Shiny, Happy People Amazon Series: It’s Personal. It’s Important.

by | Jun 2, 2023 | Abuse | 51 comments

Shiny Happy People about the Duggars is important
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The story behind Shiny, Happy People is the story behind Bare Marriage.

Not exactly, of course. But in many ways we started this work because of the same forces that the new documentary Shiny, Happy People, which just landed on Amazon Prime, is revealing.

This one is personal to me, and I’d like to tell you about it today, and hope that you all watch it.

Shiny, Happy People looks at the rise and fall of the Duggar family, but more importantly places it in its context. The Duggars were part of an extreme but popular fundamentalist homeschooling movement run by Bill Gothard: the Institute for Basic Life Principles. The main thrust of Gothard’s teaching was unquestioning obedience to authority.

Extreme physical punishment of children was advised so that you could “break their spirit.” Isolating children from the outside world was necessary to protect them. Women must learn to be submissive and not to cause the men and boys around them to stumble.

Seriously, the teaching around abuse in Gothard’s writings is obscene, insane, an abomination. I wish there were stronger words for it.

I’m so glad that this is all being exposed for all to see, because hopefully evangelicalism will repudiate not just the Duggars and Gothard, but the underlying foundation of power, control, and abuse.

Shiny, Happy People is personal because friends are in it!

I’ve been watching clips as people have posted them, and it’s great to see two of our former podcast guests in the documentary–Kristin Kobez Du Mez and Emily Anderson from Thriving Forward. Also Tia Levings, whom I’ve gotten to know on social media, is also featured in it. So that’s awesome!

But Shiny, Happy People is also personal because in many ways the Duggars were our wake up call.

I raised my girls in very, very conservative circles. We didn’t usually totally agree with everyone around us, but I always thought it was just a matter of degree, not kind. I thought, “well, we’re on the same spectrum, they’re just further along than me, but we’re all the same!”

We went to relatively conservative evangelical churches. We homeschooled all the way through high school, and our homeschool group was full of quiver-full families (families who believe in having as many children as God gives you). People always looked a little bit askance at me with just my brood of two!

In junior high and high school my girls joined the Bible quizzing program at our local Alliance church, and they ended up making it to the internationals team. 

That’s where we met Joanna, our co-author and stats person for The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better (she quizzed for the Western Pennsylvania district), and it’s where Joanna met her husband Josiah (he quizzed for Canada MidWest, and it’s why she ended up in Canada).

(This next photo is only important after-the-fact; we didn’t realize it at the time. Because Joanna and Josiah were older, we only overlapped quizzing years one year–our first, Josiah’s last (Joanna had already graduated). Here’s a pic where Katie was quizzing against Josiah (he has his head down), but we didn’t know them then. Katie only met Joanna’s siblings the next year. So it was only in looking back over photos that we found out that they had been together).

Rebecca Disappointed

Our main social circles were filled with people who were really, really conservative religiously, but we had friends and didn’t think much about it.

Then the Duggar scandal happened.

It was May 25, 2015, and the story of Josh abusing his sisters had just broken (it was actually my birthday, and this ended up taking up all of my energy that day). Rebecca was twenty years old, and the day before she had written a blog post where she conveyed her anger and her disgust about how the Duggar parents had handled Josh’s abuse of his siblings. She wrote about how they should have prioritized their daughters, and to parade onto TV as if they were the model family when they were hiding this was unconscionable.

In response, she was ripped apart by people that we actually knew.

It was one of the first times the veil was pulled back and we saw, “Oh, we aren’t just on a different part of the spectrum from people. We’re on a whole different spectrum.”

We had thought, “they love Jesus, we love Jesus, we all prioritize the same things.” We had thought, “they will care about abuse, because abuse matters to God.”

But people were vitriolic. They told Rebecca she was being a terrible witness for talking about this in front of the world. They told her that we all are sinners and it isn’t up to us to judge. They told her that the girls had obviously forgiven their brother and so there was nothing more to say.

And on Facebook, people that we had considered friends and allies were really pushing back, defending the Duggars, while it was non-Christians who were messaging Rebecca and telling her that they so appreciated seeing a Christian stand up so firmly for what was right and against abuse, because they didn’t see that very often.

She was having wonderful conversations about faith with non-Christians, while those who were supposed to be so in love with Jesus were defending abusers.

Except for one person who was in love with Jesus, who saw what was going on on Facebook and reached out. Someone that we didn’t know very well–her little sister was best friends with Rebecca’s little sister. We had attended her wedding a few years prior, but they hadn’t stayed in contact much.

But Rebecca messaged me to say, “Remember Joanna Sawatsky? She sent me the nicest message to stay strong, because she agrees with me.”

The next day, on my birthday, I wrote my big post about the Duggars.

I talked about the long-term effects of abuse, and how you can’t just lead small children through a “forgiveness prayer” and declare all things healed, because abuse doesn’t work that way (I didn’t really have the vocabulary to talk about trauma yet, but that’s what I was getting at.

And I said that it was unconscionable to declare yourselves role models and put your family on display for the world when you knew this was in your background.

Here was the conclusion to my blog post–at the time, this was about as super firm as I ever got, and I thought this was pretty extreme (it’s funny how your perspective changes!)

