For many of 19 Kids and Counting‘s millions of viewers, the Duggars’ modest practices are amusing to watch because it’s all so different from the average American lifestyle. However, some who know more about the Duggars’ actual beliefs — from their own experiences with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and its founder, Bill Gothard — are disturbed by the family’s growing popularity.
“I have no problem calling it a cult,” former follower Micah Murray (pictured below) told Radar Online. “What the Duggars are doing is putting Gothard’s philosophies on display as a positive thing and they are not positive.”
Micah, who regularly writes about his adolescence immersed in the IBLP system on his blog, explained the IBLP has “abusive authority structures” designed to make followers “trust their leader unquestionably.”
“I’ve seen a number of episodes and it makes me very uncomfortable,” Micah continued. “It does make me uncomfortable to see it all portrayed as healthy wholesome family values when it’s not.”
Micah said he became disillusioned with IBLP when he was working at the Institute’s training center in his early 20s. He was particularly disturbed by the “bizarre amount” of control the leaders enforced.
“We had to wear suit jackets at dinner every night, weren’t allowed to talk to girls. If a group of staff members wanted to go out to [a fast food restaurant] we had to fill out a request form and have it signed,” Micah said. “What the danger is there, is that you can change the rules all day, but the underlying views are destructive to mental and physical health. You don’t have autonomy, you should always be asking permission, you don’t trust your instincts.”
Others say the problems with IBLP and Bill Gothard go much farther — and include a long history of sexual harassment against the young women who adhere to the program. Kari Underwood, the founder of Recovering Grace, a website devoted to exposing Gothard’s alleged crimes, said there are “a lot of inconsistencies” with the standards for leaders and followers.
“What I saw as a sincere young person was that Bill didn’t follow his own guidelines. When and how you would eat, fasting, dating or not dating, being alone with the opposite sex — none of those things would be followed by him,” she said.
In April, Gothard admitted as much in a statement, but maintained he never went beyond hugging any of the young women: “My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.”
Although Kari and dozens of others continue to claim Gothard abuses his power, she doesn’t blame the Duggar children for adhering to the religion.
“It’s tough to be a child of a cult. I feel the most for the children. I feel if they decide they want to move away it would be very difficult… There would be shame,” she said. “In my opinion, if those children decide they want to leave the family lifestyle, they’re going to have to leave the country, be a missionary and be out of the picture. I can see that happening.”
Micah also said he doesn’t blame Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who began following IBLP after their oldest son was born.
“Not that they aren’t responsible for their own actions, not that they’re bad people for being in the Bill Gothard cult. But he’s a master manipulator,” Micah said. And now that the darker side of IBLP is coming to light, Micah said he hopes “it could spark a conversation about what is really going on with the teachings of Bill Gothard.”