Botkins, Boomerangs and Damage Control

Botkins, Boomerangs and Damage Control February 18, 2019

by Cindy Kunsman

Long after I embarked upon adulthood, my mother could still recite the words of The Wolf and the Seven Kids, a children’s story by the Brothers Grimm. It was my most beloved book when I was little. It presented wisdom as something that one must learn, though it cannot make us impervious to harm.

The story shows us many examples of learning through trial and error, how much people need one another, how we need to be forgiving with ourselves and others, and how creative hopefulness can help us when we fail. Even the most discerning of the young goats falls prey to the tricks of the deceptive wolf who manages to use that discernment and goodness against them. Yet hope is not lost, for deceivers sometimes reap what they have sown, meeting demise through deception themselves.

Over the weekend, I thought of this old story when I stumbled upon a new report that Al Mohler has repented for standing by his ‘friend,’ CJ Mahaney. Mahaney who took over People of Destiny and renamed it Sovereign Grace Ministries allegedly covered up numbers of cases of sexually and physically abused children. Mohler who serves as the president of the oldest Baptist seminary in the US and pontificates at parachurch ministry conferences initially disparaged the victims who now number over nearly 700. Was it the fact that Mahaney presided over 380 identified perpetrators, that 220 were convicted, or that 100 of them are still serving prison sentences at the time of this writing.



The abused among Mahaney’s following began to come forward at around the same time that I first began to write about the Botkin Family model. The Botkin letter of protest of my ten year old writings remind me of Mohler’s comments about Mahaney. This also seems as weird as John Piper’s twisted and pathetic attempt to clarify a video about his expectations for wives to submit to (some) abuse within a Christian marriage that had been online for a full four years before we heard about his ‘clarification.’ What new pressures or factors prompted these men to come forward so many years later to clean up their image? Is it the #MeToo movement fallout? It certainly doesn’t inspire trust. Like these other ‘Calvinists,’ why are the Botkins also suddenly so concerned about dated material?

Damage Control

The term of damage control popped up as a new descriptive term in the mid-20th Century to describe measures taken to contain or mitigate damage to one’s reputation or power when challenged by some crisis or criticism. I’ve read that the term was borrowed from those who served on submarines – one of which you might remember as countermeasures in combat scenes from the film, The Hunt for Red October. Cultic groups notoriously use damage control to not only keep followers ignorant of criticism to preserve the milieu control, but they will also use other concerns or events to draw attention away from that ‘bad press’ to contain or circumvent the damage that it can cause.

Watchman Fellowship offers an easy to read profile of spiritual abuse that lays out how hard groups work to make themselves look special to outsiders, and inwardly, they are demand an unrealistic standard of perfection from their followers by keeping a tight hold on them through through information. Criticism is not permitted. They creatively use propaganda to instill fear in followers concerning information from unapproved sources so that they won’t consider it. Most groups also use some strategy to punish the dissemination of information that casts the leadership or the group’s ideology in a less than positive light.


The Boomerang Effect

Very recently, Chicago area Baptist pastor James MacDonald woke up to discover that his own thuggery caught up with him when his church fired him. (Please don’t confuse him with the James McDonald who also once ran with the Bayly Brothers, Doug Wilson and R.C. Sproul 2.0.) I think that people forget that this same pastor oversaw thinning out of the leadership in his church a number of years ago for describing the church’s culture as one of “intimidation and fear.” Elders who didn’t agree with MacDonald were denounced, dismissed, and formally excommunicated by the yes-men elders. They even went to the trouble of making this video to ensure that church members understood that their position as elders made their discernment divine.

Much like Ligonier Ministries‘ 2006 attempt to squelch criticism when they initiated legal action against an anonymous blogger, MacDonald made his own attempt to stop some of his critics with a defamation lawsuit. As the letter I received from the Botkins suggests, anything declared by such enlightened souls who are closer to God than the rest of us automatically becomes true. MacDonald and the church dropped pursuit of adjudication of critics when a Cook County Judge failed to accommodate his measures to hinder the discovery process. MacDonald was then dismissed from his employment at the church he had founded because unfavorable evidence made it into the press. I’m likewise reminded of how the court ruled against Hank Hanegraaff when he sued a fellow Christian apologist. Leaders tend to forget that the sword of the court cuts both ways.

