Trump has tapped Georgia’s Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture. Who is Perdue? In addition to being a former governor, he credits now-disgraced fundamentalist leader Bill Gothard as his spiritual mentor:
“Nothing besides Scripture itself played a more important role in the daily guiding and leading of our family than Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles. We immersed ourselves in the clear but profound and practical wisdom delivered by God through Bill. I found every seminar and every piece of literature was produced impeccably in honor of the One whose message it delivered.”
Bill Gothard spent decades sexually molesting and harassing young teenage girls whose parents sent them to him to work as his personal assistants at IBLP headquarters. There were many times when others in his ministry noticed his behavior; sometimes they said something, but never followed through or reported their concerns to authorities, and other times they did nothing—Gothard was a man of God, after all. Surely they just misunderstood what he was doing.
Notice how Perdue put it—“We immersed ourselves in the clear but profound and practical wisdom delivered by God through Bill.” By God through Bill. Perdue even spoke at one of Gothard’s IBLP conferences. And clearly he attended, and he read Gothard’s literature, which he called impeccable. There’s another sign of the influence IBLP could have on people found within Perdue’s paragraph of praise: “Nothing besides Scripture itself played a more important role in the daily guiding and leading of our family than Bill Gothard and the Institute for Basic Life Principles.” Bill Gothard—second only to God.
Lest you think that Gothard’s serial molesting of dozens of teenage girls was some sort of fluke, and that the rest of his ministry was sound, I should note that Gothard’s materials—the ones Perdue praises so vociferously—I should note that IBLP materials for counseling individuals who had experienced child sexual abuse advised asking what the victim may have done to cause it to happen, and what guilt they might share. Bill Gothard taught that wives were to obey their husbands, and that birth control was against God’s will.
Gothard also taught that adopted children carry with them the sin of their biological parents, that cabbage patch dolls were possessed, and that having a troll doll in the home could prevent a laboring woman from delivering. And there’s more. At IBLP headquarters, girls and boys were forbidden from speaking with each other. Gothard preached that girls should not attend college, and emphasized female obedience and submission. Dating was forbidden, and marriages were to be arranged or facilitated by children’s parents. Couples were forbidden from having sex on certain days of the menstrual cycle.
And girls were to have long, thick hair, ideally curly, because that is what godly hair looked like—and by that I mean that that was Gothard’s kink. I do want to repeat, before bringing this to a close, that Gothard’s behavior was not a secret. He was even reprimanded by his board, on occasion—because his spending so much time alone with teenage girls could damage his reputation, of course, not because they were actually concerned about the girls Gothard was molesting. And yet, it never did seem to damage his reputation.
Over the years, many have compared IBLP to a cult, and Gothard to a cult leader. He had that affect on people—he could command unswerving loyalty and unadulterated devotion, and render people willing to ignore the warning signs. And Perdue, it seems, is one of those who fell under his spell. I realize that none of this has anything to do with agriculture. It has a lot more to do with judgement, though—and a white old boys’ club willing to ignore those trampled underfoot.
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