Bill Gothard has been a big name in the Christian homeschooling movement since its very inception.
Gothard runs the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) and the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), puts on family life seminars, and produces curriculum and “wisdom booklets” used by Christian homeschooling families across the country, including the Duggars (Bill Gothard himself spoke at Josh Duggar’s sister-in-law’s wedding, which was featured on the Duggars’ television show). Gothard’s influence in the Christian homeschooling world likely eclipses that enjoyed until recently by Doug Phillips, and certainly eclipses that of the Pearls or Botkins.
While my own parents were not strict Gothard followers and were more influenced by other leaders, they did adopt some of the ideas he taught (umbrella of authority, anyone?). Further, I was in an all-girls Gothard Bible study for a time (COMMIT), and several families I was close to were Gothard followers.
Bill Gothard never married. In the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve heard more than a few people comment on this. How odd that someone who makes his living off of preaching about godly family life never married! It’s not like there would have been a shortage of picture-perfect Christian women who would have been honored to marry him, after all.
Well, the reason Gothard never married is starting to come to light—and it’s very, very ugly.
I’ve been following Recovering Grace, a group focused on correcting the errors of Bill Gothard’s teachings and exposing problems in his ministry, since they launched several years ago, and I soon noticed a pattern in some of the posts. It seems Gothard has displayed some weirdly improper behavior, and even harassment, toward some of the many teenage girls who staffed his ministries and offices, often working as volunteer interns and often coming at his personal invitation. It was very common among Gothard followers for parents to send their teen and twenty-something daughters to work for Gothard, and remains so today—one of the girls from the Gothard Bible study I attended as a girl is actually currently at headquarters, working for Gothard.
Many questions have run through my mind as I have read these stories of impropriety on Recovering Grace. One question is how these things could go on without anyone noticing. But as I’ve read, I’ve noticed another pattern—Gothard’s followers were so sotted with hero worship that they refused to see. In story after story, graduates of Gothard’s programs have said they thought it odd that Gothard would spend so many hours alone with teenage girls, behind closed doors, but he was Gothard—and Gothard could do no wrong.
But things have now turned a corner. Recovering Grace has put up a new post, this one pulling together the threads and providing background information, not only about Gothard’s recent past but also about his distant past—a past many of his followers have been unaware of for the past three decades.
The Recovering Grace team has decided that over the next couple of months we are going to release a large volume of information concerning the life and ministry of Bill Gothard. This information will come in the form of personal accounts, never-before-published documents and correspondence, and factual reports of events that were swept under the rug years ago. Additionally, many of the coming articles will clearly show how individuals attempted to reconcile with Bill Gothard and/or follow the Matthew 18 process but were met with persistent refusal to acknowledge the issues, distortion of the truth, and a resistance to follow biblical steps towards humble repentance.
Then came Charlotte’s story. Her story was the first that moved beyond grooming accompanied by uncomfortable and unwanted hand holding, caressing, and footsie. Her allegations are so serious that the Recovering Grace team felt the need to publish the confessions of two witnesses backing up her story. You can read Charlotte’s story yourself, but I do want to post an excerpt (HA note: trigger warnings for child molestation if you read the full version):
We went to a conference in Knoxville in July of 1992. That’s where I first met Bill Gothard. I remember he wouldn’t let go of my hand, and he kept telling my parents how sweet, beautiful, and pure I was… I was 16 years old… He wanted me around him as much as possible, wanted me to be with him as much as he could get me… He’d keep me with him to “talk.” It started out with him telling me how beautiful I was, how I inspired him, and how I made him feel alive. It went to hand-holding, then long hugs. He would touch me and hug me after devotions and then take me to the eight o’clock staff meeting session. His assistant would drive us to the staff meeting…We would meet after dinner in his office around 7 or 8 p.m. That’s when he started really touching me…
I am sure the statute of limitations has passed for a lot of this, and I don’t know whether Gothard can be taken down legally. I’m sure the Recovering Grace team is looking into it. Regardless, I would like to hope that Gothard will be increasingly seen as the sexual predator he is, and that this will dethrone him from his prominent position in the Christian homeschooling world.
I’m increasingly seeing the Christian homeschooling culture as an unsafe place for girls and young women.
I wonder about my childhood friend and her work at headquarters, and I worry for the girls Gothard continues to surround himself with even today. And when I remember that Bill Gothard had successfully weathered a sexual abuse scandal even before I was born, I despair of things changing.
At least now we know why Gothard never married.
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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce