SURVIVOR of Bill Gothard/Duggar Cult Speaks About Escaping, Child Abuse & Weird Sex Practices





“Shiny Happy People” is an Amazon documentary exposing the abuse within the cult led by Bill Gothard, which the Duggar family belonged to. Survivor Joel Berry shares his experience with child abuse and strange sexual practices in the cult, and how he escaped while maintaining his Christian faith.

Barry discusses the controversy surrounding the cult status of the religious community led by Bill Gothard. Many people were drawn into it, and by the 90s, it had a strong presence in the Christian world. According to Liz, Bill Gothard’s teachings fit the definition of a cult, with his excessive control, unwavering devotion, and deviant beliefs.

Barry highlights the physical abuse in Bill Gothard’s teachings, particularly his endorsement of physical discipline on children. The documentary portrays abuse as inherent in Gothard’s teachings, but it’s important to consider the documentary’s agenda. Gothard advocated hierarchical authority, with God at the top, followed by husband, wife, and children. The Duggars became the face of this belief system, and their son Josh’s conviction for possessing child pornography exposed the dark side of this culture’s view on abuse.

Furthermore, Barry delves into the impact of Gothard’s teachings on girls, who faced intense pressure to conform to specific standards of appearance and behavior. The lack of sexual education led to confusion and unhealthy expressions of sexuality. Despite the emphasis on purity until marriage, sexual abuse still occurred without a proper means of addressing it.

Regarding matters of Christian faith, Barry believes that the Gospel transcends political narratives, whether from the Left or Right. He criticizes Gothard for avoiding the challenging aspects of Jesus’ teachings to create a simplified worldview.

Lastly, Barry critiques the “Shiny Happy People” documentary for sensationalism. He suggests hearing from individuals who have remained within or escaped Gothardism while maintaining their belief in God. Barry encourages disassociating from movements that distort scripture and engaging directly with the Bible to let Jesus’ words speak for themselves.

Show Transcript

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain typos, mistakes, and/or incomplete information.

I finally watched this wildly popular documentary that Amazon published. It’s called Shiny Happy People. It’s about the Duggar cult, or the cult that the Duggar family belonged to. Evidently, this family with 19 children weren’t just very fundamentalist Baptist. They belonged to a cult led by a man named Bill Gothard. And the new documentary by Amazon exposes the abuse inherent to this cult. So what we’re gonna do today is we’re gonna talk to Joel Berry. He’s a man who escaped this cult. He survived it. He’s gonna talk to us about his experience. He’s gonna talk to us about the child abuse that was inherent to the teachings of this cult. He’s gonna talk to us about the weird sex practices that also were inherent to the teachings of this cult. And he is gonna talk about how he escaped and how he maintained his Christian faith despite this traumatic experience. So let’s get to it. 

So today we’re gonna talk to a man who actually escaped the Bill Gothard cult. We’ll talk about the definition of a cult, because I know even that word, there’s some controversy whether this is a religious community, whether this is a cult. But this is Joel Berry grew up in this, and he is no longer associated with it. So we’re gonna sit down with him and talk to him about what it’s like, what they taught, what his experiences are, compare his experience to what was portrayed in this Amazon documentary, shiny happy people, and get his whole take on the entire controversy. I mean, eyes of the nation are upon this right now, not just because of the Amazon documentary, but because we’ve been following. This country has been following the Duggar family for the last probably decade and a half. They’re wildly famous. They have universal name recognition. So, Joel, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it. I know this isn’t an easy topic for you to talk about, and I’m really glad you’re here. 

Thanks for having me. And I’m, I’m happy to, to have the chance to, to talk through it a little bit. 

And by the way, I know a lot of people that are listening and watching this show are gonna be like, wait a second. I recognize him. I recognize his voice, I recognize his face. And if you’re feeling that way, you are correct. Joel is also the managing editor at the Babylon Bee, so maybe you didn’t know that he grew up in the Bill Gohar. I am going to call it a cult until we discussed that, just just to put that caveat on it. Yeah, for sure. Maybe you didn’t know this about him. I didn’t know this about him either. I mean, you and I have been friends on Twitter for years, and I just realized, yeah, this was part of your history. Maybe last week we were talking about it, and I said, do you wanna come on the show and discuss this? You told me that you watched the Amazon documentary Shiny Happy People, and you said it was hard to watch. 

