December 14, 2017

Whatever Happened to . . . Bill Gothard?

By Chaplain Mike

I was one of those rebellious teenagers of the “hippie” era that Bill Gothard was destined to reach. Self-indulgent, resistant to authority, in love with rock music, seeking freedom from the constraints of societal demands, I needed order, direction, and purpose in my life. Most of my companions in youth group were cut from the same cloth.

So, in the aftermath of our spiritual awakening in the early 1970’s, the natural thing for our youth leader to do was to herd a bunch of us onto an old school bus to head to Philadelphia for the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, where we were issued our red padded three-ring binders and forced to sit and listen to a short guy with short hair in a dark blue suit lecture us for three hours a night over the course of six days.

We loved it. At least I did.

“The Bill Gothard Seminar” we called it. It was an “experience,” and more than anything, that was what I was after. Sitting in a darkened room with thousands of people learning “God’s principles,” this became a significant annual element of my Christian discipleship. Gothard was savvy in his use of media, even though it was elementary in those days, and his charts and diagrams and words up on the big screen seemed to carry an authority far more powerful than anything we received in church or Bible study (though we loved those settings too).

Looking back, I liken what I felt in those arenas to what many feel in megachurch settings today—a sense of being part of something “big,” a sense of intimacy with a “celebrity” through a media event (even though I was but one of a huge crowd), a sense of expectancy that my life could be changed by an overwhelming experience.

I remember going home after Gothard seminars determined to apply what I had learned. I asked forgiveness from those that I had offended or sinned against. I tried hard to submit to my parent’s authority. I took up devotional practices advocated at the seminar (his teaching on meditating on Scripture is still a part of me). However, like most “mountaintop” experiences, our week long marathons of spiritual intensity quickly lost their power to affect what happened in my daily life.

In my youth and naivete, I considered Gothard thoroughly “biblical.” What he taught came directly from his own personal meditation on the Scriptures, a method he taught us to use as well. In the Basic Seminar, he taught the “Seven Basic Life Principles”:

Every problem in life can be traced to seven non-optional principles found in the Bible. Every person, regardless of culture, background, religion, education, or social status, must either follow these principles or experience the consequences of violating them. By learning principles rather than rules, individuals are equipped to make wise choices and avoid failure. The Basic Seminar is designed to help you understand the cause-and-effect sequences of life.

What Are Basic Life Principles?

1. Design: Understanding the specific purposes for which God created each person, object, and relationship in my life and living in harmony with them. Thanking God for my design brings Self-Acceptance.
2. Authority: Honoring the responsibilities of parents, church leaders, government, and other authorities and learning how God works through them to provide direction and protection. Honoring my authorities brings Inward Peace.
3. Responsibility: Realizing I am accountable to God for every thought, word, action, and motive. Asking forgiveness of those I offend brings a Clear Conscience.
4. Suffering: Allowing the hurts from offenders to reveal “blind spots” in my own life, and then seeing how I can benefit their lives. Fully forgiving offenders brings Genuine Joy.
5. Ownership: Understanding that everything I have has been entrusted to me by God, and wisely using it for His purposes. Yielding my rights to God brings True Security.
6. Freedom: Enjoying the desire and power to do what is right, rather than claiming the privilege to do what I want. Regaining ground surrendered to sin brings Moral Purity.
7. Success: Discovering God’s purpose for my life by engrafting Scripture in my heart and mind, and using it to “think God’s thoughts” and make wise decisions. Meditating on Scripture brings Life Purpose.

We’ve been talking about “principles” for this and that in the church ever since. Oh yeah, and now I don’t think that is a good thing.

However, back then this was attractive stuff. It was only later, after I had become a pastor and traveled a couple of times to his “Advanced Seminars” that I came to realize his errors. As Gothard began to cover areas such as church life (that I was experiencing at the time as a young pastor), deeper issues of marriage and family (ditto), health issues (this one was really strange), and social and cultural issues (early Christian right culture war stuff), I realized he was straying from the Bible and that he had little basis or authority to be making the absolute statements he was proclaiming. And after I had gone to Bible college, started studying the Bible seriously for myself, reading good commentaries, and preparing sermons and Bible studies regularly, it became clear that his entire approach to the Bible was . . . well, let’s just say it was lacking.

As the years went by, Gothard’s ministry became an impetus for Christian homeschooling and some of the patriarchy movement’s more bizarre manifestations, such as Quiverfull. It is my understanding that he and his organization continue to exert a lot of influence in some circles, but Gothard has never sought the limelight, and many to this day are unaware of his impact.

For information about Bill Gothard’s teaching and critiques of it by The Midwest Christian Outreach, an apologetics ministry that has taken on Gothard as one who teaches a Galatians-like legalism and whose organization has cultic tendencies:

See also:

I’ve lost track of Bill Gothard for many years now. When we moved to Indianapolis twenty years ago, we had some devotees in our first church. Gothard’s Institute even has a Youth Training Center here in the city that received some support from local government (and was cleared of child abuse charges in a scandal several years ago). But by and large, he and his influence on my life have faded away.

How popular was Bill Gothard in his hey-day? And what is he doing today? In a March, 2008 article, Robin Phillips wrote:

Between the years 1967 and 2001, the Basic Seminar has been attended a total of 5,835,218 times. Of this total, 2,678,524 are those going for the first-time and 3,156,694 are alumni returning for a second helping.

Not only is Gothard invited to present his teachings to businesses and corporations, but in 1991 after the Soviets had heard about the Advanced Training Institute, Boris Yeltsin, together with the head of Moscow Public Schools, requested that Gothard bring his character training program to Russia. The Soviets were so impressed that they granted the Institute use of a five-acre campus. To top that, the Russian Parliament adopted a declaration stating that Gothard’s principles would be beneficial for all Russians to follow. Since then over 2,000 ATI students have visited Russia, where they are teaching in public schools, working with orphans, counselling delinquent teenagers, assisting pensioner teachers and involved in community service. Gothard has set up Moscow College of The Advanced Training Institute as well as a Training Center and refuge home for orphans and juvenile delinquents.

As the news of the Institute’s success in Russia has spread to other countries, ATI have received invitations from Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Bolivia, Mexico, China, as well as numerous U.S. cities. The mayor of Indianapolis, for example, invited the Advanced Training Institute to come and work in a low-income, high-crime area. The Institute then set up a permanent facility in Indianapolis where they have a rehabilitation facility that works in conjunction with the county’s juvenile court system. Entire cities can apply to become a ‘city of character’ by adhering to Gothard’s principles and by the mayor attending the mayor’s seminar. ATI is getting involved in American public schools as well. The state of Arkansas has mandated Gothard’s character training program to be taught in public schools, where thousands of top high school men are enrolled in Gothard’s program for young men called ALERT (Air Land Emergency Resource Team).

I’d love to hear about your experiences with Bill Gothard, the Basic Seminar, and other aspects of this work. I have not made this an analytical post critiquing BG, but let me make it clear that I now distance myself from this ministry and find many aspects of it more than troubling.

However, it was a big part of my early spiritual formation, and has had an influence on American Christianity far beyond popular recognition. Apparently, that influence is spreading around the world as well, quietly (some might say insidiously).

Bring me up to speed if you know more about what’s happening now with Gothard and the Institute. Let us hear your impressions and evaluations. Has this ministry benefited your faith in any ways? Have you been wounded by it? Has it had any impact—positive or negative—on your church? What do you as a Bible student think about how Gothard handles the Scriptures?

Whatever happened to Bill Gothard . . . and you?

Comments

  1. As a new Christian in the late ’80s/early ’90s, I only knew two things about Bill Gothard:
    1) He hated “Christian rock.” (The local Contemporary Christian Music periodical used to take potshots at his views of CCM in every issue.)
    2) You could always find several copies of the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts binder at any evangelical/Pentecostal church rummage sale or thrift store.

    • Brendan H says:

      Well he and I have something in common, then. I also hate Christian rock, but mostly because it’s largely bad. Really, really bad.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I’ve got fond memories of many bands & albums of Christian Rock (mostly Metal and hard rock) from the 90’s

      • And that differs from most non-Christian rock … how? 😀

        Back before we met (sometime in the mid-’90s), my wife went to one of Gothard’s seminars in Arcata, CA — not surprising he was there, since evangelicalism in that area tends to take a legalistic tone. Hilariously enough, the leader of the group she was going with (her congregation’s youth pastor) was actively debunking much of Gothard’s teachings AS THEY WERE ON THE WAY to the seminar.

        Looking back on it today, she described Gothard’s vaunted principles as “bogus.”

  2. I attended two or three times in the late seventies and felt the same magic. He was quite an artist in his own right and used the medium to great effect. I attended in a New Jersey shore town where cars were not allowed. Squirrels would eat out of your hand. Magical/instructional/edifying. BUT in the end, formulaic and legalistic. Those aspects only began to occur to me years later. Perhaps it has its place for the babe in the woods but some of the narrowing of things that aren’t so narrow can have a long lasting negative impact.

  3. dumb ox says:

    I had to deal with his patriarchy. It was the same ultimatum fallacy: you either agree with him or you are a heretic/horrible parent-spouse. I am in a place now where I could care less, where playing good Christian-bad Christian can be downright entertaining. But I do attribute this to iMonk; knowing that others are in the same boat makes coping and resisting this garbage so much easier.

  4. Never heard of this guy, but my teen years were also marked by the “dwindling spiritual highs after week-long ‘mega’ conferences”.

    To the point where I decided to stop going at all, and even now remain fairly allergic to any ‘big’ gatherings.

    And altar calls…

  5. Mike, perhaps it would have stuck with you better if you had witnessed his awesome “chalk talk” on the last night, with the the UV light “big reveal” at the end.

    As a teenager I totally bought into it, up until the night that he said the very structure of rock music was inherently satanic – why?- because most pop/rock songs had a repreating refrain / fade out in the end – – thus presenting the lie of satan that life goes on forever and you will never die. Hmph. Even then, with all my gullibility, I knew he had crossed the line into non-biblical ruminations, and the blinders were off.

    Still, as a boy from a small youth group, an arena full of pretty Christian girls was a pretty strong draw.

    • Damaris says:

      Medieval theorists claimed that the interval of a major or minor third was Satanic, but hymns from the 1600s onward have used thirds for their basic harmony structure. I never bought the idea that a structural component of music could be evil in itself.

      • William says:

        It’s actually the tritone (sharp 4 or flat 5) that they found to be the interval of Satan–not the major or minor 3rd.

        • Actually, you both are right…parallel thirds were avoided because they were considered joyful and sensuous along with the Tri-tone.

        • black cat says:

          Yes, the augmented 4th interval was considered satanic. And I know that later on, parallel octaves or 5ths were considered bad part-writing. There goes rock music right there. 🙂 It was amusing to hear Bill Gothard speak on music, because he was very ignorant about it, yet set himself up as an authority. I believe he also misinterpreted scripture, and made scripture fit his principles, instead of seeing what scripture said. However, people viewed him as a demi-God and if you disagreed with him in any way, you were a heretic. It was sad to see friends isolate their children in the name of godliness. Many of them, though not all by far, have left the church far behind. Some of them, when they got out into the “world,” had absolutely no idea how to deal with it. My husband and I attended 2 seminars because it was so very highly recommended, but decided enough was enough already.

