The Shiny Happy People documentary got my attention, too.
There is a reason it’s trending right now and you’re seeing it in your feeds and hearing about in conversations. Not only did it provide the history behind the Duggar family’s rise to fame that allowed them to promote their strict religious beliefs in a way even secular America was entertained by, it removed the mask on the man who started the group they touted.
Bill Gothard had a very successful business in manipulating countless followers through the Institute in Basic Life Principles and his homeschool curriculum, Advanced Training Institute. He invaded Americans’ living rooms and minds through TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. He claimed to be an all-knowing leader who demanded rules about sexual purity, courtship, marriage and family planning — all while being a single man with no children.
Not only were his teachings abusive, he was abusive.
An unexpected twist to the documentary comes when the filmmakers show the grooming of future homeschooled politicians who would go into our nation’s capital to push for strict Christian views and policies. This information creates conflicting responses among viewers. There are the believers and the naysayers. There are those who feel personally attacked, who feel including this piece of information was so far-fetched, it was an unnecessary addition.
“I already knew this about those like the Duggars because I used to be just like them.”
In my case, I watched this twist and nodded along in agreement because, well, it was no real twist to me. I already knew this about those like the Duggars because I used to be just like them.
Hard to talk about
The hardest part about broaching this controversial subject, though, is that you know it’s likely going to upset or cause waves within your social circles. Religion and politics are where the rubber meets the road, where deep divides are created.
But if you want to understand the importance of heeding Shiny Happy People’s warning about the infiltration of religious fundamentalism in our country’s law making, then you have to take a seat at the uncomfortable table of political and religious intersectionality.
What I’ve learned as a former fundamentalist, research-driven writer and advocate is that Christian fundamentalists will choose a train they know will take them to the station they want and will ride it all the way. If for the slightest reason they feel the train is off course, they will inform the conductor to be sure it is on time and in tune with what was originally agreed upon by them when purchasing their ticket. More importantly, they like to have their own conductors in charge to be sure everything goes according to plan.
That’s the best way I can explain why they often run as Republicans or push agendas by way of Republican politicians. Simply put, that party has some of the basic beliefs they can align with. Not to say every aspect they agree with or that all Republicans are part of these movements, but they can use the party in their favor far more than any other one. They hopped onboard that political train years ago and rarely have they hopped off.
“Fundamentalists have a unique ability to make things work in their favor.”
Fundamentalists have a unique ability to make things work in their favor and when they do, they feel it’s a spiritual sign to continue the mission of political power and control. They weasel their beliefs into local, state and federal policy making, using common jargon that the rest of the secular world uses, but their definitions are far more restrictive to others and hold greater meaning.
I’ve never known a secular conservative Republican who was fully aware that these groups have infiltrated their camps. And yet, they are there and they’re sometimes the very people they vote for.
The quest for a Christian nation
I spent 21 years in my own world of Christian fundamentalism, and its obsession with creating a Christian nation was very evident. They bred us as if we were recruits to fight for a country that had been stolen from us. We were raised bigoted, racist, homophobic, suspicious and militant.
Bill Gothard was created by the movement I was raised in — the independent fundamental Baptists. Ours was only one such group in the great pool of fundamentalist Christians, and one way they monopolize on their reach is by often having large families who continue to produce children raised the same or similar way, taught the same things and who are led to believe they should continue as their generations before them. They continue the fight for fundamentalism through each child born.
They also do this by homeschooling their children or having them educated in schools that are a part of their groups, using their own curriculum and keeping them isolated from outside influence. Being raised in the same movement as the Duggars and having the IBLP influence meant we isolated ourselves from most of the world.
However, American politics is where the exception often is made.
Patrick Henry College
Shiny Happy People highlights a huge means of achieving political power: Patrick Henry College, a Christian fundamentalist college in Virginia founded by Michael Farris. Farris not only was influenced by Gothard, he was one of his early converts according to a book by his wife, Vickie. He is “quiverfull,” believing it is his responsibility to procreate as many godly Christian children as he can to do God’s work.
The patriarchal beliefs, the restrictive and abusive rules against women, the strict and isolated upbringings of their followers are all examples of how far Gothard’s and the Christian Fundamentalist movement have had. Farris also was pastor of an independent fundamental Baptist Bible church in the 1980s.
But prior to Patrick Henry College’s launch in 2000, its founder was a stronghold in the Christian homeschool movement. Farris created Home School Legal Defense Association, a homeschool lobbying group, in the 1980s. HSLDA pushes myths and propaganda on how the secular world wants to steal Christian parents’ children. They successfully do this by using the biggest tactic ever — fear.
