After a glimpse into the Duggar family's religion, IBLP leader Bill Gothard's story has captured everyone's attention.
The Institute in Basic Life Principles is a strict Christian offshoot that's dissected in Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, which hit Prime Video on Friday, June 2. The four-part project sheds light on its troublesome ideology and what life is like for people who adhere to the faith—particularly Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their incredibly large family of 19.
For those who have yet to tune in, the organization's seven principles—design, authority, responsibility, suffering, ownership, freedom and success—are the foundations of Gothard's teachings, but that's not what has raised eyebrows. That IBLP suggests women are subservient to men and leaves members isolated are the controversial parts. Then you have the downright bizarre beliefs: Cabbage Patch Kids are idolatrous, and syncopated music is "the antithesis of what God desires in the life of a Christian," to name just a few.
"[Gothard's] teachings, in a nutshell, are based on fear and superstition and leave you in a place where you feel like, 'I don't know what God expects of me," Jinger Duggar Vuolo told People. "The fear kept me crippled with anxiety. I was terrified of the outside world." Jinger is now one of the Duggars who left IBLP.
So who is behind this controversial belief system? We'll fill you in.
Who is Bill Gothard, leader of the IBLP?
Born in 1934, Bill Gothard grew up in a religious household in Illinois, where his father was an executive director of the Evangelical Christian association Gideons International. Bill followed in his father's footsteps, working with the Child Evangelism Fellowship as a teen and pursuing Biblical studies in college and his post-graduate studies, per People.
Originally, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which Gothard founded in 1961, was called Campus Teams, an offshoot of the work he did as a young adult: visiting with school groups and encouraging people to "make wise choices" and pursue purity.
Gothard's teachings grew so popular that he'd hold conferences with anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 attendees. Eventually, IBLP founded the faith's homeschooling program Advanced Training Institute in 1984, which incorporated Biblical references into its teaching and used "Wisdom Booklets" for its students.
An unnamed source revealed to People: “Everyone who has ever spent any real amount of time with them has known forever that they are essentially devout Gothard followers and that there’s not a whole lot different between what they’re doing and a cult."
IBLP controversies: what did Bill Gothard do?
In addition to the belief system's problematic teachings, Gothard was accused of sexual harassment by over 30 women in 2011, despite his claims that he "never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent," per People.
Things escalated when a lawsuit was filed against IBLP alleging sexual abuse and misconduct in 2015, one year after Bill had stepped down as leader. For reasons unknown, the lawsuit was dropped. But people truly began to question the teachings around that time when Josh Duggar's molestation crimes came to light in 2015. Gothard, a close friend of the Duggar family, stood up for the eldest child.
“They did the right things. They did maybe even more than was expected,” Gothard told The Chicago Tribune. “They certainly cannot be faulted in what they tried to do to correct the problem. The problem was corrected … The fact that he became an outstanding young man would indicate that kind of success.”
Josh Duggar was found guilty of possessing and receiving child pornography in 2021 and is currently serving over 12 years in prison, leaving behind his wife, Anna Duggar and their seven children.
Where is Bill Gothard today?
The 88-year-old currently resides in Illinois and keeps a low profile. The Duggars have released statements about the accusations against the IBLP leader, but continue to follow the faith to this day.
“The public accusations against Dr. Gothard in recent years are troubling and grievous. However, our faith in God is not based on following a fallible human man … Truth is truth, even if the messenger fails,” the family told NBC News.
At this time, he is seemingly spearheading another homeschooling program, Embassy University, according to his website.
"Embassy University is designed to give you the wisdom, understanding, knowledge, training, experience, and credentials that you need to be successful in your personal life, finances, vocation, ministry, marriage and family," the site description reads. "It has been authorized by the Department of Education of the State of Florida to be an independent university which can establish its own curriculum and grant degrees."
Bill Gothard speaks out after 'Shiny Happy People'
In response to the backlash, Gothard took to Twitter on Wednesday, June 21 with a very lengthy statement of Biblical hymns defending his position. It all began with, "Absurd Lies in New Video Attacks!”
When he wasn't referencing the Bible, he did state: "In 2014 a small group set out to "take down" me and the seminar ministry. Their all-out efforts ended when lies were discovered in their secret chats, and they chose to drop their lawsuit rather than obey a court order to turn over more secret chats. That happened in 2018. Since then, attacks have stopped. Now, five years later, a flurry of video attacks is surfacing."
Despite what Gothard considers "false accusations" he goes on to say that this is all worth celebrating.
"Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. REJOICE and be EXCEEDING GLAD for great is your reward in heaven," he wrote.
Twitter's response to his statement is just what you'd expect.
"Telling the truth isn’t an attack. It’s bearing a faithful witness. If you want that account to reflect well on you than dont sow rotten seeds," one user commented.
Another added, "When have you ever invited true and meaningful accountability into your life?"
You can read Gothard's statement—and its reactions—in full below.
Absurd Lies in New Video Attacks!The hymn writer put it well: “Is this vile world a friend of grace to help us on our way?" The answer is “No!” David stated it in another way, “Let the lying lips be put to silence which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against… pic.twitter.com/OjNHWnH27fJune 21, 2023
Is Jim Bob the head of the IBLP?
After Bill Gothard stepped down from the Institute in Basic Life Principles, folks questioned if Jim Bob was taking over his position. And according to Time, Jim Bob has assumed the role of leader in his absence.
The Duggars speak out about the IBLP
Following the controversy of their hit TLC series, 19 Kids and Counting, as well as their brother's actions and family's strict beliefs, Duggar daughters Jill, Jinger and Jessa have stepped outside of the faith, and the former two have written about their experience in the super-controlling belief system.
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets is now streaming on Prime Video.
Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.
Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few.
When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.
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