    • Oh Steve, I did. The chalk talks were phenomenal. And you’re right, the girls weren’t bad either.

    • Loved the chalk talks! Don’t remember what they said, but it was wayyyyy cool.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Still, as a boy from a small youth group, an arena full of pretty Christian girls was a pretty strong draw.

      Any resemblance to “Bait-and-Switch” or Mo David’s “Flirty Fishing”?

  6. charlie says:

    My parents and oldest brother attended BG seminar way back when–I think it was the early 70’s. It had quite an impact on my dad and brother–but it wasn’t completely radical. I remember the different things they did, financially and the forgiveness thing. But, like you stated, any ‘mountain top’ experience fades with time.
    However, some of my cousins really got into BG and were completely sucked into the whole package and they just all ended up really messed up, as did their children by effect–it was sad. They didn’t live in our state, so we witnessed it from a distance. They were in the midwest, so it seems they were more influenced.
    I was too young (jr high) at the time to really be bothered about it, but I definitely remember the discussions and changes.
    Since I haven’t paid attention to BG then or now, I can’t address his biblical-ness (is that a word?) or not.

    • How were your cousins messed up? If you don’t mind me asking…

    • Charlie…I noticed when I was in conservative Christian ministries how they sometimes led to damage. People would make big decisions after being in conferences with little sleep, little food and extended times of praise and worship when people were “high” to all the emotion. Plus they were always surrounded by people who would “confirm” and “reaffirm” their “Godly decision”. In my book this is called “Kool-aide ingestion by the masses” as it surpasses the group think problem when you are making decisions based on emotion. This is one of the reasons why I became so critical of Campus Crusade’s Christmas conferences, certain mega church events, and different church retreats.

      I actually had a couple of people admit to me that they liked doing missions, or going to conferences because they liked the “mountain top plateau” experience, and the feeling of “oohh and aaw..”. I hate to ask this…but is this type of high any different than a buzz a person gets from alcohol, excitement from pornograghy, or the rush they get when they buy something?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I hate to ask this…but is this type of high any different than a buzz a person gets from alcohol, excitement from pornograghy, or the rush they get when they buy something?

        Probably not. They’ve become addicted to the “mountain top plateau” experience. Or the Pentecostal experience. Or the Theology experience. Or the whatever experience. And when the ball is over, they just go to the next ball instead of having to take off their dancing shoes.

      • I’ve done the drugs, alcohol, pornography, and Campus Crusade Christmas Conference (not all at once of course). The “mountain top plateau” is way different, honestly incomparable. The mountain top experience is more akin to falling in love (er, infatuation) with the whole “can’t wait to get up tomorrow to experience…” x,y,z. It’s an excitement that grows with your involvement in something or with someone. I think CM hit the nail on the head with the comparison to a mega-church experience.

        The addiction highs are more… IDK, just different.

        • Brendan..

          But if you are motivated to do a mission or attend a conference so you can spend a lot of time singing praise and worship, and endorphins are being released in your noodle and you are going gaga over it is that any different? I know this may not be the easy thing to say, and I know I’m pretty cynical. But is it that far off?

          • C. S. Lewis’ essay, “Transposition” answers this well

          • Daniel is this a possible explanation for “Christian hedonism” as John Piper interprets it?

          • Maybe, Eagle. But Lewis’ point was more nuanced. The basic analogy he uses is transposing a piece of music written for an instrument with a lot of notes to one with far less notes (think piano and guitar). The instrument with less notes will have to compensate for it’s paucity by using the same notes to represent what would be two or more different notes originally. In an analogous way, notes Lewis, sometimes the same emotional feeling here represents things with quite distinct meanings. We speak of feeling love “sick” but the cause of the physical feelings are quite different than ordinary sickness.

            The point I am suggesting is that the emotions of being high and being caught up in ecstatic worship may feel similar (don’t really know, since I’ve never been high), but that should not mean that they have a similar cause, source, or purpose.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And there is a danger for going after the “emotions of being high and being caught up in ecstatic worship” to the detriment of what you’re allegedly worshipping with all that ecstasy.

            It’s kind of like “falling in love with Falling in Love” to the point the alleged lovee becomes nothing more than an interchangable piece of equipment.

      • charlie says:

        sorry to get back sooo late…ended up involved in pornography, they all ended up divorced, homeschooled to the extreme (i homeschooled my children for a few years so i’m not anti-homeschooling), eating disorders and other psychological disorders–both them and their children. sad.

      • charlie says:

        no, i would say it’s similar; i don’t see scripture or Jesus advocating any of that. hmm, i actually recall Jesus suggesting we go into our closets to pray….not retreats to get ‘high’ !!!

  7. Kenny Johnson says:

    My mother-in-law and father-in-law met at Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts conference. I believe they both cited Gothard as the reason for them destroying their rock records and abandonment of “secular music.”

    I don’t know how much he influenced this, but my wife grew up in a very strict home. She remembers a lot of things being restricted from her, like Bedknobs and Broomsticks because of witchcraft.

    Her parents softened over the years and her siblings had it easier.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Better not tell your in-laws about D&D and/or My Little Pony…

      • Or cabbage patch dolls.

        • black cat says:

          What was wrong with Cabbage Patch dolls? My daughter was too young for them, but she adored My Little Pony! I liked it, too. And I still recommend Cabbage Patch doll clothes for premature babies! Lots cheaper (I think?) than preemie clothes.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            What was wrong with Cabbage Patch dolls?

            You never heard the Christian Urban Legends about Cabbage Patch Dolls being DEMON-possessed? How Cabbage Patch Dolls WERE Trojan Horses for the DEMONS to enter your Godly Christian Home? Complete with Testimonies? It was ALL over 700 Club!!!!!

            Then somebody traced it back from 700 Club to a Weekly World News tabloid article that apparently jumped from WWN to 700 Club. (This happens a lot in Urban Legend origins — a fictional or dubious story gets mistakesn for real after being passed through a couple of people.)

          • black cat says:

            Hmmm… Cabbage Patch dolls being demon possessed, or allowing the devil to enter homes? LOL I have another hilarious story about those dolls, told by our pastor at the time. A local (Dayton, OH) DJ announced that there was a Cabbage Patch doll drop going to take place at the UD stadium. A plane would fly over (he said), drop some cabbage patch dolls, and all bystanders would have a chance to run & grab a doll, then they were supposed to hold up their credit cards, someone in the plane would take a picture of said cards so they could be paid. Do you know that some people actually showed up and wondered when the drop was going to occur???

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Black Cat, just a year ago my sister-in-law claimed the bout of depression I was going through was due to a DEMON entering my home through an art print of a Cobra in a White Dress I picked up at a Furry con in January. (She started talking about a “Spiritual Warfare Expert” she knew and…)

            I can tell you how acquiring that picture got me depressed. The circumstances surrounding my acquiring that piece triggered flashbacks of my breakup with my only girlfriend. At full emotional strength. No demons necessary.

        • or Star Wars… 😯

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Tell me about it. I live behind the Orange Curtain, where Calvary Chapel was founded (and one of their founders later became doubleplusunperson). When I was listening to Christian (TM) radio in the late Seventies/early Eighties the guy running Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa had an obsessive mad on about Star Wars being SAY-TANN-IC (TM) — something about Satanic Deception for the End Times Apostasy and/or The Force was Witchcraft. Would start denouncing Star Wars at the drop of a hat, even if he had to (and usually did) drop the hat himself. Sounded like the guy who wrote the Malleus Maleficarium.

    • They banned Bedknobs & Broomsticks because of the witchcraft … did they let her read the Chronicles of Narnia?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Give ’em time…

        Chronicles of Narnia HAS been denounced as Witchcraft. I call it “Aslan-is-The-Antichrist” preaching after one especially-surreal denunciation I heard on the radio way-back-when.

      • my parents banned chronicles of narnia from our house growing up due to the “witchcraft” involved.

    • I was not allowed to watch the t.v. program Planet of the Apes because of the idea of evolution behind it, nor was I allowed to have Barbies, not that I wanted Barbies, I was way too tomboy for that! I was diggin’ on my brother’s hot wheels cars and cowboys and indians. Why wasn’t I allowed to have Barbies? I’m not sure…..cuz she has boobs maybe? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Not really, I don’t know. When I was a fresh teenager and wanted to enjoy some American Bandstand, One Day at a Time or Three’s Company (God forbid we get tainted by the idea of a man living with 2 women), my mom had a device made that was like a little wooden box, the plug of the t.v. fit into it perfectly, you would close it shut, around the plug and she had a padlock on it. That way, I was being “supervised” when no one was home. Remembering that makes me really mad today. I know I was a real pain in the arse to parent but……really???

  8. Soon after my Mom became a Christian, she went to a Gothard seminar. When I was 15 she took me to one. I thought (at the time) it was brilliant… though he wasn’t successful in convincing me that the backbeat is inherently evil, so I never did throw away all my cassette tapes. Maybe that’s why I backslid.

    Legalistic? Definitely. But y’know, when you’re a new Christian, and you have no structure in your life and know nothing about the scriptures, you kinda need some legalism if you’re going to straighten out. Gothard just went overboard by inventing unbiblical “umbrellas of protection” that set you up for being easily manipulated by pastors and parents. Which is probably why his seminars are so very popular with those folks.

    In Mom’s case, it helped get her grounded in conventional Christian behaviors and practices. But at the same time, it taught her to not question her pastor, and to submit to the selfish behavior of her atheist husband. In my case, it got me to conform… until I came to the conclusion that either God was evil for making me submit to a whole bunch of jerks, or I must have a totally wrong idea of God. Thankfully I went with the second option.

    Eventually I went to bible college, learned how to actually exegete a bible, and am still unlearning a lot of what he taught.

    • KW, “But y’know, when you’re a new Christian, and you have no structure in your life and know nothing about the scriptures, you kinda need some legalism if you’re going to straighten out.”

      Was this supposed to be sarcastic or for real?

      • I took it to mean that with the deep sea that is Christianity, you need somewhere to start. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,and love your neighbor as yourself… absolutely! But man, that’s broad. Which neighbor do I start with? What does that look like in practice for some people who have been at it a while? How exactly do I show love to God? What does God like and dislike?

        Even Paul eventually has “you used to do this” but “now do/put on/be like” this lists, but only after presenting the gospel. So every epistle with those kind of lists has 2-3 chapters of gospel theology, and then might start to dip into the practical. Eventually after the Holy Spirit sanctifies you a while being patient, gentle, kind, forgiving, etc will sometimes just be what you want to do, but until then you are often looking for some kind of guide.

