Welcome to Part 2 of my series on the Harmful Leadership of Bill Gothard. If you haven’t already make sure to check out the other posts in the series.
This week’s post gives a brief overview of Bill Gothard’s rise to leadership, the impact of his ministry, and the subsequent scandals that have led to his recent resignation in 2014.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to RecoveringGrace.org for their extensive collection of resources on Gothard, particularly in the timelines and personal testimonies they offer.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Bill Gothard, this post will give you insight into who he was and where he came from.
Next week, I will then focus on merging the leadership theories I went over last week with his history to reveal an analysis of how Bill Gothard not only utilized harmful leadership himself, but also how he built an entire ministry around teaching families and churches how to further perpetuate this harmful style of leadership over the course of forty years.
Bill Gothard began his forty years of organizational ministry as a young youth pastor, fresh out of Wheaton College a well-known conservative, Christian college in Wheaton, Illinois. He would later also obtain his Masters in Christian Education from there as well, followed by a Doctoral degree in Biblical Studies from the unaccredited Louisiana Baptist University. Bill Gothard’s ministry began as a youth ministry focused on college-age youth that he led alongside his brother called Campus Teams. Frustrated with his lack of sustainable impact on youth, Bill Gothard came to believe that to truly influence the character of young people, he needed to have influence on them in their homes and this meant impacting their parents. (Kirk, 1998, p. 5) Thus the organization shifted to focus to the entire family, changing its name to the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC) in 1974, and then again in 1989 to the organization name it still carries today Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). During the 1980s, IBYC would also branch out into the Christian education and curriculum field, by forming it’s homeschooling subsidiary Advanced Training Institute, which promoted Bill Gothard’s homeschooling curriculum. (Bradberry, 1992) (Wikipedia, 2014)
THE SCANDALS: 1980 and Beyond
In 2011, a whistleblower website named RecoveringGrace.org formed by individuals who had followed and served within Gothard’s vast organization, started for the purpose of questioning Gothard’s teachings on Scripture and leadership practices. It was also created as a space for members or ex-members to share their personal experiences safely. It accomplished this through allowing many of its writers and managers to remain anonymous and only reveal personal information if they wish to. This ultimately led to the site managers receiving stories of incidents and behaviors displayed by Gothard himself that were of a far more concerning nature than just the legalism of his teachings. As the stories continued to pour in, the site management team felt compelled to conduct research and gather documentation of what really happened. This process turned into a discovery no one would have previously imagined. Not only did they uncover and verify reports from over 30 women of personal experiences of sexual harassment and molestation by Gothard himself, but they also happened on another series of scandals that had previously challenged the organization in the early 1980s—a series of events that had been effectively squashed and covered up. (Questions From the Mailbag, 2014)
The first incriminating evidence Recovering Grace (RG) discovered were the reports of thirty-four women that they gathered, documented, fact checked, and cross-checked for patterns and similarities. In addition to making available a host of correspondence, witness accounts, and data on their website, RG now has made available eight detailed personal accounts from women who allege Bill Gothard groomed and sexually exploited them in some manner.
Most notable and reoccurring among the accounts are his fascination with controlling the victim’s physical appearance and his apparent foot fetish.
(Recovering Grace: Chronology of Ruth, Annette, Charlotte, Meg, Rachel, Lizzie, and Grace, 2014) (Bailey S. P., 2014)
It was not long after Recovering Grace posted these accounts that the IBLP Board of Director’s placed Gothard on an administrative leave of absence, which was followed by his resignation a week later. (Christianity Today, 2014) Since then, the board of directors have hired an interim President from within the organization and informed its members that an outside investigation of the alleged activities was being conducted. To this day no results have been released. What sadly seems to be the case is that many of the women who came forward with their accounts, now find themselves unable to pursue legal retribution due to speaking up too late, as for many a statute of limitations effect is already in place. For any women or families that this does not affect, there have been no reports of any lawsuits filed as of yet. (Questions From the Mailbag, 2014) (The Gothard Files: A Case for Disqualification, 2014)
If the information on Bill Gothard’s treatment of women were not alarming enough to uncover, RG in reality learned they had only happened upon a minefield.
