Last week, the wholesome facade that TLC and ‘family values’ conservatism had draped around the Duggar family was ripped away forever by revelations that Josh Duggar had molested his sisters in 2003, whereupon his father Jim Bob sent him off to ‘counseling’ under a friend named Bill Gothard, who was also later forced to resign from his educational ministry after dozens of women alleged inappropriate touching. When Jim Bob finally did take his son to meet a friend in law enforcement, former Arkansas State Trooper Joseph Hutchens says he lied about how many girls Josh had assaulted. Hutchens was later convicted of possessing child pornography, further delaying legal action. When other police investigators found out about Josh in 2006, Jim Bob was once again running for elected office on a death-penalty-for-incest platform, and refused to let them interview Josh before the statute of limitations expired.
All of this would be bad enough, but the story hasn’t stopped there. Thanks to the magic of TLC’s ‘reality show’ cameras, the Duggar children have long served as a partisan political backdrop for right wing culture warriors as they drag America backwards to the 19th Century. GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee took quite a lot of criticism for defending the Duggar family. Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles, which supplies many of the homeschooling materials the Duggars use to raise their brood of right wing ignoramuses, has received substantial support from the owners of Hobby Lobby — the same people who managed to convince five Catholic male Supreme Court justices that their “beliefs” as proprietors of a “closely held” business qualify them to regulate the reproductive health care decisions of more than 16,000 employees. This is a movement, not a conspiracy, and TLC has been a willing partner in the Duggar fraud, which is an expression of that movement.
To understand the cultural conflict strategy at work, start with the fact that birth control enables women to determine their own economic futures (that is, to own their means of reproduction) better than any other technology. The Christian patriarchy movement thus rejects modernity, especially when it comes to issues of personal autonomy for women. Imagine watching the scenes that TLC doesn’t show us: the Duggars discouraging their daughters from having any personal goals larger than marrying young and breeding fast. Training their girls to smile and stay happy at all times using corporal punishment according to the “godly” education principles espoused by Gothard and Doug Phillips, another ‘Christian’ homeschooling expert and close friend of the family who stands accused of grooming a 15 year-old girl to be his sex slave. Picture Jim Bob and Michelle keeping Josh’s problem in the family, since he can’t keep it in his pants. Imagine Gothard’s ATI ‘counseling’ Josh with materials that teach abuse survivors to blame themselves and sublimate their pain. What do you suppose the ratings on that ‘special episode’ would be?
TLC has been dishonest by not showing us the dark side of the Christian patriarchy movement, which systematizes domestic abuse as pious virtue with the conscious objective of outnumbering godless liberals at the ballot box. The Duggars are just the most visible spokesfamily for this movement; according to Gawker, there are others:
From their frequent appearances on the show since 2009, to a 2012 TLC special entitled “The Bates Family: And Baby Makes 19,” to a now-canceled 2012 TLC show United Bates of America, to the new ratings success Bringing Up Bates on “family-oriented” network UPtv, Gil and Kelly Bates have never been shy about their friendship with the Duggars.
[…] (L)urking behind the admittedly gorgeous family are the same ugly beliefs that drove the Duggars to keep their child-molesting son hidden from authorities for over a year and in the same house as the sisters he molested for many more. Alongside Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, Gil and Kelly Bates share a devotion to God, an affection for TV money, and a strict adherence to the ATI (Advanced Training Institute International) homeschooling curriculum.
[…](T)he Bates family ties to ATI run deeper and present a troubling dynamic in the Duggar molestation scandal: regardless of whether or not Gil Bates knew of Josh Duggar’s actions—an open secret in their shared tight-knit religious community—Gil Bates himself is a driving force in ATI, peddling an actively harmful and scientifically inaccurate curriculum to young men and women, and doing so while making significant amounts of money charming viewers with his family’s full-frontal hugs andexclusive breeding announcements in People.
Bates, a 50-year-old tree trimmer from Lake City, TN, currently sits on the board of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), the parent group of ATI.
As Lacey Donohue recounts, the Bates family uses all the same editing tricks as the Duggar family. For example, after deleting photos of a birthday party for Gothard from the family website, mother Kelly Bates deceptively relabeled a photo of the cake before reposting it. That people have been trying to tell us about all of this abusive behavior for years just makes it even more frustrating that Discovery Communications, the parent company of TLC, hasn’t actually canceled the Duggars’ show yet.
From Jim Bob’s perspective, 19 Kids and Counting was always intended to advance patriarchal conservative politics. Misogyny is one primary expression of the forces at work here; homophobia is the other, and underneath them lies a mountain of sexual and physical abuse trauma inspired by a “loving god.” It’s time that TLC and Discovery stopped helping these people weaponize Christianity by abetting their fraud.