Monday, March 10, 2014

Growing Up Duggar, by Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger Duggar

Warning: Long Post

You know what? I enjoy the Duggar family. I think they are unique and fun. Mostly I appreciate the fact that they aren't afraid of putting themselves in a spotlight when their viewpoints and opinions differ dramatically from society. I've read both of the Duggar's other books (see here and here) so when I heard about Growing Up Duggar, which is written by the oldest Duggar daughters, I was curious to read it as well.

Now, the Duggar family catch a lot of flak because of their large family. They have been slapped with all sorts of labels including "quiverfull" and "Patriarchal." I know that opinions out there are strong and passions fiery when it comes to this topic even in Christian circles. But unless and/or until a family (individually) proves to be in sin I'm hesitant to apply labels which may or may not apply. I think we should use more caution than we currently do in these label slaps, taking a little to hear a person out before we write them off entirely. (It has taken me a long time to learn the lesson contained in that last sentence.) There is usually something that you don't know that you should know before you start pointing fingers.

Two prominent "conservative Christian" teachers - both representing quiverful/patriarchal/legalistic segments of the Christian population - have been accused of grievous sins lately. Their ministries are being examined from the top down and back up again (as they ought to be). But just because the Duggar family shares some of the same beliefs and/or have ascribed to some of the teachings doesn't mean that they themselves have sinned and that their family life is a bust anymore than the giraffe can be blamed when the lion kills human prey even though they are in the same zoo. (Pardon that analogy. Work with me here.) So before I get all riled up and say, "No more Duggars!" I'm going to have to ask myself, "Are they particularly in sin?" I believe there is no evidence to say that such a thing is true. (There is plenty of evidence to suggest that they are not liked, but not that they are in sin.) By all accounts of people who know them personally, the Duggars seem to be genuine and sincere. Their private life (what there is of it) is much the same as what you see of their public life. Their children are happy and successful (depending on how you define success, I guess) and their family relationships seem to be strong and secure. All of these things are good and should not be sneered at. That all explained, I entered into Growing Up Duggar curious to see how the daughters of this rather famous family view their own lives and the world around them. If you have the same questions, then you shall be well satisfied with this read.

Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger explain how they view the way young ladies ought to interact with the opposite sex, what kind of music they prefer, why their family has chosen not to have a t.v. in the house, how they resolve family conflicts (which do happen) and, above all, how much they love God and their parents. In one sense, this is a very heartwarming read because it is so very clear that they respect their parents, love their God and are delighted with the lives that they have been given. They are satisfied, contented and - dare I say it? - happy! If you think that what they should be feeling is oppressed and angry then you're going to be disappointed with this read.

In sharing their belief systems and moral choices it is abundantly clear that they have been heavily influenced by Bill Gothard's teaching and IBLP. This is where the struggle begins for me because I do not respect Gothard and have hearty disagreements with the Moral Code he imposes on his followers. (I really debated whether to use the word "followers" in that last sentence but, in the end, I think it fits.) The problem that I have with Gotherd is that he strays from Scripture and makes demands on Christians that I don't think God intended to be made. Jesus' death on the cross did not destroy the law of God but it fulfilled it. We still have to follow Christ and that will mean making choices to walk away from things which cause us to sin but no other man gets to set up arbitrary rules for me on what I need to give up, when, and how. I believe Gothard imposes unjust and improper laws on clothes, interactions with the opposite sex, what music is appropriate to listen to and what is not, and so the list goes on and on and on. In my mind, Gothard's "laws" are Pharisaical and not Biblical. He has taken scripture and has added to it and we are expressly commanded not to do that. (Duet. 4:2) Whenever we do try to add on to scriptures, trouble inevitably comes and leaders inevitably fall. We as individuals need to take a cautious, studied look at scripture to understand who God is, who we are, and what He expects of us. We cannot escape the requirement to be accountable to God and to His word (we can not run about the earth willy nilly and do just anything that we please) but we don't have to live life always worrying that we're sinning against God because we're less an inch of fabric at the bottom of our skirt. That's too much and is not required. We ARE required to pursue God but we shouldn't expect to look exactly the same as every other Christian in the pursuit. He made us to be different from one another. Don't believe me? See 1 Cor. 12 for starters and the rest of the whole of Scripture for further confirmation.

