Shiny Happy People: Two Truths and A Lie

Theo Luciano
13 min readAug 3, 2023

Even though it’s not exactly spot on, I couldn’t get this title out of my head when I decided to write a piece on the recently released Duggar docuseries.

The show certainly uncovers more than just two truths.

But there is also more than just one lie.

I think it resonated because just like the popular icebreaker game where you try to get your friends to figure out which of your three statements is a lie, Shiny Happy People seemed realistic; like it could all be true. We actually already know a lot of it is.

But this is part of what makes the game fun; often the person sharing their truths and lie does their best to pick the most sensationally epic truths about themselves and then sprinkle in a lie that seems like it would be a truth.

If you can believe the crazy truths, maybe you won’t catch the lie.

That’s what I see in Shiny Happy People: certainly some crazy bombshell truths and the whole story behind them. But keep your eyes open. Otherwise, you could miss the lies.

I started writing this piece with a bunch of history on IBLP and the Duggars. But after getting bored and busy, and putting this writing on the back burner for a few weeks, I came back with a more organic approach.

I’m just going to share a few of my thoughts. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know about the Duggars, and probably IBLP as well. Now the chances are not as great that you’re here to hear my opinion, but if so, you came to the right place.

That is what I seek to do with many of my pieces on this blog. I share my opinions, backed up by unbiased facts, I hope, but still opinions.

I believe I am fairly informed on this subject as well. My family grew up in close proximity to families similar to the Duggars. I would probably say we were a lot like them in many ways (though we definitely ate healthier — I remember the horror that welled up inside of me during one viewing of their show where I saw Jim Bob sneak some Oreos or similar cookies into one of the family’s eight shopping carts)

We used the ATI homeschool curriculum for a while. We attended a few IBLP conferences, my brothers and I did ALERT Cadets, my sisters did Pre-EXCEL or Children’s Institute, all that fun stuff. I never went through the Basic Seminar, but my older siblings and parents have, and some multiple times.

The Truths

I think it’s fair to say, after watching the documentary and hearing testimony after testimony of individuals who had contact with him, that Bill Gothard is one of the bad guys. More specifically, he’s a person who used his authority to exploit, abuse, and mislead thousands of people; many directly, in scarring and traumatic ways that few could imagine.

He used the guise of devotion and adherence to the Scriptures, mixed with bad theology and faulty eisegesis to concoct a version of “godliness” that was built mostly on strict rules, with little mind paid to the grace of God; without understanding this, one cannot truly understand or know God personally.

Since Gothard set forth these rules and endorsed a culture that demanded they be followed (or else), he is largely responsible for the sin this culture was a breeding ground for. I don’t know Bill Gothard’s heart and if he was truly saved and has fallen away, or was never truly saved in the first place, but the damage he has done to the name of Christ is notable, heartbreaking, and completely opposed to what I would expect to see from a follower of Christ.

May all those who have been hurt by Bill Gothard and his legacy find peace and healing as they draw near to our loving Savior who makes us dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).

I remember watching the first Duggar special probably some 12 years ago, and enjoying it. We continued to watch their show on DVD as the years went on, and I even remember seeing them at an IBLP conference we attended one year. I saw them as a solid, though somewhat eccentric, example of what a large, God-fearing, homeschooled family would look like.

I have no doubt that many heard the true message of the Gospel from watching 19 Kids and Counting (and all its various iterations). But, hidden under that guise of wholesome family life, it seems like there were several glaring issues, especially in the show's later years.

Of course, I can’t see inside Jim Bob Duggar’s mind, so like most people, I just have to look at his actions. It seems as though he got a little too attached to the spotlight and all the popularity that being on TV brought.

Many of us know the terrible story of Josh Duggar. Jim Bob’s handling of nearly every turn of this story was concerning. Shiny Happy People shines some light on the lack of transparency we saw, and if you couple this with some of the stories that Jill shared during Shiny Happy People, we start to see a tangled pattern of precariously positioned secrets meant to maintain a facade.

If you’ve grown accustomed to living a certain way and that gets threatened, you might be tempted to do some rather shameful things. If you’re not continuously grounded in an accurate interpretation of the truth of God’s Word, that temptation can become too much to bear.

Shiny Happy People tries to show that the teachings of IBLP were deeply rooted in the Duggar family and that many of the family’s noted failures were a result of those teachings. I can agree with some of that.

I think the show did a pretty good job of presenting the facts.

But unfortunately, they didn’t stop there.

And that’s where the lies start.

The Lies

If you google “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, you might find something like this:

Verb To discard, especially inadvertently, something valuable while in the process of removing or rejecting something unwanted.

