What About the Duggars?

Was the Reality Show Ever A Good Idea?

By Mary E. Stephens
August 2015; updated Dec. 2021

Trigger Warning: This article contains descriptions and discussion that may bother
those who have experienced sexual and/or other abuse, especially within the world of
ATI and the IBLP or other highly controlling cultic groups.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have made themselves, and allowed themselves to be made, the poster family of the large family "movement," Quiverfull (no birth control", "purity culture," modesty culture, the Gothard world (Advanced Training Institute - ATI, Institute of Basic Life Principles - IBLP), "Biblical Patriarchy," and Christianity. With 19 children of their own, plus extended family, they have been starring in their own

 The shows are still available to watch on TLC's pay-to-view plan on YouTube, as well as some that are posted by others. Some other outlets may also offer them, so they will continue to have a presence for some time.

2021 Update: Since Josh's arrest and conviction for possession and downloading of child sexual abuse pornography, most of their shows have been removed from the various places where they were previously. And good riddance.
reality show, "19 Kids and Counting", until earlier this year (2015). They have become the most recognized mega family in North American and the world.  [Photo: Discovery?, 2015]

Having watched a lot of the programs I will say that, although I get annoyed with them, I understand their mystique to some degree. Compared with other things that are available on television and online, they appear to be very Christian, wholesome and clean, and compared to most of it they are. I would venture to guess that some of them are actually born again and are more or less sincerely trying to please God. But, there are some problems. In fact, we should probably say many problems.

The reality show came to birth after someone was inspired by a photograph of the family when Jim Bob was running for senate in Arkansas around 2003 or '04. Discovery approached them about a special - "Fourteen Children and Pregnant Again" - which focused on their very tight living situation and the building of their super large house. The financial assistance of the show, and the publicity, was doubtless a welcome resource for the Duggars. After they had done several one hour specials for T.V. they were offered a full time show which Jim Bob and Michelle decided to accept, being in need of more money to help support their continually growing family. They also liked to claim that it was "a platform" for ministry. This set the stage for an outcome they could not have imagined.

We now know that Josh was already in deep water at the very time the first documentary was filmed. He had already molested several of his younger sisters (and, we now know, manually raped one) and another girl over the course of several years (longer than the parents admitted). He had also reportedly gotten into trouble for viewing pornography on the computer while he was working in the campaign of a Republican candidate for something.

One can hardly think of a worse choice for Jim Bob and Michelle to make at that point in time than to shove their family into public scrutiny through reality T.V. They most certainly should have been focusing on their own problems, not plunging into the superficial world of television.

But, let's start here: Was a reality show an appropriate thing for a Christian family?

Question #1

First of all, one friend of mine raised the question as to whether their reality show is biblical in the first place. Where are we told is scripture to intentionally go about making our family a gazingstock to the world or to invite persecution and close scrutiny of our daily lives within the confines of the home? By inviting the world (not just their neighbors) into their private family life, they have done just that.

Hebrews 10:32-34 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.

Persecution should come from standing for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and with those who stand for the gospel. But to invite it by allowing the world into the most private workings of one's home and family is questionable at best. I know that the excuse is that this is a great platform from which to glorify God, but if you can't preach the gospel from that platform (and I have never seen them do so on the show), how is it truly glorifying God? Michelle has said that they "just want to be a blessing to families." Is that what we are called to as Christians? Is it our job to randomly throw our family out into the public eye in hopes of "blessing" someone?  Is that our calling according to God's purpose (Rom. 8:28)? 

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to one source, the camera crew was at their house three days a week for periods of time.
Is it glorifying to the Lord Jesus Christ to spend so much time and effort (which they did) on something where they are not permitted to actually give the gospel in such a way that someone could hear and believe? That is a serious question. I don't have a pat answer for it, but it doesn't ring true as the object of the Christian life based on scripture. It is true that Jesus was under constant observation during the three years of His ministry, and Paul often was as well during his. But, there is a huge difference - namely, a wife and 19 kids (plus extras). Paul and Jesus were not scrutinized in the manner television creates, either. They were observed by people who were with them personally or heard of them from others. It was not an artificially staged situation, which reality shows most definitely are. There have been admissions that the Duggars do things and created situations suitable for filming - in other words, things they would not ordinarily do. This is no surprise and typical of shows of this type. But, what is the message that gives about their "reality?" And, since they brought it up, how does this artificiality glorify Jesus?

