Debi Pearl Defends Bill Gothard

How did I miss this? Several weeks ago, Debi Pearl weighed in on the ongoing Bill Gothard scandal. And guess what? Reading her post has caused me to lose the last little bit of respect I had for her (which is really saying something).

In their books and on their blog, Michael and Debi have generally taken a hard line on the sexual abuse of children. Given this, Debi’s response to the Bill Gothard situation seem incredibly out of place. Debi should be out there with Recovering Grace and all the rest condemning Gothard and his actions and demanding that he be punished to the full extent of the law and removed from any position of religious authority. But she’s not. Instead she argues that Gothard is simply a sinner like anyone else, like you and like me, and that Recovering Grace is the the real problem here. In fact, she flat out says she is on Gothard’s “side.”

But don’t take my word for it. Read her words yourself:

Whose side are you on?

On Facebook last week I read these words: “I just rejoiced to see that huge ministry fall and I helped.”

I trembled as I read this. Shock, disbelief, and then sadness enveloped me as I realized it was not CNN with all their exaggerations, deceit, mockery and twisting of facts that brought an end to a work God used to set thousands of people free from bitterness, it was not the Homosexual websites coming together to launch war against an old man accused of things done over 35 years ago, limiting his ability to defend himself. No, it was a “Christian” website that asked believers to speak out if they had been hurt in anyway, and spew their bitterness so many could share in the rock throwing. Yes, you read it correctly, it was a Christian website propelled forward by Facebook and Twitter that defamed a ministry that helped millions come to know the Lord.

Am I saying that the man God used to raise up the standard was perfect in all his ways? No! Am I saying the ministry was successful and without error? No! Am I saying I was a part of the ministry thus am struggling to protect it from gainsayers? No! I have no connection to it.

What I am saying is that God raised up a man, a fallen sinful man, and used that man to pull together thousands of believers for a greater good. What I am saying is that someday soon we will all stand before the throne of God to give an answer. All of us. The man. The folks on the website that rejoiced in the fall. Me.

I would much rather be the man who put his whole life into doing a work for God than on the side of those listed on the website that choose to rejoice over the man’s downfall and the destruction of his ministry that God used so effectively to eliminate bitterness in the lives of so many—the same bitterness that now pervades his critics so completely.

This attack was not initiated to right an ongoing wrong or to establish justice and purity; the critics have unwittingly joined the last-days, Satanic attack on God’s people to denigrate the very name of Christ.

Millions of souls are left hanging untold, unreached, undone. God calls those to cry out in the wilderness to give them the light. So now, another voice has been quieted. And in its place I hear the rejoicing from foolish ones thinking they have done well. Yes, I tremble for them.

Whose side are you on?

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

I’ll be honest: I’m really and truly surprised by this. There was no reason Debi had to come out on Gothard’s side, and in doing so she has completely and totally erased the good she and Michael have tried to do on the subject of child sexual abuse.

Yes, Debi’s efforts to fight child sexual abuse have been imperfect. In urging mothers to protect their children against being sexually abused, she goes to far and tells young mothers that they should never leave their children with a sitter, or alone for a few minutes in another room. Her children’s books aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse count self-masturbation as a form of sexual abuse and rely more on fear tactics than on empowering children. But at least Debi cared about that issue. In Created To Be His Help Meet she instructed mothers not to go to the authorities about their husband’s physical abuse unless it became so bad as to break bones, but she wrote that any hint of sexual abuse should be reported to the authorities immediately.

This one little blog post undoes everything.

Popular evangelical pastor C. J. Mahaney has been under fire for several years now for covering up child sexual abuse in his church. According to Boz Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and founder of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), this sort of thing—evangelical pastors covering up for and protecting pastors or parishioners guilty of sexual abuse—is widespread. Indeed, The Gospel Coalition kept Mahaney on their council until this past week even though the scandal has been ongoing for years now.

What does this have to do with Debi Pearl, or Bill Gothard? Well, Gothard is part of this same pattern, a pattern wherein Christian leaders who are sexual predators or molesters are kept on staff while those in the know turn a blind eye. I had thought that Debi’s hard line on sexual abuse would lead her to condemn this pattern, and to call for the exposing, trial, and punishment of any individual guilty of sexual abuse. And as a result, I would have expected Debi to be absolutely unbending in her condemnation of Bill Gothard. But instead I find that she takes Gothard’s side, not by my interpretation of her words but in her words themselves.

If Debi is angry that Gothard was called out and condemned, and is willing to stand up for and defend Gothard, what does this mean for other situations, such as Mahaney’s? Would Debi stand up for other pastors or ministry leaders who have committed sexual abuse or who have sheltered and protected sexual abusers? Did Debi mean what she said about immediately reporting suspicions of sexual abuse, or does she make an exception for cases where doing so would harm Christian ministry? She appears to be willing to talk the talk but absolutely unwilling to walk the walk, and seems completely unaware that this might make her followers think twice about calling out sexual abuse in the future.

In the end, it seems that Debi cares more about accusing those calling out abuses of being “bitter” than she does about joining in calling out those abuses. This says something about Debi’s priorities—she appears to care more about whether someone is appropriately passive and respectful than she does about whether someone molests young teenage girls placed under his spiritual authority and in his physical charge. And do you remember what I said before about the word “bitter”? The word “bitter” is used to silence criticism, to silence those who call out wrings or seek to defend the vulnerable. Debi’s post offers an excellent example of the epithet “bitter” being used to silence.

Is it odd to say that I have lost respect for Debi over this? I mean, I didn’t much respect for Debi left, but I did appreciate that she at least tried to do something about child sexual abuse when so many others were simply silent.

That appreciation is gone.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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