For many TV viewers, TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting was a feel-good look at the day-to-day life of an unusually large Arkansas family. But dad Jim Bob Duggar and his wife Michelle Duggar saw their reality show as something much more. They believed appearing on television was a way to spread the word about their ultra-conservative Christian ideology, which was grounded in the teachings of a man named Bill Gothard.
A new docuseries, Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets (out June 2 on Prime Video) draws back the curtain on both the Duggars and the inner workings of Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles. In recent years, both the Duggars and Gothard have fallen from grace following sex abuse scandals. But that hasn’t stopped Jim Bob Duggar from positioning himself as Gothard’s successor. His behavior is like that of a cult leader, a former family friend says.
Jim Bob Duggar is trying to emulate Bill Gothard, Bobye Holt says
In 2014, Gothard was forced to step down from the organization he founded following a harassment and sexual abuse scandal. With Gothard gone, Jim Bob Duggar sensed a power vacuum and took advantage, suggests former Duggar family friend Bobye Holt. (Holt was a key witness in Josh Duggar’s 2021 child pornography trial.)
Jim Bob is “definitely” trying to emulate Gothard, Holt says in Shiny Happy People. “Because Mr. Gothard has been taken out of it, from what my understanding is, is that Jim Bob and Michelle are his replacement.”
“With them being on TLC, I think it has definitely given them a platform to encourage people to come to IBLP,” she adds. “And they’ve encouraged people to move to Arkansas. Which is completely a cult move.”
Jim Bob’s niece Amy Duggar King occasionally appeared on 19 Kids and Counting. She agreed that her relatives became the face of IBLP thanks to their reality TV fame.
“With all the babies and the popularity of the show, they literally became the poster child for IBLP,” she says.
Jim Bob is not currently listed among IBLP leaders on the organization’s website. However, he and Michelle have spoken at the organization’s events in the past.
Jill Duggar says her dad was drawn to the ‘cult-like’ aspects of IBLP
Gothard and IBLP preached about an “umbrella of authority” where children and wives are under the protection – and control – of fathers. Husbands are themselves under the umbrella of Christ. What that meant in practice was that fathers were the ultimate source of power and authority in a family. Disobeying them was not an option.
Jim Bob’s daughter Jill Duggar says the IBLP’s vision of how a family should function appealed to her father. It also made it very difficult for her to push back when her parents told her to do things, such as continuing to film Counting On, even though she was an adult.
“It’s the whole umbrellas of authority thing. That was ingrained in me,” she says.
“IBLP and the teachings draw in people like my dad who want this control,” she adds. “It can foster this cult-like environment. I absolutely think that people would be drawn to that.”
IBLP followers had plans to ‘infiltrate’ the government
As Shiny Happy People explains, the IBLP provided a roadmap for evangelical Christians searching for the right way to live. They also “believe that the way they live is the way everybody should live,” ex-IBLP member Tia Levings says.
IBLP adherents like the Duggars planned to raise a group of homeschooled Christians they dubbed the Joshua Generation. Those children would then would go on to become an “elite strike force” and “infiltrate the highest levels of government,” Alex Harris, a lawyer and former Joshua Generation leader, explains in the docuseries.
“The real story behind the Duggars is a much bigger one,” Harris says. “The Joshua Generation is one of the most ambitious plots of modern evangelical history … the goal was Christian homeschool graduates who would be U.S. senators, who would be U.S. presidents, and most importantly, who would be U.S. Supreme Court justices in order to bring America back to its rightful position as a truly Christian nation.”
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets is streaming on June 2 on Prime Video.
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Source: Cheat Sheet
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