That said, the Duggar girls are writing this book to other young girls, meaning to influence the reader and they do have the personalities and potential to do that. Since they do feel like Gothard's teachings are preferable, they advocate strict dating (i.e., courtship) habits and a strong preference to stay away from any music which has a heavy downbeat, preferring classical or bluegrass music. Their list of approved movies is short and they do attempt to dress stylishly but modestly as well. (It will depend on one's personal preference as to whether or not they feel the Duggar gals have achieved this balance. I actually think they have but I still like my jeans, thanks, and reading this book didn't motivate me out of them.)

While I don't feel called to give up my (already "strict" by other people's standards) love of CCM music (I can totally enjoy a loud Steven Curtis Chapman concert, thank you very much, and be edified by it) I can appreciate their heart for the message they are trying to share. They desire that young girls would seek to know the Lord and follow after Him. This book explains the way that they pursue their own walk with God I think that's ok (it's their conviction) but I have no intention of formatting my lifestyle to look like theirs.

Should this book be handed over to other young(er) girls? Well, that's a decision for each parent to make for themselves. I can say with confidence that if someone had handed me this book when I was 16 and 17 it would have resulted in my being unbearable to be around. I definitely can see the appeal of drawing dramatic boundaries around one's self in order to feel very spiritual. Their conservative ideas resonant with me but I also have to know that God isn't asking me to always wear skirts and dresses which reach below my knees and He allows me to enjoy different types of music (even Country. Yup.). But let's take for example Facebook. The Duggar girls don't use it because they think its essentially a waste of time and they should spend their time pursuing other things. Do I think Facebook is bad? No, not on its face (ha). Do I think it is possible to sin in the usage? Yes. I do. What do I think you should do with something that might cause you to sin? Pray about your exposure to it. Ask God what He thinks you should do regarding your usage. Act as He directs. Maybe some people should stay away from Facebook altogether. Maybe certain boundaries should be set in place to protect one's self from sin or just save one's self some time for other things. Having a personal conviction about how you use Facebook is perfectly ok; imposing that conviction on others is not. While the Duggar girls aren't explicitly telling their readers to give up Facebook, they do make a heavy case for why that might be a good idea. Because they present their opinions on things in a manner which says "these are good things and look how happy we are" then I think there should be a bit of caution applied when/if you decide to read this book for yourself and/or give it to your daughter to read. Like I said, if I had been given this book earlier - with my personality (who loves, loves, loves rules, glorious rules!) - it could have been catastrophic. Everyone around me would be made miserable with my holiness. (As it was, I still managed that from time to time. I distinctly remember receiving an eye roll when I once declared the Beatles as being evil incarnate. Yes. That was me.)

From a time and age perspective I can say that I think Growing Up Duggar is a nice gesture from nice girls of a nice family. I don't look down on them but neither do I look up to them. I don't know that I personally would suggest that a teenager or early 20 year old write a book explaining their faith. I'm not saying that to say that they don't have anything to offer to Christian young folk, because that wouldn't be true. They do have something to offer. But I hesitate in recommending the book because any mid-30 year old knows that a 20 year old still has many trials to walk through and many things to learn still. This book might be irrelevant for Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger in a manner of 10 years or so. We all grow up and see things differently as we age. Marrying makes a difference; so does having kids of your own.

I'm not saying this book is evil, because I don't think for a second that it is. I'm just saying that it's written by young ladies who are still single and passionate about teachings and convictions taught to their family by someone who is remarkably legalistic. And we really ought to be very, very cautious as Christians to add rules onto scripture and I think Gothard is mistaken in the belief system he has promoted. It's also a very appealing teaching when you are living in a world in which anything goes. Christians want a firm anchor to hold onto and Gothard appears to give it. The problem is that the Gospel is missing and when that is missing you should flee immediately. The best and firmest anchor is the cross and it is to that and to that alone which we must cling. That is not to say that there are no requirements for Christians regarding their behaviors and actions. There is law still, yes, but there is also much grace for the Christian. Grace for the Duggars and grace for the rest of us. The bottom line (for me) is that they are a part of the Body of Christ (I see absolutely no reason to believe otherwise) so I hesitate to go on the attack because - on the essentials - we are one. I dislike the idea of attacking them because they are a part of the church universal and as such, deserve my support and love, even if we are different. And we are different. And that's ok.

