Shiny Happy People: Dugger Family Secrets (hereafter SHP) came out this month and its producer Amazon Prime refers to it as America's most popular show. The Internet is currently awash with reviews of this anti-Duggar, anti-Gothard, anti-Christian "docuseries" (a documentary that appears in a series of episodes), but all the reviews say the same thing, basically echoing whatever Amazon Prime tells them to think.
I'm here to tell you that it's a hatchet job, a carefully crafted piece of propaganda, and unworthy of your serious viewing.
There's a Bible verse that says everyone's story sounds good until you hear the other side (Prov. 18:17). The Duggar family very wisely, in my opinion, refused to be interviewed for the project, as did the organization they're closely identified with, Institute of Basic Life Principles (hereafter IBLP). That leaves you, the viewer, with only one side of the story.
In the docuseries, you hear testimonies of the wrecked lives of kids who grew up in families (like the Duggars) who followed the teachings of IBLP and its founder, Bill Gothard. If you listen closely, you'll hear them testify of their own sinful behaviour that wrecked their lives -- but they'll assure you that it was IBLP's fault. You get the impression that anyone who finds IBLP's material helpful will wind up the same way -- but, of course, the opposite is the case.
For instance, IBLP has a program called Alert Academy where young men can attend after high school for nine months and receive military-style training in preparation for various vocations. It's a great program; read about it here. SHP makes it look like a terrorist organization.
Another video shows a crew of boys on a construction site running power tools, swinging hammers, and cutting a trench with a mattock. Normal people see that and say, "Wow, look at what those boys have learned and are accomplishing! What a wonderful opportunity." SHP tells you that it's slave labor and child exploitation.
Sometimes they just allow their interviewees to simply lie. "You obey your father, your father obeys the pastor, the pastor obeys Bill Gothard and, I don't know, Bill Gothard gets messages from God or something." This type of falsehood is common among malcontents who are criticizing something they've been "delivered from."
I have a long history in the movement represented by the Duggars and Bill Gothard. I understand it thoroughly, I know the lingo, and I've been encountering lies about it since I first heard of it as a teenager. I will concede that IBLP's teachings on authority and chain of command have been twisted by some followers to the point of abuse, but abuse is found everywhere. So are pedophilia and porn addiction. Those who oppose Christianity blame these perversions on religion not because they can prove it, but because they want to kill Christianity's influence.
If the series has one good lesson to teach, it is that authority must be checked by other authority. No system is safe if an authority figure cannot be questioned and challenged -- whether it's a family, a church, a police department, or a revolutionary junta. But the other side of that truth is that no system is going to accomplish anything unless there are clear lines of authority with people in positions of leadership who know where they're going and why.
I encourage every reader to check in with the Duggars and IBLP and try to learn from them. Eat the fish and spit out the bones.