Shiny Happy Christians

Published 4:22 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2023

By Michael Brooks

It’s been a season of hard-charging faith documentaries, including “The Secrets of Hillsong” and “Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets.” Both saddened me.

I never watched any of the Duggar series on TLC, though I was aware of the basic plot through word-of-mouth. The “Shiny” documentary intertwines with the ministry of Bill Gothard, the Duggar’s mentor, with whom I’m more familiar. Gothard was popular in the faith community of the 80s and 90s. A pastor friend encouraged us, his pulpit brothers, to attend a Basic Youth Conflicts seminar and learn from Gothard. I never did, but I did read voraciously about Gothard since I fielded frequent questions from church members about the ministry.

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Gothard took the patriarchal model of the first-century world and insisted it was operable in the 20th century. In the New Testament world a woman had only basic rights and lived at the mercy of her husband’s goodwill. Gothard taught that the wife’s submission to her husband was like the Christian’s submission to God, even if the husband wasn’t a person of faith. For example, if the husband told the wife they were going to a strip club instead of her going to church, she was to obey him and trust God to change his heart.

I remember another conservative leader, Jerry Falwell, taking issue with this, declaring he wished his wife obey God first of all.

Some follow the Gothard model, and this isn’t bad, in my judgment, if it works for them. It seemed to work for the Duggars, at least for a while. The biblical ideal is that the husband/father be a spiritual priest who lovingly leads the family to serve God. But this model certainly doesn’t sanction inhumanity or abuse.

Other people of faith rely on a more egalitarian model; namely, Paul’s principle in Ephesians 5 that couples “submit to one another,” or as a modern paraphrase renders, “Outdo one another in loving service.”

One of the flaws in the documentary is its bias implying a hostile world take-over. Filmmakers included footage of some uniformed military training as though there was to be an assault on the fortress of evil. However, it’s noteworthy that nobody was armed or harmed in the chosen images!

Christians do strive to take over the world–not with weapons of war, but with the love of Christ. Unbelievers have nothing to fear from Christians and should welcome the good they feel compelled to do.

We’ve always had notable faith leaders who mess up; this is nothing new. We pray for mercy and restoration. But high-level failures like this don’t reflect the vast majority of those in the church who try to honor Christ in their lives each day. 

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.