Superficial reactions

The Duggar affair is sensitive and complicated, not an easy topic for commentary.

The element about which I am most certain is that the reaction on both sides from front-line culture-warriors has been superficial and ill-advised.


The issue of 15-year-old Josh Duggar's inappropriate contact a dozen or so years ago with young girls is not dismissible as a youthful "mistake."

That seems to be the prevailing gasp of the leading grandstanders among our current infestation of preacher-politicians on the right. I refer to Mike Huckabee and Jason Rapert, who rushed to defend the Duggars.

There is a line between a mistake and creepiness. Touching little girls crosses it. It's different from out-of-wedlock pregnancy or a DWI.

These preacher-politicians would be better off staying silent, even if one of them has banked on the famous Duggars' support for his lame presidential bid and even if the other has allied with Josh in pushing unconstitutional anti-abortion bills in Arkansas.

Equally distasteful, though, has been the rush of liberals to chortle about supposed right-wing hypocrisy and exploit these sad events. A couple of my earlier and deleted attempts at commentary on this matter had the effect of stereotyping Josh's behavior as reflective of his religion and the broader social conservatism he represents. And that's absurd, wildly unfair.

Those bountiful child producers, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, are members of an extremely fundamental religious sect that holds that the Bible passage about children being blessings means that folks need to procreate with rampant abandon. The Duggars believe wives are to be submissive to their husbands as well as procreative depositories. They believe the secular world is ungodly and to be avoided.

I disagree wholly with those views, finding them narrow and destructive. But I'm not comfortable assessing one youth's behavior as symptomatic of anything other than his own illness. I am quite certain a boy could be brought up by the tenets of the Duggars' odd religion and never be drawn to the kind of conduct at issue here.

But I'm inclined to agree with the emerging near-consensus that the Duggars didn't handle this matter well.

When the firstborn got caught engaging in the aforementioned touching of young girls, the Duggars talked to church elders, not professional counselors. They apparently sent the young man to do hard work with a like-minded religious zealot who ended up getting in trouble himself when accused of sexual harassment.

Then Jim Bob took Josh to get merely a "stern talking-to" from a State Police officer who ended up in prison on child pornography charges.

A child preying on others sexually needs professional attention.

And the younger children who got preyed upon also need a trained counselor, especially if the counselor can disabuse them of any cancerous religion-based notion in their home-schooled brains that they are at all to blame for what happened.

Still, I find it hard to fault Duggar for wanting to handle the matter without turning his own son in to the authorities. I believe a lot of parents would react that way.

Maybe all of this worked out as well as could have been expected.

We can hope the girls are well. We can hope the young man is under control.

I don't blame him now for what happened then.

But I do tend to assign some blame for the Duggars' general mishandling of the matter on a cultish religion that is unreasonably and dangerously extreme--like one that forbids vaccines, which could have the effect of endangering innocent children and infecting the rest of us.

If you have a child predator at home, and victims in your home, then you'll need your church, certainly. But you also owe it to the rest of us to step outside any bubble of like-mindedness.

Get the offender outside professional help, even if it means he'll be reported to authorities. And attend most diligently and protectively to the victims.

Finally, I do have one culture-war point to make. It's about "family values," that right-wing refrain as a supposed model for the rest of us--that arrogant assertion of true-religion superiority and a presumed right to apply that supposed superiority to those of us who are supposedly inferior as moral beings.

As it turns out, the phrase is wholly dependent on the particular family and its particular values in a particular circumstance.

In this case the family value was to be humongous, which is not applicable to anyone else.

And the family value when confronted with a crisis was to live in a tiny church bubble and in a heavily insulated echo chamber, which is not advisable for anybody.


John Brummett's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 06/02/2015