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The Duggars and the Umbrella of Oppression

by Grace Haskin
Guest Columnist

It appears that Josh Duggar, star of TLC’s ex-hit series “19 Kids and Counting,” has more secrets than he has siblings.

Gawker exposed the married father of four on Wednesday for having two accounts on the recently hacked dating site, Ashley Madison—think eHarmony, for people who are married and looking for the “perfect” extramarital affair.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because this the second time this year that Josh has been involved in a sex scandal. He was exposed in May for having molested five children as a teenager, four of whom were his sisters. After his pedophilia became public knowledge, the Duggars made a statement in which they used the word “mistake” repeatedly. Having 19 children is arguably a mistake. Molesting five minors is not a mistake. It is a crime. At least the latest scandal involves consenting adults.

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What makes this even more ironic is that Josh was the executive director of the Family Research Council, an organization in Washington, D.C. that lobbies for traditional Christian family values, such as marriage being between one man and one woman. Josh was forced to resign from his position after he was found to be a child molester. Now we can add adulterer to that list. (But it’s “the gays” who are threatening the sanctity of marriage!)

I could never stomach watching the Duggar’s reality show for more than a few minutes because it triggered childhood flashbacks. My parents raised me according to the teachings of Bill Gothard, very much like the Duggars. It makes me sick that people watched the show for entertainment, blind to what many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist homeschool “curriculums” are: cults. The Duggar’s lifestyle may seem harmless from the vantage point of the television screen, but is far from innocent.

umbrella-of-protectionOne of Gothard’s foundational and most dangerous dogmas has to do with authority. He calls it “the umbrella of protection”—I fondly refer to it as “the umbrella of oppression.” In a textbook put out by his Advanced Training Institute, Gothard, the founder of the homeschool curriculum, writes, “As long as you are under God-given authority, nothing can happen to you that God does not desire for your ultimate goal,” and, “Getting out from the protection of the Scriptural direction of parents, church, employers, or government allows Satan to bring destruction.”

Besides the obvious patriarchal perspective, this is a crooked way of thinking. For the Duggar girls who were molested, it means they did something to step out from under the umbrella; that what happened to them is their fault.

For Anna, Josh’s wife, the “umbrella of protection” assures she will stay with her (criminal, adulterous) husband. Even if his behavior causes her to question her convictions, what other choice does she have? Divorce would mean excommunication from her church and family, and unless she is swept away by another man looking for a housewife, she will have few opportunities. Apart from teaching Sunday school, the 27-year-old has nothing to put on her resume—not even a high school diploma.        

It’s not hard to see how this chain of command can lead to abuse. When a child is homeschooled in this program, they often have no connection to the outside world. Because of this, they generally lack any opportunity to develop relationships during the crucial formative years—and in their adulthood, they struggle in social settings.

Growing up under this structure was depressing, to say the least. As a girl, there was no advancing to my own umbrella. During any stage of life, I would always be under a man’s authority. If my father found a man for me to marry, then I would be under his authority. If my husband died, then I would go back under my father’s authority. If my father died, then the authority would go to my oldest brother.

At 17, I realized there was nothing to look forward to. Unlike Anna Duggar, I could not accept the future preordained to me: entering into a courtship or arranged marriage to be a housewife, the only acceptable role for a woman, according to Gothard. I despised being denied a job outside of the home. Any dreams I had of higher education were smothered; being a subservient housewife doesn’t require a college degree.

So I stepped out from under the umbrella.

Knowing I’d be excommunicated the moment I deserted, I escaped with only the ID card and the Swiss Army knife I kept in the pocket of my ankle-length skirt. I wore pants, heard rock music and attended public school—all for the first time—during that first week of freedom. Because I grew up in extreme isolation, forming relationships was difficult; I could not relate to my peers. Imagine growing up in the 90’s having never heard a Britney Spears song nor seen a Disney cartoon. At times, the displacement I felt made me question my decision to leave. Even though I didn’t share the beliefs of my church and family, I was at least familiar with the rituals and could go through the motions.

In 2007, only a handful of people had heard of Bill Gothard or ATI, so it was difficult for those I met to understand my background. Now that the Duggars are a household name, I can point to them for reference. While my heart breaks for Anna, I am thrilled that Josh’s perversion and infidelity has led to greater exposure of Gothard’s cult. It is not that the Duggars are “crazy” or “uneducated”—they have quite simply, like countless other “God-fearing Christian families,” been horribly, horribly brainwashed.

Grace Haskin is a violinist and graduate student studying conflict resolution. She’s been in Greenville for 3 years.  

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