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‘Shiny Happy People’ Depicts Duggar Family as Part of a Fundamentalist Movement With a Culture of Abuse

As the Duggar family saw their star rising, so did television network TLC, which began to pivot to more reality programming of a similar style in light of the Duggars’ popularity. 

Episode 2: Growing Up Gothard

The second episode of the series focused on Josh Duggar’s sex crimes, the misconduct that led up to them, and how Gothard’s teachings may have cultivated a culture of abuse.

When Jim Bob discovered that Josh had molested four of his own sisters, along with a family babysitter, he brought the teenager before state trooper Joseph Hutchens to confess. Hutchens gave Josh a stern warning to stop, but he failed to take any further action. 

Hutchens is now serving a 56-year prison sentence for child pornography.

In 2015, Jim Bob and Michelle spoke to Fox News about the scandal surrounding Josh after his sexual misconduct came to light. Jim Bob characterized Josh as a “changed person” following his time at the IBLP camp. 

Nevertheless, Jill Duggar Dillard said that she felt like it fell to her and her sisters to keep the family image intact, as she and Jessa Duggar Seewald also made a Fox News appearance, identifying themselves as Josh’s victims.

Shortly following the Fox News segment, it was reported that Josh had an account on a dating website for individuals looking to cheat on their spouses. An adult film actress subsequently alleged that she had a sexual affair with Josh and that he had paid her hush money. 

The documentary placed culpability for Josh’s crimes and indiscretions on IBLP and the way it forms men. The remainder of the episode focused on the stories of those who used to be involved with the organization, specifically as it related to their experiences with homeschooling and the way Gothard’s famous “umbrella of authority” paradigm shaped their lives. 

Dillard said of parents who enrolled their children in IBLP’s homeschooling program, “[They] were very concerned about any kind of public education for their kids because their kids could get brainwashed.”

The IBLP’s homeschool curriculum consisted of 54 “wisdom booklets.”

Gothard had promised followers that IBLP would give students an academic experience that was more rigorous than a high school education. However, some of those who went through IBLP homeschooling painted a different picture. 

“I am deeply sorrowful for anyone who only had this material as an education because it is no such thing,” said Floyd Oathout.

Chad Harris said of the curriculum, “They would take a passage [of Scripture], and they would purport to teach us everything that we needed to know academically, just from that passage.” 

“A lot of what they taught was just conjecture from Bill Gothard, and from the other authors that he brought in to write his books,” Harris went on to say. “Poorly sourced, just complete, utter, made-up nonsense.”

Lindsay Williams said, “Every seminar that we went to, more and more of my freedoms and my rights were getting taken away from me: what I could wear, what I could watch, what I could listen to. It really became a world of all the things I couldn’t do.”

Interviewees recounted not being allowed to own Cabbage Patch Dolls or Barbies or watch shows like “Winnie the Pooh.” 

Former IBLP adherents described the emphasis placed on women dressing in such a way that did not create “eye traps” for men, something they say was used against girls and women who were sexually assaulted. 

Some suggested that Michelle Duggar’s soft tone of voice was forced—part of the persona she created to fit into the IBLP vision for a godly woman.

RELATED: Jinger Duggar Vuolo Tells ChurchLeaders How She Rejected the Teachings of Bill Gothard Without Rejecting Jesus

“The voice is a very intentional, trained thing,” said Tia Levins, who homeschooled her children using IBLP materials. “It’s part of what we were instructed to do.”