Their fear mongering is evident in their catalogues and newsletters, along with other content shipped to homeschooling families’ homes. They also do this by promoting laws for members to vote for or against in accordance with their narrow beliefs. Parents are urged to vote to protect their children based on fears that are Christian nationalist views.
The Farris influence
For me, though, the name Michael Farris holds not only a lot of knowledge but personal emotions that are complex. As a fundamentalist child who was raised with the independent fundamental Baptist teachings that made Bill Gothard famous, I also was a homeschooled child whose family had direct influence from the conservative Christian lawyer. My parents were strong believers in providing their children with the best faith-based education they could and were manipulated in paying membership fees to have HSLDA’s protection.
However, that came at a high personal cost for me as a child.
“I was terrorized that the outside world would steal me, brainwash me and remove me from my homeschooling family and put me into public school.”
As a child raised with Farris’ influence, I was terrorized that the outside world would steal me, brainwash me and remove me from my homeschooling family and put me into public school where I would be taught evil things such as evolution, sex ed and be controlled by the world. This fear was so strong within our home and other homeschooling families that HSLDA created drills for children to practice in case the worst occurred — CPS or law enforcement showed up on our doorsteps.
We were to stay away from the windows, and the windows should always be covered during school hours. If a door knock rang out, we were to lie on the floor, if need be, and stay silent. Always, always stay quiet. We were to play outside only after public school had been dismissed to avoid nosey neighbors seeing us at home and making a call to the school board. If asked in public where we went to school, we never were to say we were homeschooled but rather only our grades.
We were truly the hidden children. Forgotten.
The day I was almost rescued
As a child victim of sexual abuse whose abusers were in my home, my home was not safe. I cannot say I would have been safe in a school, but I know my abusers would have had far less access had we not been home 24/7.
I still remember the moment when social services showed up at my house. A concerned neighbor had reported possible educational and physical neglect in our home, and so they showed up to investigate. I had peeked around the corner so very terrified that they would enter my home; so very terrified that they wouldn’t.
I had no vocabulary to express then that I was being abused, but the trauma was occurring constantly. I wanted help but had no way of accessing that help. With a direct line to Farris’ HSLDA lawyers, social services never made it into my home. It was not discovered for numerous years that abuse in all of its forms was running rampant there.
HSLDA protected my abusers three times over a few years. Three chances to stop the abuse that I was enduring were squashed by lawyers who I had never met, with a mission I never signed up for. Still to this day, HSLDA and Farris have lobbied and won against laws that would protect children. Even me.
“HSLDA protected my abusers three times over a few years.”
The Home School Legal Defense Association does not reflect all homeschoolers. That is very important to understand when reading this piece. This is not a target piece against the homeschool movement. I have worked in education and understand the complex needs of children where homeschooling is a fantastic resource.
No, this piece is about the Christian fundamentalist homeschool movement. A movement with no checks and balances, whose sole goal is to isolate and brainwash children to take over a country to make it a Christian nation, to abuse children and face no legal consequences. It’s about continuing a legacy of radical religion.
Back to Patrick Henry College
That legacy is championed by colleges like Patrick Henry College. As a young person, I was pursued by an elderly woman who continued to praise PHC’s programs that put interns directly into the White House. I was young and impressionable and was completely captivated at any alternative to being a female stuck in that environment who could only marry and bear child after child as my only fate. So, I listened and was wowed by her and her husband’s mission.
Years later, when I looked at attending a college, I remembered that woman and immediately sought out Patrick Henry College’s website. I sat there and looked at the programs they offered and decided I was uncomfortable with the agreements I would be made to sign on purity as a victim of abuse. Later, I would learn the college had mishandled numerous accounts of abuse on their campus, a direct result of Farris’ enforcement of purity culture. It hit me afresh the negative impact Michael Farris’ organizations had on my life.
The thing is, this college does provide incredible opportunities to advance a young person into politics — if you are a conservative Christian. Journalist Hanna Rosin provided insight into PHC in a book released in 2007. An article stated that a graduate who was part of the college’s Strategic Intelligence Program could have security clearances that allowed them to enter positions in the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA. They would have access to working with intelligence contractors and the U.S. military. They also could apply to prestigious law schools such as Yale. At the time, the biggest mission was to overturn Roe v. Wade. And Christian fundamentalists did.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Michael Farris is now the leader of Alliance Defending Freedom. It was they who started the challenge for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the landmark case that overturned Roe v. Wade. ADF laid the groundwork for abortion to be abolished, just as Christian fundamentalists have been promising to do for years.