For the present, I'm still curious about the Duggars and I tip my hat to them for their bravery and willingness to lay themselves on the line to present Christ to a curious world. That's something.

Websites of interest:

'Nother take on this book from a different personality perspective: Bluerose's Heart shared her thoughts on this title.

Many thanks to Howard Books who sent a copy of this book my direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are 100% my own.


B said...

I really like your thoughts here, particularly re: the Gothard issue (something my mom can't stop talking about, it would seem -- she feels like we dodged a bullet). I can't say I'm even a tiny bit interested in reading the book, but I appreciate how you handled some of the more contentious topics surrounding them.

B said...

And by the way, I totally remember the Beatles comment :)

Carrie said...

I was hoping people would forget that....

Bluerose said...

I definitely don't agree with everything the Duggars believe! (My beliefs are purely based on God's Word, and not another man's or woman's beliefs.) I also wear pants and 3 is enough for me. ;) But, I still find them *hugely* encouraging in my marriage/parenting life. (I was completely unaware of issues surrounding the two teachers you're referring to, so I'll have to do some more research now.)

You've made me realize how different personalities are with this review, though. I still think a book like this would have been a HUGE encouragement to me as a young teenager, but you and I DO have very different personalities, it seems. ;) I'll still recommend it to the young girls I know, BUT I know now that I need to include a little note of explanation with it.

Annette Whipple said...

I can see how this would be a poor choice for girls who were like you long ago. I appreciate your thoughts on this!

Queen of Carrots said...

I think you did an excellent, balanced, gracious job with this review.

And I totally second people not writing books of advice in their teens and early twenties. Too much in life still to learn!

Barbara H. said...

I only enough about Gothard to know there are red flags to be concerned about, but I haven't read or studied anything about him. I've known families who incorporate some of his teaching (some of the things you mention here sound familiar), but not religiously or contentiously. OTOH, I do know people who advocate courtship and strict music and dress standards who are not at all associated with Gothard (with varying degrees of contentiousness).

I can see girls this age writing a "this is what it is like to be in a large family that everyone thinks is freaky, and it's really ok" kind of book - I don't know so much about their writing advice. Like you said, they have a lot of living and learning yet to do.

The church where I was saved was stricter in some of its standards (though courtship was not pushed then - I think that's more recent), so, with being new to everything and thinking that's the way it should be, I adopted those standards. Some years later I did discover that some were based on extrapolations from Scripture rather than Scripture itself, and I also wrestled with and was greatly helped by Romans 14 when we went to a church that was a lot "looser" in its standards.

Shonya said...

Excellent and thought-provoking review. I'm looking forward to reading this one, although I whole-heartedly agree with the thought regarding young women writing books about anything other than their own experiences.

And Gothard and Phillips. . .sigh.

Joy said...

Good review, Carrie!. Right on . I think those who have been "reformed" from conservative circles tend to write off the Duggars immediately (like me). But after much pondering on this subject, I've come to your same conclusions. We are to judge other Christians on areas of sin, but not preference. At the same time, I feel there is a great warning in Scripture against legalism and spiritual pride. Personally, though if I were to have my girls read a book during their teens, this would not be one of them! There are so many more spiritually beneficial ones out there!

BerlinerinPoet said...

I LOVE the Duggars! Surprise surprise, coming from someone from a "big family" you probably expected this. I'm interested in this book mainly because I like that you brought out the fact that these girls are loving life and the Lord and they are happy. People just assume that they are going to get older and break away and write scathing books of what "really happens" and when the kids all come out alright I'm thrilled.

I think they look stylish, but I, like you, wouldn't give up my jeans.

I think this was a good balanced review. There are problems with Gothard, but it doesn't mean there are problems with this family. I think they are great!

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