Bill Gothard: When People Know . . . and Do Nothing

Bill Gothard: When People Know . . . and Do Nothing February 13, 2014

I’ll be honest: I’m more than a little bit upset right now. I think it’s because I’m finally realizing the full impact of the growing Bill Gothard sexual abuse scandal. The real scandal is not that Bill Gothard sexually abused the young women placed under his authority. The real scandal is that it could go on for so many decades while leader after leader covered for him. This is the extent of the rot—that so many people knew what was going on and did nothing, including those who should have known better.

I’ve had my eye on Midwest Christian Outreach for several years now. It is an evangelical organization dedicated to fighting heresy and cults. I generally find myself opposed to the group’s positions based on of their virulent anti-secularism and extreme political conservatism, but I have appreciated their longtime opposition to Bill Gothard. Back in 2003, Midwest Christian Outreach president Don Veinot published a book called A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. In it, Veinot detailed the history of Gothard’s ministry and accused Gothard of being legalistic and unscriptural.

In that book Veinot said nothing about concerns regarding Bill Gothard’s behavior toward the young girls sent to work at headquarters. Instead, Veinot focused only on Gothard’s theology. In the wake of Recovering Grace’s new revelations regarding Bill Gothard’s sexual molestation of young employees, Veinot has published a new article on the Midwest Christian Outreach website—and it turns out that he knew and intentionally chose to say nothing.

We also knew we had information about his behavior and sexual proclivities which we did not use or comment overly much about in the book. We knew, for example, that he is far too, shall I say, familiar with the young females he selects as his personal assistants. The reason we did not go into that too much was that we had spoken with the families of some of the former IBLP women and/or their families and realized that Bill had done so much damage, we did not want to subject them abuse to additional shame or possible embarrassment by making it more public. We decided that we could make our case that he is unqualified for leadership in a Christian ministry without having to describe his more prurient behavior toward those under his authority.

Veinot knew of the horrific damage Bill Gothard had done to the young women he made his personal assistants, and yet he chose to hide that information. It has been 11 years now since 2003. How many more girls have been subjected to sexual abuse at Gothard’s hands because Veinot covered for him? How could Veinot know what Gothard was doing and yet do nothing to warn the hundreds parents who so trustingly sent their daughters to work under Gothard’s authority? He knew—he knew—and did nothing.

Of course, Veinot is not the only Christian leader who has covered for Bill Gothard over the years. According to Charlotte’s story, the IBLP Board knew that Bill was acting in appropriately toward her when she was a 16-year-old secretary at headquarters in 1992, and yet they simply sent her home and kept things quiet.

There were rumors going around about Bill and me. My brother started hearing things and asked me about it. Of course I denied everything. Bill had sworn me to silence with both guilt and fear. I was the one who was at fault because I was tempting him. If I told anyone, the future of the entire ministry could be compromised. Why would I want to hinder God’s work? He told me that this was our little secret, just between us. If I told anyone, he said he would kick my family out of ATI.

There was enough of a stir about how much time I was spending alone with Bill that my brother went to a higher-up in January and had him try to get Bill to send me home. As I understand it, the IBLP Board called Bill on the carpet for spending so much time alone with a young girl, and I was sent home in January. I believe my brother saved me.

When Bill knew I was being sent home, he called me into his office. He took me in his arms and ran his fingers through my hair. Hugging me tight, he told me never to cut my hair, that I was his inspiration. He then kissed me deeply on the lips and told me never to forget him. Then I was picked up and put on a plane, and I have never heard from him since.

And even before this, people knew and chose to cover for Gothard. There was a sex scandal in 1980 that involved Gothard’s indiscretions (it seems he made a habit of visiting the female staff in their beds at night), and yet people were willing to ignore, overlook, cover for, and outright lie about what happened.

Meanwhile, our team continued to receive emails and collect information that confirmed to us that these problems were not limited to the ATI era (1984–present) of Bill Gothard’s ministry. We learned that this type of behavior [toward young women] was commonplace in the early years of the Institute ministry, culminating in a public “scandal” that led to Bill Gothard’s forced resignation from the ministry in 1980, only to see him forcefully return to power shortly thereafter, decimating the financial and spiritual lives of dozens of Institute staff members in the process. The ministry nearly came to an end at that point, but Bill was able to revive it with a new group of leaders who were willing to overlook what had taken place. A few short years later, in 1984, the Advanced Training Institute of America homeschool program was created, and with it came a new generation of willing laborers … and young victims.

Bill Gothard’s behavior should never have been allowed to continue this long. It has only been allowed to continue for this long because people have covered for it. What’s really bizarre is the huge range of people willing to cover for Gothard, willing to overlook or ignore or not mention his indiscretions with the young women under his authority. Gothard’s board is most guilty of this, yes, but even Veinot writing against Gothard’s theology in 2003 chose to leave out what he knew. How could so very many people know, and yet say nothing, do nothing, while it continued occurring?

This is why I can’t stand it when I hear Christians respond to this scandal with “What a good reminder that everyone is a sinner” or “More evidence that we live in a fallen world.” This is not just about one man. This is an entire system that collapsed on the heads of young girls it was supposed to protect as everyone else collectively turned their backs and looked the other way. This is about people conveniently not mentioning what they know, and for what? To protect a child molester?

The entire system is rotten, and I am angry.

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