Glennon Doyle Melton and the Duggars

Both liberal and conservative Protestant Christianity have high profile relationships competing for People magazine headlines. Earlier in the week, it was the news that mom blogger and public liberal Christian Glennon Doyle Melton, who divorced her husband of fourteen years a few months ago, has moved on and come out in a relationship with former US soccer player Abby Wambach.

This was announced on the heels of Jinger Duggar’s wedding and today, it was revealed the last adult Duggar daughter currently, Joy-Anna has entered into a courtship. (Eldest Duggar daughter Jana is still very single as is her twin brother John-David.) Whiplash much?

Both Melton and the Duggars have created media empires surrounding their competing “versions” of Christianity and even relationships. Melton has been known to proclaim “Love wins” and openly support gay and lesbian relationships long before her divorce while the Duggars began televising births of each new baby and courtship and marriage of their older children under strict supervision.

Melton’s most recent book, Love Warrior is about the implosion of her marriage four years ago after her husband’s infidelity.

The Duggars have had to publicly acknowledge eldest son Josh’s molestation of his younger sisters, infidelity and sexual addiction. His wife Anna has since sought mostly privacy for herself and her children in the wake of these scandals.

If one thing is certain, it’s that neither of these families are perfect. An interesting dynamic has emerged though. Melton is being praised for sticking with her husband and later leaving him and just three months later entering into a homosexual relationship. Anna Duggar, on the other hand, has been simultaneously pitied and spat on for staying with husband Josh and supporting him privately. Now, many sexual liberals and Christian liberals say it’s a matter of education. Melton made informed decisions based on her vast life experience where sex, addiction and higher education were concerned. Anna, on the other hand, was “forced” to stay with Josh because of her lack of sexual and worldly experience. It is, in their eyes, impossible to believe that Anna may actually love her husband and still be committed to making her marriage work. That she truly believes her vows are “til death do us part” and intends to keep it that way. That’s backward thinking, after all. Melton redeemed herself for forgiving her husband’s indiscretion and attempting to put her family back together by leaving him. (I actually read that last sentence in a com box somewhere…nice.)

Melton’s jubilant instagram posts introducing her many followers and fans to Abby as the new love of her life seem to bend on the “being in love” aspect. She still loves Craig, but she’s definitely not in love with him like she is Abby.

We don’t know if Anna is still “in love” with Josh. Thus far there no books planned. We keep hearing about all the “new love” in the Duggar family as new marriages and pregnancies are happening in the new generation but the silence is making the tabloid fed public believe Anna is an oppressed, ignorant little girl.

Maybe she is, but does sharing ALL your struggles and coming to a different conclusion mean one is completely free and enlightened?

Publicity has very different outcomes for these two empires. Melton has, by publicly sharing her struggles with addiction, recovery, infidelity, marriage, normalized her choices. I hear people all the time say, about bad choices, that it’s all good because they are “in recovery” and “learning to love themselves.” (You’re also not allowed to criticize or judge someone who tells you they are “in recovery,” however someone who is not and is just a fallible human being,  it is open season on.)

By contrast, the Duggars have been made a public spectacle for doing much the same thing. Instead of normalizing large families, courtship, these practices are more marginalized than they were previously.

Neither marriage started out as the majority do. Melton married her husband after finding out she was pregnant with their son and has stated she really didn’t know him at the time. The Duggar marriage happened only after chaperoned “courtship” or dating. The open-minded who praise Melton’s choices as brave deride the Duggar’s as unacceptable.

I will admit, I’ve been critical of both Melton and the Duggars. I’ve been hot and cold about both camps. I’ve felt manipulated both by the “love everyone,” “no judgment,” and “complete transparency” of Melton as well as by the strict fundamentalist ideal of love shown through both courtship and more and more babies promoted by the Duggars. I’ve found neither overly appealing either in the “new Christian” or “ultra-conservative Christian” model. But what do I know, I’m just a Catholic.

It would appear that the world loves one and hates the other so we should automatically do the opposite, right?

While I admit it’s nauseating to hear all this praise of Melton and downing of the Duggars, let’s also not forget the cult-ish following the Duggars have cultivated. It’s worth money, big money. There is definitely a movement in some areas to imitate the lifestyle they have created. When the Josh Duggar scandal broke, it came as a huge blow to some fundamentalist evangelical large home-schooling families that everything can be done “right” and still evil can happen. And perhaps the most damaging and upsetting thing revealed in that entire episode was the way that Jim-Bob Duggar chose to handle the situation by not telling law enforcement or seeking counseling nor help for his son. (It remains unclear as to what, if any, counseling or help Jill and Jessa Duggar may have received as their brother’s victims). But as a testament to how the Duggars have “sold” their lifestyle, I found many parents rushing to defend their actions as it was a “family matter.” And let’s not forget, the years of tv specials and series the Duggars agreed to take part in and then actively sought out making their private moments achingly public.

Let’s not hold up either situation as either ideal nor a model.

Both these families serve as examples of flawed humanity in marriage (and sometimes parenting). They’re in good company as the Bible is chock-ful of interesting and dysfunctional families from Adam and Eve (who not only got cast out of Eden but then had sons who murdered each other); to Jacob, his two wives, and many sons (most of whom tried to kill one); and even King David who had Uriah murdered after Bathsheba became pregnant. And those are just kind of the top three

There is one family, however, who are kind of perfect. Mary and Joseph were engaged conventionally enough for the times they live in. When Mary is found to be pregnant, Joseph does a noble thing in his attempt to divorce–which in this case meant breaking off the engagement– her  (because he knows the penalty for a woman who has committed adultery in that time was stoning, we kind of have to assume that in saving Mary’s life, he both didn’t approve of the harshness and loved her). However, he obeys God when the Angel informs him it’s all kosher, he marries her. They raise their son according to the Jewish traditions and laws; presenting Him at the temple, taking Him with them to Passover in Jerusalem, training Him as a carpenter like His earthly father.And like a good son, when He was dying, He entrusted His Mother to a man he knew would care for her like she was his own mother, St John.

The parable of Glennon Doyle Melton and the Duggars, all of whom claim to be Christian, is proof we should not be looking to earthly models of familial perfection. While one is elevated and the other derided, both are insanely imperfect. When we are seeking a model family to strive to, let us look to scripture and the model God gives us. Let us reject what the world is offering us on both the “liberal” and “conservative” ends of Christianity and accept what God already gave us. In 50 or 100 years, will people still be reading Melton’s books because Oprah recommended them? Will they be arguing that the Duggar’s public family demonstrations are harmful or helpful? We can’t know. But people will still be reading the Bible. People will still be reading the story of a pregnant teenager, her new husband and their only child born in a stable.Think about it: it still stands up after all this time, there’s a reason for that.