But let’s remember that they are not the real victims here. However sad it is, they are simply bearing the consequences of poor decisions they made a decade ago. The real victims are the Duggar girls and the girl, or girls, outside the family who were abused; sexual abuse survivors hearing terrible messages about how “it was a long time ago” and “what does it matter” and “it was just touching”; and even, to a certain extent, Josh, whose life would be far better today had his parents, his church, and the authorities handled this appropriately back then.

If our voices of compassion are louder for the Duggar parents than they are for the victims, we, whether we intend to or not, minimize the severity of the effects of abuse. And I hope none of us would honestly want to do that.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Why the Duggar Sexual Abuse Scandal Matters, May 25, 2015

Some of my long-time fans were really upset with me. A lot of the messages on Facebook were quite negative.

What broke us was that many who called themselves Christians didn’t care about the abuse.

They didn’t care about the long-term effects on the girls. The didn’t care that Josh had obviously not had adequate counseling or treatment, let alone punishment and accountability. They didn’t care that the girls had been told to forgive without getting proper counseling.

They didn’t care about the girls. They only cared about the witness of this family for the world.

They cared about culture wars, not people.

And they declared that the Duggars were good people because they taught the right things about purity and family–even if those things had led to abuse. Didn’t matter–they were still right.

Culture wars mattered over people. And doctrine mattered over people.

Absolutely none of that is of Jesus.

None of it.

Not a single thing.

Jesus doesn’t ignore abuse for the sake of the greater good. He doesn’t say that our witness is more important than people’s well-being and safety–He says that people’s well-being and safety IS our witness.

And Rebecca and I, on our own social media platforms, tried to explain this–her to young adults, me to older adults.

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We had thought that if you knew the Bible, you’d love people.

We had thought that if you knew the Bible, you’d stand up against evil and injustice.

And instead, with the Duggar scandal, we got our first real glimpse into how people would go on the absolute war path to protect abusers because our “witness” mattered more than anything else.

It was nothing like the Jesus we knew.

These people that Rebecca had known for years were saying things that so disturbed her, it really changed how she saw the church and how we approached faith.

We knew now that we had to center everything in Jesus, not just the Bible.

“What would Jesus do” had seemed like a gimmicky catchphrase before, but I started to really ask it and to really mean it.

Faith only makes sense if you look at it through the lens of Christ, and His priorities.

A faith that is centered on unquestioning obedience to abusive authority looks nothing like Christ. 

I’ll be watching Shiny, Happy People this weekend. 

We may do a watch party in our Patreon group (still trying to figure out the details). 

When the Duggar scandal first broke, I remember people saying that this was just a ruse to bring down the church.

Rebecca and I said at the time that maybe God was exposing it so that the church could be made healthy again.

God has been shaking the church profoundly in the last few years.

Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an inner room will be shouted from the housetops.

Luke 12:2-3

God doesn’t mind things coming to light; that’s part of His plan. The church flourishes when things are not kept hidden, but are dealt with. When the ugliness is there for all to see–but then they see how we deal with the ugliness.

Shiny, Happy People is not an attack on the church.

I believe this Amazon documentary is a tool that God will use to purify the church away from authoritarianism and abuse, and towards the love of Christ once again.

That’s the underlying message. Everyone I know who was interviewed for it loves Jesus profoundly–but they were very, very hurt by these types of doctrines.

We need to confront the fact that as evangelicals, we let this movement gain a foothold and flourish, even as it was so harmful. And the effects were felt far beyond Gothard (Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper Girl uses some of the same language, like “eye traps”). This went far and wide, and we need to root it out. If we don’t face it head on, but choose to ignore it, it will simply continue to flourish.

It’s interesting to reflect back on how this story changed our trajectory.

It changed how we saw the church. It changed how we saw abuse. It fired us up to want to do something to rescue those who were considered “acceptable losses” in the culture wars.

I’m sure it will be hard watch in places. But as for me, I’m thinking back to 2015, and how hard Rebecca and I fought, all day on my birthday (even skipping cake) to get people to see how serious this was, despite the mountains of negative social media messages we were getting.

And I’m feeling like it’s come full circle.

Aslan was on the move.

We just didn’t see it then.

But now we can.

And everything–Joanna joining our tribe; being motivated to write The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better; being passionate about finding healthier church spaces–grew out of the Duggar scandal.

Rebecca Disappointed

It’s funny how God works.

Shiny Happy People Duggar Documentary

Will you be watching Shiny, Happy People? What’s been your experience with fundamentalism? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Becky Miller

    I have watched the two first episodes. I followed the Duggar and Gothard abuse cases as they were breaking and progressing, so I knew a lot of this. Seeing it all together is damning of the evil influence of IBLP.

  2. Jeni

    Women and girls have had it drummed into our heads, hearts, and souls for so long that every bad thing that happens to us is our fault. We caused it by the way we dressed, or walked, or breathed, or existed, and by extension we deserved it.

    We’ve also had it drummed into our heads, hearts, and souls that almost immediate forgiveness is a must and by extension forgetfulness.

    We’ve had it drummed into our heads, hearts, and souls that we can’t ever talk about it…with anyone, because gossip.

    We’ve had it drummed into our heads, hearts, and souls that “those bad things” that happen to us are not that big of a deal…to anyone, because we’re too emotional and blow things out of proportion, irrational, hysterical.

    We’ve had it drummed into our heads, hearts, and souls that “boys will be boys,” and “it’s just the way they are.”

    Do people really just not care, or have they had it drummed into their heads, hearts, and souls that there is nothing here to care about? it’s no big deal? forgive, forget, and move on, put it behind you, ignore it and it will go away?

    • Angela

      So we’ll said. This is exactly the way certain Amish handled far worse rape in Sins of the Amish, where they ignored the needs of the girl and were horrified she went to police, and they all showed up in court in support of her brother-rapist even though he confessed to approximately 200 counts of raping her! Her mother wouldn’t protect her and told her to just forgive, which is truly horrible, but we know how much all the Amish women must be brainwashed about it for it to be this bad…

    • Jessi

      This is 100% true

  3. Mara R

    I was able to watch the first episode last night. Yes, one of the Basic Life Principles is an inordinate devotion and even worship of authority.

    Reminds me of an insightful comment made at The Wartburg Watch back in the day concerning the god of authority, yes, little ‘g’ god. Not the God we want to serve.

    It was about a different situation but the same principle was in play. The principle that the authority must be upheld at all costs, even if it involves a few burnt sacrifices of those under the authority.

    I am glad this is being exposed. The bad tree and it’s bad fruit needs to be rooted out completely and we MUST get back to Jesus, the Lover of our souls. The one who leaves the 99 to gather up the one.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Mara!

      • Rebecca

        I grew up going to a fundamental Baptist school from 5-8th grades and then being homeschooled with our small social group being IBPL followers. We were not but I did go to the Basic Conference at about 19. I found that now, at 40, I still struggle with the voices of that environment in my head. My children should be better behaved. I should rely more on my husband (or actually it’s more a sin of omission. I tend to just wait for him to do or partner with me in things I could do myself as a well- educated woman, but it never occurred to me to say, have my own bank account or buy my own car and care for it. Hire someone to take care of my critters or my house, etc). The voices of being a failure of a mother and not knowing how to be an independent woman I struggle with daily.

      • Tiffany Richards

        I watched the whole thing last night. It showed me why I too, was caught up in such toxicity for a long, long time. It’s when I sought help to be a better parent, and began to assert my authority as a mother, and woman who not only knew what she was doing, but was told I was a better parent than my ex, by parenting coaches who’d observed both of us, that I found the strength to break this vicious, abusive cycle of unquestioned and unchallenged cisgender, white, Protestant, male authority. I knew, if I stayed, this would’ve kept going. I couldn’t allow my sons so suffer, as I had. Or learn, through example, not to respect women.

  4. Mara R

    Also, for today, I love reading the story of how this affected you and brought Joanna into your lives. Like you said, Aslan was on the move even back then. Go Team Bare Marriage!

  5. Lisa Young

    Sheila, thank you for your work…”for such a time as this”… God has used you as well as many other people to break down the religious walls in my life as well as a whole host of others. Being in an extremely conservative circle my whole life has made this process unbelievable. To be honest, the Duggers/Gothard scandal didn’t hit me quite as hard as the first few that hit in my circles of the same sort. I began to expect it by the time the Duggers rolled around. We were actually not involved with IBLP except for their curriculum. We used it rather loosely with our books. Our circles were VERY conservative already so nothing came across alarming although slightly different. At the time of the scandal breaking, my own abusive marriage blew up and my family was added to the collateral damage of “The Church”. My youngest daughter (who was 15 at the time) and I were rendered homeless for nine months by a man that was, and remained, a pillar in the church. She and I have gotten to know a Jesus that we could’ve never known any other way. My family is still in pieces, but God keeps bringing bits of light through you all and others like Natalie Hoffman, Leslie Vernick, Patrick Doyle, Andrew Baughman, Sarah McDougal, and I could literally list about 10 more. You are so right! God is refining His church!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re in a healthy place now! Jesus doesn’t leave us. But so many have turned Jesus basically into a monster. That’s not okay. I’m glad you’re free!

  6. CMT

    I don’t know if I will watch the documentary or not. I may not have the energy to process it. I’m at a point in my own journey that I really have to think hard about whether it’s wise for me to absorb yet another story about abuse and coverups in Christian circles. This one in particular may be too much for me, since it has many parallels to events that directly impacted my family and people close to me. That story (and a few others that “broke” in my life around the same time) was my “Duggar scandal.”

    I do think it’s very important to unveil things like this. By all means, drag the filth out into the light and let it wither and die. But I personally may not be able to engage to closely with this one, and I’m ok with that.

    • CMT

      *too closely

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally get it, CMT. Be wise, and take care of yourself. It’s like how I can’t watch anything related to the Holocaust anymore. I read so much about it earlier in my life, and it is just so horrifying. I know a ton about it; I wouldn’t learn anything. But I can’t handle the trauma of it and the evil of it. Just knowing people in the world did that…it’s super hard.