Another interesting point is that neither Paul nor Jesus spent large portions of their lives under the scrutiny, which is interesting and begs another question.

Question #2

How does this living in a Hollywood style fishbowl help the children to grow "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord"? 

Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Earlier on in the Duggars' series, my friend and I both observed attitudes and reactions at times

Considering the changes we can see in several of the now-married kids, we know that there was a good deal more disagreement than the earlier show presented. In fact, it has come out that Jill Duggar Dillard and her husband, Derek, were shunned by the parents when she had to seek the assistance of a lawyer to get Jim Bob to give her the money she had rightfully earned in the show "Counting On." And with the recent conviction of Josh, the family is disintegrating further.
among the children (especially the older ones) that seemed to show frustration and resentment.  My friend, having known what it was like to be in a highly legalistic environment and in a fishbowl position (not anywhere near to a reality show extent) sensed that there was some lack of agreement at that time between the kids and their parents. There seemed to be some resentment at being forced into this very awkward position of explaining their alleged beliefs to the world in this way. It seemed as if the producers were trying to reveal this to the viewers.

[Some of the world apparently got the message since there is a web forum "dedicated" to Jinger Duggar called freejinger.org  (meaning to free her from the "bondage" of her patriarchy home and Christian beliefs).  It is dedicated to exposing the flaws in Christian Fundamentalism. I'm sorry to say that not all of their complaints are unfounded or wrong. In fact, there are too many legitimate ones to ignore, but that is a topic for another day.]

I also observed at least one instance where the producers apparently set a trap for one of the girls, whether intentionally or not I can't say, to catch her in a lie and what, by most standards, was flirtation with a guy. Because it seemed to contradict the "standards" of the parents, TLC played it up. [The clip used to be on TLC's Duggar web page, but I can no longer find it.]

Humanly speaking, it is impossible that the reality show microscope combined with the IBLP and ATI attention has not had an affect on them. Time has proven this to be true, and sadly, I think we can expect to continue to see fall out from that. There are things that will likely affect the kids their whole lives. Some of the youngest ones may have a chance to live a more normal life now that the show is cancelled, but the older ones have been subjected to so much Hollywood type stardom it will likely take most of them some time to completely recover from that, if they ever do. The need for perpetual attention can become an addiction, and it appears that some of them are already suffering from this. It can turn otherwise "normal" people into narcissists.

2021 Update: Since this was originally written the Duggars, instead of going quietly away and finding a more normal life style, pursued a sequel series called "Counting On" which featured some of the older girls, but not Josh. In the wake of this and because of this, some of them have become social media influencers and have invented their own "ministry platforms" through various means. I suspect that some of them are in a sense addicted to the attention, and find it difficult to walk away from it and live a more normal life. And, as has been seen so graphically, Josh and Jim Bob Duggar do show signs of being narcissists. Whether that was part of their personalities before or not, we don't really know for sure. In Josh's case we can never know in this life because he was thrust into fame before his personality was properly developed. Even in the earliest shows his cocky, self-important demeanor is obvious, but it's hard to say if he would have become what he is today if he hadn't had the opportunities that were brought to him through the reality show and his family's fame in the Gothard circles.

Despite the Duggars allegedly teaching their kids to be humble, in watching the show it is easy to see how different ones manipulate situations to get the attention on themselves. This plays out off of the show as well. Jill seems to have a tendency to interrupt her sisters to put in her two cents (this was perhaps most noticeable in interviews other than the show). Josie, as the youngest and miracle baby, appears to be getting a lot of extra attention in the family as well as on the show and in social media. Jessa and Ben take a lot of pleasure in making their private love story public in ways that are sometimes ludicrous, in my opinion. Of course, Josh and Anna's courtship and marriage were the first big one on the show and they are infamous for their goopy talk and bizarre hand holding which has appropriately been referred to as "hand sex." There were other oddities where one or another was obviously trying to be the center of attnetion. It has been noticed by others as well since I've found it being discussed by viewers and anti-fans from time to time on the internet.