Yeah, it was. It, it’s you know, and I’ve, I’ve talked to my wife about this over the years. You know, I think the first 10 years of my life, there’s a lot of almost just like black areas that I just have kind of blocked out for one reason or another. You know and watching that documentary last week, just it, a lot of it came flooding back in a very unexpected way. Some things that I just kind of long forgotten came back and it was, it was really overwhelming. It was, it was, it was a tough watch because it is and you’ve seen it too. I understand, right? 

I have seen it. Yeah. I mean, I didn’t, I didn’t grow up in, in that I’m a practicing Catholic. I was homeschooled. So I feel like there were people on the periphery of our homeschool experience that probably adhered to this. Although I honestly, even watching the Dugs all these years didn’t know that they were associated with Bill Gothard. And with that sort of religious sec, that cult, it doesn’t surprise me now that I know were, you, were are, do you feel nervous to talk about this today, especially after watching that? 

Yeah. Well, it was I was overcome a couple times. I, I started crying watching it. And I’m not, I’m not much of a crier. But you know, it, when you, when you kind of watch, watch that stuff and kind of relive it a little bit it can, it can bring some unpleasant things back. And it can also help to kind of make sense of a lot of things, you know in your life. You know, reasons you’ve made certain decisions the way your life has gone, the way it has. So I think it’s, I, you know, those kinds of experiences can be good. Even though they can be painful, it’s good to know, understand yourself and, and know I guess have clear view of what God has done in your life and why you’re at where you’re at today. 

So yeah, it’s, it was hard and it’s, you know the whole, the cult terminology is weird because bill Gothard, you know, I guess for, for people that aren’t super familiar with the Bill Gohar world he kind of got popular in the seventies after the sexual revolution, you know, there was a lot of angst, I think, in this country as, as the culture, the bottom of our culture just fell out. And, and a lot of things went nuts you know, in the sixties. And I think evangelical Christians kind of in a lot of ways reacted to that. And, and there was a lot of hand wringing and, you know, what are we gonna do about this? How are we gonna raise our kids in this, in this kind of, this new world of sexual freedom and and chaos and, you know, moral anarchy. 

And and so Bill Gothard, he, what he did was he kind of, he came along as this Bible teacher who who had the, this set of very practical clear and and s you know, some, some wise things that he taught that were kind of, he sold it as like, these biblical principles that you apply to your life, you apply to how you raise your family, you apply to how you raise your kids. And I guess we can get into how it went south a little bit later. But I think the initial attraction for a lot of people was the angst that you have with your kids and the world that they’re growing up into, which I relate to. I I have five kids myself, and I think about what they’re gonna, how they’re gonna grow up, you know? 

And here comes this guy who says I have the answers. I have, I have this, you know, a, b, c, this bullet pointed list of how you can raise perfect kids who are gonna, you know stay in the faith into adulthood and fight the good fight and, you know fight the culture wars and take back our, our country and our, our nation, you know, our, our culture for God. And so I think that, that hook is very attractive, I think, as it still is today. But whole cult terminology is weird because, you know it wasn’t, it’s not like we lived on a compound. We didn’t wear white robes and live in the woods and, you know have weird ceremonies and stuff. It was just, it was this guy and he had this curriculum. 

It was called oh gosh, Institute of Basic Life Principles. And it was comprehensive. I mean, it covered everything. I mean, you, you, it had a homeschool curriculum, which we did. It had books for how to raise your kids, how to spank your kids how to, how to date into court you know, how to choose a husband, how to choose a wife, how to deal with abuse. And people got really sucked into it. And I think when I came up in the nineties I think it was pretty well entrenched in, in the Christian world at that point, sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially. I think a lot of churches were in one way affected by Bill got’s teaching. 

