The Truth About The Duggars' Church

The following contains references to sexual and religious abuse.

When the Duggar family landed a reality series, TLC first served up "17 Kids and Counting," and as the family grew, bumped it up to "19 Kids and Counting." The appeal of watching the Duggars was to get a glimpse into a conservative American world unique to some viewers, and part of the lure was the promise of wholesomeness. Unfortunately, more pieces of this facade came crumbling down in 2021 when the eldest of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's children, Josh Duggar, was found guilty of possessing child sexual abuse material, per CNN.

Years earlier, InTouch discovered that Josh had confessed to molesting some of his younger sisters when he was a teenager. This revelation threw the entire Duggar family into a tailspin, and they tried to re-brand with a new series called "Counting On" that would exclude Josh from the narrative. However, TLC canceled the series in June 2021 in response to his arrest. "TLC feels it is important to give the Duggar family the opportunity to address their situation privately," the network told Us Weekly.

But Josh isn't the only reason that the family has raised eyebrows. Their conservative values and the ways in which they have tried to keep their children sheltered have rubbed many people the wrong way, and many celebrities have even spoken out against the Duggars. For instance, Andy Cohen jumped on Twitter to say, "The 19 kids might've been an initial clue that something was off but listening to the Duggars defense was sad & painful. I hate hypocrites." So what's the deal with their religious background?

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

What is the Independent Baptist Church?

The Duggar family belongs to the Independent Baptist Church, according to InTouch. Their religious sect can also go by "the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists or IFB." The church puts a major emphasis on personal accountability. Independent Baptists don't believe that they need priests "other than Jesus Christ, to come boldly to God," according to Grace Baptist Church, though they do have pastors and deacons. The particular branch tends to come across as more stringent than other Baptist churches, and many adherents tend to have more children due to their belief that using birth control is sinful. IFBs often worship in people's homes rather than churches.

Unlike many Christian denominations, including Catholicism, Independent Baptists reject the concept of a "universal church," according to Teaching History. Instead of following a global head or leader, the individual relies solely on the Bible to guide the course of one's life. "Each person is individually responsible for his decision to accept Christ," Grace Baptist Church notes. They tend to steer away from a primary authority. In terms of salvation, the only requirement is faith. "The believer is eternally secure and cannot lose salvation," GBC says.

It's worth mentioning that the Duggars have often been linked to the Quiverfull sect, an extremely conservative group that has been accused of being misogynistic. However, as InTouch notes, the family rejects any association with that particular sect, though they do identify as Independent Baptists. 

Scripture is vital to Independent Baptists

Scripture is deeply significant for an Independent Baptist, and the core of their teachings come from the Bible. According to a doctrinal statement on beliefs and practices of Independent Baptist churches, the Bible is the source of truth.

"We believe that the Holy Bible as originally written was verbally inspired and the product of Spirit-controlled men and therefore has truth without any admixture of error for its matter," the document states. "We believe the Bible to be the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds and opinions, shall be tried." The Bible favored by the Independent Baptist Church is the King James Version, according to InTouch, and church members take the scripture literally.

According to the "Five Baptist Distinctives" listed on, the faith accepts "only the New Testament as our authority in all matters of faith and practice." Under this principle, any new books written since or any modern-day prophets don't hold the authority that the New Testament does. "We believe the sixty six books of the Bible are the inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God," the text states, so they believe that everything in the New Testament is divinely inspired and unchanging. So how do the Duggars interpret this? Well, Jim Bob Duggar just so happens to own a waterproof Bible, he said on "19 Kids and Counting," and even had a Bible study in the bath. Clearly, it's a portable faith! 

Tithing and donations for Independent Baptists

Interestingly, the literature around Independent Baptists doesn't offer a lot on the topic of tithing and making donations to their churches. On a site for the Independent Baptist Church in Anchorage, Alaska, that particular church stresses that its leaders don't want newcomers to feel pressured to donate anything. "We don't invite you to church for your offering," the website reads. "We want our service to be a gift to you." But it's worth noting that potential future congregation members are informed that there are "offering boxes on the walls."

A possible reason why Independent Baptists don't have a lot to say about tithing is because many of them attend a "Home Church," where individuals choose to worship at their own homes rather than a congregational church. The Duggar family does this, as Romper notes, and they even record sermons from their home sometimes. In cases such as these, since there isn't a brick-and-mortar church, it makes sense that donations aren't a huge part of the literature around that faith.

