Screenshot via YouTube
The Dugar family has graced our televisions and our collective consciousness since 2004, when TLC aired its first special about the ultra-religious, oversized family.
Since then, we have seen the family grow, the children get married and have their own babies. Fans excited to see the grandkids grow up. But since the show ended, scandals have rocked the family. Their religious extremes have always fascinated fans, but what religion are they exactly? Read on for an in-depth look at the religious rules and mandates that shape Duggar family life.
The Duggars: a little reminder
Before we dive into all the religious regulations, let’s do a quick refresher on family (because, let’s be honest, it’s hard to keep track of all those names that start with ‘J’).
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar married in 1984 and had their first son, Joshua, in 1988. 21 years later, Josie would be the last of 19 children. In 2008 17 children and counting hit the airways – and was set to be renamed twice to accommodate the growing family before the show was canceled in 2015. That same year, a spin-off show called counting on aired, after the courtship, engagement and weddings of some of the older children. After 11 seasons, counting on ceased broadcasting in 2021.
Independent Baptists: Who They Are and What They Believe
The Duggars belong to a specific branch of Christianity called Independent Baptist. Also known as Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, or IFB, the branch sticks to extreme conservative Baptist beliefs and chooses to maintain the exclusivity of the main Baptist denomination. The branch was formed in the early 20th century, when some Baptist congregations felt the denomination was becoming too modern and liberal. These groups split from the traditional denomination and became Independent Baptists.
Independent Baptists, such as the Duggars, often attend a “house church” so they can maintain a small group of congregants. Most followers only use the original King James Version of the Bible and take the text at face value. This means that the men are the heads of the family and the church, and the women must remain submissive. Women and girls are expected to keep their hair long and wear modest clothing, which Michelle Duggar interpreted to her family as the girls wearing only long skirts. It’s a rule that a handful of Duggar girls have broken, choosing to wear pants once married and establishing their own homes. There are no piercings or tattoos.
All Duggar children are homeschooled, although this is not a requirement of the Independent Baptist faith.
Duggars Don’t Date: Extreme Seduction Rituals
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Independent Baptist religion is their courtship rituals. Dating, as most people know, is strictly prohibited. What is the difference? Dating is about getting to know someone without necessarily the end result being marriage. In the Duggar family, courtship is a relationship that is entered into with the intention of marriage, and each Duggar girl courtship must be approved by Jim Bob.
“Courting is really about waiting for the one God has for you and praying through the process,” Jim Bob said in an interview.
“It’s really about looking at the person and saying, ‘Would this be the guy I want to father my kids?’ adds Michelle.
During courtship, couples cannot be alone together or even have an unsupervised conversation. Whenever the couple is together, there is a chaperone: Jim Bob, Michelle or a Duggar brother over 10 years old. Jim Bob and Michelle also monitor phone calls and text messages.
Physical contact is very limited and is part of an early outline of courtship expectations created by the couple and endorsed by Jim Bob at the start of courtship. Once a couple is engaged, they can hold hands and side hug, as long as it’s brief. The first kiss is recorded for the wedding day. Sex, of course, is irrelevant until the couple are married.
So… does the courtship work? Currently, 11 of the Duggar children are married and there has been no divorce or separation yet. None of the Duggar children have a child old enough to court yet, so we’ll have to wait and see if they continue the ritual.
Duggar family scandals
Despite the strict religious upbringing, there have been many times when the Duggar family has appeared in the news for something less than wholesome. Rumors have swirled for years about family splits, Jim Bob’s control issues with adult children, and unethical financial practices. The biggest blow to the family and its religious morality came earlier this year when eldest son Josh Duggar was convicted of receiving and possessing child pornography, for which he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. This conviction was the latest chapter in a long history of legal troubles for Josh. In 2015, news broke that he molested girls when he was younger, which his family chose to deal with on their own. Later that year, Josh also admitted to a pornography addiction.
“I have been the biggest hypocrite of all time. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly watched pornography on the internet for the past few years and it has become a secret addiction and I have become unfaithful to my wife,” Josh said in a statement.
Whether you like following the drama of the Duggars or prefer switching channels, there’s no denying that the family and their religion are fascinating. What’s next for the Duggars? We don’t know, but we’re sure it will be interesting. You can count on it.