Yeah, I think that’s a good way to explain exactly what it is. I would err on the side of calling it a cult, because I mean, yeah, I pulled the Wikipedia definition of a cult right beforehand it says, a relatively small group, which is typically led by a charismatic and self-appointed leader who excessively controls its members requiring unwavering devotion to a set of beliefs and practices, which are considered deviant. Yes. I think, I think Phil got’s teachings, I, this is my opinion. You have the experience. You can correct me if I’m wrong. It seems to me that it fits in this, but going back to what you said about your experience watching this documentary, before we even dive into your childhood, what, when you say it made you cry a couple of times, what did, what did cause you to feel that emotion? 

I think one of the things was, was kind of reliving bill got’s teaching on how to, how to raise your kids and how to discipline your kids. So there was, there was this book that he endorsed that was a very much a part of that culture that almost every parent in that world used, which was called to train up a child. And the idea behind it was that you’re, you’re essentially phrase that was often used was that you have to break the will of your child, and it’s, you’re almost like breaking them like an animal or a horse. Mm-hmm. And so you start with infancy and you know, you’re, you train your child like to, they called it blanket training. So they would, they would put a baby on blanket, and they would put the baby’s favorite toy nearby. 

And if the baby reaches for the toy, you’re supposed to smack, you’re supposed to smack the baby. And you keep doing that until a baby no longer reaches for the, for the toy. And you’re, you’re essentially conditioning this child to respond to, you know, to pain and to input like an animal. And and it sounds I mean, it is horrific, but you’d be, you’d be shocked by how many parents did this. I mean, it, like it was everywhere. I mean, it, and again, in this world, in, in my little section of the world, it felt mainstream. Like it didn’t feel weird because everyone did it. You know, and I think it kind of turns your parents, one of the things that’s emphasized is that, you know, discipline has to be you know, it has to be a loving thing. 

You’re, you’re, you know, you can’t do it in anger. It has to be a time of correction, and you, you bring scripture into it. And you know, and that part, in some ways that’s good. But, but there was this idea of like, you spank for everything, and you’re conditioning your child to respond to pain, but then you introduce scripture into it, and like a hug, you hug at the end. And it’s just, it creates this really weird dynamic where you’re being abused, but your your parent is telling you, I love you while they’re abusing you. And then that you hug at the end, and then you, and then there’s scripture, you know, involved. And so like scripture, you, you, you end up with this really weird association with scripture where, you know, I have, I’m one of six, and you know, I have siblings who are, are no longer in the faith. And, and they’ll tell you that they’ll hear certain verses and they’ll, they’re triggered just by hearing , a verse of scripture because they associate it with that that past. And so it’s yeah, watching that and kind of remembering, remembering those days, it was very over overwhelming. 

Yeah. The phrase that you just said, break the will of the child is the part that makes my heart ache listening, because that’s not what, yeah. That’s not what godly and biblical discipline is, that very quickly borderlines on abusive. So that’s one of the main allegations from this Amazon documentary, from people who are ex-members of this Institute of Basic Life principles, is that abuse was very inherent to this whole world. Was that, yes, I I’m, maybe your personal experience, but also your observation. Is that accurate? Or, one of my problems, I will caveat this by saying what are my problems with the documentary, is they, it was obviously created by liberals who want to portray Yes, all homeschoolers, all Christians, all conservatives, all people with big families as being part of some weirdo abusive cult. And I reject that. Yes. I know that that’s not true. So I guess what I’m asking is that, is their portrayal accurate from what you observed and experienced? Or did they exaggerate that? 

Yeah. Well, I will agree with you that that documentary was created by certain people that have a certain agenda. And I think it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re watching it. As far as what the environment was really like, I think it’s a mixed bag because it really depended on the people who were in the program. What the program did was one of the biggest emphasis, emphasis of got’s teachings was authority. And you have this famous umbrella illustration that he would always bring out where it’s this hierarchy, and you have God up here, he’s the upper umbrella. Then underneath it you have the husband. And then underneath you have the wife, and underneath you have the children. And you know, he always taught about this hierarchy of authority, which, you know, has biblical parts of it. 