        The failure of this kind of teaching isn’t usually in what they recommend you do or label morally upright. The problem is that even the most perfect list of righteous living is just soul-killing law without a grounding in the gospel. It easily turns into you and what you’re doing and slowly the Jesus leeches out of it and you’re just teaching therapeutic moral deism. I’ve never listend to BG, but the branching out into what kind of music is bad and umbrellas of protection sound a lot like the pharisaical additions to the Torah. It’s especially bad if you forget that knowing the law is no good without knowing the King who made it in the first place, knowing his character and that he incarnated and died for us and fulfilled the law. All right living can only work in response to him, not in spite of him. :/

      • Rebekah: Like Tokah said. When we’re newbies, we need a form of legalism that restricts us for the time being, while we’re learning to get the hang of following Jesus. Kinda like when you learn to cook: You start by following the recipes exactly, and once you’re comfortable enough in the kitchen you know what you really can and can’t do. Trouble is, most of us think we’re never allowed to deviate from those recipes.

        And Gothard is the guy who, for some reason, cooks with an umbrella. No, I’m not just mixing a metaphor. That’s how weird some of his theories are.

        • Interesting. I never would have thought that or do I happen to agree with it, respectfully, of course!

          Who decides what “form” the legalism takes? And who decides at what point the “recipe” doesn’t need to be followed anymore?

          My humbled opinion is that newbies, like all of us, need grace and in massive doses.

          As I read recently, “We need to teach grace before commitment, because grace understood and embraced will always lead to commitment. But commitment required will always lead to legalism.

          • What I usually recommend to newbies is: Find two or three Christians whom you’ll interact with very regularly. They gotta explicitly show the fruit of the Spirit, sorta know what they’re talking about, admit what they don’t know, won’t try to steer you away from other Christians (i.e. they’re not isolationist, like cultists), don’t go to the same church or even know one another, and yet they don’t contradict one another.

            Follow them about a year; until you feel comfortable following Jesus directly. Read what they read. Study what they’re studying. Help out in their ministries. When in doubt, ask questions. When you think they’re wrong, say so. Forgive them if they don’t meet your expectations (and they won’t).

            Those folks sorta decide the form. Since they don’t know one another (but will likely learn of one another), it’s a pretty good check-and-balance.

            I don’t guarantee this works every time. It worked for me. It’s as good a system as I can think of.

  9. Damaris says:

    Bill Gothard’s Indianapolis institute, in a plush old hotel, was recently bought by the community college I work for. I wondered when I heard that what the state of BG’s ministry was, but I don’t know any more than than that.

    I looked through his books and found them compelling, but then I noticed two things. First, that the application of his life principles was ethnically and racially biased, although I don’t suppose he did it intentionally. The hairstyles and dress recommended were very much white middle class America, for example, and not even achievable for people of some other cultures, but he offered them as universal. Second, I discovered in myself a growing discontentment as I read the books. “He says husbands or children ought to do so-and-so, and mine aren’t. Grrr.” My husband and children were great in their own way and I had no cause for discontentment, but the legalistic attitude of the book began twisting me up.

    And the uniform for girls and young women. . . long skirts, ankle socks, and sneakers. Urgh. Ugliness is the ultimate modesty.

    • You speak a world of truth toward the end of your second paragraph, Damaris. Your second discovery is what forms the fulcrum for the lever of legalism. Without a strong sense of discontent and push to achieve some sort of Christian ideal, legalism would have no force in the lives of God’s people. The trouble with this picture is that the discontent finds its source in the legalistic preaching that promotes the ideal as if it were a goal we should be striving to achieve.

      I suspect that much of Evangelicalism today has bought into the tacit assumptions of the Health & Wealth gospeleers, albeit without the histrionics. The notion that God’s will for you is to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled in the things of this life infuses ministries as diverse as Focus on the Family, TBN, the 700 Club, KLOVE radio, and many pulpits. Gothard promoted this same path to happiness through his principles (as I recall from the conference I attended in Indianapolis where the most memorable even was the showing of “The Pineapple Story” http://store.iblp.org/products/PS/) and promises of guaranteed success if only one follows his teachings.

      The more I study the ministry of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Gospels, the more I am struck with how different his mission was in contrast to our ministry goals today. I don’t think we have the same goals as Jesus did. To be honest, I’m not sure we could even find agreement on what Jesus’ goals were. We are more like his disciples who, even at the ascension, were still looking for a Millennial Kingdom. I think that discontent is inherent in us and is in direct contrast to the contentment that Jesus experienced and demonstrated while He was here. Well stated, Damaris.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I don’t think we have the same goals as Jesus did. To be honest, I’m not sure we could even find agreement on what Jesus’ goals were.

        Gypsy: “Tom? I don’t get you.”
        Tom Servo: “Nobody does. I’m the wind, baby.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The hairstyles and dress recommended were very much white middle class America, for example, and not even achievable for people of some other cultures, but he offered them as universal.

      Most people assume on a subconcscious level that their own culture IS universal. Did this seem to go beyond that?

      And from the pictures of Christ and the Children on the wall of my writing partner’s church hall, I suspect “white middle class America” should be appended “as of the Mythical 1950s.” He once showed me an ad from some Christian organization about their youth groups, and everyone was dressed Hollywood Central Casting 1950s (non-Greaser) — I especially remember the crewcuts, white shirts, and Fifties-styled neckties on all the apple-cheeked boys. (Actually kind of reminded me of old Hitler Youth posters filtered through Ozzie & Harriet.) This picture was allegedly taken in the 21st Century.

  10. John From Down Under says:

    Heard of him before but never read any of his material.

    Sounds like a cocktail of Christianized pop psychology (and here I was thinking that Warren and Maxwell were original – sigh) with a pronounced legalistic twist.

  11. It was a lot of law and was quite the rage when I was a young Christian in the ’70s, though I never went. Now in retrospect, my responses are, “Where’s Jesus?” and I hear the law but not the gospel.

  12. I had a friend whose father worked for Gothard in the late 70’s. We spent a couple of weekends at a very large, undeveloped property in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that was either owned by Gothard or his ministry. I never met Bill although I fished with his brother.

    I think they had a plan to develop the property and use it for ministry. It was a bit strange though, a big property in the north woods, full of lakes but really nothing going on there. I have occasionally wondered whether it was ever actually used for ministry.

    • GeorgeM says:

      The property was developed into a conference center. I was there a few times. It was a very comfortable and pleasant facility with a conference room for 300-400 people, a gym, and all the accommodations needed for those conferences with a large support staff. The property also included a mile-long airstrip, just in case Air Force One ever wanted to come by. The facilities were used to host specialty conferences, such as seminars for legislators, doctors, or students.

      One of the times I went was for their first, and from what I am told, last, week-long “counseling seminar” for boys in their home school program from the ages of 15-twentysomethng. We were apparently a bit too much. The found that making activities like this coed was easier on the staff and the facilities.

  13. I remember going to the seminar in Des Moines.

    What I most appreciated about Gothard was his willingness to try to get to the root of the issue, and not just the surface manifestation. This was one area of giftedness and uniqueness. His other great strength was the ability to visualize (through diagrams and charts) spiritual truths. Both of these things set him apart from the usual traveling evangelists our church used to blast rock music and long hair.

    Like most people God brings in our lives, Gothard was a mixed blessing to me. On the one hand, I am still recovering from a certain type of achievement-oriented Christianity that his teaching was a (small) part of. As some commentators have pointed out, this can lead to depression (or perhaps pride if you actually think you measure up). On the other hand, the gist of his teaching on the issues of design, suffering, and ownership (items 1, 3 and 4 in the list Mike quoted) has brought rich spiritual blessings to me, and still rings true.

    Anecdote regarding his influence:

    12 years ago I was a youth pastor in Michigan. The church scheduled a “revival ministry” to come and lead services for a fortnight. The team consisted of two evangelists, and a singing team. I did not care for the younger evangelist (I thought he was lacking in love). He led an all-day Saturday seminar on “Family Life”. I felt compelled to go. Imagine my surprise when about half the material seemed to be lifted (without attribution) straight from Gothard!

    The man’s influence lives on, even if his name is not mentioned.

  14. My parents were early adopters in 1969. We had every book they made. My parents didn’t take it too far (like the dietary rules) but it validated how they wanted to parent.

    I first went in 1983 as a freshman in high school. I just ended up hating myself more because I couldn’t keep all the rules. I did, however, turn in my ex-boyfriend and myself for kissing to the principal of the Bob Jones Academy, my highschool. That was awkward. I learned that in fundi-baptist world there are two different standards for punishment – one for males and one for females. Sigh.

    I purged my giant red binder years ago but kept the Character Sketches book for the art. When my boys were younger, they would look at the illustrations.

  15. Anonymous says:

    My wife and I attend the basic and advanced seminars, and for a time, were surrounded by those steeped in the “ATI” way of thinking. Taken to an exterme, some of the teachings create havoc. The greatest value for us was that is caused us to think about what we were doing and how we were raising our family. One thing of note: I had long hair at the time and it really drew unwanted attention.

    • i remember when I walked into a Baptist church in the upper midwest when I was “church shopping.” Everyone was wearing a suit, and I wore a t-shirt and jeans. It felt so uncomfortable so unwelcome. When I was sitting down i swear people’s glares were burned into the back ot my head, it was like I could feel it.

  16. I have no direct experience but do remember many people proclaiming his wisdom from a few different churches I attended over the years. Maybe that’s the blessing in having moved around a bit – I missed getting entrenched in this stuff.

    But more importantly, the level of involvement in Russia amazes me! Do they use a stripped down, Christ-less version, or was He never the focus to begin with?

  17. My memory is horrible, but his phrase “one interpretation, many applications…” stands out. And lo and behold,, guess who has a handle on the ONE interpretation ?? Any guesses ? That style of approaching the bible still leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, along with the ersatz certainty with which he approached things for which the scripture purely doesn’t address: strong bass beat anyone ??

    What gained BG a niche, I think, is his crude pragmatism, some of these principles seem to “work” where disorder and undisciplined patterns preceded them. The same could be said for ANY system of enforced order, such as the military, or even sports. What a poor substitute for life in the Spirit, IMO.

    I don’t hear much of anything at all from IBYC alums here in the KC area, and I think groups like Freedom Fire are picking up the slack in urban ministry circles (thank GOD).

    GregR

    • Anonymous says:

      When I heard that phrase, I remember thinking, “He just said that all scripture is interpreted through Oak Brook. He expects to be my magesterium.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      What gained BG a niche, I think, is his crude pragmatism, some of these principles seem to “work” where disorder and undisciplined patterns preceded them. The same could be said for ANY system of enforced order, such as the military, or even sports.

      Or Shari’a…

    • The Christian high school I graduated from used the IBLP materiels as part of the Bible curriculum. Colloquially known as the “Bill and Bill show”(the teacher involved was named Bill as well) it was something I think back on with distaste. In particular that phrase about scripture and the way scripture was sewn together to “prove” a rather extrabiblical point.

