Should you watch The Secrets of Hillsong or Shiny Happy People?

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The Hillsong and Duggar Family documentaries expose lamentable secrets: Should you watch?

June 15, 2023 -

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2017 photo, Carl Lentz, a pastor who ministers to thousands at his Hillsong Church in New York, appears during an interview, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews). His most recent interview is part of the Hulu documentary "Secrets of Hillsong."

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2017 photo, Carl Lentz, a pastor who ministers to thousands at his Hillsong Church in New York, appears during an interview, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews). His most recent interview is part of the Hulu documentary "Secrets of Hillsong."

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2017 photo, Carl Lentz, a pastor who ministers to thousands at his Hillsong Church in New York, appears during an interview, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews). His most recent interview is part of the Hulu documentary "Secrets of Hillsong."

In recent weeks, two notable documentaries have been released: The Secrets of Hillsong and Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets. As evidenced by their titles, both intend to expose the dark secrets of well-known Christian figures and their associated organizations.

At the center of these stories is sin, specifically pride, which strings along with it a hunger for fame, power, money, and sex.

But the sins of a few have led to the wider destruction of churches and families. Consequently, a trail of victims has suffered incomprehensible abuses while the abusers twisted Scripture and employed their power and influence to protect themselves.

Below you will find an overview of both documentaries and the stories they tell. If you opt to watch either documentary, know that they each have detailed discussions about sexual abuse and include explicit language.

The Secrets of Hillsong

Streaming on Hulu

At the end of May, the FX channel released The Secrets of Hillsong, a four-part documentary that digs into Hillsong Church and the scandals that have plagued it since 2020.

The Australia-based global megachurch is familiar to many Christians across the world due to its status as a worship-music juggernaut, producing hits such as “Oceans” and “What a Beautiful Name” that led to worldwide concert tours and international recognition of the Hillsong name.

Pastor Brian Houston founded Hillsong Church in Sydney in 1983. He spent the next three decades spearheading the dramatic growth of the church and became a well-known face and voice in the faith-based world as a result.

But for the last two-and-a-half years, the church has been plagued by back-to-back scandals that have rocked its congregation and greatly damaged the once beloved name of Hillsong.

The first two episodes of The Secrets of Hillsong dive into the first widely publicized scandal: the rise and fall of Carl Lentz, an American pastor known for his social media influence, hanging out with celebrities, and dressing like a pop star. His stage presence and preaching style ignited arenas with passion. Lentz was the lead pastor of the high-energy, rapidly growing Hillsong New York campus through the 2010s until his fall from grace when news broke in October 2020 that he’d had multiple extramarital affairs. He issued an apology on Instagram and seemingly vanished.

While many articles and even a previous documentary have delved into Lentz’s story, The Secrets of Hillsong offered his first post-Hillsong interview, providing a unique perspective on his own downfall instigated by sin.

The downfall of Carl Lentz

Lentz and the documentary suggest that Brian Houston purposely brought about his demise out of fear of his growing popularity and knowledge of the power dynamics within the church. This would include going scorched earth on Lentz in the media through interviews and leaks placing all blame for Hillsong’s shortcomings on Lentz.

Houston may have seen Lentz as a threat to his position as the leader of the global church or was concerned that Lentz would start another church and bring along his thousands of faithful followers.

In the final two episodes, the documentary delves into the tragedy of child sexual abuse by Frank Houston, father of Brian Houston and founder of the church that led to the creation of Hillsong Church. The third episode is not an easy watch, detailing the awful crimes with testimony from victims who are now able to tell their stories. Watch with discretion.

This began a fresh round of scandals for the church, and, more specifically, for Brian Houston.

The downfall of Brian Houston

Church leadership covered up the abuse for decades; it only became known in recent years. One of those with knowledge of the abuses was Brian Houston. His inaction in reporting the crimes committed by his father has led to legal charges, with a ruling expected later this month.

This was followed by allegations from a female staff member that Houston had acted inappropriately with her, ultimately leading to his departure from the church.

It was later uncovered that Houston and his wife, Bobbie, were misappropriating funds and spending hundreds of thousands of church dollars on lavish trips and luxury items. While church members justifiably believed their tithe dollars were being used for ministry purposes, they were instead supporting the celebrity lifestyle of the head pastor.

Sprinkled throughout the documentary are also stories of past Hillsong College students and church volunteers who alleged that leadership shamed those who had confessed sins yet turned a blind eye to the people they knew were committing a form of abuse.