Money does come up in another way, though. Since the IRS gives churches a tax exemption, there are rumors online, as Romper points out, that the Duggars have used this as a loophole from paying taxes on their home. The outlet notes that the family did not comment on this. As the IRS itself states, this includes "integrated auxiliaries and conventions or associations of churches," so it's entirely possible that the Duggars could use this tax technicality to their advantage. 

Independent Baptists have branched off from traditional Baptists

Independent Baptists see themselves as deeply removed from other Baptists. Interestingly too, they don't even consider themselves to be Protestants. According to, they consider Protestants to be the groups that formed after the Reformation in reaction to differences that cropped up in the Catholic Church. These groups include the Anglican Church, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, for example, among other denominations. Baptists see themselves as removed from both Catholicism and those who "protested" it.

For Baptists, the emphasis is on the Bible and autonomy. "True Baptists follow the New Testament example that each church is to govern itself as the Word of God teaches free from outside authority and control," notes. On the Independent Baptist website, Dr. James Rasbeary explains how Independent Baptists function separately from other Baptist churches and religious governing bodies, stating that Jesus Christ is the only head and the New Testament is the only guide. "An independent church can't be kicked out of something it isn't a part of," he writes.

As such, each local church is self-contained. While there are pastors and deacons, all of the decision-making remains within the community itself. "We hold that the local church has the absolute right of self-government, free from the interference of any hierarchy; and that the one and only superintendent is Christ, through the Holy Spirit," the Northeast Fellowship of Independent Baptist Churches' Beliefs and Practices document states.

Their commitment to evangelization

For Independent Baptists, a central theme is evangelization and bringing others to the faith. According to one network of Independent Baptists, their mission is the "advancement of the gospel" and the "promotion of sound Biblical teaching." With such an emphasis on bringing the faith to others, it's no surprise that the Duggar family is really into missionary work and evangelization.

Derek Dillard and Jill Duggar shared an update on their missionary work on Instagram in 2017. "Thankful for wifi to connect with family as we're traveling between countries in Central America with a new team from the States here as ministers of the Gospel," Derek wrote. In December 2018, the Duggar family posted on Instagram about their trip to Honduras, saying, "We have arrived in Central America and we are so excited about what the Lord is doing here! Thank you for all your prayers!" While the family was obviously following a guideline of the Independent Baptist church, people on Instagram were highly critical of their trip. "Missionary trip," one commenter wrote, adding laughing emojis, "more like a vacation." Another added, "Missionary work is just modern colonialism." Someone else commented, "White savior complex in full force."

The ongoing criticism of the Duggars' missionary work centers around how they push their faith on other communities that already have religious practices. Others have been critical of the fundraising efforts that the Duggars put into their trips, feeling that the money could have been spent on other things besides airfare and lodging for their family.

The church's rules for women

The Duggars and their church have gotten a lot of flack for certain attitudes surrounding a woman's place in that world, but this attitude is a common one in the Independent Baptist Church. Writer Rachel Harkins described her experience as a woman in a piece for Independent Baptist. "Since the husband is to be the head of the home, the wife's role in the home is to be in submission to her husband," Harkins wrote. She later added, "Real peace only comes when we acknowledge the God-given role of our husband as the head and we in submission to them."

She even detailed how her husband dictates what she's permitted to take on. "Now, I go to my husband and tell him the situation, we discuss whether I should or shouldn't agree to something and then I can give an answer," she wrote. "Either, 'Yes, my husband said I could' or 'I'm sorry, my husband said he didn't think I should be taking any more on right now.'"

While every family's situation might be unique, Michelle Duggar wrote a blog for her wedding anniversary that revealed her and her husband's own basic understanding of married life as informed by their church. "A man needs a wife who honors his leadership," she wrote in one part, adding, "A man needs a wife who will make appeals, not demands." And for the women, she wrote, "A wife needs a husband who demonstrates spiritual leadership." The man as the head is obviously the running theme here.

How the church informs dress

Surprisingly or not, clothing is actually a huge part of the Independent Baptist Church's practices. The Independent Baptist Church of Anchorage Alaska offers some guidelines on its website about how to dress when attending church. The church's leaders stress that there's "no dress code" but say that "many of our members dress in a way fitting to meet with any King or Dignitary, after all we are here to worship the King of Kings." They suggest a more "traditional" look, with men in ties and "the women in modest dress."

