In a dramatic (if commonplace) turn of events, a prominent Christian luminary who advocated home-schooling, traditional gender roles, and purity before marriage has been removed from his position following allegations of sexual misconduct.
At least 34 women who have been involved with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) over the past 40 years claim they have been sexually harassed by the ministry’s founder, Bill Gothard (no, really, that’s his last name). He has also been accused of molestation and failure to report child abuse.
Gothard’s ministry focuses on teaching groups and individuals “how to find success by following God’s principles found in Scripture.” Although his influence (and income) seems to have been waning slightly since the early 2000s, he has remained a relatively influential figure, lunching with presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee and networking with state politicians. And his ranks contain at least one celebrity family: the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting fame. Gothard’s brand of Christian living is especially popular with evangelicals drawn to the strict Quiverfull movement.
Although the Quiverfull mindset is not exactly mainstream, even among evangelical Christians, it has gained notoriety for its patriarchal, anti-birth-control stance. More of a philosophy than a church or denomination, Quiverfull prioritizes “proclaiming that every child is a gift and blessing from our gracious heavenly father.” Like a kid on Christmas morning, you don’t want to limit the number of gifts you receive; families who adopt this stance eschew family planning of any kind, even the periodic abstinence methods the Catholic Church encourages the faithful to adopt. In most cases, this ideology brings related baggage along with it: homeschooling, courtship, strictly-enforced gender roles, and “modest” long denim skirts.
To be clear: Gothard isn’t necessarily looking to Quiverfull Christians as his target audience. His ideas and beliefs, however, do dovetail nicely with the Quiverfull worldview — at least, if you ignore his recently-alleged extracurricular activities. And the Quiverfull approach to women, modesty, and sexuality can be a pretty handy match to the abuse of women, sexual or otherwise.
A biography on the IBLP website boasts that, “in order to focus completely on the Lord and the life work God has given him, Bill has never married.” Be that as it may, the many sexual harassment charges have made it clear that Gothard’s focus strayed on more than one occasion. But information disseminated by Recovering Grace, a website run by and for onetime members of Gothard’s IBLP flock, indicates that the issues may run even deeper than mere loss of focus, pointing to systematic grooming patterns consistent with predatory abuse. They document problems with Gothard dating back as far as 1980 — which is, if you’re keeping track, actually longer than the author of this piece has been alive.
Of course, journalistic integrity requires us to emphasize that the allegations are, at this point, unproven within the criminal justice system and that Gothard is, like anybody, innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps more than thirty years of scandal and spiritual abuse is just a coincidence, a conspiracy, or a handful of ex-parishioners with a grudge.
Recovering Grace invites you to review their extensive “GOTHARD Files” and decide for yourself.