I tend to think of these aggressive damage control measures as examples of the Boomerang Effect. The wolf in the Grimm’s story uses deception and manipulation to prey upon a little one but later suffers his own demise through deception. We can’t fault mama goat who uses deception to avoid retaliation by the wolf as she rescues her little ones alive. Not realizing what has happened, i the wolf is technically responsible for his own fate. All of these mentioned ministries displayed aggression toward their perceived foes, only to realize that the long term consequences showed them to be more like bullies than victims.


Sowing and Reaping?

I often ponder what goes on in the mind these ‘ministry’ leaders who demonstrate this aggressive stance toward those critics who don’t see truth as a fluid concept. Do their attitudes trick them into a belief that their public audience lacks so much discernment, or do they themselves truly believe that their own desire creates truth? Do they believe that when they claim that ‘there’s nothing more to see here,’ we chumps on the outside of their bubbles of influence will just nod and smile like fools? Don’t they realize that they’re insulting their audience by assuming that we chumps cannot recognize that things don’t add up?

I find it fascinating when the lack of regard for others just drips off of the words and deeds of these spiritually proud who seem to be completely unaware of how miserable they seem to the rest of us. Their behaviors only magnify their own lack of self-awareness and ignorance. Are they deluded (an incorrigible belief in a falsehood)?

Are they just not thinking clearly when they claim that others are guilty of the errors which most people note to be far more true of them (projection)? All of us human beings suffer pain, anger, and confusion when we’re presented with information that contradicts what we believe. I can understand that kind of denial, but not in the long term. What doesn’t seem at all Christian to me is the thuggery. I wish that more people had the attitude of Gamaliel when he said of Paul that, if Paul preached falsehood, the lack of merit of the message would eventually lead to naught. Slathering damage control on things only draws more attention to the discrepancies, making their reputations seem even more sinister.


A few days ago, I restored the “Who is Geoffrey Botkin?” post on Under Much Grace. To explain why one of my blogs will be renamed if I even bother to restore it, I added what Blogger calls a “page” (the tabs at the top of the blog). Read more about my explanation for my actions in the page named Botkins, Pejoratives, and Jeremiads. The Botkin daughters demanded that I remove their family name, but I had to explain my use of it as well as my reason for making so many changes. They hoped to see their name go away. Sadly, I may have removed a good deal of it had they approached me honestly without the thuggery.


The family seems to want all of us to associate them with New Zealand, or as many people do, believe that they are from New Zealand originally. Though it seems ironic to me, they appear to be rather adept at the skill of indigenous Australians with a boomerang.



Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.

She blogs at Under Much Grace and Redeeming Dinah.

Read more by Cindy Kunsman

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jennny

    …’I often ponder what goes on in the mind these ‘ministry’ leaders.’.. From my observations, they haven’t come to terms with something called ‘The Internet’ where the whole world can question and expose them. My husband was a successful pastor, but in preparing sermons always had 2 quotes in mind. One was that being in a high pulpit did not put anyone ‘Six feet above criticsm.’ The other was a quote, I think from Spurgeon. In the margin of his sermon notes he’d written, ‘Shout loudly here, arguement weak.’ But these folk are permanently drunk on their own power, they’ve forgotten their jesus talked of a servant-like attitude, he washed his disciples’ feet….and you use the word ‘thuggery’. I commented after one of your last posts that bullying is the only way they know how to deal with anyone who has a different opinion to them. They are now ‘all at sea’ because their deeply entrenched mindset of how to control and dictate to others, does not work in 2019 and they can’t come up with any new strategies to retain that control and they need the money to keep rolling in!

  • Mel

    Cindy, you have the right to do whatever you want with your blog.

    Having said that, there is value in leaving the original blog posts up and placing any changes in either an attached update or as a note at the beginning or end of the post. If you think the post is wrong in terms of being severely misleading or mistaken, then deleting it is the case. But if the main problem is that the Botkin Sisters don’t like what they are reading, well, true things can be very unpleasant – but that doesn’t make them a lie.