Also, for those Duggars who don't appreciate the fame, it may be difficult to escape it, especially with a name like Duggar.  They are having to be constantly aware that because of their family fame, they may be a target for anything from fans to haters both in public and in the privacy of their home. The family had to fence their property and install a security gate to stop unwanted visits, but they can't stay inside of that all the time. Going out in public may not be much trouble for the most part, but the connection will always be there and it will come up at times, and some of them may frankly resent that. The perpetual pressure to perform like a Duggar could get old pretty quickly.

2021 Updated: This has proved to be all too true. More than one of the Duggars must be frustrated with the notoriety by now. Some, like Jana, are constantly having speculations and claims made about them. As the older girls, especially, have made choices that don't line up perfectly with their parents' claimed standards, they have been gleefully "celebrated" and praised in the media and on the "tea" sites as being "rebels," etc. There has also been close scrutiny of how they are raising their children. There has been intense focusing on the most inane and unimportant things. This level of being under a microscope must get extremely tiresome and be a terrible burden at times.

Of course, there is the aspect of the very real persecution that this show has brought upon the kids as well as the parents. Many false accusations and insinuations have been made. Many lies have been told. And, in many cases this is not for the word of God or the testimony of Jesus, Rev. 1:9, but rather because of their many personal (but not necessarily biblical) ideas that they have flaunted for the world to critique. Suffering for the gospel's sake is one thing. Suffering because you're a Duggar who has "weird beliefs" and relatives who are despicable is quite another. And, may I just say that some of their beliefs are weird? Many of the things they've been mocked for are not concretely provable in scripture. In other words, they can't give a verse that says "do this," but instead give verses which they interpret to mean "do this." (There is a world of difference.) On the show "19KaC" they generally offered no scripture, but would say, "the Bible says, ..." and what followed may or may not have been what the Bible actually does say. In fact, in the true spirit of ATI and the IBPL, they have often seemed quite guilty of "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men."

Matthew 15:8-9 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Here's a problem: we aren't called to explain ourselves to the world at large. Our main ministry to the world is as ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:18-20) to point them to salvation in Jesus Christ. We are to give an answer for the hope in us, not every aspect of our personal lives and practice. 1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  You might notice also that we are to be ready to answer those who ask. A reality show to help people "understand" large Christian families in a contrived and staged manner hardly falls into that category. We have no call to put out all our weird-isms and personal preferences that aren't clearly stated in scripture for the entertainment of the world. More than likely, they will mostly mock and treat it as a circus, as has proven to be true for the Duggars. Furthermore, trying to explain spiritual concepts meant for Christians to unsaved people is not going to be very productive. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Question #3

Another question we might ask is this: does the alleged fruit justify the choice? Does the end justify the means? 

Just because there may have been some apparent fruit (people claimed to be blessed, someone didn't have an abortion, couples who had more children, etc.) it does not follow that God approves of all the choices and methods. God is merciful. He uses messed up, confused humans in spite of themselves, otherwise none of us would ever do anything worthwhile for Him. One of the big mistakes in Christianity is the idea that fruit or apparent blessing equals God's approval. It does not. Remember Samson. He was a judge and God used him mightily in delivering Israel, but he was a law-breaker and obviously sinful in a number of ways. God clearly did no approve of his wickedness. "Results" do not equal God's approval. They also do not justify the means that were used.

2 Corinthians 10:18 For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.

One way we could examine the Duggars' reality show is to ask, "How appropriate is it to use a worldly context to minister to the world or to the saints?" I realize that some of the religious broadcasting networks and channels might require the Duggars to compromise some of their convictions in order to work with them. But, how is it better for them to work with The Learning Channel (TLC)? As I mentioned, I don't recall having yet heard the gospel given clearly on their show, and very little clear Bible teaching came through. It was mostly presented as the Duggars' convictions or ideals; which in reality, that's all it was, so I guess one might argue at least that was appropriate. 

