Christian fundamentalist influencers are fuming in response to Amazon Prime’s new docuseries Shiny Happy People, which shines a light on the dark secrets of the Duggar family and the rampant abuse enabled by the conservative Christian organization Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).
Weeks after the premiere of the four-part documentary, influencers Paul and Morgan Olliges of the Paul and Morgan Show, who are briefly featured in the show, released a video criticizing the series for supposedly vilifying all Christians.
Across the web, other conservative Christian influencers are expressing similar anger, taking particular issue with abuse victims leaving the church.
The bulk of the docuseries focuses on the impact IBLP had on the Duggar family and other families in the Christian homeschooling movement, as well as the widespread abuse IBLP’s teachings and leaders helped normalize and perpetuate.
In the two minutes the Olligies are featured in Shiny Happy People, the couple talks about their faith and explains what drives them to make YouTube videos as young Christian influencers. They also discuss the importance of female submission to male authority—a principle espoused by IBLP’s founder Bill Gothard.
“The role of the wife is to submit to your husband,” Morgan says in the series, joking that “submit” is seen as a scary word. “It’s a choice to submit.”
While the couple has a long history of speaking out on a wife’s need to submit and the importance of extreme fundamentalism, they believe Amazon’s series misrepresented their movement and faith.
Shiny Happy People presents itself as an exposé of the faith behind the Duggar family, who starred in TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting for eight years. The show followed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their more than 19 children, presenting a seemingly perfect—albeit eccentric—family unit. This idyllic image ultimately shattered when the Duggars’ son Josh was accused of sexually abusing his sisters and convicted of downloading and possessing child pornography.
Shiny Happy People claims TLC deliberately chose to ignore the family’s connection to IBLP.
In addition to instructing women to submit to male authority, some of IBLP’s rigid rules include wearing modest clothing and makeup, not using birth control, having as many children as possible and educating kids by homeschooling them with IBLP’s Bible-based curriculum.
IBLP’s founder Bill Gothard stepped down as the head of the organization after being accused of molesting and harassing more than 30 young girls and women.
Morgan and Paul are the only influencers who were actually interviewed for the series, but the documentary claims that they are part of a new generation of conservative Christians using their social media platforms to spread these same fundamentalist principles to a young audience.
The Olliges responded to Shiny Happy People in a YouTube livestream shortly after the premiere, calling the docuseries a “hit piece” and expressing their dissatisfaction with the way it turned out.
While there are no known ties between the Olliges and IBLP, the couple has made countless videos in which they espouse many views that often overlap with this brand of fundamentalism.
Attempting to distance themselves from the harms portrayed in the show, the pair spends a good portion of the video accusing the show’s producers and creators of wanting to make all Christians look bad. While the video opens with Paul and Morgan saying they’re glad people who used the “word of God” to abuse others are now being exposed, it quickly devolves from there.
In the video, Paul derides the docuseries as “agenda-driven” and claims that the two “experienced firsthand” that “integrity wasn’t a leading goal” for Shiny Happy People’s producers.
Morgan agrees with this assessment, adding that she’s “upset and frustrated at how just badly and disgustingly they lied to us.”
The pair then contradict themselves, admitting that they were, in fact, treated well by the production team, who told them exactly what the series was about and why they were being interviewed.
What is most notable is Paul and Morgan’s overall attitude toward the survivors of childhood abuse who were interviewed in Shiny Happy People. Despite claiming to be supportive of these survivors at the beginning of the video, they do little to offer compassion and understanding to those who they feel strayed from the righteous path. They make it clear, more than once, that they’re very displeased with the fact that many survivors in the series reveal that they have either questioned or walked away from their faith after experiencing this abuse and trauma.
Instead of trying to understand why that may be, the two argue that survivors should “disentangle” with the views of IBLP to “get back in line with the word of God” instead of completely deconstructing and “rejecting Christianity.”
Paul and Morgan cite Jinger Duggar Vuolo as a model of this, who has cut ties with her family but still considers herself a devout Christian.
Paul goes on to refer to Shiny Happy People as a “hit piece” that lumps them in with IBLP and other extremist organizations.
“They made Christian influencers out to be these nut extremists,” he says. “We’re just trying to live godly lives and suddenly we’re the continuation of the radicals.”