      I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I felt was probably the Holy Spirit nudging, prodding and eventually breaking out large heavy implements to get me to understand the danger of what I was being told to believe. If I remember correctly, there were some of my classmates that gave some fairly well reasoned pushback to the instructor, who, as you can imagine, was a strong devotee of Gothard. While they weren’t handled in a blatantly unkind manner, it was impressed upon them that it was all right there in scripture and if they would just apply the principles… The sort of answers that never dealt with the substance of the question, but gave a tacit “Hmmm… you just don’t get it do you? How sad…”

      Thank God for years, experience and profoundly copious amounts of grace that have shown how big, how furiously loving and non-reductive He is. Not to mention, I look awful in pleated khakis and a sport coat and am so bald that I couldn’t possibly have an appropriately “godly” part in my hair…

  18. I don’t have an experience or story to share I just had to say this:

    Every problem in life can be traced to seven non-optional principles found in the Bible. Every person, regardless of culture, background, religion, education, or social status, must either follow these principles or experience the consequences of violating them. By learning principles rather than rules, individuals are equipped to make wise choices and avoid failure.

    I would have wallked out the minute I laid eyes on that! I suppose it’s the rebel blood flowin’ through these veins but the instant you use the words “every” and must”……I’m out!

  19. Ben Meyer says:

    “Biblical Principals” is usually a code for legalism.

  20. Ah Bill Gothard – good times, good times. I also went to his Philadelphia conferences as a teenager in the mid ’70s, and I loved it, too. However, I think it was because I was in a group of thousands of believers and everyone seemed to be filled with the spirit of the Lord. I especially appreciated the massive a cappella hymn sings, which I found to be most uplifting.

    Of course, I look back on the teaching now and find it – as the kids say – totally cracked out. Stay perpetually subject to an abusive parent or spouse because it’s the chain of command? Be grateful for rape, because it’s an effective inoculation against pre-marital sex? Any music with a heavy drumbeat is Satanic?

    One thing I resent to this day about Bill Gothard was how his insistence that we vow to read the Bible 15 minutes every single day. I didn’t have a full understanding of what a vow to the Lord actually meant, and there have been many days since 1974 that I haven’t read the Bible at all. Had I realized back then the impact of a true vow to the Lord, I never would have made it.

    As an aside, he used to teach that children should live with their parents until they got married, even after college. I seem to remember that he still lives/lived with his own mother, since he was/is single. Can anyone verify that?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      One thing I resent to this day about Bill Gothard was how his insistence that we vow to read the Bible 15 minutes every single day.

      THAT’s where that Uber-Uber-Christian at Cal Poly got the idea! According to him, That Would Fix Anything.

      • Oh yeah….I heard the same thing in Crusade, if you had problems the question was “how much time have you spent in the word Eagle?”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “How Much Time Have You Spend In The Word?” — HIS EXACT WORDS! When anything bad happened to you, it was All Because You Haven’t Spent Enough Time In The Word (TM).

          1) I think Internet Monk Classic has an article on “The REAL Prosperity Gospel.”

          2) Fanboy Tunnel Vision — When all you have is a hammer…

  21. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

    In the mid-90’s one of the elders at my then-church and several homeschooling families were really big into Gothard. I was in high school at the time, and it caused some tension in our youth group. I particularly remember friends of my sister not being allowed to visit her because my brother and I listened to Christian Rock, which Bill Gothard said was bad, bad, bad. There was definitely a lot of legalism pushed into the homeschool kids from the Gothard teachings. Our children’s education program at the church was based on the Gothard “Character Sketches” series (picture above). I helped teach the 1st-2nd graders for a year out of those. That series was pretty light-weight when it came to Gothard stuff with which I later had a big problem.

    My folks always thought that the Gothard stuff was silly, and refused to join the other parents’ crusade. The major irony in it all was that the kids/teens that ended up in major rebellion from that generation of our youth group were mostly the ones from that Gothard group. Most of us who had little direct exposure remained pretty stable in our walk, for the most part.

  22. In the 80s, I presumed the lyrics of the Steve Taylor song “I Manipulate” were aimed directly at Gothard:

    Take your notebooks, turn with me
    to the chapter on authority
    do you top the chain of command
    rule your family with an iron hand
    I dispense little pills of power
    from my hideaway ivory tower
    from the cover of heaven’s gate
    I manipulate

    • Love that Steve Taylor!

    • I’d forgotten that song!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In the 80s, I presumed the lyrics of the Steve Taylor song “I Manipulate” were aimed directly at Gothard

      After reading those lyrics, I’m certain of it. “Take your notebooks…”, “turn with me…”, “chain of command…” — all Gothard buzzwords. “Rule your family with an Iron Hand…” — directly from all those No Longer Quivering/Quivering Daughters websites about religious abuse who credit Gothard with starting the whole “WOMAN, SUBMIT!” ball rolling.

      And Steve Taylor got in a lot of trouble for his songs. Pointing out “uncomfortable” stuff, kind of like a Christian proto-South Park.

      • Ok, now I’ve got to post the whole thing. Steve Taylor may have also been taking a wider aim, with the gothard thing comprising part of the lyric. Here it is:

        Does your soul crave center stage?
        have you heard about the latest rage?
        read your Bible by lightning flash
        get ordained at the thunder crash
        build a kingdom with a cattle prod
        tell the masses it’s a message from God
        where the innocent congregate:
        I manipulate

        Take your notebooks, turn with me
        to the chapter on authority
        do you top the chain of command
        rule your family with an iron hand
        I dispense little pills of power
        from my hideaway ivory tower
        from the cover of heaven’s gate:
        I manipulate

        Now it’s time to fill in the space
        where we talk about the woman’s place
        do you want to build a happy home?
        have you sacrificed a mind of your own?
        ’cause a good wife learns to cower
        underneath the umbrella of power
        from the cover of heaven’s gate:
        I manipulate

        Yes, I know that parable
        that’s the story of the prodigal
        if you question what I’m teaching you
        you rebel against the Father too
        if He loved him why’d He let him go?
        well, I guess I don’t really know
        but I see it’s getting late…

      • FollowerOfHim says:

        With a little running start, I think I could almost have quoted all of those lyrics from memory – though I’d never heard of Gothard until now. Nor, come to think of it, had I heard of the far more visible Bob Jones back in the day either (“Down in Carolina way/ lived a man named a Big BJ”).

        All of which is to indirectly say how amazed I am that my Christian school experience spanning the 1980s appeared to be almost entirely bereft of the weirdness so many of the unfortunate commenters have described in their own experiences. I’ve tried to think about why this is true, and two main reasons pop up: 1) the fact that the principal was completely in touch with the real world (he did drafting for construction companies part-time), and 2) we had a continuous stream of troubled souls coming through who perpetually blew up any notion of happy-clappy family life. Good.

    • Steve Taylor was so ahead of his time

  23. I agree that Gothard’s impact remains strong, having a quiet influence ever since. “…he had little basis or authority to be making the absolute statements he was proclaiming”. Put into that context, IBYC was the perfect parachurch complement to the average fundamentalist church. Parents gladly sent their kids there to get a heavy dose of rules before they ventured out into the world on their own, almost like a finishing school. It was simply that he had the time, resources and the captive attention that no Sunday afternoon youth group could supply. My roommate and many of my friends attended during college, but I was the odd man out. I guess I couldn’t figure out the purpose for carrying both a Bible and a large binder of regulations through life.

    On another note, I think its fascinating that both Gothard and Rob Bell are Wheaton graduates. Funny what a difference 30-40 years makes.

    • Just WOW…… talk about opposite ends of the swimming pool: Mr. Biblical Certainty and Mr. Narrative questioner from the same school. Fascinating stuff, Stuart.

      GregR

  24. O wow, how did I forget this? Ew, it is all coming back… I came home from B.G. and told my dad that I wanted to submit to his authority. He wasn’t a Christian. Tears of laughter are poring right now. So, my dad said to me. OK Blondie (nickname) I want you to get your a** out to a bar and get your nose out of that bible, you are never going to find a man sitting in your room reading that d*** bible. I thought my dad was satanic!

    • Never met him, but I like your dad already…

      • About 8 years later guess where I met my husband? (24 years married) Yup, in a bar. Which was a very shameful thing when I was sitting under my x pastor who was discipled by John MacArthur… Now it is a hoot of pure grace! Wish I wouldn’t have burned my posters and trashed all my records. O live & learn,

        • As a fresh, ignorant Christian teenager in the ’70s, I wandered on my own into the snare of fightin’ fundys like Jack Hyles, John R. Rice, etc. I thought Francis Schaeffer was way too liberal. So I destroyed my rock records, had my hair cut real short, refused to attend my high school proms, adopted the KJV, then, after a few years, had a nervous breakdown and walked away from church for about 20 years. My parents were indifferent to it all, which I used to resent. But I frankly ought to be grateful that they didn’t push legalism on me. We still have our problems, but that isn’t one of them.

  25. Stephanie says:

    My husband I taught English in Taiwan from 2007-2010. On the small island where we lived, about half of the “white” population was a team of ATI missionaries commissioned by the Taiwanese government to teach English and ethical values to elementary school students.

    All of these missionaries were in their 20s, and had grown up in strictly conservative, homeschooled, long skirt-wearing homes. Most of them had skipped college to become a missionary, though several of them were working on online courses while they were there.

    The biggest thing I noticed during our time over there is that, while most of them came over fresh out of that environment and pretty devoted to it, the longer they were in Taiwan, interacting with other Christians, teaching in (gasp!) public schools, and living on their own, the more they started to realize that ATI wasn’t the gospel truth. Several of the girls started wearing pants. Most of them admitted that many of Bill Gothard’s standards were extra-biblical. They all listened to contemporary worship artists and read popular books.

    The vast majority of the world wouldn’t have even noticed the “rebellion” – they were still devoted followers of Christ, and lived up to some kind of moral standard – but they started thinking for themselves and making their own decisions about what they believed. It was truly refreshing to watch.

    These missionaries became our dear friends during our time there, and we were so thankful to have them around. I don’t agree with or support most of what Bill Gothard proclaims, but my experience with his “followers” has shown me that his teachings don’t necessarily create depressed, over works-centered people. They just have to make a conscious effort to think for themselves and measure whatever he says against the truth of the Bible. (But don’t we all have to do that?)

    • My sister Susanna was one of those teachers!! She was over there from 2007-2008 and then again for part of the summer in 2009.

  26. No direct experience with Bill Gothard myself, but I have a friend who, when she was first married, was very iffy on the subject of children, i.e. she wasn’t sure she wanted to have any. She and her husband attended one Bill Gothard seminar and she did a complete 180; from that moment on she was Full Quiver all the way — I think they ended up with 8 children (I don’t see her much anymore and somewhere along the way I’ve lost count). She gave up her job, lost her looks, and became completely focused on home, family, and church to the exclusion of anything else. Watching her change so completely and so suddenly turned me off to anything Bill Gothard — it was like he was some sort of Christian Svengali.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Several sites regarding male-supremacist domestic abuse (such as No Longer Quivering) cite Bill Gothard as the original Prime Mover cause for their abuse.