There, there are some biblical things of that. But it was, it was very twisted in the sense that he would always teach that if you do not, if you ever get out from under your umbrella, like if you’re a wife and you get out from under your husband’s umbrella, or you’re a child and you get off from under your parents’ umbrella, then you are suddenly going to be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, and you’re, you’re, you’re gonna be in grave danger. Your soul and your life are gonna be in grave danger. And so it was this very fear-based thing. And what it did was, I think, you know, when you have , a teaching or a church or movement that very much emphasizes or props up male authority that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think that it can attract bad men who will then use that as, as a cover for their abuse. 

So I think that in that world, there were abusive men that used that as a cover for what they were doing. At the same time, I knew many families who had loving, caring fathers and never experienced that at all. So one of our, one of our pastors was on staff with, with Bill Gothard. And and I think even some of his kids were on staff with Bill Gothard at some point who is a wonderful guy, loving guy. Never, never saw any indication that there was any, any abuse or, or hurt or brokenness or anything. And so I think it very much depended on person and the, or the family that was in that world. But I think it attracted, I think it attracted bad people because it was a, it was a, it was a kind of n infrastructure that gave cover to those bad people. 

What about the sex abuse aspect of it? So obviously the Duggars became the poster child for the Bill Gothard curricula or Bill Gohar belief system, and their oldest son, Josh Duggar, was convicted of possession of child pornography and sentenced to, I think, two decades in federal prison. And one of the things that this documentary portrayed, which is something I had read before the documentary even even spoke about it, was that the structure of how Bill Gohar taught his followers to handle abuse, especially sex abuse, was actually to blame women. If a woman was not fulfilling her husband, then if he was unfaithful or abused someone, it was, it was her responsibility. Is that exaggerated? Is that official teaching? And what was your observation of that? 

no, it was I, there was very much a part of the teaching that was, it was I think part of the teaching and part of the culture was that in an abuse situation, if you are abused, first thing that you’re taught to do is to ask yourself, like, where am I at fault in this situation? Like, what did I do to bring this on? or how did I contribute in one way or another? And then the other weird thing that that was, was taught was that you know, and I don’t know where he got this in the, in the scripture, I’m sure he pulled some verses outta context or whatever, but what was taught was that if you’re abused you could, you need to keep in mind that people who are abused receive extra spiritual power from God. 

I don’t really know how else to say it is. What it was taught was that if you’re abused God will give you some kind of extra spiritual power and you, and, and you’ll experience some kind of supers growth from, from your abuse situation. And so it almost created this perverse this perverse world where, where abuse was almost fetishized or lifted up in a weird way. I, as far as my personal observations of it, I didn’t you know, I didn’t personally experience that myself or, or see it with, with my parents or, or, or other parents. But you know, except for the whole discipline thing. But the, I think it really, I, it’s, it was a lot harder on the women and the girls than it was the boys. It, a lot pressure is put on women to look a certain way, to act a certain way to, to like their responsibility for , the souls of the men in their life. 

If they, if they’re being looked at with lust or they’re being you know sexually harassed or whatever they were, the women were taught to, to look at how they were contributing to that. What am I doing? how am I dressing, how am I carrying myself? but the other thing too, I think that created this you know, and I don’t know how this played into Josh Duggar or, or that family, but bill got’s teaching is very, I mean, you don’t learn about sex. Like, like it is something that’s not talked about in any way, shape, or form. And I mean, you have people getting married who don’t, don’t even know how sex works. And it’s like, and so really like, I mean, yeah, I mean, you imagine, imagine growing, going through puberty and like through your teen years, kind of like in no man’s land, not knowing like, what’s go, what’s happening to you and what all this means. 

And like, it was not talked about it was not taught in any way. And so I I suspect that probably, you know, some of the things that happen are just kids, like tr like their sexuality is coming out and they don’t understand what it is, and they don’t have a healthy way to express it or, or talk about it. And so weird stuff happens, you know, I don’t it’s, yeah. It’s just, it wa culture was, was such that you know, number one goal for your kids is to keep them pure until marriage. And so, you know, you’re like, everything that you’re doing is, is directed towards that goal. And, and so it just wasn’t talked about. You don’t talk about, about sex in that world. And it was, it was just, it created this really weird dynamic where there was sexual abuse going on. You know, and you just, you couldn’t talk about it, and you didn’t have a healthy way to address it or, or even understand it. 