    • Leah

      Just coming out of a place in my life where I struggled with my “faith” because of my struggles with the church. I feel like this is another example of where I was uncomfortable with the church only to realize I wasn’t uncomfortable with God or my understanding of who He is. I was uncomfortable because these were areas where someone was trying to place barriers, middlemen, or full out blockades between me or others and God Himself. Gothard and the IBLP church for example built an entire framework on taking authority away from God and making God inaccessible to women specifically by placing husbands and elder men as authorities lying between women and the Lord. We have agency with God. We have voices with God. We are heard and we are seen as entire human beings in our own right and in our entirety. I believe now that wherever that is being denied, you’ll find a false prophet.
      Grateful to have found people like Sheila and to see courageous souls exposing these false teachings and reminding people like me that God requires no middlemen.

    • Traci Phillips

      I watched the four episodes one day at a time, with a break of one day between eps 3 and 4. It does take energy. I was very triggered, but also totally engrossed in watching. It brought up a lot of “stuff” from my extreme fundamentalist past. I came up before the homeschool movement took root, but my whole family was involved in starting a church school, where I went until I was a hs senior. We used the ACE curriculum, which had some similarities to Gothard’s. We knew many people who really like Bill Gothard and followed his principles. Such a WEIRD childhood. It’s hard to explain to those who didn’t live it. This series is essential. 100%

  7. Phil

    Hi there Sheila – God has this mysterious way how he moves us -eh? I somehow recall when all this went down here on the blog. I think my comment at the time was more regarding the quiver-full which I did not know that term at the time but interestingly the roots of the term seem to have to do with the child being shot into the world. I dont watch much TV. But I knew about the Duggars “fame” and my understanding of it at the time was the fame has more to do with their christian theology of quiver-full than Bill Gothard theology. I didnt watch it so what I picked up may have been wrong but to me it was like another Kate plus 8 reality TV series except they were trying to say how their theology of having lots of kids is correct because look how good we are. So kind of close but not I guess. Either way, what is sad is that people actually believes what they were watching. I knew it was garbage the moment it came out. Well I guess there are parts of my story that show that while I could see tue Duggar story was a falsehood from the start, I believed other garbage that sent me down the wrong path. I have zero plans on watching “shiny happy people”. It is sad what happened. It is good that someone did the work to show others it was bad. I am glad it moved you. I am glad to have been part of the clan to watch the movement change here. Have a great weekend everyone.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You, too, Phil!

  8. Nathan

    When that show was on the air, there was a part where the oldest daughter (I think her name was Jessa) was getting married. On another chat board, one poster was very concerned that Jessa was moving from an environment where she was under the complete control of her father to another environment where she was under the complete control of her husband. She was worried that nobody (maybe not even Jessa herself) would ever get to know the REAL Jessa, since her life, personality, etc. were always being subsumed by somebody else.

    As for the reactions of others to the abuse, that’s not worship of God. That’s worship of the earthly power structure and the visible image of the church.

    • CMT

      “Jessa was moving from an environment where she was under the complete control of her father to another environment where she was under the complete control of her husband… nobody (maybe not even Jessa herself) would ever get to know the REAL Jessa, since her life, personality, etc. were always being subsumed by somebody else”

      Well, yeah. Maybe the stay-at-home-daughter folks won’t come out and say it, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • Christine

      My first time reading something from your site was about a women whose husband didn’t want her eating yoga pants because he thought men were looking at her butt. You were very gracious to the woman even as you pointed out how that was wrong. No idea what year that was but have been following you ever since!

      • Christine

        Oh my. Not eating yoga pants, wearing them!

        • A

          I kind of like it the first way!

  9. Anonymous305

    I can relate to assuming that Christians would side with the victim because it seemed like the obviously right and loving choice, until I was shocked to learn that defending the perpetrator is common. In my case, I was at a conservative church that taught the bad messages and recommended the bad books, but still called the police on a pedophile. Years later, I was reading survivor blogs to help a friend, and was shocked that my church looked like the exception instead of the norm for calling the police. Now, I’m not shocked anymore at coverups, but still disturbed. Sigh!!

    The pastor at that church seemed to have as much empathy and compassion as he could fit into the toxic teachings that you critique, but he didn’t seem to notice a contradiction. I think he believed that he was sticking to the truth, but it confused the heck out of me that I didn’t know when to expect nice pastor and when to expect scary pastor. For example, when a husband was ignoring his wife and doing recreational activities while his wife did all the housework, the pastor wasn’t cold and dismissive, but also didn’t question the doctrine of unconditional respect, either. Instead, he said, “I would find it so hard to respect him. I don’t know how she respects him, that must be so hard!!” He was horrified by abuse, but didn’t notice that Every Man’s Battle enabled it, so he enthusiastically recommended the book. I thought about confronting this, but didn’t want to take the risk that his fundamentalist side would overtake his compassionate side. And of course, it didn’t help that I’m female.

    It used to seem normal to me for pastors to decide whether a divorce is “allowed”, but now it seems horrifying. I used to think, “of course it’s the pastor’s job to rebuke sin if the divorce has sinful motives”, but now, I think, “that’s WAY too much control over another’s life!!”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It absolutely is way too much control! We never really know what’s going on in someone’s house, either.

  10. Laura

    I so plan on watching this documentary! I vaguely remember when this news about Joshua Duggar first broke out. I was under the impression that Joshua had repented of his behavior and moved on, but years later and more scandals about him broke out. Obviously, that was not the case because look where he is now and his parents still have their heads in the sand.