      “WOMAN, SUBMIT!”

      (Whenever I hear “she was Full Quiver all the way”, I think “Breeding Stock and nothing more.”)

    • cermak_rd says:

      “lost her looks” ?

      You know, those lepers weren’t the loviest things on Earth either….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I think CJ might be referring to the tendency for a woman to let go of her appearance once she gets married and feels she no longer has to look or act attractive because she already landed a husband.

        Or in this case, being told that keeping up your appearance was the Sin of Vanity and going one-eighty in the opposite direction. (The most extreme example in my church’s history of “deliberately losing her looks” was one St Rose of Lima, an 18th Century Peruvian nun who was so into what was then called “Mortification of the Flesh” that when told she was beautiful, tore her face with her fingernails until her skin was replaced by scar tissue. When complemented on her voice, she gargled lye to destroy her vocal cords and never spoke above a croak afterwards. Died in her twenties, probably helped along by such self-destructive behavior. The girl was messed up big-time. To this day, I don’t know whether she was Holy in spite of her self-destructiveness or whether her cult mistook her self-destructiveness for Holiness.)

  27. Bill Gothard’s influence is still fairly significant in the more conservative branches of the homeschooling movement, the ones who would identify with labels such as “Quiverfull” or “Biblical Patriarchy.” (See http://www.quiveringdaughters.com and undermuchgrace.blogspot.com for documentation and refutations.) The churches that follow his doctrine, at least in my experience and the ones I’ve heard about, are characterized by intense authoritarianism and legalism. I’ve talked with and informally counseled many people who have come out of these movements, and my best advice for the rest of us is: “Stay well clear. Major pitfalls ahead.”

    There is very little emphasis on grace as the basis for Christian doctrine. It’s all about following rules, submitting to authority. The former leads to legalism, the latter leads to authoritarianism. Neither has much to do with Christ.

    The phrase “biblical principles” is semantic sleight of hand for “This isn’t specifically taught in the Bible, but we’re going to treat it as though it is.” Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, eh?

    My dad (who’s from the generation when Gothard was more mainstream), now puts it this way: “For me to live is Christ, not principles.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …the ones who would identify with labels such as “Quiverfull” or “Biblical Patriarchy.”

      The ones of whom the original IMonk commented “A lot of things about (the Christian Courtship movement) would not be out of place in Medieval Islam”?

      • One could make a frighteningly good case for that. There’s the same legalistic veneration of the Book of Rules, severity toward women and children, isolationism, male headship as ultimate authority, and a really disturbing degree of implicit misogyny, among many other things. Nobody gets married without parental permission (“betrothal”), because women in particular have to have a “male covering” to approach God. (I wrote about that here.)

        One of the websites by a survivor actually goes by the name “Baptist Taliban Memoirs.

        Not all of this is necessarily Gothardism per se, but those who take the doctrines that far are generally quite fond of him.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          It’s long been my observation that when Christianity goes sour, it curdles into something with a strong resemblance to Islam.

          The guy over at Onward, Forward, Towards coined the term “Christlam” for this phenomenon.

  28. I did a BLP seminar through DVD series with my youth group at the end of High School. Got me all fired up, that’s for sure. Until, of course, he attacked my music. Take him with a grain of salt, I told myself. There are some things this guy teaches really well. And then there are others that he just plain makes up out of thin air, slaps a Jesus sticker on it and declares it to be biblical doctrine. Yikes! In most circles I find myself today he is a kind of antiquated poster boy for fundamentalism. My reaction was: A for enthusiasm, but too much iffy. The pastor of the church whose youth group held that conference decided it would be best if we never used his materials again. Can’t say I blame him, but I think there’s always going to be a Gothard out there. You cut of one head, another pietistic pontificator will be procured in its place. I’m not giving any names, though.

  29. Wellll… My roommate is a reader of iMonk and forwarded this lovely article to me – probably because it helped her understand me a bit more. 🙂

    I was raised in ATI, am the oldest of 7 children (not legalistically quiverfull, but my mom did have 4 miscarriages in addition to the 7 of us), and only in the past 1-2 years have I actually been permitted/encouraged to think/act for myself. It’s been a painful growing process. One of Gothard’s teaching that had a strong hold on my family until my “rebellion” began was that the place for an unmarried woman is under her father’s roof. I moved out less than a year ago (at the age of 26), and while I had my parents’ blessing, many of my siblings were quite upset.

    While my parents never took ATI/IBLP to the extremes that the parents of friends of mine did, the counseling I’ve gone through in the past year has helped me see where I’d been trained to replace Jesus with Bill Gothard in my life. Ick. ATI and IBLP breed pride (only those who look/act/think/speak the right way *really* know God’s will), insecurity (what if I never live up to “God’s” standard?! How can God love me if my navy skirt isn’t long enough and my white blouse isn’t modest enough?!), and an unquestioning submission to authority. Not quite what the Bible teaches, I think…

    My parents still use the ATI curriculum with my two siblings in school (homeschool, of course), and the majority of my siblings still argue that any music with a backbeat is inherently evil.

    It’s difficult to find a balance here. Looking back, I could argue that ATI/IBLP/Bill Gothard ruined my life (and the lives of some friends who are also in “recovery”). But my parents sincerely desired to raise a family that was honoring to the Lord, and they felt that ATI offered the most family-centered “way of life” to accomplish that goal. Would I do things differently? I hope so. Have I learned from ATI? Absolutely. Was it worth it? I don’t know.

    This much I do know – whether through or in spite of ATI/IBLP/Bill Gothard, the Lord is at work in my heart and continues to draw me closer to himself. My life isn’t working out according to my plan, but the surprises God has put in my path practically force me to believe He *really* does know what He’s doing, and He is indeed working it ALL out for good.

    Amen?!

    • Susanna, I think it is wondeful that you can move past that part of your upbringing without either 1) being angry or judgmental toward your parents, or 2) throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Being raised in ATI might have problems (and these should be recognized) but it probrably will be used by God in great ways in your life (that you may not see).

      That may sound trite; but as a pastor I deal all the time with people who have been scarred from parents who were evil, abusive, drunken, high, or who just didn’t care. If your parents made mistakes, at least they were motivated by love (from what you said).

    • Yes! Amen!

      My life is totally different, yet similar of sorts. I rebelled (still do, depending on who you ask. So, I don’t ask. ha ha). Fundamentalism, legalism, I figured I’d bail on God cuz I’d never be able to “stack up”. Plus my daddy, the preacher left the family after a scandalous love affair with a woman in the church had our lives in upheavel. Shhh, it’s a secret. Don’t talk about shameful things. Keep it inside where it can wreak total havoc on your insides. Ahhh much better.

      I believe, with all of my heart, that if it weren’t for the crazy story my family has, the legalistic church and school I attended and the decades of living the prodigal life, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be one of “those people” God forbid!

      God has used my f-ed up life to reveal Himself to me in a way completely opposite from whence I came. It has been hard, painful, confusing, strange and so, so very AWESOME!

      I’m glad for ya Susanna! Super, super glad!

      But by the grace of God go us……very cool!

      • Susanna,

        As Daniel wrote: “I deal all the time with people who have been scarred from parents who were evil, abusive, drunken, high, or who just didn’t care. If your parents made mistakes, at least they were motivated by love (from what you said).
        I was raised in an abusive home and I have often longed for parents that were motivated by God’s love. I am with Rebecca in believing that our stories are being written for our good even though we get bruised and banged up along the way. So, here is a yes to your Amen!? I’m glad for you also!

    • Shirley says:

      AMEN!!

  30. The more I think about it the more I remember: 2 lasting impressions–1) my dad started memorizing scripture, whole books, like the epistles…and that was a good thing, i helped him, so it’s in my brain, to some extent, also. the other thing is my older brother became extremely legalistic, and still is to this day.

  31. What do you get when you take someone who grew up being influenced by Gothard and later teach them Calvinism? Al Mohler and his followers

    • S.J. Gonzalez says:

      Oh God I hope not. I mean, I think Al Mohler is a good thinker but me and one of my pastors agreed on this: American Calvinism is not headed in a good direction. No, we prefer the Dutch. Warmer, more irenic in tone.

      Of course this means that Bill is alive in Mr. Piper, Mr. Driscoll, and all the other “New Calvinists”. If this is true, the legalism now has a worldview attached to it.

      (sigh)

      • Look at what all the new Calivinists say “God in his sovereignty has ordained pastors (men) to be the head of the local church, and husbands to be the head of the family” They just took old Gothard fundamentalists beliefs and added the word Sovereign.

        Somewhere along the way, American New Calvinists added the word Sovereign to everything and declared themselves Calvinists.

    • Kind of reminds me of lemurs sprinting to the edge of a cliff with the dedicated fundegelicals right behind them spouting off the latest teachings of John Piper, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, etc.. Man that cliff is coming up quikcly!! 😉

    • Not sure I agree. I don’t agree with everything said by the Calvinist crowd says, but they’re not Bill Gothard. Mark Driscoll had a fairly risque series on the Song of Songs in his church, and he’s cussed from the pulpit. Some of my Calvinist friends drink and smoke and they love MacArthur, Mohler and Piper.

      Not sure it’s the same thing, but maybe some similar characteristics.

  32. Our family never bought in, but as homeschoolers in the 1980s and 1990s, we were surrounded by these types. Eventually, the leaders of a group we sometimes attended decided to exert their Gothard-given authority to declare that you were either with them or you could jump off a bridge–well, we jumped off a bridge. Figuratively speaking, of course. Needless to say, it was a good decision.

    In hindsight, the only plus I see in Gothard’s favor is that he was so dogmatic and so forthright about his quote-unquote “principles” that it was easy to see it and call it for what it was. That kept him from ever having a terribly strong influence on me or my family. The effects of other, more subtle forms of legalism have been much more long-lasting.

  33. I was unfamilar with Bill Gothard. The only thing I remember is hearing an occasional update when I listened to KLOVE or when I headed into a Christian bookstore and after listening to some Dilerious, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc.. I saw a Gothard CD which I tried out. YUCK!!! Maybe after a 6 pack of Miller could I listen to it!! 😛

    • hahaha… you might be thinking of bill gaither. yeah, yuck. lol. 😉 bill gothard is not a singer. he’s an evangelist of sorts. (or… a false prophet, if we’re going to use biblical terminology.)

  34. My husband, who had wanted to go to IBYC as a teen but his family couldn’t swing it, didn’t know that Mr. Gothard was single. He pointed out that one of the big arguments against the Catholic priesthood was that single guys couldn’t give good advice to families since they had never been married. Yet here is a guy that is single telling families how to parent. Go figure.

