A very fundamentalist sex scandal

A very fundamentalist sex scandal September 15, 2014

Previously on Leaving Fundamentalism: 

  • Pastor Jack Hyles indulges in immoral sexual activity and covers up abuse.
  • Preacher Bill Gothard receives 34 allegations of sexual harassment and four of rape.
  • There are links between Hyles, Gothard, and Accelerated Christian Education founder Donald Howard.
  • All three are represented by the lawyer David Gibbs Jr, who’s made a career cleaning up after preachers.
  • It turns out quite a lot of this sort of thing goes on in fundamentalist Baptist churches,

So, this blog being this blog, you probably thought the last post was going to end with me telling you about a sex scandal involving Accelerated Christian Education’s Donald Howard. But you were wrong.

I saved it for this post.

[Be warned, this post will again feature discussion of sexual abuse that you might find upsetting or triggering]

In the 1994 edition of the School of Tomorrow (as ACE was then known) Procedures Manual, there is the traditional cheery introduction from the president, Donald Howard. But in the 1998 revision, Howard has gone. He is not mentioned. He is an unperson.

Similarly, in a 1994 Geography PACE (Social Studies 1106, fact fans), we read:

Unable to fulfill his lifelong dream of ministering in India, Mr. Attaway turned his energy to pastoring two churches in the United States. Finally, after 34 years, Dr. Donald Howard of School of Tomorrow, knowing Mr. Attaway’s burden for India, asked the Attaways if they would be willing to help start schools there.

In the 2002 revision, however, it says:

Unable to fulfill his lifelong dream of ministering in India, Mr. Attaway turned his energy to pastoring two churches in the United States. Finally, after 34 years, his burden for India came to realization through School of Tomorrow. The Attaways were asked if they would be willing to help start schools there.

The new version reads awkwardly and the printes had to reduce the font size to fit the new words on the page. What the hell had Howard done that he was not just forced out of his own company, but written out of its history?

We can find the seeds of this controversy in a 1984 article from the Wall Street Journal, “Gospel Truth: Fundamentalists Open Schools With Classes Run Without Teachers—Rev. Howard’s Popular Plan Is Hailed as Inexpensive, Assailed as Very Chaotic—His Peers Question His Morals” by Eileen White, 02 Nov 1984, page 1:

Mr. Howard, ACE’s 52-year-old founder, is involved in a church controversy and in embarrassing civil litigation. In a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Missouri, two marketing consultants charge Mr. Howard with breach of contract. The suit also states that he was the subject last September of a “Christian tribunal.” An unofficial jury of five fundamentalist-church deacons in Dallas judged Mr. Howard “unqualified to serve as a pastor, deacon, elder or Christian leader,” according to the meeting’s minutes. A copy of the minutes was obtained by a reporter.

The tribunal said that Mr. Howard “has presented himself publicly as a preacher of the gospel and a Christian educator at the same time the evidence revealed that he carried on a series of clandestine, immoral relationships with young women in violation of his marriage vows,” according to the meeting’s minutes. An attorney for Mr. Howard denies the allegations.

Mr. Howard also filed a cross-action charging the marketing consultants with breach of contract. Meanwhile, Mr. Howard has placed himself on a one-year sabbatical from his company, and church members say he has resigned as pastor of Grace Fundamental Church in Lewisville, Texas. Several fundamentalist-Christian leaders have asked Mr. Howard to sell his company and not to participate in political or religious activities.

“For the sake of the cause of Christian education, Mr. Howard should divest himself of ACE, and get out of the business of teaching children,” says the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist and Christian political leader.

But this was 1984. What happened between then and 1998?

As much as I’d like to tell you, I can’t say much because none of the people that have emailed me about this is willing to go on record, and some of my sources contradict each other on important points. What I will say is that between 1985 and 1997, Donald Howard continued to have sex more often than his wife did. She divorced him in October 1997 and took control of the company. This is common knowledge among anyone close to ACE. After my schoolmates attended ACE’s International Student Convention in 1998, they returned gossiping about it.

This led to me getting into trouble with my mother the same year. I was watching the BBC comedy news quiz, Have I Got News for You. It was the missing words round, where panellists are shown recent newspaper headlines with some words blacked out, and asked to guess what’s been covered up.

