Duggar Cult Damaging Kids? Former Followers of Religious Leader Say Family May Be in Too Deep

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For fans, the Duggar family of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting fame has long been a symbol for old-school Christian values and the virtues of family life.

However, critics claim that there's something much more nefarious going on behind the family's wholesome facade, and now they may have found the proof.

Testimony from several former cult members does not paint a pretty picture ...

Michelle Duggar and Jim Bob Duggar Photo

In the past, the proud parents of those 19 kids, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, have publicly stated that they were followers of disgraced minister Bill Gothard.

Before becoming involved in a sex scandal that brought down his career, Gothard was the leader of an organization known as the Institute of Basic Life Principles.

Following allegations of harassment and claims that he helped cover up cases of child abuse, Gothard stepped down and several of his former followers have since spoken out about the leader who's shaped much of the Duggar's belief system:

"I have no problem calling it a cult," ex-IBLP member Micah Murray tells Radar. "What the Duggars are doing is putting Gothard's philosophies on display as a positive thing, and they are not positive."

"From my experience, it has all the hallmarks of what makes cults so damaging - abusive authority structures, the way that people's thinking and behavior is controlled, the way that people aren't taught to trust themselves and trust their leader unquestioningly."

"I have seen a number of episodes [of 19 Kids and Counting] and it makes me very uncomfortable."

"I think the Duggars are probably very nice people. I think they are very sincere people. But I think that the teachings of Bill Gothard are destructive."

Murray grew up in the IBLP and broke away from the organization at age 21.

He says that seeing the Duggars' method of raising their children brings to mind his own severely strict upbringing, during which he was forced to abide by a dress code and a bizarre set of rules regarding inter-sex interaction, in accordance with IBLP teachings.

Kari Underwood is another former IBLP member who founded the organization Recovering Grace in order to expose the Gothard and his more destructive teachings.

She says the Duggars are quite clearly victims of Gothard and company's sophisticated brainwashing tactics.

"They seem like a lovely family," Underwood says. "I see the Duggars as sincere people as my parents were...I believe they have made some decisions for their family that are not healthy."

Underwood points to the Duggars' strict courtship rules, as famously depicted at length on the popular reality TV program, being particularly problematic:

"Bringing up your children in such a way that the father makes all the decisions, sons have no choices until they've moved on, women have no choices, it's a hierarchy of protection. But it's no protection."

She adds that the family's decision to star in a reality show is the only manner in which they've broken from Gothard's teachings, but that the leader is likely accepting of this choice, as it helps bring in donations.

However, such a decision may prove confusing to Michelle and Jim Bob's children:

"The children probably don't watch much television, yet they're on a TV show," Underwood says, adding that right now, "Their life is confusing and inconsistent... It's important to be consistent when you have that many rules."

Hit the comments below and tell us what you think, and watch 19 Kids and Counting online to decide for yourself if the Duggars are what critics say they are.

Are they victims of an insidious cult or simply a devoutly religious family living in an increasingly secular world? We turn the discussion over to you ...

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Duggar Family Quotes

When you've missed [sex] for seven days, you look forward to it even more! - Michelle Duggar

Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls. - Michelle Duggar on saying yes (yes, and more yes) to sex