The Cult Next Door Is an Ideal Follow-Up to Shiny Happy People

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Prime Video’s new Duggar docuseries, Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, is more than just a retelling of the family’s rise to fame and their many scandals — it’s a damning indictment of the Christian fundamentalist organization that birthed them, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, known as IBLP. For long stretches, the four-part series leaves the Duggars behind as it examines the “cult-like environment,” as Jill Duggar describes it, fostered within IBLP and its homeschooling program, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). Ex-members speak openly about the trauma they endured at ATI facilities, where many were forced into child labor, while others recall being sexually abused by IBLP founder Bill Gothard at the ministry’s Chicago headquarters. (Gothard has denied all allegations of sexual abuse and harassment.)

While Shiny Happy People is the most in-depth exposé on the rampant abuse within IBLP, it’s not the first project to shed light on Gothard’s exploitative, fear-based teachings and his alleged misconduct. In February 2017, filmmaker Jake Youngman released The Cult Next Door, a documentary short that makes for an ideal follow-up to Julia Willoughby Nason and Olivia Crist’s new series.

The Cult Next Door — which shares a title with a comprehensive 2016 Chicago Magazine piece about IBLP — covers a lot of ground in just 30 minutes as it charts Gothard’s ascent (and his recent fall), elucidates his fundamentalist teachings, and gives survivors space to process their repressive, traumatic upbringings. Youngman’s subjects, including Don Veinot, president of Midwest Christian Outreach Inc., and prominent ex-member Micah J. Murray, explain Gothard first launched the program in 1961 (though it had a different name until 1989) as a series of seminars about the importance of upholding traditional values in an era of political, social, and cultural upheaval.

Gothard primarily preached about obeying “authority” — not just God’s authority, but that of all fathers, and, ultimately, that of Gothard himself — lessons that appealed to Evangelical Christians. Infographics reveal that estimated attendance at Gothard’s workshops increased exponentially, from 2,000 in 1968 to 200,000 in 1973. “He was filling out stadiums at the time when the Beatles were just filling out stadiums,” says Veinot. “He was sort of a rockstar in fundamentalist Christianity.”

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