The Duggar’s Homeschooling Program Contains Lessons That Promote Child Abuse & Forgiving Molesters

Photo: Washington County Sheriff’s Office / Getty
Josh Duggar, Jim Bob Duggar, Michelle Duggar

Six years ago Josh Duggar was a director of an anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-Christian lobbying group, now he is a known sexual abuser who has been accused of molesting underage girls and has been found guilty of receiving and possessing child pornography. 

However, this decline from being the “epitome of conservative values,” in his own words, to his current state started much earlier than the recent verdict. 

Where Duggar’s perverse urge to prey on children originated will likely remain a mystery, but it is almost impossible to look at his crimes without seeing how his family’s conservative Christian values cultivated an atmosphere for his abuse to flourish.

The Duggars, a family of Independent Christian Baptists, have long kept their faith at the center of their public and private personas. 

It is laced into every episode of their now retired TLC reality show, “19 Kids And Counting,” it is what they looked to for guidance when Duggar first confessed to molesting underage girls, including his sisters.

RELATED: Josh Duggar Admitted He First Molested Underage Girls When He Was 12, Says Family Friend

It was even used by his defense attorneys in his child pornography trial to argue that witnesses should be prohibited from delivering their full testimony due to “clerigy privilege” — suggesting that the details Duggar disclosed about his actions to his father and family friend should be kept private because he did so for spiritual purposes. 

ATI, the homeschooling program used by The Duggars, has been linked to child abuse. 

The Duggars are known to have homeschooled all of their children using the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) curriculum, a conservative, faith-based program. 

The controversial curriculum follows the teachings of Bill Gothard, the founder of Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), to which the Duggars are also tied. 

Gothard has been accused of sexual harrasment by at least 34 different women. 

The curriculum is largely considered to be designed around reinforcing patriarchal standards and teaching young women that their bodies are not their own. 

It has also been accused of using other controversial texts, one of those being “To Train Up A Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl. 

RELATED: Josh Duggar's Wife Thought He Was Cured — But Can Sex Offenders Ever Truly Be Rehabilitated?

The book, which advocates for spanking, withholding food from children and spraying them with a hose, has been linked to the deaths of three children

But the Pearls have other work that contextualizes the culture of silence around child abuse in fundamentalist Christian community that raised the Duggars. 

In writings about what to do if you discover your husband is molesting children, Michael Pearl suggests seeking therapy rather than going to the police. 

“If he is truly repentant (not just exposed) and is willing to seek counseling, you may feel comfortable giving him an opportunity to prove himself, as long as you know the children are safe,” Pearl writes. 

If this doesn’t work, Pearl does permit wives to report their husbands, but says they must stick by them.

“Have him do about 10 to 20 years, and by the time he gets out, you will have raised the kids, and you can be waiting for him with open arms of forgiveness and restitution. Will this glorify God? Forever.”

RELATED: Spiritual Sex Predators: Why It's Common To See Sex Abuse In Faith

20 years, conveniently, is the maximum penalty Duggar faces for his child pornography charges. His youngest child with wife Anna Duggar will likely be out of the house by then.

And, just as Michael Pearl’s God intended, Anna has remained devotedly by her husband’s side during the trial.

“God hates divorce — always, forever, regardless, without exception,” Pearl concludes on the topic. 

The ATI is rife with teaching materials that pushes women to stay silent and submissive when it comes to abuse — whether it’s against themselves or others. 

Around 2013, stories from one of the first generations raised by ATI began to crop up in blog posts, detailing the culture of sexual abuse within the communities using the curriculum. 

Many of these survivors of ATI were Gothard’s alleged victims who detailed the pressure on women to hide the crimes of Christian men.

Two years later, as the details of Josh Duggar’s alleged molestation of underage girls back in the early 2000s became public for the first time, it was the women in his family who were left to do the damage control.

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“He was a… young boy in puberty, and a little too curious about girls,” said Jessa Duggar of her brother in an interview alongside her sister, Jill, both were two of Duggar’s first victims. 

“And that got him into some trouble.”

“In our case,” Jill continued, “It’s very mild compared to what happens to some.”

The sisters, as well as Anna Duggar, have been the subject of call-outs from other survivors of ATI and child abuse, with many urging them to look beyond what they have been taught by their community. 

“It is within your rights to make decisions that guarantee your happiness and health,” Ryan Stollar of Homeschoolers Anonymous wrote in an open letter to Anna in 2015. 

“Do not feel you must make your decision based on any other criteria—what is best for the Duggar Family™ Brand, what your religious subculture demands of you, what Josh demands from you, etc.”

The women have remained largely silent throughout Josh Duggar’s trial but each appeared alongside their families in court. 

We may never hear their true thoughts on Duggar’s crimes, such is the reality of Christian family values that protect and shield abusers while negating the trauma of their victims.

But, until the groups that disseminate these kinds of values acknowledge and address the role they play in the crimes of men like Duggar, justice may not ever be served. 

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Alice Kelly is a senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her Twitter for more.