Shiny Happy People puts the spotlight on the Duggar family — and its victims | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

The new Amazon Prime docuseries Shiny Happy People pulls back the curtain on one of America’s most well-known reality families, the Duggars. Over several years, their reality show, 19 Kids and Counting, portrayed a wholesome family of 21. In 2015, TLC canceled the show following news of oldest son Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse of minors that had happened years prior. In 2021, TLC also canceled the spinoff Counting On in the wake of child pornography charges against him.

The most alarming aspect of the series is the Duggars’ attitude toward abuse. Josh Duggar is now a sex offender serving 12 years in prison. He not only molested young girls, including a few of his sisters, but also possessed and viewed child pornography. Based on interviews in the documentary and the timeline of and reaction to the initial abuse, it’s clear parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar weren’t nearly as appalled by his behavior as they should’ve been.


That weakened response could easily have fostered an environment where further sexual deviancy flourished. Josh Duggar is to blame for his own evil actions. But there were adults in his life at the time who seemed more interested in appearances and continuing a lucrative television show than doing the right but difficult thing.

The series heavily focuses on Christian writer and speaker Bill Gothard, who created the Institute in Basic Life Principles, or IBLP. As followers of Gothard’s teaching, the Duggars were basically the poster children for the ministry. Gothard’s teaching included homeschooling, rules on dress, the structure of family leadership, obedience, rejecting secularism, disciplining children, and the like. Gothard himself has never married and is not a father, yet he instructed thousands in both areas.

Gothard resigned from IBLP in 2014 after more than 30 women alleged sexual harassment and, in some cases, molestation by Gothard. The strict nature of the IBLP is such that children and subordinates are not allowed to question those in leadership. And when those in power can’t be held accountable, the worst can happen.

In a thread on Twitter, sexual abuse survivor Rachel Denhollander, who helped bring gymnastics doctor and serial child molester Larry Nassar to justice, implores others to watch the docuseries. She especially encourages evangelicals to view it because it asks tough but necessary questions concerning abuse.

“Mishandling of abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she wrote. “Especially in the evangelical world. There are teachings, people and ideas that long predated where we are now. That set the stage, that formed the framework.”

“It’s not about destroying the church or the gospel,” she continued. “It’s about *rescuing it* from such gross misrepresentation and abuse.”

It would be easy to view the documentary and believe it rightly criticizes nearly everything associated with Christianity, traditionalism, homeschooling, abstinence, the patriarchal structure, and other ideas and behaviors that go against modernity. It might also be easy for some to view the docuseries as an unfair leftist assault against the Right, a production that should be given no weight. Both views are wrong.

There are many lessons to learn from the four-part series, no matter what perspective the viewer holds. That people claiming Christianity abused or swept abuse under the rug is an indictment against them, not the message of Christ.

Shiny Happy People is not easy to watch. Viewers may differ on how they want to raise their own families, but on the issue of abuse, there should be consensus.


Abuse is inexcusable in any setting. It happens in secular as well as religious settings on a large and small scale. It is not something a victim ever deserves. And abuse must be exposed and predators held accountable no matter how much it may shock the audience or damage long-established reputations.

Kimberly Ross (@SouthernKeeks) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog and a columnist at Arc Digital.

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