would heal Josh of his sexual deviance. The theology that blames women for every sin back to the beginning of the Fall of Man, and like Eve, she has failed. I know it what will happen. I have seen it. I have watched it destroy people and crush them.
I want to tell Anna to run from the brass arms of the idol that has been built in the name of a family because of the empty promises of a deluded, sick man who is also a sex abuser — Bill Gothard. I want to protect her somehow from the burning that will be sold to her as the purifying of her soul as opposed to an unholy sacrifice to a cultic theology of fantasy. I want to tell her to take her children and run as far as she can from the fire, but I doubt that she will. She loves the ideal to which she has pledged her life. As is true of any young wife, despite what has happened, I know that she loves her husband and the father of her children. But I also know that she loves a fantasy that she’s been forced to accept.
I can pray. I can write about how, from my perspective, she’s worshiping a hollow tradition that has made empty promises to her. How I pray that when the burdens of that life to which she’s bound so tightly become too heavy that she will ask God to show her how her burdens can be made light and how her soul can find gentle rest in Him! Perhaps then, she may somehow find her way to these words and will take them to heart, and the God of all comfort will reveal Himself to her in strength. Deliver her, Lord — soon! May it be sooner than I can imagine.