    It is so true how a lot of Christians I know are more hung up on culture wars than how they treat people. In the US, the latest “culture war” is now to boycott Chik-fil-a because one of the head honchos added DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) to their employee training. As if this is just so horrible (sarcasm here) to have a diverse staff in the workplace. I’m not sure if I have this whole story correct; this is the gist of what I’ve heard.

    As a survivor of marital rape (technically it was sexual assault) and a possible survivor of childhood sexual abuse (believed to be a one-time incident), I am appalled at how many “Christians” (mainly in name only) do not side with abuse victims/survivors. They side more with keeping the status quo of men remaining in charge and trying to put on a holier-than-thou front (basically, they are all white-washed tombs). Of course, there’s the problem with conservative American politics since 2016. I don’t have to say anything about that because we all know.

    For years, I believed that the Christians I hung out with all loved Jesus and wanted to be good witnesses for Him. Of course, their idea of being a good witness is not the same as mine. It never really was. For years, I thought being a good witness for Christ meant that I had to vote a specific way, be against specific things, and fixate on the end of the world.

    I loved hearing about how Rebecca and Joanna met. What an awesome, divine story!

  11. Melody F.

    I haven’t had a chance yet, but I’ll absolutely be watching. I’m a good decade older than Rebecca, but I was home schooled and I think had a similar experience. We knew very conservative families, we thought they went farther than they needed too, sometimes crossing the line into legalism. But my mom was sure it came from good intentions.

    Later on, one of the dads went to prison for molesting his kids. Another abandoned his wife, who was just the sweetest woman. I know multiple families where the kids are completely estranged from their parents and I’m not at ALL surprised. Some of those parents were HARSH.

    I have a couple friends who had lovely relationships with their parents. They still do. But they still have trauma from being a part of that group.

    Even so, I would have thought that the response to the Duggar scandal would have been horror.
    It’s really bizarre to me that so many people who don’t even KNOW them would rush to their defense. If they were friends, I’d understand not wanting to believe it.
    That’s not a pass, it’s just… that’s natural. It really messes with your brain when someone you know and thought you knew well turns out to be a monster.

    But strangers? Why was it so hard for people to just say, “Oh my goodness, that’s horrible!” ?

    Unless of course they have reasons of their own for wanting to defend it.
    Which. In my experience, they do. Doesn’t have to be that they’re child molesters themselves, but there’s SOMEthing.

  12. Sarah O

    I found you in 2015. I was in the thick of it (nevermind what “it” was) and thought I was losing my mind.
    You were one of the very, very few Christian spaces I could find who had a heart for what I was going through.
    And your heart still shines through.
    Love y’all.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Sarah! Love you, too!

    • Phil

      Sarah, You were the one who helped me see and understand what was happening around here when Sheila went on that 1st rant over Love and Respect. You saved me too cuz Sheila was going to take my comment and rip me a new one! LOL. Thank God it turned out the way it did. THANK YOU.

      • Sarah O

        Phil you are a real encouragement to a lot of folks here myself included. Thank you for being willing to engage and even respectfully wrestle through tense topics and disagreements – your authenticity and transparency is how it should be done 😉

        • Phil

          Sarah – I think I need to give myself some credit too…I dont beleive it was Love and Respect I misunderstood it was one of the first times Sheila was calling out an author…after further thought when Sheila started the Love and Respect train I recall it being like – oh here we go again…it all blends together – cuz its been 8 freakin years I have been hanging around here now. Thanks for your kind words.

          • Kelly


            I’ve followed Sheila since 2011! So 12 years & have had the honor to meet both her & Keith in person back in 2016!! She’s such a great person with a listening ear!

  13. Matthew Hines

    This hits home to me, twenty years after we dabbled in IBLP and ATI. But we dabbled enough in it that it really messed me and my folks and siblings. The beliefs about traditional education really messed me up enough so I delayed going to college for a decade, and then had to do it online since I was working full time. The teachings on debt and business partnerships also gave me a false view on these tools for success. The views on dating and purity took me years to get over, and thankfully I am experiencing the joys of dating.

  14. Lori

    I spent many years way too close to all of this. I attended homeschool conventions in FL, looking at all the families in their matching outfits and actually wishing mine looked like that. I am now thankful for the secondary infertility that prevented it.

    We attended Growing Kids God’s Way classes at Calvary Chapel (ahem), and I bought books by the Pearls, Maxwells, and Wilsons. They’ve all since made their way to the trash, but not before the damage to our older two children by my authoritarian/abusive parenting was done. Our son recently ended his life at 26; what part his upbringing played in his later depression and addiction, we will never know.

    My husband, who had grown up Mormon, was always more skeptical and smelled cult behavior, but knew that contradicting me would provoke anger. I’ve spent several years with a professional counselor and cannot say enough good about the role that has played in making sense of my own background, and how abuse victims especially are drawn to abusive, controlling relationships and environments. He says only a particular type of person is drawn to those types of churches, and that a true adult is offended by being TOLD what to believe or do.