    We often treat blogs like bulletin boards or billboards that have ephemeral value – but they are really more like newspapers that can be of great use to future historians. Personally, I hope someone in 30 years writes a thesis on the failed CP/QF rebirth that spanned from the 1980’s to 2020(ish) and the important reason that CP/QF fell apart – by losing kids born into it and failing to attract new members – is because of bloggers like Cindy.

  • Friend

    Isolation is the only hope that oppressive movements have. If only we can get everybody in one room (or a set of campuses with screens showing an identical program). If only we can make sure that you people rely exclusively on one another, on pain of shunning and excommunication. If only we can convince you that everybody outside our Very Special Church would casually kill you. Of course, that means you can’t be feeding the hungry. You all have to read a certain edition of the Bible. Reading is good—here’s your list of approved books.

    Oh, and just in case you’re still thinking for yourself, let’s preach a series on how you are probably infested with demons.

    Don’t they realize that they’re insulting their audience by assuming that we chumps cannot recognize that things don’t add up?

  • Jen (*.*)

    Sometimes I wonder if authoritarian Christianity just naturally attracts despots/controllers. They are siding with/representing the ultimate authority after all, so they think no one can touch them. It’s a bully’s dream.

  • Friend

    I would add that editing posts, years after publication, can be seen as intellectual dishonesty.

    I think a prominent headnote above the original page might be best, if there is significant new information. Include links as appropriate.

  • Tawreos

    Don’t forget that people can often rise high in a christian organization with little to no training or experience. Sometimes all it takes is knowing the right people and a holier than thou attitude and a person can be set.

  • SAO

    I get the impression that many of these leaders are narcissists. They are sure of their own superiority and special relationship with God. So, they might slip every now and then — they are still human, after all, but that doesn’t count because of their general superiority. Your slips, however, are a fundamental testament to your moral and intellectual inferiority.

    We can often tell when someone sincerely believes something; it makes them convincing. I remember being in a remote village in the 3rd world and being told that if I put my hand in the water, a snake would wrap itself around my wrist and use its tail to break every bone in my hand. The story was utter nonsense; no snake has been ever known to do anything of the sort, but the fact that everyone believed it and was sincerely concerned for me made it seem believable.

  • Friend

    Education is a big minus! It threatens your faith. The less training, the better! Except, of course, a lot of these “leaders” have degrees from diploma mills, and honorary doctorates.

    So maybe imaginary education is the best kind.

    /s in case anybody is still on their first cup of coffee

  • Tawreos

    Well, I am very proud of my doctorate in Mad Sciencology (not to be confused with Mad Scientology, I could never be that evil or greedy) =)

  • Friend

    There are also plenty of less obvious folk beliefs: some Slavic people believe that sitting on the ground is harmful, especially for pregnant women. Some groups also think ice in drinks causes sore throats. Everybody buys into these ideas; we go along to get along.

    Narcissists can take gross advantage of this. Instead of turning that into empathy, they turn it into conformity and collective fear.

  • Aloha

    In 1980 I married the love of my life, Geoffrey Botkin. We were both young, first-generation Christians, educated in the government school system. As far as education goes, we knew how to read, and not much else. Through the process of educating our seven children at home, I gained a great love of learning and teaching, and a pretty fair education, myself.”

    — I got this from … they haven’t changed their bios, so I don’t know if you’re obligated to change yours.

  • Aloha

    It’s because that’s what people want in a pastor / leader / and in the case of the US, a President. They want an indestructible loud-mouthed authoritarian. It makes them feel safe.

    So female pastors who study and teach carefully and counsel gently are outcast. Many people just want a big boss.

  • Friend

    And scholarly male pastors are written off too, along with anyone lacking charisma and the right clothes.

  • Friend

    Oh my word: “first-generation Christians, educated in the government school system.” Gimme a freakin break. They act like they’re the North Sentinelese.

  • Jennny

    A guy joined our church who was a full-time evangelist. Because he put his kids into the school where my husband taught, he discovered DH has a degree from a top UK university. He seemed to take against my inoffensive husband and preached a fiery sermon that jesus is all you need, no one needs any fancy edumakation. A wiser person said to my bemused DH at the end of the service, ‘Never believe anyone who says that with jesus in your heart, any old turnip will do for a head.’