Modesty is certainly the theme when it comes to dress, particularly for women. In their book, "Growing Up Duggar," Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger Duggar explained how their outfit choices center around their religious views. "We do not dress modestly because we are ashamed of the body God has given us; quite the contrary," they wrote. "We realize that our body is a special gift from God and that He intends for it to be shared only with our future husband."

They added, "We avoid low-cut, cleavage-showing, gaping or bare-shouldered tops and, when needed, we wear an undershirt. We try to make it a habit to always cover the top of our shirt with our hand when we bend over. We don't want to play the peekaboo game with our neckline." While the Duggar daughters have broken their dress code as they've grown and become independent women, they were certainly raised to be conscientious about this as kids.

Race and Independent Baptists

There are some interesting statistics when it comes to race in the Independent Baptist Church: By a landslide, members of the church are white. In 2014, the Pew Research Center revealed that among individuals who belonged to the church, 88% were white, fewer than 1% were Black, 1% were Asian, and 6% were Latino. Immigration statistics about the Independent Baptist Church taken from the same year revealed that only 4% of its members were immigrants. 

The Independent Baptist Church has been accused of racism. Per Patheos, some members believe that "Black people bear the 'mark of Cain,' and so are cursed." In a piece for Good Faith Media, Bruce Prescott, the former Executive Director for Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, recalled attending an IFB youth camp where "only whites were invited," and Pastor Kenny Baldwin even called the church out during a sermon, saying, "I've never seen a more racist group of people than Independent Fundamental Baptists."

There was an instance where Amy Duggar, niece of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, got called out for supporting All Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd, per The U.S. Sun. She was quick to apologize. "I want to extend my sincere apologies for tweeting about all lives matter," Amy tweeted. "I'll be honest I was confused, ignorant and I have a lot of learning to do." Meanwhile, Jill Duggar expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement in a post on her Instagram Stories that read in part, "I stand with you," per The U.S. Sun.

The Separation of Church and State for Independent Baptists

A major tenet of the Independent Baptist Church is the separation of church and state. This strict separation is described on in a segment titled "The Five Baptist Distinctives." "No power on earth is higher than God's Word, and a church should not be in any way yoked or controlled by the state," it reads. Writer Cooper P. Abrams III claims that Independent Baptists pray for the "civil authority" put in place but stress that they wish to live their "lives in peace."

The central issue here is one of control, and for Independent Baptists, control comes from Jesus Christ as its head. And in the household, the husband is the authority. In 2015, writer Brooke Arnold described her experience in the Advanced Training Institute, an organization linked to the Duggars' church, in a piece for Salon. "Women and mothers working outside of the home is absolutely forbidden in ATI no matter what the financial situation of the family," she wrote.

She spoke about the hierarchy of authority and how it impacted a woman's life. "Some women are even required to get permission from their husbands if they want to obtain a driver's license," she said. While the church asks for a complete lack of authority from the state, the ideology is very invested in authority from the husband. Arnold called this "the absolute and unquestioned authority of the father within the home." In this framework, daughters go from living under their father's authority to that of their husbands.

How the religion informs marriage

The Independent Baptist Church has very strict opinions about marriage and sex. "We believe that the institution of marriage was designed by God to unite one man and one woman in lifelong commitment," reads a Doctrinal Statement of the church. "We also believe that sexual intimacy is a gift from God that is to be expressed only between a man and a woman within the bonds of such a marriage."

Part of this strict stance includes a list of what, according to the church's beliefs, is not permissible. The document called "fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, bestiality, incest, and pedophilia" expressions that are "immoral and a perversion."

The Duggar family has made major headlines for their stringent rules around courtship and marriage. On "Today" in 2014, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar addressed these, stating that courtship is "dating with a purpose," and the process is prayerful and open to God's will. Couples don't kiss until their wedding day or hold hands until they're engaged. "We believe it's best for them to save the physical part for marriage," Michelle explained. "That way there's no regrets." The parents are included in texts between courting couples, and dates are chaperoned. Michelle had an optimistic view of the entire closely supervised ordeal. "There is no failed courtship," she said. "A parent that loves and cares for their children, they want the best relationship for their child. It's fun to be involved in the whole process in choosing it."

The role of homeschooling in the church

Homeschooling is a huge part of the Duggars' church and lifestyle. The family uses a curriculum by the Advanced Training Institute, which, according to its website, is a "Biblically-based home education program for families who desire to raise up sons and daughters who are 'mighty in Spirit' and able to impact the world for Jesus Christ."

