You’re not the boss of me

You’re not the boss of me June 6, 2012

(Editor’s note) My friend Bert Montgomery (now a blogger for the HuffPo)  has been urging me to check out Pam Hogeweide’s blog. Pam and I tried to meet up this past Feb. at the Justice Conference in Portland but somehow missed each other. Pam wrote a terrific post this week about her Failed Christian Marriage. Pam’s post was sparked by Rachel Held Evans, who is blogging this week about Mutuality. Pam’s post prompted the following:

What I remember best about the Institute of Basic Life Principles besides the big red notebook is the umbrella. Maybe it’s because I had recently relocated to Portland, the rainiest place I’d ever lived. Or maybe it was because of the promise that went along with that umbrella — that as long as I stayed under the authority of that umbrella, Prince Charming would come along with a glass slipper and carry me off to a stone castle. The problem was that whole authority thingy. In order for it to work a family needed a father and we didn’t have one.

Bill Gothard, the guru behind Basic Life Principles,  never clearly explained how that whole authority thing ought to look for families like mine. The umbrella suggested that in lieu of a father, my mother would be the authority over me and the church would be her headship.

Uh. Yeah. Right. And roaches sing opera, too, when nobody is listening.

Mama hadn’t seen the inside of a church since they rolled Daddy out of one in a flag-draped casket. While it’s true we did have the obligatory boot-box sized family Bible in the living room, it wasn’t nearly as well read as the Happy Hooker, Valley of the Dolls, or those creepy True Detective magazines that Mama kept around the house.

It was the mid-1970s and I was attending the Basic Life Institute in downtown Portland along with some friends from Metropolitan Baptist Church and thousands of others seeking the promises of God. Somebody from the church had paid the fee for me to attend. Apparently, they thought I needed fixing.

They weren’t wrong about that. I was coming off a troublesome high school romance that had left me pregnant, and a baby-killer. I was primed for the Gothard-pump, repentant and ready to do whatever was necessary to remain under that umbrella of God’s authority.

Had I hooked up with one of those guys attending the same seminar, it could have all gone very badly for me. My middle-child status ensured that I was a people-pleaser (I know, right? I’ve come a long ways since then. haha) At that time of my life, however, I wasn’t much of a critical thinker. I was just critical, mostly of myself. I can just imagine how messed up I’d be now if I had married a fellow who adhered to the Basic Life Principles of male-headship authority over women.

Instead, I married a man who steered clear of all things Gothard.

“Too cultish for me,” Tim said, when I asked why he never attended the Basic Life Seminars. If you were to ask his mama, she’d tell you that Tim was always an independent thinker, an old soul, wise beyond his years.

When he was 15, Tim penned a paper outlining all the things he wanted in a wife. I have that paper somewhere in my files. I don’t think I’ve ever fulfilled anything on his list, yet, somehow we’ve managed to make this marriage work for the past 34 years.

Marriage is all about compromise. It’s all about adaptation. It’s all about two people coming together as two people, and yet, somehow in the midst of all that independence, crafting out the mystery and intimacy of oneness.

Gothard continues to preach his umbrella of authority theology.  I’ve read that the Duggars family are adherents to the Basic Live Principles. Kind of amusing, really, when one considers that Gothard himself has never married, much less fathered a shoe-full of children. For all I know I might have kin who follow Gothard’s methodology. Some people derive their security from rules. The more rules they have, the safer they feel.

I gave up on feeling safe years ago and instead have swapped it out for adventures.

Thankfully, God in all his wisdom knew me well enough to lead me to a man who regards me not as someone under his authority and protection, but as an equal partner in crime, chaos and creativity.

Tim never treats me in a way that makes me want to yell at him, “You are not the boss of me.”

You can find us weathering the storms of marriage without the benefit of an umbrella.




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  • Larry_Shallenberger

    Nice post. I’m afraid ingested large doses of Gothard as a teen. I’ve had to do much work recently to continue to pull those weeds out of the mental garden:

    Tragically, Bill used the authority card to clamp down on dissenters and to do damage control when his brother, an Institute staff, was accused of sexually harassing/abusing several women.

    • Yes, Larry. I heard about the authority card re: his brother’s sexual abuse of women. And regarding those weeds from the mental garden… I’ve had more weeds than goods out of the garden..

  • I find it odd that a post inspired by mutuality (which supposedly means Christians getting along despite our differences) spends so much time focusing on slamming Gothard’s beliefs. I guess mutuality only goes one direction.

    • James: Creativity is random that way. I actually thought I was rather gentle in my approach to Gothard, considering the thousands of people he’s influenced with his umbrella theology.

      • Like I said, I misunderstood what the Mutuality series was about. My apologies for not making sure I knew what I was talking about before commenting.
        For the record, I know very little about Gothard.

    • Just went back to read what RHE’s series is about, and it’s not what I thought. Disregard.

  • Bill Gothard. Christ, have mercy. I have always far, far preferred listening to Bill Gaither.

  • James, having a conversation with Gothard is one thing. being able to get along despite our beliefs is one thing. I’d have coffee with him if he’d be interested; AND I would hope we could talk together. But his teachings and his dogma are destructive, pathological, and so far removed from the liberating Gospel of Christ, and the love of God as revealed throughout Scripture ….

  • James, having a conversation with Gothard is one thing. being able to get along despite our beliefs is one thing. I’d have coffee with him if he’d be interested; AND I would hope we could talk together. But his teachings and his dogma are destructive, pathological, and so far removed from the liberating Gospel of Christ, and the love of God as revealed throughout Scripture ….

    • Bert, I misunderstood the point of the article. I thought it was one of those “we Christians should all get along” pieces which inevitably ends up slamming people who think differently about some topic. Glad to see I was wrong.

  • Tim

    Seriously? Roaches sing opera?

    Anywho, I know what you mean about Mr. Gothard. Years ago a really well repsected seminary prof told me he and a number of others had reached out to Mr. Gothard to try to deal with his straying from orthodoxy and into cultish practices. He rejected them out of hand.

    My wife’s also married to a Tim who never makes her want to scream “You’re not the boss of me!” That’s mostly because I’ve always had trouble enough figuring out what’s best for myself, let alone never been able to figure that out for anyone else!


    P.S. EPD just posted a guest piece I wrote (linked through my name). It’s part of a series she has going on money and famly and faith issues. Connie Jakab and Jennifer Grant are contributing as well. Not sure what I’m doing in that rarified atmosphere!