This is about far more than being “pro-life.” They view women as property. Their wombs as the means to continue creating generation after generation of Christians to fight for God. They claim to care about the unborn but beat their babies as the Michael and Debi Pearl so gruesomely exhibited and taught.
I fear with the successful overturn of Roe v. Wade, fundamentalists’ efforts will be totally put on the LGBTQ community. In the past, Farris represented the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission made it to the Supreme Court and with Farris by their side, they won.
“Their mission is to follow what they believe is God’s calling, and that is to protect Christian fundamentalist beliefs everywhere by changing laws in their favor.”
One of Alliance Defending Freedom’s main missions is against the LGBTQ community. They have a presence in the United States and around the world. Their mission is to follow what they believe is God’s calling, and that is to protect Christian fundamentalist beliefs everywhere by changing laws in their favor. This should bother every American because according to these groups’ teachings, they believe LGBTQ individuals should die. That’s terrifying.
Working toward the end times
But why is America an obsession among Christian fundamentalists? The short answer is it’s key to their teachings to fulfilling the destiny of all believers. Fundamentalist Christianity is trying its darndest not only to sanctify our country but to bring the world’s actual end.
Fundamentalist preachers have been teaching since the 1800s (or before) that a Great Tribulation must occur to cleanse the world of sinners and finally allow Christianity to win above all false religions. This means great wars must take place, wiping away most of the world’s populations, leaving a dwindling few. These few will face great trials, famines and must endure executions for simply believing in Christ.
At the end of this horrible time, Armageddon will occur and leave blood so deep it reaches a horse’s bridle. The Antichrist will have already brainwashed most of the world as a false savior. Eventually, Christ’s almighty army descends on earth and defeats the Antichrist and the enemies’ armies. More prophecy takes place, but the end result of the end times is a world with only Christians to worship their god freely, blissfully and a heaven on earth, for real.
Christian nationalists have a far more sinister twist on these teachings. They are trying to purify a nation (often to become a white only nation) to have that paradise now. When former President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Christian fundamentalists rejoiced. They know their prophecies, know what must take place for the rest of the world to be cleansed, for Christians to have the earth to themselves, and Jerusalem being Israel’s capital was a “prophecy” they watched fulfilled. They also prophesy that persecution has to occur first.
But “Christian persecution” can look like many things: Banning a coach from praying on his football field in front of his high school aged team; Walmart not allowing soliciting and hence preventing Christian fundamentalists from passing out propaganda to customers in the parking lots; Target saying they will be a safe corporation to hire LGBTQ young people; Planned Parenthood for not only their abortions but their sex ed; public schools for teaching evolution; and universities that offer women an education that might lead them away from the home as a wife and mother and “turn them into lesbians” for working to provide for themselves instead of having their leadership head as a husband doing so.
Persecution is everywhere, they believe. You just simply have to look anywhere to see it occurring.
“It’s just a warning of what they will not stop working for: a Christian nationalist America.”
Shiny Happy People got it right. The events occurring in the United States that have a lot of us at a loss for words are part of something far bigger than we realize. It wasn’t that some of us didn’t know it was going to happen. I did. Their prophecy isn’t prophecy per se. It’s just a warning of what they will not stop working for: a Christian nationalist America.
Christian fundamentalism and nationalism are far bigger than Bill Gothard’s IBLP or the independent fundamental Baptists I grew up in. It’s a collective movement of many movements. Its reach is farther than any of us can possibly imagine. It’s a movement that allows doctrinal differences to be overlooked for political power. It’s a force that is fueled by abuse of power, control and manipulation. As survivors know all too well, it’s a feat to break free from such things.
I did break free, though. It’s been nearly a decade since I left Christian fundamentalism, and the one thing I have learned while working adamantly to help victims, raise awareness and support other activists for nearly a decade is that what is far scarier and far harder to stop is a machine that is doing all the harm.
With awareness raised by Shiny Happy People, I want to believe there is hope. One thing is very clear, though, and that’s survivors are finding the strength to name the machine and its abuses for what they are.
At least, Christian fundamentalists can’t continue without the outside world being alerted to their secrets now.
Lydia Joy Launderville is a writer, copywriter, ghostwriter, editor and reading interventionist in Norfolk, Va., who covers an array of topics with a special focus on religious abuse and trauma recovery. She also volunteers for numerous nonprofits, including The Vashti Initiative, which has the first-ever national hotline for victims of religious abuse. When she’s not advocating and writing, she spends time with her family and rescue cat.
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