  • Mel

    I suspect people with control issues and without the skills to become educated in theology church-shop.

    You can be a fairly high official in the Catholic Church with massive control issues – but you’ve got to complete the equivalent of bachelor and masters degrees in theology plus two years of on-the-job training before ordination so it weeds out people who can’t jump through hoops without screaming at their instructors or their supervising priests….ie, Mike Pearl.

    The more Evangelical – meets – anti-intellectual churches are a much softer target for the Pearls and Botkins of the world. In the absence of a tradition of education through collegiate education or expectation of studying under a monk/rabbi/iman for years, congregations lose one level of protection against crazy people. Additionally, anti-education churches lose the protection of educated parishioners. It’s much easier to justify abusive policies when you know the congregation is going to take your interpretation at face value rather than being skeptical when your use of a verse feels off .

    I was recently at a mainline Protestant church with a friend when the minister started discussing a book read by the congregation as a whole. (I’m curious about how many peeps really read it, but that’s just me.) All of a sudden, the minister is sharing a bunch of prosperity gospel crap couched in three verses. I don’t remember the two other verses – but I knew the one from the Letter to the Romans was being misused when the minister explained that the verse’s “First Fruits” were describing tithing. The Letter to the Romans can be summarized as “The Jewish people are our fathers; you cannot diss them without dissing yourself” – and the first fruits in that verse were actually the Jewish people. Now, this wasn’t an end-of-the world misuse – but I wasn’t the only person who looked extremely skeptical about the interpretation, either.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Being educated is wonderful, isn’t it? I heard a sermon yesterday that I know the visiting pastor pulled that interpretation of the story of the Good Samaritan out of his ass. A fear mongering ass.

  • It does. And the fringe attracts other kinds of folks. Gary North who is so into stoning has something seriously wrong with him. I remember when we subscribed to his stuff in the early ’90s, and I read the third newsletter or something. I asked my husband “Do you think this man is insane?” He agreed, and we didn’t renew.

    This stuff attracts people who can’t stand ambiguity, and if you aren’t that way when you start with them, you take to the black and white thinking because its the only way to survive. The nationalism in Christian Reconstruction provides people with a very black and white, sanitary view of people in society.

    Speakers at ICSA who are therapists encourage clients to take the Cluster B Personality Disorder diagnostic criteria to consider when thinking about the group leader. Lots of Narcissism and AntiPersonality Disorder. They say of McCotter that he quickly got bored with things which is why he hopped around a lot. Cults thrive on novelty because it keeps people off balance. But it’s also a function of the leader who looks for stimulation.

  • Friend

    The Roman Catholic Church is also now doing psychological screening early in the ordination process—at least in the big archdiocese I know something about.

  • Friend

    I trust that you studied under Prof. Alfred E. Neuman.

  • Old classmates from OU remember “Vicky” and Geoff, and many stayed in touch with Greg, Geoff’s elder brother. They knew the parents. They were from Oklahoma. People had been to their parents’ home. They (the Botkins) knew enough to get into college.

    Maybe they just weren’t the higher and better kind of Christians that they are now? Sheesh.

  • Tawreos

    Dr. Pearl Forrester actually. =)

  • I have information that places ” Vicky” in Augusta County, Virginia, but I can’t speak to the veracity of it.

    I can’t explain how she made it to Oklahoma, but those who remember Greg and Geoff remember her well. She was well liked.

  • Friend

    Oh, so you’re an Ivy Leaguer… 😉

  • Lots of Christian homeschoolers who are connected to this same subculture as the Botkins refer to public schools as ‘the government schools,’ so that’s not that weird. Not all do it, but the Christian Reconstructionists were taught to use the term ‘government school.’

  • Friend

    Oh, I grew up playing this game. Our youth ministers had us teens snowed into believing our parents would go to Hell if we didn’t save them. We totally bought the lie that our umpteenth-generation baptized, confirmed, church-married, Bible-reading moms and dads were not Christians.

    I hate the game.