  35. Nary ExPharisee says:

    If you look at several of the comments, you can see an undercurrent which I hate to admit – yeah, Gothard is an old, fun hating, white guy who appealed to the most ardent legalists you could imagine, with barely an understanding of “young people”. But, as with Christian Schooling, at the end of the day, we must with the greatest of begrudgement, kick the ground and say “your method is crap, you’re a blind squirrel that found a nut, or a dime store expert”, but…. I’m a better person for being subjected to it – and I really, really hate to say that. Somehow, it just should have all been much easier….

    • I’m a better person for being subjected to it

      I don’t think I can say that…which means
      1) I’m STILL in rebellion
      2) this stuff just wasn’t good (really biblical) for me

      granted, I don’t think you can put all of BG’s teaching in the same bottle; but he had a way of legalizing the best of things (thinking scripture memorization and meditation especially)

    • Interesting line of thought there Nary ExPharisee…..great name btw!

      As I finished reading with the line, “somehow it just should have all been much easier”, the thought that first came to my mind was all that Christ endured for our pitiful selves and the salvation and freedom that came through it all! I’m pretty sure that nothing worth a damn comes easy…….

      Just sayin’! (wink)

  36. I love it! I too went to Gothard’s circus events in 1976. The family who were instrumental in helping me find Christ loved this guy and paid for me to attend. They drove me to the event every night in Long Beach, CA. Wow, what a blast from the past.

    I’m thankful for my conversion experience at 17 no matter how bizarre it was! Praise be to God. Happy to be walking with Christ today and reading the Internet Monk blog.

    Jim

    • S.J. Gonzalez says:

      I’d like to think this proves how gracious our Lord is in using the most foolish things, though I wish He didn’t have to sometimes.

  37. I have known of two large homeschooling families who followed Mr. Gothard’s teachings with gusto.

    One of those families walked away from it. One of their sons, a friend of mine, converted to Catholicism.

    The other family did as well, but not until after many years of exposure, especially for their oldest children. Their oldest daughter remains a Christian, but the other 9 children have rebelled. The older, more grown up ones have really, really rebelled. Guess you could have seen it coming, but it can be painful to watch.

    I stay on friendly terms with them, but am not sure how to broach the subject of Christ or religion. I know they know, but I know they were hurt. They’re trying to sort everything out and it isn’t pretty. Not sure what I’m supposed to do about it except try to be there and be available.

  38. MatthewS says:

    My family bought in heavily to his home-schooling program, ATI. The high point for me was spending a semester in Moscow, Russia with the program.

    The promise was that if you have these standards and follow these rules and do these things your family will be blessed and your kids will all be amazing. False promises. The emphasis on submission to authority without any real recourse exacerbated any abusive tendencies our home already had. Our family is in a world of hurt and will never recover from the damage of Gothard’s legalistic, false teachings.

    God is using these painful experiences in my life. I have a passion for good theology and for helping people. I am pursuing an M.Div. Counseling degree now which lets me indulge both of those passions. A big error in Gothard’s system is an emphasis on performance as well as his unfortunate redefinition of grace. Thankfully, God’s grace outlives false religious systems.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The high point for me was spending a semester in Moscow, Russia with the program.

      I find that somehow appropriate. Wasn’t “submission to authority without any real recourse” and “abusive tendencies” typical of Russian history?

      “The Two Pillars of Russian Society: Autocracy and Serfdom.”
      — one of the Tsars?

  39. I was in Bill Gothard’s home school program for many years. I totally believed what he taught, even more so than my parents, who occasionally had reservations.

    Long story short, I got close enough to see who he really is. He does not keep any of the “principles” that he preaches. He claims to be under the authority of the board of directors, however, the by-laws state that he can never be fired. He literally answers to no one. Anyone who works for him who questions his opinion gets fired.

    He uses manipulation to convince the young people to adopt his “standards” for their life. After all, you want to please God, don’t you? You want to win people to Christ, don’t you? Then you need to follow all these rules. (He doesn’t word it that way, of course.)

    There are very few areas of a person’s life that he didn’t have rules for. Music, sex, dress, hair styles, college, food, free time, reading material, etc., etc., etc.

    What I am discovering is that when I am trying to be perfect, I can’t love God or others. I’m too busy focused on myself all the time. I’m too exhausted from trying to be sure I don’t break any rules. I try to control everything in my life and all relationships in my life because they all have to be perfect. Otherwise I won’t be pleasing to God and bad things will happen to me.

    I could say a lot more, but I’ll quit. If you want to understand Gothard’s true character, read A Matter of Basic Principles. I can verify a lot of what is in that book. And what I can’t personally verify is totally believable from other things that I have witnessed. If you want to understand the spiritual and emotional impact of trying to follow his teachings, go to http://www.quiveringdaughters.com and search for posts by Elizabeth Cook.

    I’m thankful to say that God is teaching me what His grace really is. I now know that He loves me unconditionally. That He is pleased with me because of what Jesus did for me. I don’t have to “measure up.” I can now focus on loving God and people.

    • I think in some ways you described how a lot of Christians operate. NOT all, but quite a few. Evangelical Protestantism is so loose that it lacks accountabiliy in many ways. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people who emphasize morality who conceal a problem or don’t practice what they are forcing upon others. It really becomes nasty when you enter in politics into the picture a.k.a Focus on Everyone’s Family (regardless of what they believe…) and then the legalistic push really becomes ugly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people who emphasize morality who conceal a problem…

        Like recovering alcoholic Billy Sunday preaching on Demon Rum.

        Like Rush Limbaugh, Number-One Fan of the War on Drugs while secretly battling an Oxycontin addiction.

        Like Ted Haggard preaching on the Sin of Sodomy before they caught him doing Meth with a male prostie.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          P.S. I don’t think the above are hypocrisy so much as desperate attempts to self-medicate and self-treat while keeping their own problem secret for various reasons — fear of rejection, investment in a public image, you name it.

          Like the joke about how psychiatrists & psychologists go into the field because they’re trying to self-treat their own craziness without anyone finding out.

  40. Two months ago, I wrote a full length article about growing up in Gothard’s homeschooling program. You can read it here: http://johndcornish.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/ati-ifb-childhood/

    In short, what everyone is saying about BG is true. He’s a liar, manipulator, and in effect, a heretic. But much worse is the effect of his teachings on children like myself who were raised believing he was the final authority on interpretation of scripture., and who now are untangling our psyche from the mess that he made of it.

    • Wow, JohnC, bitter much? 🙂 I’m sorry you believed Bill Gothard was the final authority on scripture. But that certainly isn’t his fault. When will we as Christians ever start taking personal responsibility for the decisions we make instead of looking for yet another person to blame for our own failures?

      • Classic BG supporter retort. Call a survivor bitter just because they are realizing that what was done to them is evil.

      • Actually, SarahM… Bill Gothard is the one who believes he is the final authority. I would like to encourage you to take an issue you disagree with him on and have a conversation with him about it. Then come back and let JohnC know who’s fault it is.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        doubleplusgood doubleplusduckspeak, comrade SarahM!

      • Apparently, you did NOT read my article. I address that issue specifically.

        • JohnC, I DID actually read your article. Which is why I posted what I did to begin with. I was never in BLP but had many friends at church who were. They all seemed to be attracted to one thing: a sinful desire to exalt themselves above other Christians. If BLP gave them a platform/set of standards to do that, then shame on BLP, but double shame on the people took those teachings and used them for evil. I have seen so many Christians who seek any group, experience, or teaching to try and somehow lift themselves above other Christians that I firmly believe it doesn’t matter what the organization is (BLP or otherwise), those people will find a way to exhibit their sinful pride. As for your article, I more or less thought it was a joke, until towards the end I realized you probably truly believe it. I could go on and on about how poorly written it was, how you throw around admitted gossip and hearsay as factual evidence, or how you mistakenly title the article your childhood in the “ATI/IFB world” even though by your own admission, you never once attended an IFB church. I also noticed from your blog you are studying to obtain a PHD. I can only hope that in your schooling you are a little more thorough and thoughtful in your work than you are on your blog.

          • Wow.

          • @SarahM,

            Not only was that a low blow, but it was also an inaccurate analysis of the article posted. I wonder if you read the wrong link. ???

            I grew up ATI *and* IFB and can attest to the fact that the supposed “hearsay” was spot on.

            You pointed out that “I was never in BLP but had many friends at church who were. They all seemed to be attracted to one thing: a sinful desire to exalt themselves above other Christians.” First of all, it is called *IBLP*. Second, if you were not “IN” IBLP, you might not have the proper grounds for this discussion. Third… the reason that IBLP attracts the type of people who exalt themselves above other Christians is that the basis of Gothard’s organization is just that… extraBiblical principles fabricated to draw oneself closer to God and above the rest of normal America (other Christians included).

            A 5 year-old who is subject to a cult for years cannot be blamed for a sudden realization in his young adulthood that he’s be lied to or brainwashed. Shame on you for your attitude against the victims of IBLP. You ought to be applauding this group of people for GROWING IN THE TRUTH rather than reprimanding them with your superior attitudes of “I’ve-Always-Known-Better”.

          • Hi Donna, sorry I wasn’t trying to offend. I was simply pointing out that people nowadays are always trying to find a way to be a victim of something, rather than place the responsibility where it lies – on the individuals. While I have not ever been a part of *IBLP* (thanks for correcting me!) as I said in earlier posts I have become very familiar with the teachings through others in my church. While I certainly don’t agree with a lot (or even most of the teaching), IBLP seems to simply espouse a more conservative lifestyle- something our culture wouldn’t be entirely harmed by. There are plenty of other organizations out there that have a more liberal/permissive view of Christianity, so while I don’t agree with IBLP’s views on a lot of stuff, I certainly don’t mind those who are more conservative. It provides balance.

            I have witnessed many of the types of horror stories you describe. And yes, taken to an extreme, anyone’s teachings can lead to all sorts of twisted lifestyles. I’m sorry for those who suffered through that. But your comments about IBLP being a cult seem to suggest that you think those in the program have an entirely different view of basic essential doctrines like Salvation- something I couldn’t bring myself to agree with in a million years. In my friends I did consistently witness a group of people who were trying to live life the best way they could to honor God. In some ways IBLP helped them with that, in other ways, IBLP (along with a HOST of other influences) hurt. What bothers me more is the extreme swing I see in believers coming from any organization. They leave an organization like IBLP because they feel like it is too judgmental or strict, but then turn around and exhibit the same (or worse) hatred and judgment towards IBLP That just doesn’t seem right. Where is the love of Christ?

          • Rather than a lack of love, it is a strong desire to do what we can to make sure others are educated before they fall into the same trap that some of us were forced into. Having the privilege of being a adult with eyes wide-opened is great for identifying false prophets. Not everyone has had that privilege. Hense, the “victim” terminology. And I personally would only use that word in past tense. Because of the choices I make today, I live in celebration of my relationship with Jesus Christ.
            I agree with you on the issue of conservative standards. If that’s all it was, I would have no problem with IBLP. But that is not the case. Those “standards” are taught as non-optional principles of life. Standards taught in God’s Word as the ladder to being closer to Him and closer to success.
            If there is more confusion about the damage that IBLP has done to countless children and families, you might like to check out my blog. I think if you click on my name, it will pull up for you. Feel free to message me from there for further conversation. =)
            God bless.