After seeing Shiny Happy People, I would argue that this show is a prime (no pun intended) example of doing just that.

Before I go further, I would like to say that one of the last places I would ever go for proper exegesis of God’s Word would be Amazon Studios, who created the show (or any mainstream production company for that matter). I don’t expect their content to portray Christ and those who truly follow Him accurately.

They definitely didn’t surprise me on that front.

It is dangerous to rely on secular sources to tell you what following Christ should look like. Verses like John 15:18–19 come to mind. If you’re following Christ and the sinful world around you is completely comfortable with the message you’re bringing to them, something is wrong. Christ should make those who are living in sin feel uncomfortable.

Of course, being hated does not automatically mean you’re following Christ. Bill Gothard and IBLP are hated for some very legitimate reasons. But that wasn’t because their presentation of the true Gospel was ruffling secular feathers.

Now about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Sadly, I have seen many people come out of IBLP and other similar organizations and abandon their faith. Can I really blame them? They were told their whole lives that they were living this way to please the Lord, but when the leaders and organizations they so respected came crashing down, it was like the rug was pulled out from under them.

There was no solid foundation. Their house was built on sand. Much of what they grew up with was works-based faith. As I mentioned earlier, there was no room for God’s grace. It was “Do this, don’t do that, and definitely don’t do that! — then God will be pleased with you”.

This is not what Jesus died for.

But do you know what else He didn’t die for?

He didn’t die so that those who have been hurt or misled on this earth could create their own cozy, friendly version of Jesus that skips over all the “ugly” bits. Jesus isn’t like Mr. Potato Head where you can build your own version with your favorite accessories and leave off what you don’t like.

It doesn’t matter if you had the best upbringing or the worst; God is still God, and He is still perfect and good. The Bible’s meaning doesn’t change just because you want it to. There are many who would misconstrue the Gospel as they do the devil’s work, but they are already defeated.

IBLP got a lot wrong, but Jesus didn’t. You are still without excuse before God (Romans 1:20). On Judgment Day, you will not get a free pass because you were deceived. Everything you ever needed to know the real Jesus is and always has been in the Bible, and if you’re reading this online, the nearest Bible is about one click away.

All that to say, I saw no redeeming outcomes shared by the people chosen to make cameo appearances. I kept looking for one person whose story was more along the lines of “I was hurt in IBLP but then I came to know the real Jesus and now I know peace and truth and purpose”. I know they’re out there. I know a few personally. But based on what you see in the show, you would think that these kinds of people don’t exist. You would think that it’s impossible to come out of IBLP and actually know or be able to find the real Jesus, which is a lie.

I found this quote from Morgan Olliges, one-half of the Christian influencer couple I share about later on. It’s spot on. She’s talking about several recently released documentaries or docuseries exposing Christianity-based organizations that have crumbled.

“Because they are made by people who are not Christians, who maybe even have a vendetta against Christianity, every single one of these docuseries has some major problems. One being they almost never interview people who are still firmly walking in faith with the Lord. Or, if they do interview those people, like they interviewed us, they do not allow them to share that faith.

If you’ve ever gotten food poisoning, you don’t keep eating the bad food and expect to recover. But you also don’t stop eating altogether, simply because you had a bad experience. This will lead to weakness and eventually certain death. The proper approach is to make sure you’re eating healthy, wholesome food that will nourish your body.

It should be the same way when you realize you’ve spent a large part of your life being fed bad theology and a warped view of God. The answer is not to reject God, but to get to know Him for who He really is.

Stop eating the tainted bread; find the bread of Life.

But the point of the show was to air the dirty laundry and paint everybody involved (or even close by) in a bad light. Consequently, you don’t hear much about how the real truth of the Gospel sets someone free.

Another huge issue with the show only started to rear its ugly head towards the end, and this was the overt prejudice against homeschooling and any associated organizations in general.

There seems to be an implication that homeschooling inevitably leads to what happened with the Duggars and that homeschooling organizations are always like the worst of IBLP.

Organizations like National Christian Forensics and Communications Association and TeenPact were lumped in as dangerous to society because of how they were empowering homeschoolers to be influential members of society.

Shiny Happy People wants us to be worried that people like me, my family, and many of my friends, are going to be the next generation of politicians, lawyers, business owners, parents, and leaders.

As I often am when the leftist agenda is clearly unveiled, I was struck with the hypocrisy. The youth in our country are constantly fed a slew of ideas that stand opposed to what we see in God’s Word, whether it’s about God, marriage, gender, roles, purpose, or a myriad of other things. Shiny Happy People and the ideology behind it wants us to just accept these concepts as fact, and to accept their role as the arbiters of truth.