They soon came across detailed evidence of a long history of destructive behaviors within the organization, and a perpetual tendency of Bill’s leadership to stonewall, silence, and cover them up. In addition to the extensive reporting and research RG associates undertook, they soon realized they were not the first whistleblowers to attempt holding Gothard and IBLP leadership accountable. In reality they just had a weapon at their disposal that the last group of whistleblowers did not—the Internet. (The Gothard Files: A Case for Disqualification, 2014)
In the early 1980s, staff within Gothard’s organization, then known as IBYC, began to question rumors of happenings and observations of inappropriate behavior in Steve Gothard, Bill Gothard’s brother. These questions led to a discovery process that revealed Steve Gothard was involved in several sexual affairs with multiple IBYC secretaries. Also discovered was that Bill Gothard knew about his brother’s behavior and had done nothing, even when approached for help by multiple women victimized by his brother. It was at this point that Steve Gothard was removed from the organization and that Bill stepped down as President of the organization – for all of one week.
When he returned, numerous employees would be fired; questioning individuals would be ridiculed, alienated, and silenced; witnesses would be threatened into signing loyalty agreements; and lawsuit attempts would be squashed through the dual forces of fear and ridicule backed by organizational funds and legal support.
(The GOTHARD Files: Scandal Chronology, 1971–1981, 2014) (Minnery, 1981) (Poll, 2003)
Perhaps the only thing Gothard and his loyal followers forgot during this masterful cover-up was that records can be kept and reappear—even thirty years later. Sadly still, there would be an entire generation caught in betwixt the two that would eventually suffer again what the first generation whistleblowers failed to prove.
Bailey, S. P. (2014, March 7). Conservative Leader Bill Gothard Resigns Following Abuse Allegations. The Washington Post , 2015 (April), p. 29. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/conservative-leader-bill-gothard-resigns-following-abuse-allegations/2014/03/07/0381aa94-a624-11e3-b865-38b254d92063_story.html.
Bendroth, M. L. (1999). Fundamentalism and the Family: Gender, Culture, and the American Pro-Family Movement. Journal of Women’s History , 10 (4), 35-54.
Bradberry, A. (1992, December 29). Minister’s Kingdom Not Without Foes. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-12-29/news/9204280369_1_institute-single-family-homes-buildings.
Christianity Today. (2014, May). News Gleanings: Bill Gothard Resigns Amid Harrassment Investigation. Christianity Today , pp. 16-17.
GuideStar. (2015). GuideStar: Institute in Basic Life Principles. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from GuideStar : http://www.guidestar.org/organizations/36-6108515/institute-basic-life-principles.aspx
Jones, S. R. (2015, April 29). The Brilliance of Bill Gothard. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2015/04/the-brilliance-of-bill-gothard/#more
Kirk, D. (1998). A Call For Discernment: A Closer Look at the Teachings of Bill Gothard. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from Recovering Grace: PDF Files: http://storage.cloversites.com/calvarybiblechurch/documents/Gothard_Paper_02.pdf
Knowles, F. (2014, April 9). Leader of Oak Brook Religious Group Reigns Amid Sex Harassment Allegations. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/?p=193111, Ed.) Sun Times .
Menzie, N. (2014, April 18). Bill Gothard Denies ‘Sexual Intent’ in Hugs, Foot Contact With Young Ladies in Statement Following Resignation. The Christian Post. Retrieved from: http://www.christianpost.com/news/bill-gothard-denies-sexual-intent-in-hugs-foot-contact-with-young-ladies-in-statement-following-resignation-118207/.
Minnery, T. (1981, February 6). Gothard’s Staffers Ask Hard Questions and Press For Reforms in Institute. Christianity Today. Retrieved from: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/media/Gothard-Staffers-Ask-Hard-Questions-and-Press-for-Reforms-Christianity-Today-Feb-16-1981.pdf
Poll, R. (2003, March). Exegeting Bill Gothard. Christianity Today , 77-78.
Recovering Grace. (2014, February 18). Gothard’s Process: Invite, Idealize, Isolate, Transgress, Rewrite. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/gothards-process/
Recovering Grace. (2014, February 19). Questions From the Mailbag. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/questions-from-the-mailbag/
Recovering Grace. (2014, February 18). Recovering Grace: Chronology of Ruth, Annette, Charlotte, Meg, Rachel, Lizzie, and Grace. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/chronology-of-favorites/
Recovering Grace. (2014, February 15). Silencing the Lambs: Listening to an Evil Report. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/silencing-the-lambs/
Recovering Grace. (2014, February 3). The Gothard Files: A Case for Disqualification. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/gothardfiles/
Recovering Grace. (2014, February 21). The GOTHARD Files: Scandal Chronology, 1971–1981. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from Recovering Grace: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/scandal-chronology/
Time Magazine. (1974, March 1974). Obey Thy Husband. Time .
Wikipedia. (2014, December 31). Wikipedia: Bill Gothard. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gothard
As always please feel free to leave questions or comments below! If you experienced anything with ATI or learning from Bill Gothard and would like to share your story, please feel free to!
Until next week,