It should be pointed out here that their relationship with People magazine falls into this same category. Seeing them on the cover or web page with scantily clad women alongside and scandalous reports on famous people hardly seems like the appropriate place for a "Christian presence." One of the worst features about them in the magazine may of been the one about "the Sexiest Duggar". Really? Is that part of your "platform for the Lord," Jim Bob and Michelle? It is sadly reminiscent of Billy Graham's interview with Playboy magazine years ago. They don't belong there.
TLC is not really like putting an ad in the local newspaper. In the first place, people know that when you put an ad in a newspaper, on radio or T.V., or online, the church or person or organization is paying to have it run. In this case the Duggars were being paid to be on TLC. And, TLC has much more of a tabloid flavor in at least some of its other shows - spoiled brat kids, irascible mothers, loser husbands/boyfriends, and perhaps the saddest one, the girl with "two heads" (conjoined twins with one body). Is this an appropriate environment in which to "be a blessing"? Were the Duggars an island of goodness in a circus of madness, or were they just contributing to the freakishness with their mega-sized family and eccentric beliefs? And, how could that honor Christ? 

The Christians who were killed in the arenas of Rome were not put there by their choice. They became part of "the show" as martyrs. Jim Bob and Michelle put their family into this situation of their own free will. They wanted this. They wanted the attention; they wanted the fame; and most of all, I believe they wanted the fortune.

As it has been said, "It is never right to do wrong to do right." We don't sin so that grace may abound - or to have a "platform for Jesus."

2 Corinthians 6:14-17 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,


I can't help thinking of what Jesus said, Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. Matthew 7:6

The Duggars were unhappy that people have been so hard on them about Josh's youthful perversions. Maybe if they hadn't put themselves out there for everyone to see, and cast their precious children and their allegedly happy home life out before the world, maybe, just maybe, the world would not have paid them any attention when things went foul. Maybe their kids' personal lives wouldn't be the subject of speculation and mockery. Maybe they could lament Josh's final downfall without their whole family being paraded before the world. Maybe the reputation of them all wouldn't have had dirt cast on it by the behavior of the few.

The Lord told us through Paul to "...study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Somehow starring in a reality show and using your family's private life to gain money just doesn't seem to fit that.

How can this apply to us where we are? 

First, don't defend the Duggars. Just don't. If you haven't realized it yet, let me just say that you will be embarrassed. It has already gotten extremely bad and I expect it to get worse, not because I think they can't change or repent, but because they haven't shown any interest in doing so to date. In fact, their reputation and ability to gain money is based on not changing their ways. 1 Peter 1:24-25 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. Also, 1 Corinthians 4:6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

Secondly, we can learn an important lesson. As Christians, we are not going to be able to please the world in order to serve Christ. The world in general does not want to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will censor our efforts so that we cannot speak the things we should. We need to learn to stand on our own before the Lord to do His work without the approval or permission of men. Accepting the riches of the world (and the Duggars were paid well for their show) to allegedly serve the Lord is just contrary to what we read in the Bible. Matthew 6:2 says, Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Thirdly, in certain types of things (and reality shows are one of them), it is hard to use the world while not abusing it. There may be many ways that we can fall into this. Something as simple as monetizing your Christian blog or web page can lead to abusing the world if you are not careful. The types of ads that you allow in order to gain a little cash flow may shame rather than honor Jesus Christ. Biblically, we should have one focus, and it should exclude abusing the world's ways and methods or seeking attention and fame through their means. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

Lastly, we need to remember what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. I don't think the Duggars intended to fall into this when they started, but the flow of money, perks, freebies, and speaking engagements the show generated had to be very helpful with such a large family. Riches are very seductive and very deceitful. I'm sure it was easy to excuse themselves in many ways. But, where did it lead? Certainly there are the foolish and hurtful lusts, and they have many sorrows now as well. This should serve as a major warning to us all. If you're given the choice, don't go there. Just don't.

Daniel 4:37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the
King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment:
and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.


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"What About the Duggars?"

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Page created Aug. 2015
Updated Dec. 2021