  • Friend

    Higher and better. Just like the Star-Bellied Sneetches.

  • ‘Victoria’ was born in January, 1955, so that puts her at about twenty-five if they married in 1980. I don’t have information about them between College and when they show up in Laurel/Silver Spring in the 1980s. That seems reasonable.

  • Saraquill

    It took me a second to realize you didn’t mean the devil’s lettuce when you said “stoning.” Perhaps Gary would be more mellow if he was into non-violent stoning.

  • Friend

    Maryland was packed with unreached people groups at that time. Thank heaven for Joshua Harris and the wonderful Botkins.

    Someone will claim that Maryland has church buildings dating from the 1600s. This is not true. God made church-shaped formations of wood and stone in the area, not unlike the dinosaur “bones” he tossed around to fool people into believing the earth is more than 6000 years old.

  • Lucy


    I flagged a spammer on this thread. He was hawking, um, performance enhancement stuff.

  • Friend

    Poor Suzanne, having to preserve our innocence…………

  • Lucy

    Especially from hucksters selling snake oil.

  • Friend

    Hmm… He says his name is Timothy Nigel, but he posts as Sly Moregrace. I wonder if there’s something dishonest going on!

  • You’re my people. My husband and his college roomie had a functioning zeppelin in their dorm room. Another one tried to determine the harmonic of the dorm. My husband caught a neighbor kid on fire via a basement chemistry set mishap. I just learned today that one of his former employees/protégées almost destroyed her friend’s dining room when altering fireworks. My mishaps usually involve water and food, though I was a bit of a pyro. We heated our house with coal, so that’s par for the course.

  • I helped my husband get through graduate school studying human performance toxicology. I used to drive to Centinary College to pick up two girls so my husband could have them drink and take benzos, and then they did computer games. On my days off, I had to draw their blood. Paige had the worst veins! That’s the best kind of mad science I know.

    I picked up chicks for my husband to drug while he served them screwdrivers.

  • Husband laughing. He says that it’s so much more interesting when I tell it. And he added that he got a stipend and a tuition waver to do it!

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Thanks. He’s in the spam queue now..

  • Montanto

    I know this is not the point of this article, but thank you for sharing these illustrations! I was not familiar with Oskar Herrfurth’s work (considering most of the articles I’ve found about him are in German, I don’t think many of us in the states are) It’s great stuff.

  • Lana

    I have a few thoughts in regards to the Bodkins:

    1. One commenter mentioned this, so I just echo his/her point: I am doubtful the bloggers caused substantial lack of income for the Bodkins. The SAHDs and Christian Patriarchy movements have just waned as more boomers have nearly finished raising kids and are buying less materials, and because of the fall out of leaders, including their friend Doug Phillips. We are our own worse enemy of our own movements, and after sheltering, stay at home daughter stuff and courting failed to keep girls and women safe, their followings naturally dissipated.

    2. I do wonder if the father put the girls up to this.

    3. I want to assure the girls that should they leave this SAHD movement behind, I will defend them and help them restore their reputation. Their book did a lot of damage, but all of us who grew up in or around the movement know they probably had limited agency. Heck tv media will interview them to no ends and drown out this “bad reputation” if they escape and speak out. They CAN have a good reputation.

    4. at this point clearly their google family name is too vast and too late to stop people from talking. But these women can change how we talk about them in the future. Cindy’s letter was gracious and speaks to the fact that we know the girls are/were under their fathers control.

    5. A few in fairness points: Josh Harris does a half apology, and while criticized for it, it still restored his reputation among evangelicals. He will probably be right back in ministry, if he ever was out. For women, it’s not that easy because of this little thing called sexism, and when enough is never enough. I can already here the “oh but you still think….”

    6. I do think the girls need to realize that their father is a leader, and leaders are talked about. It’s part of the reason I don’t want the job. I’ve been more critical of criticisms about random no names. I saw some posts on free jinger talking speculation about what a sahd was doing now, when they had no idea what she believes now, how she changed, because it’s been ten years. and the amount of agency she had then is questionable to begin with. (I happen to know the family irl)

    7. Abuse survivors who are humiliated often do have fears of humiliation. I am understanding of that. Unfortunately there is just nothing to do about changing the legacy of the sahd movements. It’s about now building something new, and I hope they join us someday.