    We have finished the Hillsong doc, and 2/5 of SHP. We exist now on the fringes of church circles, as we evaluate how to move forward and how we want to parent our younger two daughters.

    Thank you, Shelia, for your work. I see pieces of what you all suffer for it. I promise you it is not in vain.

  15. Jaime Logan

    I cannot wait to watch this and I am so glad you wrote this blog to address it. The church needs more wake up calls to return to a time when purity culture did not dictate how we behaved, but only that of the true character of Christ.

    It’s not just that people who call themselves Christians cared more about the witness, they cared more about saving face and making Christianity look pristine and perfect, like flowers and rainbows… a framework that is so far from the true witness of the church in the first 10 centuries. Witnessing was to stand firm in the faith and even die in the name of Jesus. Purity culture has propped up masks. Masks to make people think that following Christ is the pursuit of happiness… even when abuse victims are still bleeding at their feet. Funny how talk about what Ravi Zacharias had done got shut up so fast… we’ve even seen it here in our town on a grand scale.

    Thank you for what you’re doing. We are praying for your ministry and that God would continue to flip tables on the culture wars.

    Ps. Some of our friends wrote a song about this kind of thing and I will be sharing it with you on Instagram 💜

  16. Jess

    The trailer really put me off, seemed like they are making it too political when the fact is you get less political further down the spectrum, teaching it’s sinful to vote or to only vote third party. My grandparents were friends with Bill Gothard, third gen here.

  17. Kym

    I watched the whole thing, pausing at times because it just makes me so angry. The clip where Gothard is talking about when the woman is under the husband’s umbrella she won’t be tempted by satan, but if she gets out from that umbrella… like the woman isn’t her own person with her own soul. Listening to his voice and seeing him makes me sick. I grew up in the Gothard era, went to seminars and my parents bought into it. The fact that the Duggars swept Josh’s true sin and crime under the rug is beyond comprehension. These men are full of pride, power and greed. I think it’s just all so disappointing to me as my whole teenage years were spent thinking I was a horrible, sinful person because of my “rebellious heart” which I didn’t even have, and it’s because of teachings from sick men like Gothard. My mother still doesn’t get it. She still thinks he’s a saint. Teach your children how to say no. Practice it often. Look in the mirror and say it out loud – NO.
    This just opened up a big can of worms for me.

  18. Terri

    Thank you, Sheila, for bringing this Amazon Prime series to our attention. I am planning on viewing it this weekend. I didn’t follow any of IBLP’s teachings, but like you, I too homeschooled all three of my children from K-12th grade and raised them in a very conservative church. I got sucked into a lot of Doug Philips’ teachings from Vision Forum though. I now realize he was espousing the same theology as Bill Gothard basically.

    I am not on social media, but I know you are active on Twitter. I was wondering if you would be willing to comment on the free viewing offered this weekend on Twitter of Matt Wash’s film, “What Is A Woman?” I so appreciate how you speak out and stand up for women and girls, and the chapters in your book about how our daughters deserve permission to be big (for example in girls’ sports), and knowing about her body, and being set up for success seem to be the perfect companion and further evidence that support the premise of this film. What are your thoughts on the film and would you endorse it for all of your followers? Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    • Bernadette

      The transgender movement is causing so much harm. God did not put anyone in the wrong body!

      One thing that’s driving children to believe they have the wrong body, in my opinion, is when the adults around them confuse sexist stereotypes and prejudices for innate differences between the sexes.

      Matt Walsh’s video opens by doing just that.

      When our society says boys don’t like dolls and girls don’t like trucks, what does that teach the girl who likes trucks and the boy who likes dolls?

      • Terri

        I completely agree, Bernadette. This gender ideology is causing so much harm, especially to women and girls.

        Because Sheila is so passionate about calling out mistreatment and bad teaching that harms girls, I was hoping to hear something positive about this documentary, “What is a Woman” that is standing up for women and girls, and all people really. We need to spread this message. And it made big news apparently on Twitter cuz they initially were going to show the film for free, then reneged, and then reinstated it’s free viewing. Many do not want this film shown. I think it’s important to recognize people, authors, filmmakers that are speaking up for women. I would love to see a comment.

  19. Annie

    While I had never heard of Bill Gothard growing up, watching the series last night eerily echoed a lot of how I was raised—sans the homeschooling and large family. I was also raised to be extremely judgmental of any other church sect except independent fundamentalists. As an adult I found an outwardly more liberal church (women could wear pants out in the world), but the root teachings and contempt for other denominations were the same. It was a stepping stone in my spiritual growth and I understand I was meant to be there for a season.

