Score one for the tabloid press. Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the creepy super-fundamentalist clan at the center of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting, has admitted to charges of molesting multiple underage girls when he was a teenager; he has since stepped down from his position as a sex scold for the Family Research Council. Duggar admitted to molesting five girls—some of them reportedly his sisters—and while the family claims to have addressed the situation, a timeline constructed by Gawker suggests he did not get counseling while managing to dodge any prosecution.
The family’s fame guarantees this story will stay in the public memory for awhile, but it’s far from the first sex abuse scandal in the tight-knit world of far-right fundamentalism. As I wrote last year for Slate, Doug Phillips of the far-right group Vision Forum was forced to step down after admitting to “a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” The woman in question, Lourdes Torres-Manteufel, claims it was more than “inappropriate,” noting that they met when she was 15 and that he “methodically groomed” by moving her into the house as a nanny and becoming “the pastor of her church, her boss, her landlord, and the controller of all aspects of her life” before pushing for sex. The Duggars were tight with Phillips and Vision Forum, which promoted a lot of Duggar-related material.
Another hardcore fundamentalist leader who had a mentorship relationship with the Duggars, Bill Gothard, was also caught up in a sex abuse scandal last year. Gothard was the leader of Institute in Basic Life Principles, an organization that promotes the “quiverfull” philosophy—particularly its emphasis on forsaking contraception and having as many children as possible. Gothard resigned after more than 30 women accused him of sexual harassment and abuse. Prior to this, Wire reports, the Duggars were “devotees of Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute seminars. Until recently, the Duggars’ official website called Gothard’s Embassy Institute (which he also founded) their ’#1 recommended resource’ for families (that page now displays as blank).”
Vision Forum, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, and the Duggar family are arguably the three most influential groups promoting the “Christian patriarchy” movement, which promotes homeschooling, wifely submission, extreme pre-marital chastity (no hand-hugging or kissing), no contraception, and the idea that women’s only real role in life is as wives and mothers. Having all your major leadership eaten up by sex abuse scandals is no small thing. Even before the Duggar revelations, the head of Patrick Henry College, itself an extreme religious-right organization, was distancing himself from the Christian patriarchy movement. When even big-time fundamentalists are jumping ship, maybe it’s time for TLC to consider cutting the Duggars loose.
Updated to add: TLC has pulled 19 Kids and Counting.