It’s almost hard to imagine going through teen years, not knowing how to properly order those feelings that it universally every human being feels. Yeah. Your experience. So your, your family was a part of this when you were born. Tell me about how long you were in this. I mean, one of the questions that I know I had for you that I didn’t ask you beforehand that I saved for this did you see things happening when you were growing up in your house or at these conferences, or in these teachings that you thought, huh, something doesn’t feel right. Something doesn’t seem right, and like, what tipped you off? 

Hmm. Yeah. I think so, yeah. So my parents my, my parents were both saved, I think when they were around college age, or they, I guess that’s saved is a, is a very evangelical term. They became Christians, you know, for if, if that’s how you wanna describe it. And I think I think by the time my parents were Christians in the seventies, bill Gothard was very much a part of evangelical culture in America. And, and and so I don’t know how they were introduced to it or, or how it got into our family. I think it was part of the church that we were going to. The other thing too, to, to understand with this Bill Gohar thing is that he influenced so many churches oftentimes unofficially, like these churches weren’t gohar churches. They didn’t have like the Gohar banner, but it, his teaching was so like just intertwined through everything. 

 we went to what are called independent fundamental Baptist church churches. So they were, they were very fundamentalists, very kind of patriarchal you know, the umbrella of authority. It was all through a lot of the teachings that we, that we that we were given. And so you know, I think my parents, my parents are smart. They, they didn’t they didn’t drink the Kool-Aid very long, thankfully. I think at, at some point, I remember my dad telling me that he started to kind of get a weird vibe when bill Gothard was telling everyone to, to get rid of their Beanie Babies, cuz there was something demonic in the beanie, in the Beanie Babies. And so my dad was like, this is kind of weird, maybe. And so my parents didn’t stay in like, that’s super weird. 

Yeah. It’s just super weird. Well, I mean, cabbage Patch stalls were another thing. I think there was this, in that culture, there was this suspicion that anytime something got popular, whether it was a TV show or a toy we looked at that thing as like, that’s Satan’s next attack. Like, how is Satan behind this some way to get to our kids? is there, are there demons behind it? Or is there some kind of, you know subliminal messaging or, or whatever. And so, so yeah, I, my parents didn’t, didn’t stay in it. I think, umm, I was, I probably got the brunt of it cuz I’m the oldest of my siblings. But at some point down the line, my, my parents got out of it. For, you know, for me, I guess I’m, I’m a, I’m, God blessed me with kind of bit of a sarcastic and defiant personality that is probably what makes me a good fit for the Babylon B. 

 and I tend to kind of sear it authority a little bit, just, I guess just kind of how I’m wired. And so I always kind of had a bit of a that posture toward it. I you know, for a long time through, through my childhood, I, I felt like, oh, I bucked under it. I think I, so, so how I left was I remember at some point I went to a very fundamentalist Christian college. I mean, this was a college where you had separate sidewalks for boys and girls. If you wanted to date, you had to go. There was a dating parlor where there would be chaperones watching you the whole time. You know, all girls wear long, long dresses, the whole thing. It was, I went to that after high school. 

I went to this Christian college for a year. I flunked out cause I was lazy and you know, I didn’t apply myself. And I got a lot of the merits because I was always like poking at the, you know, I was always kind of trying to push the envelope with the rules. I think I came within like six demerits of getting kicked out. So I came back home and I remember my parents telling me that you know, Joel, I think that you should probably live at home with us until you find a wife. Like you’re under the, you know, remember the umbrella, right? You’re under this umbrella until you, you know, get out and find a wife and create your own hierarchal structure. You need to stay under our roof and live with us. And and, you know, and that’s what you, that’s what we think you should do. 

 and so I joined the Marine Corps. I I yeah, I mean in, in retrospect, I think part of, part of what drove it for me was that it gave me a way to get out where like, I had legal recourse. I went, I signed up to join infantry without telling my parents. And I came home and told my parents what I had done. And they were very, they were very worried at first, you know, and and I basically said, sorry, I have to go like the, if I don’t, I’m gonna go to jail if I don’t if I don’t go and go to bootcamp in, in four weeks. So it kind of gave me like this out where I, there was no argument and I didn’t have to really deal with like, the conflict with my family. 