    Ps. There is a difference between fear of humiliation, as an abuse survivor might have (ie, parents who humiliate their children in front of a church might instill that fear, or children who grow up on public cameras might), and pride, that a major leader might have. I will redact old statements for ordinary joes, and even if the girls name is slightly more public, they are not the parents, and I understand the fear and wish them healing and a new start.

  • Thank you, Lana. That means so much to me. Most of us posting here are either moms or old enough to be moms like I am, so your words carry double weight for me. We’ve got that pesky generation gap thing going on, and that can get in the way (that sometimes calls for translation). So thanks for taking time to read this and to write a response. It adds much more perspective, and I’m glad that it was you who wrote it, too. 🙂

  • Lana

    Right. I do not have my own children (though I am old enough to have kids, haha), but my mother was a boomer homeschool mother. She was shocked by vision forum fall out, but the forum (and their Bodkin friends) didn’t lose new potential revenue from her. Her children are just grown up now.

    Thank you for deleting the girls names from the website as much as possible. The father could be putting them up to the letter, or their fear of humiliation may be a real fear, or both could be true. Either way, the girls will know now that we are here. Someday the fog will lift.

  • Thanks for this, too, Lana. Again, I would have to look at every post I’ve written, but I believe that I only ever used their names was when referencing the book formally. I did that because I didn’t want to deprive them of what little right they had to claim something for themselves apart from their family. It’s good scholarship, and I felt that they needed that good honor.

    We know that the girls signed the letter, and beyond that, who can say? I know that even at their age, I did quite a lot to avoid (verbal) punishment, both at church and with my parents who lived a three+ hour drive away. In the system that they stood for (and haven’t repudiated that I’ve heard), they must abide by their father’s wishes, and that alone limits their liberty. I don’t think that anyone thinks that they have any other option to read from the family script.

    You describe my hopes here so well. They will know or can find out that there are people who would welcome them and help them — if and when they are ready. If nothing else, they can find many more writings that they can either read for the first time or perhaps just see with new eyes. I hope that they can find that safe place, if only in their own hearts and minds, just for them.

  • B.E. Miller

    Like Dr. Horrible!

  • B.E. Miller

    In the lost revenue bit; I’m wondering how many homeschooled kids grew up, and decided not to homeschool their kids themselves. Or decided not to have kids at all. If the next generation is delaying kids, not having kids and/or not homeschooling them, they have no reason to buy the Vision Forum materials.

  • B.E. Miller

    I’m now imagining a whole bunch of us going to the Botkin house with signs saying “Anna & Elizabeth: If you need rescue, blink twice.”

  • My husband is again laughing, adding “or send up a smoke signal. Or put out an addendum to their book that says, ‘Help us!'” (He loves you, B.E. Miller! Even apart from your observation about “features” vs problems.

    They set themselves up as lifestyle authorities. Those are not people to whom you go to ask if they need help. All they want is for the rest of us to be subordinate to them. But even so, those young women are clawing for every bit of worth and value that they can get within their bubble. But as multigenerational faithfulness would require, their father is responsible for all of this, and questioning his integrity or his wisdom is unthinkable.

  • Lana

    Yes I don’t have the data on the number of alumni who have and don’t have kids. However, I think even the conservative alumni who homeschool tend to be more hip than our parents. My local homeschool group, as a child, required parents to get a letter of reference from their pastor, every single year. The new generation, while still very conservative evangelical, got rid of the pastor references, and the boomers who started it complained, lol. (My mom told me the story)

    So I do think there are differences now.

  • B.E. Miller

    Also, I’ve been reading where black parents are now rising in homeschooling numbers. There was an interesting video from PBS where there was a homeschooling co-op in Atlanta, Georgia. There was a man dressed up in ‘African dress’ with a hand drum doing a talk-story thing. Or another parent who talked about how public schools only show 300 years of history of black people in America, and she’s able to show her children thousands of years of history before America.

    I’m guessing none of the parents in this video would be buying from Vision Forum.