Yet when parents realize this is not what they want for their children, and when the general populace starts to wake up to the world this ideology is creating, they’re shamed into silence.

“We are the experts! We know what’s best for you and your family!” Yet these experts don’t know the difference between a man and a woman, and these experts support the killing of children simply so one can “live their life” and in many cases, keep engaging in fornication.

Compared to anyone else at any point in their formative years, I believe Christian homeschoolers are some of the most equipped individuals out there, ready to change the world for the better. Obviously, what “for the better” means would be a topic of much disagreement.

But if you truly love Jesus and raise your children in the way of the Lord, with a proper view of the world, and with an understanding of how to live morally and honorably according to God’s calling… well, then of course you’ll make a difference. Young people of this type are rare these days, and I certainly can see they would scare those who have lost sight of the importance of God’s purpose, plan, and directives for our lives.

So I suppose in some ways, this aspect had a strain of truth. Those who hate God and His ways should be scared when they see young people who love God and His ways start to make their mark on the world.

Buckle up… we’re just getting started.

I saved the biggest lie for last.

Towards the end of the show, Paul and Morgan Olliges, a Christian influencer couple, make an appearance. They run a YouTube channel where they often talk about elements of their Christian life, marriage, and things like that.

At one point, this couple started talking about roles in their marriage; truths clearly laid out in Ephesians 5. They were immediately labeled as “fundamentalists” and placed in the same bucket as IBLP and the Duggars.

That’s when it got really clear. Shiny Happy People is not about just exposing Bill Gothard and Jim Bob Duggar.

Through fallacious means, the documentary tries to convince you that because many Bible-believing Christians say some of the same things that IBLP said, the former can inherently be accused of the same sins as the latter. If this is true, then shouldn’t it all be rooted out?

Don’t believe this lie. The Bible is our source of truth. There are many who interpret it wrongly, but this does not negate its validity. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 tells us that Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for all situations. So profitable, in fact, that through it, we are complete and equipped for every good work. But we must study it if we are to be able to tell fable from fact.

Shiny Happy People does not understand this; and judging from some articles about the show that I’ve read, many so-called Christians don’t either.

If what you got from the show was validation to throw out whatever Scriptures seem old-fashioned and counter-cultural, check your heart. The Bible isn’t meant to be hip. It doesn’t change to fit your view of what it should be.

Bill Gothard said some things that were in the Bible. But this doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong, because Gothard lived much of his life in a way that went against the Bible. I think Titus 1:16 speaks to Gothard’s type clearly:

“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

These false teachers, these wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), are the ones that need to be cast out. They sew lies and deception and it is ever more dangerous because they do it in the name of Christ.

And so I close.

I am grateful that the truth has come out about Bill Gothard. Christians should always want this. The truth is light in the darkness, it sets the prisoner free (John 8:31–32).

I know several people who have been hurt very deeply by Gothard’s teachings and conduct, and I do not wish to detract from their stories or experiences through my critique of Shiny Happy People. No one should have to experience abuse or exploitation the way they did. His downfall was deserved and I wish it had come sooner.

But as I’ve stated, I found several areas of concern within the show, and I wanted to clearly present them, and in a more literary form than just a 1-star review on Amazon (you can certainly find others with similar thoughts to mine if you read the aforementioned reviews; some are put together very well, others less so).

My takeaway thoughts to share would be:

  • If you see or hear something that doesn’t sound right, consult God’s Word, and weigh it out thoroughly. The most effective way to discern what isn’t of God is to know what is.
  • Your sin will find you out (Luke 8:17).
  • Don’t expect secular production companies to present Christian material in a way that accurately portrays what Christianity is about.

Finally, and most importantly, take heart, friend. Where Jesus Christ truly is, there is no abuse, deception, inconsistency, lies, evil, or sin to be found.

Shiny Happy People left out the hope that is available for those who’ve been hurt. They left out the best part. It’s like watching a traveler, dying of thirst, drag themselves towards you. As they beg for water, you ignore the nearby spring, bubbling with fresh cold water, and instead affirm the lies their eyes are telling them about the distant mirage, which is sure to only bring disappointment and possibly death.

No matter how you’re grown up, if your experience has left you dry and desperate, the hope for something better comes from a true relationship with Christ. Mere religion is destined to fail and people will be hurt, if not directly, than indirectly.

But there is joy in serving Jesus (John 15:11), a joy that can be found nowhere else. Don’t chase the mirage. Turn and drink from the well of Living Water.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.



Theo Luciano

Design @ RoleModel Software and a myriad of other things // John 14:6