    I met my husband at that church. I desperately tried to be happy with a good, but oblivious man, sabotaging my own family by following poor advice from books like Created to Be His Helpmeet and misguided teachers. Ten years later we moved to another state and joined the same kind of church. We weren’t happy but we believed happiness didn’t matter, we were taught only what those in authority told us was acceptable. If we were unhappy it must be our fault and not the church’s. We were the ones with unresolved issues. We healed somewhat from that by joining a traditional, but more forward thinking, more relaxed church where we spent another ten years. It wasn’t until I read the Boundaries Book where scripture actually taught me that some of the things the churches were teaching as fact were not God’s ways. It was tough, but once I got my boundaries straightened out and stopped blaming myself for every single thing in life that was wrong, everyone around me (husband, children, father-in-law) started to take responsibility for their own mistakes and our whole family healed. It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing how the indoctrination I received as a child set the tone for our whole marriage. Even when my husband was not nearly as devout as I was, he was happy to climb the corporate ladder and leave every religious and domestic responsibility to me, including his father, his children, our children, finances, everything. I think by constantly covering up for everyone’s shortcomings, I’d inadvertently created a very unhealthy dynamic in our family. I regret that it took me 49 years to figure it out. But that set me on a new path. During COVID and while being housebound with my terminally I’ll father-in-law I dug deep into my Bible. After reading Boundaries and realizing the church was so off on how to be a good wife and mother and daughter (which is all I ever wanted), I wondered what else they messed up on. After three years of intense study, I have walked away from organized religion altogether. I’m never going to follow a man or a doctrine or a creed ever again. I’m simply following the Bible. I’m more confident in and excited about my Faith than I’ve ever been in my life. I enjoy spending hours each week studying just the Bible and not someone else’s take on it. Now I know what Paul meant when he talked about boldness. And I don’t care what the church thinks of me anymore. I quit behaving certain ways or doing certain things out of guilt or obligation and just started obeying Elohim.

    The church has its place. I am not badmouthing the church. I was a part of it for 50 years and don’t regret it. Every one taught me something. But like you said, God is exposing things, shaking things up, calling people out, and based on so many I speak with, it’s almost as if there is a Reformation 2.0 going on as people question the Institution and simply turn back to what the Bible teaches.

    When I watched the Duggar documentary, I would say that 90% of it was well done. What I did not like was how it got a bit political and seemed to lump most conservative (not cultish) Christians together. While I may get flack for this, I believe it’s a good thing to live out your faith by being involved in charity, passing on your values to your children or even serving your community by being on boards, being a community helper or running for office. Every segment of the population deserves representation. It’s when things get polarized and unbalanced that there is chaos. I believe everyone interviewed as well as the historical footage added value to the show, but it seems like the final edit had a subtle agenda advocating against all conservative Christians, implying we want to take over the world. This world is not our home, but we do want to be able to live in communities where we will be respected just like everyone else. I felt like the lines were blurred between IBLP-like cults and simple, traditional, good Christian people. Overall it was a good.

    • Christine Lister

      That seems to be the biggest critique that I’ve seen from Christians, that homeschooling, Christians, and conservatism are lumped in as a whole with the cult mindset. What was supposed to be an exposure of bad teaching within a particular church turned into a broad brush of following Jesus as a whole.

  20. Nannette Cain

    The reason as a new mom I was so attracted to this movement was from growing up in the party capital of the south college town where male athletes were allowed and excused for sexually harassing and assaulting girls because of what we wore. The first shaking I had for what I was was kindergarten on the playground when I was held down by a first grader and told it was my fault by my teachers for playing with the boys. All through elementary school, middle school and high school this was the message. I was fully developed by age twelve. What the teachers, counselors, coaches principals and my grandparents would tell me I was groped, grabbed, cat called, touched and even raped at school, at the park, at church lock-ins, PE, library, spend the nights, play practice, the military bases I grew up on as a young child etc was if I just covered up more. This was NOT the homeschool world. This was the largest inner city public school in our town. This was NOT a small fundamental church … this was a progressive on a college campus Methodist church. My would always knew this was wrong teaching as I knew I hadn’t done what they were accusing me of. But when I became I parent of girls the last thing I wanted was for them to experience the sexual harm that I was so I briefly bought the books and teachings at the town’s largest Baptist Church we were attending that all sold this Shane message. We went to ONE ATI conference and they just gave me the creeps but I couldn’t dare speak out but it wasn’t the dress codes it was the over the top housekeeping and the shaming for long term breastfeeding. I hate that these organizations and a reality TV show has taught so much damage and has put a negative light on larger families and homeschooling. I wish the generations before them would step up and accept that they too played a big role in these shame based teachings about sex, homemaking, parenting, child rearing, and especially teaching our young men. Yes, my husband and I dabbled innthese movements but we were looking for better than what our PUBLIC and non-Christian private schools, large churches, and a college party town that still today wont protect college students from the sexual messes that occur when drunken partying is promoted as normal so heavily. It hurts that so much blame is being put on the fundamentalist (not that they aren’t to blame to an extent but are we
    Asking what they were trying to repair?). I’m seeing so much unnecessary hatred and anger from a generation of young people and so much shame being heaped on families that didn’t go so deep into this mess. When are we going to learn mercy and grace for all? And one last thing … please go and study sexual trauma. Those of us that survived are NOT VICTIMS. We are SURVIVORS and everyday we are
    Trying to survive the scars and memories. Victims are the ones who didn’t survive. Yes we have been through Horrible sexual abuses but it’s not JUST because of homeschooling – it was happening WAY before homeschooling.

