Last evening, I was sucked into two hours of programming about the Duggar family. Jim Bob (nope, not kidding) and Michelle Duggar are an Arkansas couple in their late 30s who "decided to let God decide how many children they would have." So far, the count is 16--9 boys and 7 girls, ages 17 through newborn at the time the show was filmed. And they all have names that begin with a J. Seriously. Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, and Johannah Faith.
At first, I was watching the show because the logistics of life with 16 children fascinates me. I mean, how do you cook for 18 every day? What about clothes? How much does this whole enterprise cost? And that part of it was interesting. I kept watching, though, because I was both intrigued and aghast and what wasn't being said about the family.
The Duggars are fundamentalist Christians. This was clear from the program, if you were paying any attention (the girls all have long hair and wear long dresses, the children are home schooled, Michelle's speech is interjected with claims that this or that is a miracle, etc.), and any lingering doubts are cleared up by the family's website. However, the two hours of programs I watched never mentioned the family's faith explicitly, either as a reason for their having so many children and living their lives the way that they do (which it is) or in passing.
The Duggars write this on their website:
When we are out together we get questions like... "Is this a school group?", "Are they all yours?", "Are you Catholic or Mormon?", "Don't you know what causes this?" These questions give us many opportunities to share with others the hope that is in us, that children are a gift from God. We did not always view children as a gift. Michelle & I did not have any children for the first 4 years of marriage.
We chose to use the birth control pill. After our first child was born, Michelle started back on the pill, shortly after, she miscarried. We found that sometimes the birth control pill will allow you to conceive, but then cause a miscarriage.
We then realized we had the same heart attitude about children as those willfully choosing abortion (wanting to make our own plans, live our own lives, children could be a bother or interruption).
We searched the scriptures & found that God says, "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: & the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalms 127:3-5).
They make it clear, when left to their own devices, that they have so many children because they believe that's the way God wants it--i.e. they believe birth control is wrong. They also make it clear that they are happy with the publicity their large family attracts, because it gives them the opportunity to prosthletize. Why, then, were the programs about them so devoid of clear references to their religious beliefs?
While watching the Duggars, I couldn't help but think of the DeBolt family. With a total of nineteen children, the majority of whom were adopted, and the majority of whom were also special needs, the logistics of the DeBolt household were even more impressive than the Duggar's. However, in the DeBolts case, their organization was fairly low on the list of things I found to admire about them while I watched their story. In the case of the Duggars, it was just about all I could come up with. Watching the Duggars gave me the creepy feeling of being trapped, as long-suffering Michelle gestated, birthed, fed, and raised one perfect blond Christian soldier after another, all under the watchful eye of her patriarchal politician (yep, that too) husband. Looking at the Duggar's pantry, stocked with more food than the general store in my hometown, I felt disgusted. Watching the construction on their new 7,000 square foot house (where there is still just one boys' bedroom and one girls'' bedroom) felt like watching a Wal-Mart go up.
The DeBolts adopted children from all over the world, many of whom had few other options save institutionalization. They opened their lives to these kids not because they were afraid their God would smite them otherwise, or because they were building an army of people to think just like them, but because they knew they were needed and that they could help. I suspect that there was some underlying Christianity in the DeBolt household as well, but it never forced girls to do girls' work while boys did boys'. Each child in the DeBolt household seemed clear in his or her role, not just as a member of the family, but also as an individual. The Duggar children, however, when asked about whether or not they felt their individuality was stifled, were hard-pressed to come up with something more than "some of us love pickles, some don't" to prove their senses of self.
Once I started poking around on the Internet, I saw that much has been written about the Duggars already. A lot of it is not very flattering, but makes a good point about the inherent selfishness in reproducing the way that the Duggars have, and the flawed Christian logic in their doing so. Much as I dislike the tone of some of these articles, as well as their focus on the kids and Michelle as the problem, rather than putting the blame with Jim Bob, where I'd bet it actually lies, I have to agree. What the Duggars have done isn't an example of Christianity the way I see it, no matter how they may be held up by Focus on the Family and the like as a beacon of hope. If the Duggars were truly in it for the good of the children, and of the world, and felt that they had infinite love and resources to give to kids, they would have done something much more like the DeBolts. If children are indeed the heritage of the Lord, that means all children, not just the ones in your own bloodline.