          • BrendaP says:

            Perhaps the adults who stumbled upon IBLP while searching for something to allow them to fill that need for an assertion of pride or wrongful controlling authority are “to blame” and should by all means take responsibility for their own actions. However, I do not believe the children of IBLP/ATI parents “made wrong choices” or posessed a “sinful desire to exalt themselves”. The children, unfortunately, had the doctrine of Gothard frced upon them. Many were rebuked, abused, and sent to “training centers” as rebels when they dared speak against Gothard to their parents. Some ran away, some endured silently waiting for their moment of escape, some (especially those that were very young when their parents joined) believed every word. I do not believe you can tell a 6 year old they have to take responsiblity for what their parents taught them or forced upon them.

            And not every adult who clung (or clings) to Gothard is a haughty soul sekaing permission to exault themselves. Many are simply young parents trying desperately to “get it right” with their kids. Sadly, Gothard leads them astray.

            While yes, we all naturally gravitate toward excuses to sin, Jesus puts extra responsilbity on those who lead others in the path of sin.

            Luke 17: 1,2
            Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

      • Yeah the Mormons say the same thing…and always push responsibility on the person. The theology system IS NEVER to blame. That’s one of the points that really angers me.

        • Shirley says:

          And sometimes, sinful as I am, I wish I could tie the millstone aroung Gothards neck, and spare other children and new Christians.

      • Gothard gets people while they are young, and they don’t always have an easy way of escape. And sometimes the ones you love are controlled and manipulated by Gothardism, and you try to endure it to “save” them and free them from their own mental bindings that Gothard has helped put on them and their ability to reason. It isn’t always easy to break free from things when you are told God, the supreme creator, has said this is how it is, and if you don’t do it, life is going to be hell for you and you are going to suffer so much, all because you didn’t just follow Gothardism. It is a vicious cycle. I went through it, endured it, for the love of a girl (is there any other good reason? 🙂 ). Of course, I didn’t get the girl, I couldn’t bow down to Gothard and her father–too independent for that. 🙂

  41. When i was in elementary school, my parents began observing the way society is driven. They saw the consequences of liberal ideology and permissive parenting (example: Dr. Spock) and how those things had effected the children of America. They saw in their own lives how they made wrong choices, resulting in dropping out of school and being forced to parent too early. (I was born when they were 16 and 17) And, In their desire for some clear answers to guarantee them success, they landed on Bill Gothard’s program. Well, due to some kind of hurts in her past… (possibly being forced to get married since she was pregnant with me –or maybe something hurtful prior to that???) …or, for whatever reason, my mom’s nature is harsh, controlling, and totalitarian. So when they discovered Bill Gothard’s program, it was a perfect fit for her. And Gothard had a list and a guarantee for success for everything. He saw what was opposite to normal society and built a doctrine around it. He twisted Scripture to fit these standards that gave thousands of people a promise that their children would turn out spotless. My parents bought into it all… hook, line, and sinker. At first glance, there should have been a few glaring problems and one was of his distorted teaching on authority and absolute control. But my mom ate it up b/c he validated her need for control. His child-discipline teachings are abusive. The books he endorses and teaches from on spanking tell the reader that where the Bible says “the rod is for the fools back” and “beat him… he will not die” so to be taken literally and to replace the word “fool” with “child”. (If you read it in context, you can see that MOST of the time, it is referring to a criminal of society. But this would defeat his agenda, so he won’t talk about that part.) and the book also says, “use a 3/4 –inch plumbing line on the naked back or legs, avoiding the head if at all possible…” and “if they are crying, then they are not repentant. But when they stop crying [translation: They lose their breath. I know this from experience.] then they are repentant.”
    That is one problem. I could go on and on. if you’d be interested in more, feel free to read through some of my blog, particulary: http://donna-theviewfrommywindow.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-stand-against-iblp-being-real.html.
    To make a super long story just a little shorter, my parents bought into Bill Gothard’s teachings, pulled us out of school, and homeschooled us in his cultic homeschool program (ATI). I missed out on getting a high school diploma and was forbidden to attend college. I even wanted to go to an unltra conservative Bible College and they refused to allow me to go. I went with the orgnaization on several missions trips and then served time at the Indianapolis Training Center. During my time a way from home, my eyes were open to the religious noose I’d been experiencing for so many years. I ended up meeting a man “on the outside” that scared my parents to death. We tried to do the courtship thing as they wished, but it turned into an absolute mess. At the age of 24, after physical threats and complete suffociation, (my mom asked me to commit to remain single for life and stay under their authority at home) a pastor in Indianapolis encouraged me to move out.
    Fast forwarding over the past 14 years… I am married with three gorgeous children and I’m experiencing freedom in Jesus and am learning that my Heavenly Father loves me and has only the best intentions for me.

  42. I only went to an Institute once, that in the mid-90’s and only because I wanted to be around my friend’s wife. I wonder what BG would have thought about that motivation? ;o)

    At the time I didn’t find anything to be disturbed about…it fit in just fine with the CofC legalism I’d been accustomed to. Looking back I recognize the reliance upon law keeping with little to no adoration of the Son Who is our perfection and holiness.

    T

  43. You all have missed the best parts of his teachings:
    – circumcision as a Christian duty
    – moral requirement of spouses to refrain from sex two weeks out of each month
    – white bread as a spiritual evil
    – “unmerited favor” dedinition of grace rejected and redefined as “the desire and power to do Gods will”, and the assertion that grace can be merited
    – moral failings being blamed on the past sins of parents
    – Dinah and Tamar being partly responsible for their rape
    – his teachings on scripture interpretation by means of “rhemas”
    – straight up judgmentalism being taught as “discernment”

    …and that is just off the top my head.

    • Wow. Didn’t know all that. Did he really teach that about grace?

      • His teaching on grace is what IMO fuels most all of his legalistic teachings. It turns the free gift and forgiveness of Christ into a matter of “higher standards”, right conduct and striving. Of course his incessant and continual twisting of Scripture doesn’t help either 🙂

      • Here was his stance till just a few years ago: http://www.y-group.us/billgotharddiscussion/grace.htm

      • Yes, he really does teach that about grace. More smoothly worded, though.

      • Gothard teaches that “In the Old Testament, those who found grace possessed qualities that MERITED God’s favor.” He uses Philippians 2:13 to explain his extra-biblical definition of grace as being “the desire and the power to do God’s will.” His teaching limited “grace” to the realm of sanctification while excluding justification. (God’s declaration of sinners being righteous in Christ.)

        I will never forget the first time I heard Mr. Gothard state that “unmerited favor” is a faulty definition of grace. As a teenager, I heard a song performed by a southern gospel group: “There’s no other word for His grace, but amazing. No other explanation will do. Unmerited favor, this song that I sing! There’s no other word for His grace but amazing!” and as I heard that song, I thought, “What misguided singers! They don’t know what grace really is.” How could I have been so naïve to allow a man to minimize my understanding of the definition of God’s grace?

        Bill Gothard’s first step in redefining grace was to look up the New Testament word “graciousness” which is abbreviated as “charis” in the Greek language. “Charis” means, in part (the part that Bill utilizes) “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude, joy, and liberty.”

        He used this partial definition of graciousness to define and apply every usage of the word grace in the Bible. Romans 11:6: “And if by grace, it is not of works, otherwise grace is no more of grace.”

        Gothard removes the emphasis on the unmerited gift of God and replaces it with an emphasis on one kind of gift from God and how we are to utilize this gift, earning His favor. In his “Definition of Grace”, he states that “the grace of comes by Jesus Christ is an active, dynamic, energy from God to carry out his will.”

        Yes, God in His grace gives is the power to carry out His will. But this cannot limit our understanding of the definition. This power is just one aspect. (Ephesians 2:8-9) This power is freely given by God. Never earned. As with his other teachings, Bill Gothard bends “grace”, leading people back to a set of rules, thus making his followers stuck in this self-defeating cycle: Get grace to keep the law in order to earn more grace to keep law so that you can earn more grace in order to keep from sin,…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      – white bread as a spiritual evil

      At which point, he has officially gone off the deep end. When you get a preacher who defines one kind of bread as “spiritual evil” and presumably another as Godly (TM), you’ve got a control freak on your hands.

      – moral failings being blamed on the past sins of parents

      Only partially true, in the sense that bad behavior tends to be passed down from generation to generation as each generation raises the one after it and makes mistakes in the process.

      – Dinah and Tamar being partly responsible for their rape

      I can see why Gothard became the Patron Saint of Godly Male Supremacists. Speaking as a guy, if the Woman is Responsible for Being Raped, then I Can’t Be responsible for raping her! (Ask women expats from X-Treme Shari’a about this one — Win-Win situation for the males, Lose-Lose for the females.)

      • With regards to generational sins, Gothard takes it way beyond that in that he teaches it’s just as true for adopted children. So to him it’s independent of how a child is raised. Additionally he teaches that people need to pray for freedom from generational sins or else they will be continually plagued by them.

        As to Dinah and Tamar, men are still held responsible but Gothard teaches that the women in these stories got into the situation through lack of discernment or foolish choices. After Tamar should have suspected something was up if she was discerning and should have cried out once it began. And Dinah should have never gone into town in the first place since she was motivated by a foolish desire. So G doesn’t relieve the man of responsibility but he does see fit to put some of the blame on the woman.

      • The white bread thing is definitely command-and-control. I know churches where if the pastor feels like preaching against cheese burritos, you’ll never see a congregant in Taco Bell again. The Sunday AM/PM – Wed night people will obey unquestioningly, and the hypocrites will pretend but sneak to another town to eat their burritos. Everybody wins, everybody loses. Its all so predictable.

        • I haven’t seen or found a church that isn’t like that. I don’t go, as I don’t want someone trying to control me anymore, or telling me what to believe, and teaching me things that defy reason and contradict their own prophets and their teachings. There are more important things in this world than stamping out rock music or white bread. Things like how we treat our fellow man. And these days, churches miss that boat more often then not.

    • Some more to add:
      – parental authority in choosing their childs mate regrdless of the age of the child, up to and including arranged marriages
      – college is evil and one can get hired on good character alone

      • Wow….he and Mullah Omar of the Taliban would share a lot in common.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’ve always wondered why they’re drinking theirs watered down when they could get it straight on the rocks by saying the Shahada and joining the Taliban.

          Somebody coined the term “Christlam” to describe this, and I have posted that when Christianity goes sour, it curdles into something closely resembling Islam.

          • So what’s the next step? Christian suicide bombers? Public executions of sceintists teaching evolution that will be posted on the internet? Is that what it measn to “put on the armor of God?” (as Ephesians says?

