Home » Shiny Miserable Family: How Bill Gothard’s Ministry Missed the Sin Inside

Shiny Miserable Family: How Bill Gothard’s Ministry Missed the Sin Inside

The Duggar documentary shows how the fundamentalist movement got parenting and children wrong.

Families can be pernicious places for children.

Theologian Adrian Thatcher notes this in his book Theology and Families, which I read over a decade ago. Thatcher’s words were a steady refrain in my mind as I watched the new Amazon Prime docuseries Shiny Happy People.

American evangelicals have devoted an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and resources toward the goal of shoring up and strengthening the family. Yet such efforts have largely overlooked the painful truth that appears with chilling clarity in Shiny Happy People: that families can be pernicious places for children.

This claim might sound unnecessarily provocative. Isn’t the family God’s first created institution? Isn’t it the primary place God places children for their benefit? Isn’t it designed by God for the good of its members and broader society? Yes, yes, and yes. But there remains a distinction between “The Family” and “families.” Indeed, the gap between the family in theory and families in reality can be a yawning chasm—just ask the Duggar daughters.

In these and many other cases like it, abusers and their enablers are quick to see sin in young children and especially in the outside world, but not in themselves. It’s a malignant error.

One reason why families can be damaging places for children is because of their innate vulnerability. Due to their developmental immaturity and negligible socioeconomic power, kids are weak and wholly reliant on others to protect them and meet their needs.

Yet in my research on the lived theology of family in US evangelicalism, I found an alarming lack of awareness regarding childhood vulnerability. Among so-called quiverfull families, …

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