I love Jill Duggar’s authenticity in her new memoir Counting the Cost.
I love Jill Duggar’s (or Jill Dillard’s!) growth that she shows in Counting the Cost.
I love how Jill models getting help when you need it. I love how she obviously struggled to present a balanced picture of her family life–how it wasn’t all bad, but it certainly wasn’t all good and healthy either.
I love how she’s trying to navigate her relationships with her parents with grace and boundaries now.
And my goodness did I ever love how Derick supported her and was just the perfect man at the perfect time (though of course no relationship is perfect, but their story is beautiful).
I stayed up until 1:00 am reading it last night and I dreamt about some of its themes too!
I could talk about a thousand different themes in the book, but what I want to focus on is a simple one:
The Duggars’ Christianity was missing Christ.
I love how Jill says, so succinctly near the end of the book as she’s trying to process her childhood, “It was a cult, thriving on a culture of fear and manipulation.”
They read the Bible. They used Jesus words. But there wasn’t a Jesus.
Yet because they used the Bible, many of the kids’ faith was genuine, and it’s been lovely to see many of the Duggar kids find their own faith as they have grown and figured things out for themselves.
But the whole point of the Duggar family mission (the TV show), as Jill said again and again, was that Jim Bob thought this was his way to introduce the world to Christianity. This was their mission work.
You can’t have Christianity without Christ.
The Duggars’ idea of Christianity was “let’s live by a big set of rules.”
When Jill talks about her childhood, she doesn’t talk about praying or knowing Jesus was with her. She talks instead about what made them Christians was that they wore strange clothes; they didn’t dance but were only allowed to jump up and down; they didn’t have a TV. They dressed modestly (this seemed to be the biggest thing that was stressed, over and over again). They made sure the boys weren’t tempted by girls in the world. They stayed sequestered and didn’t go to school or have much interaction with the outside world at all.
And, of course, they had tons and tons of kids.
Because the world was so dangerous, parents had to have lots of authority to protect their kids from the outside world. So kids were discouraged from growing up or having autonomy or making decisions, because they needed their parents for that.
This was their Christianity.
And they aimed to be the “Model Family” at the Gothard seminars, where everyone smiled and had identical clothing and obeyed perfectly.
This version of Christianity was “let’s keep ourselves untainted by the world.” It’s a dichotomous way of seeing the world: There is us and there is them, and never the twain shall meet.
Jesus’ idea was that the kingdom of God was near.
The Duggars seemed to think that if we can show the world how strange we are, and how our kids are doing so well because of these strange rules, then people will turn to our version of Christianity. So the witness is in the difference with the world as they attempted to distance themselves from the wrold.
Jesus didn’t do this.
What was one of the phrases that Jesus said the most? “The kingdom of God is like…” and then He would burst into a parable. It was like a seed that grew and grew and engulfed everything. It was like yeast that worked through a whole batch of dough. It was like something you sacrificed everything to get.
What are the principles of the kingdom of God? The lame shall walk; the blind shall see; the prisoners shall be set free. It is good news for the poor. It is the proclamation of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4). It is that Jesus has come and shown us what God is like; for it is not just that Jesus is like God; it is that God is like Jesus. When we see Jesus, we see the Father. We see who God is, as Savior and King.
And where is the kingdom of God?
It is near. It is among us. It is growing because we are salt and light. We are the yeast. The Spirit in us is spreading the kingdom.
The kingdom of God doesn’t grow by power; the kingdom of God spreads as we become more and more like Christ and we start to see the oppressed set free.
The kingdom of God is not interested in separating itself from people; the kingdom of God is interested in being yeast that changes things.
I don’t know how to properly explain this, but I think it’s so important.
I think many of us have the wrong version of Christianity.
We’re focused on how Christianity gives us an identity of “we’re not like them,” instead of Christianity giving us the identity of “we love them as Christ loved and saved us.” We’re focused on Christianity as us vs. them, whereas Jesus welcomed everyone, considered everyone someone to eat with and talk to (even the Pharisees when they invited Him!), and was profoundly interested in people.
We’re focused on looking a certain way, on external cues; Jesus focused on authenticity.
It is only authenticity that changes the world.
Authenticity means that we have to share who we actually are. We have to take down the masks and relate on a personal and emotional level. That’s how things truly change–when hearts change. Not when behaviours change (you can force that or pressure that). Not when the outside changes (on the outside, Josh Duggar looked great). It’s only when we can be real and admit what we’re honestly feeling that we make a true connection with people.
And it is that connection that changes the world. Jesus’ death that brings our life and our forgiveness necessitates authenticity–as we’re honest with ourselves about our true state; as we’re honest with ourselves about our hurts; as we see that God sees the things that we can barely admit to ourselves and forgives and heals. He connects at the deepest level.
Connection changes. Compulsion forces.
The incarnation, when Christ became human, happened because God deeply cares about connection, and it is through connection that change happens.
Yet the Duggars, and the IBLP, and Bill Gothard, didn’t focus on connection. They focused on maintaining a facade that reinforced us vs. them. That’s not kingdom principles. That’s Roman principles. It’s the opposite. It’s a Christianity without Christ.
Again, I’m not sure this is making sense. Like I said, I was up until 1 am reading the book, and I’m still in a fog processing.
But this is so important, because this is one of the fundamental problems with evangelicalism today, especially in the United States. We’re so focused on evangelicalism giving us this identity of us vs them so that we can be proud that we have it all right, and we’ve lost that bit about the kingdom of God being near, and the kingdom that is supposed to spread to everyone–and everyone is welcome. That we are supposed to deeply care and connect with the world, even as we aren’t of it.
Jesus identifies with the least of these. He invites us to care about the world, not just sequester and be proud that we’re not them.
We’re getting this all wrong.
There is no Christianity without Christ.
That’s when it becomes, as Jill said, a cult.
Counting the Cost is a great read.
It’s really well written. It tells a lot of the back story while it’s also clear that Jill went to great pains to honor her parents where she could, and to protect her siblings and not share things that weren’t hers to share. She did this with integrity, and I wish her all the best.
Now it’s time for us as a church to grapple with the fact that so many were so taken in by the Duggars’ version of Christianity. What made us celebrate such a strong us vs. them faith? What may we have missed in the process? And how can we find Jesus again?
I hope those are the questions that people ask after reading it. It’s clear that Jill has–and I’m glad that she and Derick and the boys are now resting in Jesus, authentically.
What do you think? Am I making any sense? What’s your take on our propensity to think of Christianity as us vs. them? Let’s talk in the comments!