      • I personally experienced a family, with a wonderful daughter who was over 18, that followed the Gothard courtship rules and parental permission rules and such, and I can only say it was a cruel nightmare that involved sick tests by the father, lies, pain, suffering, and lots and lots of heartache. It wasn’t a good system and basically put the boy (me) at the whims of the girl’s father. Of course the girl went along with it, and me being young and wishing to respect their religion (and yes, I did attend some of the seminars, which I did not sit through thinking how great they were–I disagreed lots with the guy), I didn’t rock the boat. And I didn’t get the girl either. And the pain of that experience, the manipulation and lying and legalism scarred me for many, many years afterward. It is best that it didn’t work out, as I would never have been happy worshiping Gothard as so many followers do. I still remember the father telling me to T-shirts with writing on them, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t eat this. I remember him judging me based on the radio station I listened to (he would get in my car and turn on the radio to see what the last station was). I remember him trying to physically hurt me to see if I would curse (I didn’t). I remember him doing everything he could to keep me physically apart from the girl to make sure we didn’t get too attached. I remember him hiding a flippin innocent birthday card I had asked him to give her. Just lots of ridiculous stuff. She was worth it I thought, but in the end I had nothing but lots and lots of pain, and lots of unanswered questions and lies from the father–so I never knew what the truth was about anything. But that was over a decade ago, and I’ve grown lots. I’ve seen how so many use religion, intentionally or not, to control others or for their own personal gain and power. I’ve seen how so many claim to be followers of X religion, and instead to be complete hypocrites and not really grasp what their religion really wanted.

        Anyhow, lots of minds are poisoned out there and they don’t even know it, never having stopped to ask whether what they think they know about God and themselves and religion is really true, or just speculation and tradition–fear, ignorance, and superstition.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Anyhow, lots of minds are poisoned out there and they don’t even know it…

          A fish doesn’t know it’s wet.

        • I experienced that “turning on the radio to check the last station” thing. I also saw deacons go into people’s cars during church services to remove offensive material.

          • What was offensive Stuart? The New York Times or Washington Post on the car seat? Something by Mozart on the radio? A scholarly history that doesn’t look at the founding Fathers in a “Christian view?” Hopefully it’s not in the same league as Larry Flynt’s material. But for some fundagelicals I’m sure it is…..

    • Shirley says:

      Can you say”Satan at work”?

  44. average joe says:

    Bill enjoyed success mainly only in the 70’s. By the 80’s most of the attendees were repeats and a few new recruits. By the late 80’s and early 90’s Bill had been written off by almost all of conservative evangelical circles as a cult or just plain divisive. By the late 90’s and early 2000’s several of his pet projects (Indy Training Center, Alert Camps) were in trouble, either legal childcare abuse issues or in violation of state building codes. He still operates out of Oakbrook IL, but his influence is only within the small demographic of homeschooling ultra conservative fundamentalist Christians. Most evangelicals don’t even know who he is anymore. He probably is more recognized among State agencies for his building code violations now than his chalk talks or overhead projector.

  45. My wife and I were youth ministers in the late 90s and there were a couple of families in the church that were Gothardites and would not let their kids near us. Not because of how we did youth(which wasn’t always the best) but simply because Gothard said that youth groups were evil.

    I remember doing a ton of research at that time and being amazed at the whacked out things he taught. Stuff like :
    – Circumcision is required for Christians
    – Cabbage Patch dolls had demonic spirits
    – The “back beat” was evil because it had “voodoo” origins
    – Whole grain bread is more “spiritual” than white bread

    One of the most harmful things I think he taught was being separate from those who were not “likeminded”. I’ve heard tons of stories about church splits and family splits because Gothard’s way was THE way and you either join in or get the boot.

    If anyone is interested there is still an active group on Yahoo Groups – mostly made up of ex-Gothard people. Just search for “Gothard_discussion”.

  46. Grew up overseas where my parents were missionaries ina 97% muslim nation, so I missed the whole silly circus. Didn’t even get to view it from the sidelines. Wouldn’t trade growing up where I did for the world.

  47. I also grew up in the ATI Homeschooling program and I spent several months at the Moscow Training Center and a year at the Indianapolis Training Center, among my many years with the Institute. Bill Gothard’s redefining of “grace” is sadly true. “Grace” as defined by Bill Gothard, has become “The desire and power to DO God’s will” (emphasis on works), instead of a free gift of God, as historical Christianity has always defined grace. I finally left the Institute when my eyes were opened to how much Scripture was used and abused through both the teachings and actions of Bill Gothard. As I have grown in my faith since that time, I have had a chance to reflect on much of these teachings that I grew up with, and the more I reflect, the more convinced I am that (whether intentionally or unintentionally) Bill Gothard has strayed from the true Gospel and is now teaching a gospel that is not the Gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7). The apostle Paul addressed this exact scenario in the book of Galatians. Galatians was written for Believers who came to Christ through faith, but then fell into following a “gospel of works” for living out their spiritual life. This gospel of works is exactly what Bill Gothard teaches and expects of those who follow his teaching (especially in his homeschool program and in day-to-day life at the various training centers). Everything is laid out carefully in the rules. And if you don’t agree 100% with what Bill Gothard teaches, you are obviously rebellious (rebellion, as was always pointed out us, is as the sin of witchcraft, so you are siding with Satan) and you are promptly sent home. Period. No questioning of authority was allowed (especially questioning of Bill Gothard himself). Having grown up in the Institute’s “way of life” from my earliest memories until I was 19 years old, I can only say what I have experienced. The spiritual environment of the Institute is unscriptural at best, and emotionally, spiritually and mentally abusive at worst. I praise God that He brought me out of this and that He has shown me what a TRUE relationship with Him is like. It is a life of freedom and rejoicing in HIS perfect character, not my own.

    • I second the emotional and mental abuse. There are whole listservs set up that talk about the pain this man and his “leader followers” have wreaked upon mankind. Just makes you wonder what these people really are like inside–what sort of warping of their own ability to reason and love has occurred within them.

  48. Doesn’t sound like Gothard has an interest in pushing end-times theology (corect me if that’s not the case), but the comments here about his mania for control and idiosyncratic heresies are eeriliy remeniscent of a guy called Camping. Such are the inevitable results of our American free-market approach to Christianity?

    • GeorgeM says:

      I only heard him push end time guessing once, and that was to commend a book by Grant Jeffrey called *Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny*. Jeffrey’s biblical “research” includes numerology, and he buys into conspiracy theories. However, it wasn’t a major emphasis of his ministry; I was around Gothard and his ministry A LOT, and the only time he mentioned it was at a pastor’s seminar in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.

  49. Just reading through this brings out a few thoughts.

    1) Context is important: Gothard’s teachings arose during an extremely permissive era. Us baby-boomers were really messed up (and still are). Many of us were from the drug culture and needed straightening out. And sorry, the standard of mindlessly quoting scriptures and using the bible as a dictionary did not (and still does not) work. We needed to see principles of life that we could use for guidance. I think that this still stands. Some of the fundamentalist still try to use a dictionary approach to scripture.

    2) People change I never attended Basic Youth Conflicts, I know he did say radical things for a radical generation. From what I read here where Gothard went sounds sad. My picture of him is from 1977, and the ministry I was in was influenced by his teachings through Winkie Pratney. Many of the people I know got straightened out and are in leadership positions and still doing well in their spiritual lives over 30 years later.

    3) We all miss the boat All of us miss things in our belief systems. It is easy to pick apart Gothard after the fact. To me his views on Rock Music are a non-issue. Some of it is satanic, some of it is good. The battle was as much cultural as about truth.

    The real question is what about the good? As I read through the principles I see lots of good there, and in 1970s when the self was King it cut across our culture very much. It still does.

    In Christian history we have the Rule of benedict, an attempt at life principles, and again Cranmer with his attempt at discipleship through the Book of Common Prayer. In his own way, Gothard was trying to come to grips with living as a Christian in a cold-war, Vietnam, boomer generation. If what you have said is true here, it is just too bad what he developed into.

    • I think you’re spot on here.

    • Your points are well taken.

      However, ignore for now everyt strange sounding teaching listed (although I will mention that some of it has been around in one form or another from the early parts of his ministry), ignore it all and just take your Basic Seminar book, take each Scripture he cites there, read the passage in context and then compare it to what Gothard claims it teaches. By my estimation, in the Basic alone, 2/3 to 3/4 of the interpretations he gives are twists to some extent or other. And this is just the Basic. People tend not to notice this because a. the princies sound reasonable on the surface (G is an expert at giving a orthodox sounding lead in and summary to hus teachings) b. people have a tendency to hear what they think they will hear, esp if the lead in is attractive or reasonable sounding c. these combined with the fact that there is simply no time in the seminar to look closely at the supposed Scriptural suppoort for his teachings.

      So soley on his marked propensity to abuse Scripture (ignoring the weird and legalistic teachings that have come throughout the years) Gothards teachings are highly problematic, and have been from early on. And I would say that most of his legalism is a straight line extension of his original teachings, not an unfortunate deviation from them.

    • I think that you’re correct that Gothard was a product of the ’60s and 70’s. I believe that many churches were trying to cope with what they saw as rebellious youth. I believe that his solutions were an attempt to give many fundamentalist and evangelical churches perceived control amid what was seen as chaos. I believe that Gothard’s biggest mistake is that he taught control rather than love and grace. Like many during this time period, he was more interested in making sure that teens were “well behaved” than they actually had an encounter with Jesus.

      Too bad, the encounter wold have really changed teen’s lives.

  50. Further Thoughts:

    I lost contact with Gothard’s ministry in the 70’s. If what has been said is true, it is disappointing what he has morphed into. I am disappointed with what happened to others of the same era.

    The bigger question comes back to maybe one of the reasons the InternetMonk even exists: What is it about the Evangelical system that people can start out well and end up so far off track?

    It almost seems like individuals start out as very promising, maybe come up with very good biblical teaching but because of the general chaos in the church, have no covering or checks and balances. Over time they get a good following, a large budget, a swelled head. And then they go off track. It would not surprise me if we could cobble together a list of over 100 names.

    I wonder if part of it is because of our rejection of the great tradition, so we reinvent everything. What we reinvent actually is highly influenced by our culture, and we have no counterbalance.

    • Given the rise and fall of many evangelcal leaders and how some go astray…I like what Lord Acton says, which is usually attributed to politics but can be used here as well.

      “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…”

      I think many evangelcial leaders get enamored by seeing their name in print, like the public attention, and seek the affection from it. I think some people want meaning and to believe that their life had meaning, and amounted to something. As such they push, push and push, and they learn to bend rules and the fact that for many Christianity is a numbers game influences that feeling. Whether it be Bill Gothard, James Dobson, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, etc… I would suggest that is what happens with those who seek the spotlight. And while I disagree with John Piper, Mark Driscoll, etc.. I think eventually they can and might drift also. Just give it time, people change, and are shaped by life’s events.

      • Kind of reminds me of what a friend of mine said about the leader of the socialist party in Canada:

        Jack Layton’s problem is that he drinks his own bathwater

        Once a person gets enough power maybe at some basic level a person changes and in their own mind believes everything they say as infallible.