I have seen most episodes of the Duggar family’s 21 Kids and Counting. It is one of those odd reality TV shows that offers very little in the way of drama. And when something compelling happens, it is usually happy news like the birth of a child or a visit to the Today Show. Unlike my beloved Housewives franchise, 21 Kids and Counting doesn’t have any yelling or table flipping. It has been an easy show to watch while folding laundry.

But there’s something deeper than just its relative tranquility. I have always admired the Duggar family’s structure for righteousness. In their world, everyone seems to know their place. The Duggar family culture makes it clear that men go to work and women get to mothering. None of this modern woman’s dilemma. I feel like I spend most of my days lamenting my time at work, only to feel wholly unproductive at home with children. The Duggar women never appear to face these kinds of questions.

I’ve even found myself envious of the Duggar approach to fashion: Long. No wondering if they can pull white jeans off. No asking themselves if they can still wear a bikini at 32. Nope, those Duggar girls just stand in front of their closet and happily think: Long blue jean skirt or long blue jean skirt? And, of course, their hair is incredible. They don’t have to stand in the mirror and wonder, is this pixie cut too much? They simply muse: Do I want my hair Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman long or full on Crystal Gayle?

growing+up+duggar+book+coverPainful as it is to admit retrospectively, I was also fascinated by the safeguarding of their daughter’s sexuality. Dating, Duggar style, sounds like a Jane Austen novel with bad clothes. They cannot hold hands with prospective gentlemen until they are official. When on dates they must always be accompanied by a chaperone. I’ll be honest, it’s a far cry from the “He’s going to expect sex if he pays for things, here’s an Andrew Jackson” advice I was given as a 17 year old girl. No, the Duggar family made dating sound like a spiritual experience. Their rules for courtship (the antique word they use for the ritual) are so numerous that the daughters in the family actually wrote a book about it.

And, now, the manure has hit the proverbial fan. The Duggar girls were molested by their brother and their parents (and the religious community to which they belong) failed them.

When the mighty fall, it is easy to postulate about why it all happened. So the internet has spent the week blaming the suppressed sexuality and strict religious moralism. And while some of this may be accurate, I always get a little gun-shy when it comes to diagnosing why something like incest and molestation transpires. It’s hard to shake the suspicion that we want so badly to find reasons why this happened in their family so that we can assure ourselves that such sin and horror would never happen in our own.

So while it is surely a valuable one, I’m not actually interested in that conversation. What I want to know is why we all feel let down. Why, after all these years of welcoming the pristine Duggar family into our living rooms, does America feel as though this family has failed us? Could it be that, for the past few seasons, the Duggar family has been providing a kind of imputed righteousness to me and the rest of the American laundry folding population?

In Christianity we use the theological phrase “imputed righteousness” to assert that we are made righteous in the eyes of God through the righteousness of Christ. What this looks like in the Duggar context is that I get to feel righteous about my life because reality television gives me the opportunity to watch their super sanctified lives in real time. Watching the Duggar family, in all of their hyper-hierarchical, wholesome zeal, makes me feel just a little bit cleaner.

Truth be told, the Duggars started to trouble me a few seasons back. While I’d like to take credit for sensing that they were serving a bigger purpose in my life than was healthy, it was my husband who pointed it out. For years he had endured episodes of this show with me. And by “endure” I mean he would walk through the room and attempt not to yell at the television. But every man has his limits, and for my husband, it was when the Duggar family lost a baby.

In a deeply sad episode, the family gathered around to see the ultrasound, and there was no heartbeat. Michelle Duggar, the family matriarch looked up and calmly cried: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Having experienced the loss of a first term baby ourselves, I looked at my husband and said: Why can’t I say stuff like that when bad things happen? Without missing a beat he looked at me and responded: “Because that is not real. Because losing a baby is sad and awful. And because saying that God took it away sounds like the saddest thing I’ve heard in a long time.”

I don’t have some grand takeaway for the Duggar storyline. I hope to God that those girls, now women, are able to get the help that survivors of sexual abuse desperately need. I hope that their brother is able to reconcile himself to the damage he has caused and that he ends up in some serious therapy himself, if he hasn’t already. And as long as I’m making a wish list, I hope that the religious community that hid this dreadfulness is able to ask itself if all of this righteous rule-following is really working.

Ultimately, though, my gut-punch response to this news is to pray that we all, Duggars and Condons alike, might remember that our righteousness is not bound up in ourselves–and it most definitely will fail to appear in the alleged moral rectitude of others.

“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them… in the same manner as He grieved and suffered in our sins, and was confounded, in the same manner we rejoice and glory in His righteousness.” –Martin Luther, Werke