With the benefit of hindsight, most of those interviewed for the documentary now recognize the abuse of power and deep ignorance by the church’s leadership. One even said, “For decades, Hillsong had been giving grace to pastors who had really messed up.”

There have been repercussions. Today, only six of the original sixteen US locations are still operating, and the church’s overall revenue is down by 20 percent.

Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets

Streaming on Amazon Prime

On June 2, just one week after The Secrets of Hillsong aired its final two episodes, Amazon Prime released four episodes of Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, another explosive and devastating documentary about prominent Christian figures.

The documentary explores the Duggar family’s rise to prominence in the late 2000s when their unconventional family size of seventeen children scored a realityTV show that followed their daily lives.

Airing on TLC, 17 Kids and Counting (soon to be 19 Kids and Counting) had millions of viewers watching how parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar managed day-to-day activities, schooling, and homemaking, all while adhering to strict Christian values and disciplines that were rooted in the fundamentalist beliefs of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).

The IBLP helped the Duggars in attracting TV opportunities that would serve as a public relations opportunity for the church. The show put money in the pockets of Jim Bob and placed millions of eyeballs on a family that presented a facade of a shiny and happy life due to their IBLP faith roots.

What is IBLP?

Founded by Bill Gothard in 1961 as Campus Team, the IBLP took on its current name in 1989 and experienced immense growth throughout the 90s and 2000s. Gothard’s teachings drilled down respect to authority in the church, society, and especially in the home, where the children obey the parents and the wife obeys the husband. The documentary explores how this adamant push on honoring and respecting those in authority led to an untold number of abuses within IBLP churches and homes, including the Duggar home.

The IBLP strongly pushed homeschooling with curriculum crafted by Gothard and the church. However, instead of teaching for basic educational benchmarks, this curriculum taught strict man-made rules, including a demanding purity culture that gave abusers the ability to twist Scripture to make victims feel as though they were at fault when attacked. Bill Gothard himself is an accused sexual abuser who used his power and false teachings to trap young women into his debauched desires.

For the Duggars, these teachings gave Jim Bob ultimate authority over his family, allowing him to exploit his own children for fame and financial gain. But they also led to devastating consequences involving the oldest child, Josh Duggar.

The downfall of Josh Duggar

Once seen as the darling of the family who would go on to be an executive director at the Family Research Council, Josh had sexually abused several of his sisters in their teenage years. This revelation brought immediate public scorn on the family, especially upon discovering Jim Bob orchestrated a lax punishment with local authorities.

Josh was then revealed to have cheated on his wife. In a depraved revelation in December 2021, he was found guilty of receiving and possessing child pornography. He is currently serving a twelve-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

For the Duggar family specifically, several of the daughters have recently been vocal about the misguided teachings of IBLP that impacted their youth and led to their abuses and exploitations. Some are now speaking out against their own father and upbringing, working to bring light to the darker side of the family and IBLP.

To hear more, listen to this insightful episode of The Christian Parenting Podcast with Jinger Vuolo Duggar as she discusses detangling IBLP beliefs and discovering the real truth of Scripture.

Sadly, the family who was seen as a unique example of Christian living has been rocked to the core with crippled relationships and a blighted reputation.

Secrets will be exposed

The word secrets is featured in the titles of both documentaries, making clear their goal to expose the hidden sins and nefarious intentions of a few who would go on to impact countless individuals. These embattled leaders failed to heed the warning of Numbers 32:23 to “be sure your sin will find you out.”

The hypocrisy of Lentz, Houston, Gothard, and some of the Duggars are just a few examples of recent fall-from-grace stories of Christian leaders. Christians are called to live to a higher standard (Romans 12:2). Stories of failed leaders only serve to damage the faith for both members and outsiders who struggle to comprehend how someone can preach biblical principles but not live a lifestyle reflective of their teachings.

While these documentaries are not easy to sit through, they are important and worth watching. They give a voice to victims and unveil the troubling realities of powerful Christian institutions and deceitful leaders that Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:15, saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Let these unfortunate stories remind us to recognize that our own secret sin is destructive. Let them also serve as a call to look out for red flags from those in positions of faith leadership. When even just a hint of pride, lust, greed, wrath, or other sin starts to become identifiable, appropriate action needs to be taken to ensure no abuses of people, power, or money can be allowed in faith-based institutions.

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