They also insist that some of the other influencers briefly mentioned in the series, like Girl Defined’s Bethany Beal and Kristin Clark, have no connection to IBLP, even though the two sisters say otherwise in their own video reacting to the series.
In another about-face, Paul and Morgan pivot from trying to convince their viewers that they’re not extremists to claiming that they are and it’s perfectly okay. Paul says that there are areas where Christians should “embrace extremism” and “wear it proudly,” instead of hiding it from nonbelievers. “Sometimes extremism is simple biblical obedience,” he says.
Morgan echoes this sentiment, adding that Christianity is in itself “extreme to the world,” despite being the world’s most widely practiced religion.
The YouTubers then end the video by mocking all documentaries dealing with religious abuse and trauma, acting as if it’s all made up for shock value, with Paul fear-mongering that any filmmaker could “come in any of our churches” and “make it look like a cult documentary.”
Beal and Clark of the YouTube channel Girl Defined, whose videos were briefly referred to in the show, also released a video of themselves reacting to Shiny Happy People, calling the series “dramatized” and “sensationalized.”
Both sisters agree that it’s important to talk about the abuse caused by Gothard and others, with Beal admitting that she’s “glad they made the documentary.” But they also accuse the series of trying to drive a specific narrative that they feel is “one-sided.”
Beal also claims the documentary’s producers lied to the Olliges to get them on the show because they “wanted to make Paul and Morgan look really terrible.”
“They really were trying to find a story and use an angle to take down conservative Christianity,” she says. Meanwhile, Clark says the show’s creators only brought in Jill Duggar, who was abused by her brother Josh and is no longer in contact with her family, to “validate” everything else being said about fundamentalism, which she claims was “not balanced.”
In the video, they also attempt to downplay the experiences of those who have been abused in the name of religion, referring to those traumatic experiences as “fringe.” Beal and Clark were involved in IBLP to some extent, having attended a few seminars with their family growing up. They say nothing like what is described in the documentary ever happened to them.
“It didn’t wreck everyone’s life in the way they’re portraying it and, in fact, it was a very small fringe movement,” Beal says.
Much like Paul and Morgan, the sisters of Girl Defined are also unhappy with the fact that some survivors of abuse chose to walk away from the church altogether, noting that it’s possible to “expose sin” without leaving fundamentalism.
“You can disentangle and go towards the true Gospel and leave behind the false gospel,” Beal continues. According to Beal and Clark, the answer to abuse at the hands of a religious leader is to dive deeper into one’s faith and not follow people like Gothard “blindly”—a statement that seems to place blame on the victims rather than the perpetrators for not always knowing when scripture ends and human influence begins.
Conservative Christian commentator and podcaster Allie Beth Stuckey weighed in on Shiny Happy People as well in an episode of her podcast Relatable. Stuckey, who has previously been criticized for pushing a “fundamentalist worldview” on “traditional gender roles and family formation” by Media Matters, argues that issues like submission and gender roles are “actually biblical” and were simply misconstrued and misapplied by IBLP.
She also accuses the docuseries of branding “every conservative Christian who fights the culture war,” supports the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and “believes in Ephesians 5”—which calls wives to “submit to your husbands as to the Lord”—as a “crazy dangerous fundamentalist.”
While Stuckey admits that she believes and adheres to many of the same Biblical beliefs espoused by the Duggars’ and IBLP, she insists the difference between the two lies in the interpretation of the Gospel, one of which is accurate and the other is not. Just like her counterparts, however, she leaves the burden of distinguishing between the two on the individual.
Although these influencers claim they are not associated with the type of fundamentalism portrayed in Shiny Happy People, they have all done their part to uphold purity culture.
Clark and Beal are specifically known for their YouTube videos instructing young girls and women to dress modestly and do the makeup in “God honoring way” so men are not tempted to sin. They also often engage in victim blaming and spend a lot of energy demonizing the LGBTQ community.
Paul and Morgan do much of the same, even going as far as to blame mental illness on a lack of faith in God. Meanwhile, Stuckey has repeatedly used her platform and podcast to advocate for “classical Christian” homeschooling and chastise progressive Christians for not being devout enough.
While the influencers do their best to distance themselves from the harmful principles portrayed in Shiny Happy People, their content tells a different story.