“[blank] BREEDS IN RUSSIA” read the headline.

“DONALD HOWARD!” I shouted at the TV. According to rumour at my school, the straw that had broken the camel’s back had been an affair that took place while Howard was on a business trip to Russia. I have no evidence that this was the case, I should add.

Since then, there have been occasional eruptions of similar rumours on this blog. One commenter suggested Howard was a polygamist (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the case). The most credible comment on the interwebs about it is from Dr Bob Griffin:

When I did seminars for Christian Education across America and many countries, I was blessed to be with Dave Gibbs Jr (the dad, about 65 now) as a fellow speaker. He was an ardent supporter of ACE/School of Tomorrow and his son Dave III was a “thoroughbred” (raised on ACE K-12).

When Dr Don Howard drifted away from ACE (and morality and Baptist roots) and the company fell on some difficult times, Gibbs stepped in and “righted the ship”. Mrs Esther Howard, co-founder, regained authority, the company returned to its non-profit roots, got out of financial over-extension of resources, and is on the right course today.

Fun as it would undoubtedly be to talk more about Howard’s activities, it doesn’t really affect my point. Howard’s wife, Esther, divorced him in 1997 and forced him out of the company. Then he was written out of history until his funeral last year, when he was suddenly a hero again.

What is with fundamentalist preachers and sex scandals? Why are there so many stories like this?

One possible explanation comes from the current investigation into coverups of sexual abuse at Bob Jones University where, surprise surprise, Donald Howard got his PhD (and where staff may have helped Bill Gothard to cover up his abuse). We’re still waiting for GRACE‘s report on BJU, but it has emerged that, when counselled by BJU staff, rape victims were told to repent of their sins. If that’s the response, it’s no wonder these things don’t come to light sooner.

Another factor is a recurring theme in stories of sexual abuse in church: it’s covered up so as not to “hurt the Gospel” or “bring shame on the name of Jesus”. The most important thing is that these ministers of God are getting people Born Again, so they’ll go to heaven. If people hear about this abuse, they might not listen to the preacher. Then they might not get saved, and then they might go to hell. You don’t want that do you? No. So do the right thing and forgive the pastor, who is after all just a sinner saved by grace like you and me.

That’s an interesting argument, because a common Christian response to posts like this is to say “So what? These men are sinful. It doesn’t change the truth of God’s Word”.

Well, you can’t have it both ways. Either pastors with well-travelled penises hurt the Gospel, or they do not. If they do not, then there is no reason to cover up their abuse.

Anyway, in Howard’s case, the allegations are of affairs, not assault or harassment. But I still think this is an argument against the truth of Howard’s preaching, and not for the usual reasons given in cases like this.

It’s not because it makes Howard a massive hypocrite. I know fundamentalists teach we are all utterly depraved and incapable of good without Jesus. They don’t claim that being saved makes you perfect.

My argument here is not about Howard, or Hyles, or Gothard. It’s about their followers.

According to this sort of Christian teaching, those who are truly saved have the Holy Spirit living inside of them, guiding them into all truth. The Holy Spirit gives them the gift of discernment, which enables them to tell truth from error. In many versions of the teaching, the Holy Spirit gives them a sense in their spirit when a preacher is from God and when he is not. This is sometimes called “feeling a check”. In Frank Peretti‘s novels, for example, the hero “feels a check” while someone is preaching, that this message is not from God. It later turns out that this preacher had in fact been sacrificing goats to Satan. Peretti isn’t IFB, but he does identify the heroes in his novels as fundamentalists.

Under this same teaching, while a preacher is ‘in sin’, the Holy Spirit will not bless their ministry. God’s presence will not be felt while they preach, because their sin has come between them and God.

So here we have Howard, Hyles, and Gothard, who were ‘in sin’ for decades, and their followers, their peers, and their church elders apparently didn’t even notice.

Nobody said, “I can’t follow this man, the Holy Spirit is telling me he is not from God.”

Nobody said, “The presence of God was really missing from those meetings.” If anything, quite the opposite. People continued to flock to their meetings and still rejoice at what they perceived as the presence of God.

That should tell them something. Either the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t work the way think it does, or it does and they can’t hear it. What they think is the presence of God is actually something else.

Whichever one it is, they need to rethink their theology.

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