I just had to go. So so I got out and that was my, that was my real conversion experience. I think. I I left home I went to bootcamp and I think within a year of bootcamp I was in Fallujah. So I was overseas for a year and I didn’t have church. I was taken completely out of my Christian bubble. See? So I didn’t have church for a year cuz we were going, we were on patrol every Sunday, you know in Fallujah. And all I had was my, I had my little pocket Bible with me. And so for a year I didn’t go to church once I didn’t have a Christian family or, or a Christian bubble, you know, to live in. All I had was the gospels. And and I read the words of Jesus. 

And I think for the first time, I separated who Jesus is and true Christianity from the world that I had grown up in. And when you read the, that’s all I did, I was, I read the gospels and when you, when you read Jesus’s words, I don’t care if you’re a progressive or a a right winger Jesus has something to say that’s gonna make you squirm no matter how you look at the world. The truth, it, like, he has this way of getting right past all that crap and going straight to the heart of where, where the real issue is, you know? And, and where we stand before God. And, and Jesus’s words were so compelling to me, and I thought, wow, okay, this is okay. God’s real. You know, this is, this is real. And, and that’s, I, that’s when I tell people I I really became a Christian was during that year, ironically taken out of church and, and just reading the Bible for the first time. 

You’re making me tear up, Joel, you’re making me tear up with this story. This is one of the things, by the way, that I think sets you apart from some of the, I think they call themselves ex institute of biblical life principles or basic life principles. The people that they featured on that documentary were oftentimes like blue haired, pink haired people who had completely as sued the Bible and Christianity and all Christian moral ethics. And you had this actually, and it’s not just, it’s not just those people. I mean, one of the most famous, one of the most famous evangelical, I think he’s a millennial, probably our generation, Joshua Harris. He was largely responsible for making so-called purity culture famous during yes, during our teenage years. I mean, he had this devolution where he just dropped not only the purity culture and fundamentalist evangelicalism, but he dropped Christianity. But you haven’t done that, or you mm-hmm. Almost did it, but then didn’t. And my question to you is how did that happen? How were you not so traumatized that you, that you had to disassociate Christianity? And how do you apply that if you’re talking to people who are still in who are still in that Bill Caw, Arthur cult today? 

Hmm. Yeah. I this is something I think about a lot because in one sense, I I think, you know, life circumstances and kind of the things that happened to me were instrumental in, in keeping me in the faith. But at the same time, I just, I feel this tremendous sense that God just held onto me for one reason or another. And it’s, and I wrestle with that, like, why did God hold onto me? why, why didn’t he hold onto my, my sisters? You know, I, I have siblings and I have relatives who are, who are those blue-haired, you know, angry, angry people now? And and I don’t, in one sense, I don’t blame them, you know, like, and they’re very, they’ve been extremely damaged by, by what happened. And you know, what I’ve observed, I think is that a lot of people who left that world they reacted so violently that they almost, they almost kind of got caught in, caught up in like the opposite, just another cult just on the other end of the spectrum. 

 you know, I, that’s part of what, why our rage against wokeness on Twitter so much. I I really see it as the Left wing version of Got Artism. It’s, it’s a legalistic system that places a, puts a heavy burden on people’s souls that has no redemption or, or, or, you know or rest. And, and I think thing that, you know, you, you read, you read the words of Jesus. What, what did he tell, what did he say? He said I’m pulling this up here. This is in Matthew 11. He said come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. 

