Training For Servitude
I don't know how many of you have ever watched the Discovery Channel reality show "The Duggars" but I have on occasion and it's fascinating. I never knew exactly what religion they practiced, but it was clear it was some sort of fundamentalist Christian sect that didn't believe in birth control. And I wondered if they were involved in the Quiverfull movement. Apparently so:
Last weekend, [43 year old] Michelle Duggar—mother of 19, grandmother of one, and star of the hit reality series on TLC 19 Kids and Counting —was named Mother of the Year by the Christian Reconstructionist group Vision Forum at its "Historic Baby Conference."
According to Vision Forum’s statement, the conference "featured encouraging messages on the blessing of children and the culture of life, special lectures and panel discussions for mothers, forums on child-training, and presentations for the whole family that explored the wonder of God’s creation through the intricacies of the womb."
The event, the award, and the TLC show are excellent illustrations of how a Reconstructionist worldview has trickled into the broader American culture in ways that are not always obvious.
Vision Forum and its president, Doug Phillips (who is the son of conservative movement icon and Constitution Party founder Howard Phillips) are strong advocates of the biblical patriarchy movement. Since the 1970s there has been an influential biblical feminist movement, advocating equality in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Changing attitudes led to many controversies which I documented in my book, Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles. Biblical patriarchy was a direct reaction to this biblical feminism.
While Christians traditionally hold that God is beyond gender (even while often using masculine language for God), in "The Tenets of Biblical Patriarch," Doug Phillips asserts that God is male, and explicitly not female; that the human male is the "image and glory of God in terms of authority, while the woman is the glory of man." That is, men are in the image of God in terms of authority over their households; women are created in God’s image in a decidedly different way, sometimes called "reflected glory."
Christian Reconstruction "dominion theology" is rooted in the creation story in Genesis in which God creates Adam and Eve and tells them to exercise dominion over the Garden of Eden. As in other Reconstructionist writings (Rushdoony, for example) Phillips argues that while men are to exercise dominion, women are to assist their husbands' dominion by serving in the home. Women in the "exceptional state" of being unmarried, according to Phillips, may have "more flexibility" but it is not the "ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion."
The show doesn't proselytize about any of this. And watching the show I developed a fondness for the family. They are all very loving and sweet and supportive of one another and the little kids (there are so many of them!) are just adorable. You can certainly see why a TV producer would find this family appealing.
But as I watched, it became clear that there was something more odd about them than just their unusual numbers. And after a while I realized that it was the oppressiveness of their insularity, particularly for the older girls, who seem to be emotionally underdeveloped and nearly obsessed with childbearing. It's the entire focus of the females, as you might imagine, who are basically raising children from the time they are able to pick one up. Their world is just so small and they seem to have no agency at all even when they are in their late teens.
They all seem quite happy, with good humor and a lot of affection among them so maybe this is just my own cultural bias kicking in. (And this is a TV show in which they are evangelizing for a certain way of life, so who knows what goes on beneath the surface?) But regardless of their good cheer, it's quite clear that by the time these kids get to adolescence they have been so isolated that they aren't prepared for any life but the odd one in which they've grown up --- which in patriarchal social arrangements is the point. The girls are raised to see themselves as solely designed to serve men and give birth and that's what they do.
Eventually I started to avoid the show after watching an episode that featured them socializing with another like-minded extra-large family from Tennessee. Mom said they had to keep a strong eye on the teens because they might get "feelings" if they spend time with one another. It was clear to me then that they were basically keeping their kids in prison until they entered a church sanctioned marriage. All that good cheer suddenly seemed brittle and sad.
Oh, and by the way, the Christian Reconstructionists/Quiverfull people really do believe in Christian fundamentalist Theocracy. If they were ever to achieve real political power, they would legislate this way of life. Indeed, their allies are working hard to outlaw abortion and birth control by any means necessary, which would be an excellent practical step toward their goal.
Jim Bob Duggar is a former elected politician who served in the Arkansas house of representatives. He has not ruled out running for office again.