The XX Factor

Fundamentalism Is a Competition, and the Duggars Won the Christian Right

Members of the Duggar family await results in the 2012 Iowa caucus, in which they supported Rick Santorum.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The revelation that the eldest son of TLC’s Duggar clan, Josh Duggar, had molested a number of underage girls—including his sisters—has created an explosion of attention and outrage. The fury has a sharp political edge to it, because the Duggars are important figures in the world of religious-right activism and Republican politics. 

Blogger Tbogg at Raw Story reminds us of the Duggars’ standing in this realm with a series of pictures of Josh Duggar posing with Republican politicians. Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz: Posing for a picture with this guy is apparently a requirement to run in a Republican primary. Some of the more far-right Republicans used the Duggars to signal how down they are with the religious right. Rick Santorum, in particular, loved the clan and put them front and center in his campaign efforts

Duggar has this much access in part because he was the executive director, at the precocious age of 27, of the Family Research Council’s FRC Action, a Christian-right lobbying group that fights against gay rights, reproductive rights, and even the Violence Against Women Act, calling it a “slush fund.” The FRC is a big deal in Christian-right circles, and therefore it’s a big deal with Republicans. Rand Paul, Marco RubioCruz, Jindal, Perry, Bush—the Values Voter Summit, FRC’s big annual shindig, is a veritable murderer’s row of Republican politicians seeking religious-right votes. In many ways, FRC is the current face of the Christian right in America. Hiring a member of the Duggar family for such a major role in the organization sent a signal that the Duggar family’s extremist views fit right into the larger Christian-right message. 

And extremist is the right word for it. While TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting show spins them as a kooky but ultimately loving family, the reality is that they’re part of a far-right Quiverfull slice of the already far-right cult of Christian patriarchy. A big part of their religion is the belief that a woman should, to be blunt, never exercise a moment of sexual agency in her entire life. Prior to marriage, she is not allowed to have sex or even kiss or hold hands with someone. After marriage, she is not allowed to decline sex if her husband wants it. She is not allowed birth control, even if giving birth will kill her. 

Now some Republicans are trying to protect the Duggars. Mike Huckabee defended Josh Duggar, accusing the press of “sensationalizing the story.” Now Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester is demanding the firing of the police chief who leaked this information to the press. (Hester last made national headlines by trying to argue that it’s somehow not discrimination for businesses to refuse service to gay people.) It would seem politically expedient just to cut the Duggars loose and, if possible, pretend never to have met them, but such is the love that the Duggars inspire in the Christian right that diehards are still out there going to bat for them. 

Such is the nature of culture-war politics. While most Christian conservatives reject the Quiverfull lifestyle for themselves, the Duggars’ extremism elicited admiration and maybe a little envy among the ranks. Fundamentalism, regardless of the religion, always has a whiff of competition to it. Just as urban liberals compete to see who can eat the most organic food and libertarian types race to see who can have the most polluting truck, Christian conservatives compete to see who can deny women’s autonomy the hardest. But perhaps now Republicans will learn a lesson about the dangers of embracing religious extremists.