And I think, I think that’s, that is the message that people who are caught up in angry, progressive lus leftism and woke as well as people in Gohar need to hear that there’s this, there’s this, there’s this other way that, that where in which Jesus offers complete freedom, where, you know, we can come boldly before his throne of grace, that we’re, we’re not, we don’t have to go through this hierarchical structure that, you know, whether it’s, you know, gohar structure or intersectional hierarchy that’s been created on the other side, we, we have direct access to forgiveness and to grace because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. And I think that’s, that’s, that is the answer to all of this, whether you’re on the Left or the Right, is the gospel. 

And this is, I guess this is how my political mind works when I sit here and I debunk leftist narratives and I’m talking about political narratives, I always think about, okay, well, what is the argument that really spoke to, you know, the Gen Z who started latching onto queer theory or who started repeating critical race theory narratives about white privilege and white fragility and all of that? What is it? What is, what is the argument that got to them that ultimately convinced them? And how do I undermine that argument so that if they hear how I’m undermining it might cause the outgrowth of that to tumble. Yeah. So not, yeah. From your experience on the inside, is there a particular verse, a particular willful misinterpretation of scripture that causes people in that cult to believe that Bill Gothard is essentially a prophet, that he is correctly interpreting and teaching scripture, and that if they understood the real translation of a verse or a series of verses? I mean, bill Gothard is kind of famous for proof texting, proof texting is taking a verse out of context to try to substantiate something that is made of man and not of God. Is there some area of this structure that he’s built that can be whittled away at, that would reach these people? 

Hmm. Yeah, I think gosh, I don’t know. I I can speak experientially that for me, it wa it was reading gospels. I think that, that’s something that Bill Gothard tends to shy away from a little bit. There are a lot of hard sayings of Jesus that don’t have easy answers. There are a lot of paradoxes in Christianity, and I think thing that caused Bill Gothard to thrive so well is that he shied away from, from anything in, in the Bible, that didn’t have an easy answer. And he shied away from those paradoxes because what he wanted to create was this very nice, neat worldview that was internally logical and you could put a little bow on it and everything made sense, and it just felt very good. 

Like it gives you this nice kind of cozy feeling that like everything makes sense. There are no questions to wrestle with. And you know, and all we have to do is follow A, B, and C and everything will be good. And that’s not, that’s not the Christian life. I mean, that’s you know, the, we, we are, we are people who you know, going back all the way to, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we, we wrestle with God, you know, and we wrestle with those difficult questions and we, we we, we question in, in times of suffering and, and confusion. And that, and yeah, we continue to walk forward. We continue to, to, to run the race and trust that our father knows best. And, and and so I think you know, drawing, pe, drawing people out of that world you know, all I can do is is show them Jesus because he’s, he’s, it’s the most compelling thing that you can do. 

I think you can’t, you can’t deny that perfect the perfect union of grace and truth, that Jesus was, he never shied away from speaking very blunt and hard to hear truths, but he always did it in this amazing gentle grace that is very hard for us human beings to, to replicate. And I think that the people that have, that escaped, got theism, the Yex Evangelicals, the people who that went way off, you know, either left their faith or have gone in, into progressivism. I think what appealed to them is like this appeal to freedom. Like, you know, they’ve grown up in under heavy bondage and fear. And the appeal is like, no, like throw all that off. Come over here with us and you can be free. Like, you don’t have to answer to these authorities anymore. 

You can be free. And to someone who’s grown up in that’s a very compelling argument to make. But the, I mean, the scripture talks about that too, is in second Peter two it says they will promise you freedom, but they themselves are slaves of their own corruption. And so you’re, you’re essentially, you’re, you’re trading the slave master of Gohar to the slave master of your own flesh. You know, and you see these people who, who feel like they’ve thrown off the all authority and they, that they’re free now, but now they’re living in complete slavery to their lusts and their, you know, their appetites and their the whims of culture. And it’s it’s just as sorrowful and miserable and just a different way 

Yeah. To their sin essentially. Is there anything yeah. That you would’ve added to the documentary, shiny happy people? Anything that you experienced or observed that you think that people should know about anything? I guess I’m talking about like one of the some of the crazy stuff or some of the stuff that people would be like, well, that’s really weird, or that’s unbiblical. Is there anything that they didn’t touch on? 

