The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Duggars say the petition to cancel their TLC show has only made them stronger

The Duggar family on the campaign trail for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II in Woodbridge, Va., on Oct. 16, 2013. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

A petition urging TLC to cancel “19 Kids and Counting” over the political views of the Duggar family “won’t succeed,” according to family patriarch Jim Bob Duggar. In fact, he said recently, all of the attention around the effort is working in the family’s favor, giving the Duggars even more exposure.

The petition, which currently has more than 180,000 signatures, began as a response to the family’s recent comments against LGBT rights. It gained traction quickly and drew a lot of attention to some of the family’s recent activism.

But Jim Bob Duggar probably has good reason not to be worried about the petition: The effort to raise awareness about the family’s political views prompted its conservative supporters to launch a counter campaign, urging TLC to keep the show . A “Defend the Duggars” petition on LifeSiteNews currently has almost 210,000 signatures — more than the petition telling TLC to scrap the popular series.

In a speech to the Booster Banquet at Hannibal-LaGrange University late last month, Duggar said: “Our show is the number one show on TLC. We love everybody. It’s a small group creating this fuss. All it has done is give us more exposure. We’ve gained 50,000 Facebook fans last week.”

He added: “God is expanding our borders through the national media.”

The speech went largely unnoticed until this week, when entertainment sites including E! Online caught wind of the remarks, which were printed in the newsletter of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

The current controversy over the family seems to date back to August, when Michelle Duggar campaigned against a municipal anti-discrimination ordinance in Arkansas with a robocall that claimed the measure would allow “males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.” petition author  Jim Wissick wrote that the statement “reek(s) of ignorance and fear mongering.” The ordinance banned housing, employment, and public accommodation discrimination in the town on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

The ordinance passed, but Michelle Duggar, Jim Bob’s wife, lobbied intensely on behalf of a repeal effort against the anti-discrimination ordinance — which she and its opponents referred to as the “transgender bathroom bill,” CNS reported. Earlier this month, voters in Fayetteville, Ark., overturned the ordinance in a special election.

Faced with increased scrutiny for their advocacy against LGBT rights, the Duggars seem to be hoping for the sort of backfire that elevated the “Duck Dynasty” gang from reality show family to persecuted conservative heroes. The Robertsons of “Duck Dynasty” fame ended up keeping their highly rated A&E show after a member of the family said some controversial on-the-record things about race relations and LGBT individuals in America.

Since then, Phil Robertson has published a book containing his “philosophy” on life and been asked on talk shows to weigh in on, among other things, the Islamic State.

Although they have, until recently, stayed somewhat quiet on the political front, the Duggars have long been something of popular culture ambassadors for the small, conservative “Quiverfull” Christian movement to which they belong. The movement urges its followers to have as many children as God will give them, and to raise them within the conservative evangelical Christian belief system of their family by, among other things, homeschooling.

The appeal of what many see as their “wholesome,” throwback-style life often reaches beyond their small movement and into more mainstream culture, particularly on the Christian conservative side of things; few conservative American evangelicals are actually Quiverfull, but there’s a theological and political resonance. And it’s that wholesomeness that the family’s supporters are emphasizing. editor-in-chief John-Henry Westen said in a statement to The Post that his readers were “eager to come to the Duggars’ aid to show how much they appreciate the Duggars’ openness to life and love. … Their message of hope and joy resonates with families.”

As more of the Duggar clan grows up, it seems likely that the family will have more opportunities to speak to its specific political and religious beliefs, particularly some of the more controversial ones. Last season, for instance, the show featured the courtships and marriages of multiple Duggar girls, who wrote a book underlining the theological foundations for their relationships.

And the Duggars’ oldest son, Josh Duggar, works in Washington for the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative advocacy organization that “does not consider homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and transgenderism as acceptable alternative lifestyles or sexual ‘preferences.'”

The organization’s Web site calls LGBT orientations “unhealthy” and “destructive.”