The curriculum has been flagged for its many problematic principles. Gawker pointed readers to a worksheet called "Lessons From Moral Failures in a Family." The worksheet presents an example of an older brother molesting younger siblings; once the boy "repented," the worksheet presented a series of questions. "What teaching could have been given to each child to resist evil?" one read. Another question was: "What factors in the home contributed to immodesty and temptation?" A later takeaway from the boy himself was that his parents should have kept him "extremely busy" as a potential preventive measure. The worksheet became even more problematic when a section on "The need for modesty in the home" suggested that the mother should have dressed her young daughters immediately after their baths.

Even the historical sections were thickly embedded with Biblical references, like the city of Nineveh. In another booklet, one of the questions was "How did a great city mourn over sin?" The program has been targeted and criticized for its stringent and narrow curriculum.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

The dark history of the church

The founder of the homeschooling program used by the Duggars and other families in the Independent Baptist Church, Bill Gothard, was accused of sexual abuse, according to The Washington Post. A branch of this homeschooling ministry included the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which focused on creating "religious seminars," according to the New York Post.

In 2016, 10 women "filed a lawsuit against" Gothard on the grounds that they were allegedly harassed and sexually abused, and then the cases were covered up by the institution. Over the decades of Gothard's involvement, "more than 30 women," including minors, came forward. When The Washington Post reached Gothard, he denied the allegations. "Oh no. Never never. Oh! That's horrible," he said. "Never in my life have I touched a girl sexually. I'm shocked to even hear that." He declined to comment further.

In 2018, the Star-Telegram published a report that over 400 allegations had been made from 187 different IFB institutions. In one case, the newspaper reported, "Another girl's parents stood in front of their Connecticut congregation to acknowledge their daughter's 'sin' after she was abused by her youth pastor, beginning at 16." The accusations begin as far back as 1970. The Star-Telegram discovered that the lack of charges in so many cases can be tied to cover-ups and simply moving the pastors from one church to another.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Sexist criticism around this mindset

In light of the abuse within the Independent Baptist Church and the abuse allegedly suffered at the hands of the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, many survivors spoke up about Josh Duggar and his conviction. He was taken into custody in December 2021 for possession of child sexual abuse material, according to People.

A former member of the religious community, Lara Smith, spoke to the New York Post about the belief system that enabled Josh's behavior. "With [abusers like] Josh, the whole environment set him up for success in his disgustingness," she said. Smith elaborated on how it emboldens predators and silences victims: "We were taught our bodies don't belong to us. They belong to God. And so in that realm, anything that happens, God wants it to happen."

Another member of the community, Heather Heath, knew friends who had been sexually assaulted and told the Post that the young women were told to confess these traumas as if they were responsible for them. "If we had been assaulted, we had to confess what we did that brought the assault on us," she explained. The underlying message was that there was no accountability for the male perpetrators and that the psychological and physical burden was carried exclusively by the survivors. Girls were often told that they had tempted the men. Smith emphasized this lack of accountability for men: "You need to be very careful what you do, what you say, what you wear, how you act, because at any moment, you could trigger a boy, basically."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Have any Duggars left their church?

Since the Independent Baptist Church has a dark history and in light of the sexual misconduct on the part of its pastors, as well as Josh Duggar himself, it's a reasonable question to ask if any of the Duggar children have left the church. Many have grown up now and started their own families. Are they as religious as their parents?

Jinger Duggar, who married Jeremy Vuolo, wrote in her memoir, "The Hope We Hold," that while she didn't stop believing in her faith, she did come to her own conclusions about some things. "Growing up, I had a set of standards that I took as givens," she began. "Now, as I reexamined and compared them to Scripture, my convictions were changing." She said what didn't change was "trusting in Jesus for my salvation" but "secondary issues," like the Duggar family's dress code, were things she began to reevaluate for herself. It wasn't easy, and Jinger still had love and respect for her parents. "I felt emotional as I worried that my parents would think I didn't appreciate how I was raised," she wrote.

Jill Duggar and her husband, Derick Dillard, offered a Q&A to fans on YouTube and said that they don't see her parents that much anymore. "We haven't actually been over there in a while," Jill began, "probably like a couple years." She mentioned that there are "some restrictions" without elaborating. So more than leaving the church, some of the Duggars have put up boundaries with their parents.