No, I think I think it covered it pretty well. I think obviously it it very much overemphasized the kind of the fantastical and crazy elements, cuz that for one, that makes for good TV. And, and two, that’s kind of part of what they were trying to do. I think that they were, they did kind of do this extra thing at the end where they tried to kind of portray this idea of of Gothard as like he’s, they called it the Joshua generation. This is something that I even never heard of when I was in, in that world. So that was new to me, hearing it from the documentary, but this idea that Godard’s acolytes were going to infiltrate the highest levels of government and law enforcement and the Supreme Court and the presidency and that he kind of had this calculated infiltration scheme to, to kind of take over the world. 

I thought I thought that was a little bit over the top. I think you know, everyone of all different stripes, all different religions and belief systems, everyone has people who, who they’re trying to get their point of view heard in government. I don’t think that’s necessarily unique to Gohar or anybody else, it’s just kind of what people do, you know. But I think I do wish they would have interviewed some people who who were either still in it or still on board with it. Or people who like me, who have kind of escaped that world and are, and are okay and still believe in God. I would’ve liked to have to have heard that side of things. Cause cuz there’s a lot of people like that. I know, I know families who are, who grew up in that world and everyone’s okay, and there was no abuse. And they all love the Lord, and they’re, they have great lives and they have great families. So, you know, it wasn’t, it wasn’t all bad. But I thought the documentary did a pretty good job of, of covering the worst parts. 

Yeah, I agree with your criticism. I wish they would’ve had, I think actually one of the Duggar daughters who’s married now, she just came out with a book, ginger Duggar Wolo, and she said that what she did was disentangle the biblical truth from cult teachings that she was raised with versus the deconstruction movement, which is completely abandoning Christianity. And I wish that they had had people like you on there who, who represent that. I really appreciate you sitting down and talking about this day. I know it wasn’t easy. We’ve been talking about it for a week or two. This is heavy stuff. It’s traumatic stuff, and the eyes of the world are, at least our country are on this, and this, particularly the Duggar family. Thank you. Do you wanna tell people what your Twitter account is? He has one of the best Twitter accounts on Twitter, by the way. I follow you. I love your stuff, but I don’t your handle offhand. Lemme look it up or you 

Yeah, I’m not, I’m a lot nicer than I am on Twitter, but my Twitter handle is Joel w Barry j o e l, Joel w Barry my middle initial w and my last name is Barry. But yeah, I yeah, you can follow me. You’ll, you’ll hear me railing about wokeness and gohar and whatever else I’m, I’m thinking about that day. You know, and I guess to, to leave you with, you know, anyone who’s listening to this, whether you’re, you’ve, you grew up in that world or you’re kind of watching from the outside. I don’t know. I I, maybe I should have thought about this ahead of time, but I, I guess my my main message is to, if, if you’re struggling with some of this stuff disentangles a good word. Th there, there have always been throughout human history, there have always been movements and men and lead who have taken scripture and twisted it for their own purposes. 

 and I would encourage you, if you’re struggling with some of this stuff, to, to open up the Bible and let Jesus speak for himself the word of God is powerful. I think holy, I believe in the Holy Spirit, and I believe that the Holy Spirit has the power to illuminate truth to us. We don’t necessarily need, you know, some scholar to come and explain it to us. You know, I, the word has power in and of itself. So, so let the word of God speak for itself and come to your own conclusions. And I, I think that Christianity can, if, if it is true, it doesn’t need all this scaffolding to support it. It can stand on its own. And and so I encourage you to wrestle with it challenge it bring your, your hardest questions and your hardest struggles to God. And and he can handle that. 

There you go. Follow him wbe. And you, you read his headlines every day. Anybody who watches it or who reads and follows the Babylon v, that’s, that’s Joel among others. That’s Joel behind that. Joel, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. 

Thanks for having me, Liz. Appreciate it. 

All right, guys. If you haven’t already signed up for our brand new email newsletter, please do so at That’s I can promise you will not be disappointed. Thank you for watching today. Thank you for listening. I’m Liz Wheeler. This is The Liz Wheeler Show. 


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