The Duggar family has been gracing our televisions and our collective consciousness since 2004, when TLC aired their first special on the ultra-religious, over-sized family.
Since then, we’ve seen the family grow, the children marry and have babies of their own. Fans delighted in watching the grandchildren 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 religous rules and mandates that shape the Duggar family life.
The Duggars: a quick refresher
Before we jump into all the religious regulations, lets have a quick refresher on the family (because, lets 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 final of the 19 children. In 2008 17 Kids and Counting hit the airways—and would have to be re-named twice to accomodate the growing family before the show’s cancellation in 2015. That same year, a spin-off show called Counting On aired, following the courtship, engagements, and marriages of some of the older children. After 11 seasons, Counting On went off the air 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 holds to extreme conservative Baptist beliefs and chooses to maintain exclusivity from 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 separated from the traditional denomination and became Independent Baptist.
Independent Baptists, like the Duggars, often attend a “home church” so that they can maintain a select group of fellow worshippers. Most followers use only the original King James version of the Bible, and they take the text literally. This means that men are the head of the household and of the church, and that women must remain submissive. Women and girls are expected to keep their hair long and wear modest clothing, which Michelle Duggar interpreted for her family as the girls only wearing long skirts. This is a rule a handful of the Duggar daughters have broken, choosing to wear pants once marrying and establishing their own homes. There are no body piercings or tattoos.
All of the Duggar children are homeschooled, although this isn’t a requirement of the Independent Baptist faith.
Duggars don’t date: extreme courtship rituals
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Independent Baptist religion is their courtship rituals. Dating, as most people know it, is strictly prohibited. What’s the difference? Dating is for getting to know someone without necessarily having the end result be marriage. In the Duggar family, courtship is a relationship that is entered into with the intention of marriage, and each Duggar daughter courtship must be approved by Jim Bob.
“Courtship is really waiting for the one God has for you and praying through the whole process,” said Jim Bob in an interview.
“It’s really examining the person and considering, ‘Would this be the guy I want to be the father of my kids?’” adds Michelle.
While in courtship, couples can’t be alone together or even have an unsupervised conversation. Each time the couple are together there is a chaperone: Jim Bob, Michelle, or a Duggar sibling over the age of 10. Jim Bob and Michelle also monitor phone calls and text messages.
Physical contact is highly restricted, and is part of an initial outline of courtship expectations created by the couple and approved by Jim Bob at the beginning of the courtship. Once a couple is engaged to be married, they can hold hands and give each other side hugs, as long as they are brief. The first kiss is saved for the wedding day. Sex, of course, is off the table until the couple is married.
So…does courtship work? Currently 11 of the Duggar children are married, and there have been no divorces or separations yet. None of the Duggar children have children of their own old enough to enter a courtship yet, so we’ll have to wait and see if they continue with the ritual.
Duggar family scandals
Despite the strict religious upbringing, there have been plenty of times the Duggar family has appeared in the news for something less than wholesome. Rumors have swirled for years about family rifts, Jim Bob’s control issues with adult children, and unethical financial practices. The biggest hit for the family and their religious morality came earlier this year when oldest son Josh Duggar was convicted on charges of receiving and possessing child pornography, for which he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. This conviction was the final chapter in a long story of legal troubles for Josh. In 2015, news broke that he had molested girls when he was younger, something his family had chosen to handle themselves. Later that year, Josh also admitted to a pornography addiction.
“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife,” Josh said in a statement.
Whether you love to follow the drama of the Duggars or prefer to change the channel, there’s no denying that the family and their religion is fascinating. What’s next for the Duggars? We don’t know, but we’re sure it will be interesting. You can count on it.