  21. À2bbethany

    I’ve been following without a crystal ball on YouTube. She has been following the iblp for years! And she was almost involved with this documentary, however, she discovered something and bailed… wisely! She has many sources in the group that want the predators named and known, and its overwhelming. Long story short, she discovered that Jim holt is actually worse than Jim Bob Duggar. And she warned the producers to pull him from it. They ignored her, and a few weeks before it went live? Well Jim now has 2 restraining orders by his son and wife. Which is…. interesting, considering he was trying to push it on the duggars only.
    Katie said she’s now working with a different company on another company to produce a better product. One that tells a more rounded story of the beliefs and the victims. (In spite of being an atheist/agnostic, she saw the documentary trying to dramatically paint all christians as evil, and called it out. She has many conservative christians following her, because we trust her to tell the truth. And to keep her sources anonymous, because revealing them endangers them!)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Interesting! I had heard that about the Holts too. I think the more documentaries, the better!

  22. Cee

    I grew up homeschooling in the 90s and early 2000s. My local home-school group was run completely by IBLP families, though I never attended IBLP, I did attend many years of TeenPact and camps at Patrick Henry College. I received all of the messages, loud and clear. I did not, nor maybe will I ever, understand the full scope of negative emotional impacts. As I am trying to process the SHP docuseries, I came up with some over-arching themes: money, manipulation, and minimization. Jim Bob, like my dad, are obviously controlled by their need to control, especially the money. And by controlling the money, you effectively control the people…until they decide to write a book about you and make their own money. To make a long story short…I am a statistic. I married a porn addict who was two completely different people- one that he let me see and one that he intended to never let me see or know about. Even though I hate this with a passion. I was a sitting duck. I was too easy to manipulate and control. I didn’t know myself at all. The slightest showing of myself would be met with swift and horrific punishment in my family of origin. Every single detail of my life was controlled- even to how much water was allowed when washing dishes. Shame was used to keep me quiet and controlled. I once made the mistake of asking for an allowance after shopping at Wal-mart one day- my dad picked up the bag with pads in them and threw them in the car and said, “there’s your allowance.” I was so ashamed. That was the last time I ever asked for an allowance…the men who ascribe to patriarchal, Jim-Bob-esque religion are incredible manipulators and shamers. So I was about to graduate from a university with a 4 year degree and terrified. I can’t make it on my own, I need a husband, I was so afraid. I couldn’t stay under my parents roof anymore- I was dying from their evil physical and emotional abuse and coercion. I did not know how to pay bills or really even what they were, I didn’t know about credit cards (my parents dealt in cash only), I didn’t know about basic car care, I didn’t know how to be an adult…and this was on purpose. My parents never wanted me to live free. I knew I would never marry a man like my dad- an overt narcissist. I didn’t- I married a covert narcissist. I didn’t marry him for who he was, but more for who he wasn’t- as far as I could tell. My marriage was wrecked from the beginning. I had remained a virgin until my wedding night and from that night on…I would be confused, hurt, heart-broken, and never able to understand my sadness and how I had done “everything right,” but something didn’t feel right. But to the world, I was a shiny, happy wife…nobody would have ever guessed. Until…my husband’s lies and cheating and addiction came out. The sorrowful part is…my pastors didn’t care. They acted like they did, but when I mentioned the D word, gloves came off. I am starting to see now that I was in a system…a system where men excuse their temptations and falls to lusts, but don’t excuse women for their “fall of a broken heart and spirit” and exiting abusive marriages. The cost is too high- you shouldn’t break up your family, they say. The cost was cast long before I, or my subsequent children, entered the picture. We don’t yet understand this I don’t think as a society trying to deal with the affects of pornography. The loan was taken out by the porn user and the sharks come after anyone who unwittingly or wittingly signs on. Still picking up the pieces, but I won’t stop. A movement is happening and I’m rowing too!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, my goodness, Cee, I’m so sorry for everything you went through, and especially that instead of being a help the church was a hurt. And that all of this was done in Jesus’ name.

      I pray that you’ve found peace now and that you’re safe, but I’m sorry for all that was stolen from you.

  23. Ann

    Thank you Sheila for talking about this, then and now. I plan to watch the documentary, just waiting until it feels right to approach it.

    I was in an abusive marriage, had as many children as “God would give us”, homeschooled, completely “submitted my life”, and lived with shame and control for years, actually decades.

    Ironically enough, the breaking free has been the most difficult part. I don’t even say this with malice, just truth; Once the misplaced authority of a controlling male’s “headship” is challenged, watch out. Lived through several years of absolute hell, but walking on the other side of it now.

    My heart goes out to all the unknown suffering from women and children who have lived this, and who are trying to break those chains of bondage, a lot of times not even aware they are shackled. For me, it was such a lonely, scary walk; until one day I realized- wait, I wasn’t crazy all that time!!

    There is FREEDOM in Christ, not bondage.

    much love to all

  24. Chrysti H

    I binged the series last weekend, and it’s still haunting my thoughts. My hubby grew up in a home schooling community, and he knew a couple families who were involved with the IBLP (one stopped once they realised how toxic it was). It’s heartbreaking how much damage the IBLP, Gothard, and the Duggars have done. The Pearls are mentioned in one episode, so it made me wonder how much of Gothard’s toxic teaching has infiltrated the evangelical church, regardless of whether or not there are home schooling families.

  25. Sarah Long

    “Aslan was on the move” gave me chills. So thankful for how the destiny of your ministry changed course, slowly but surely. Keep fighting the good fight!


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