November 26, 2020

When “Christian” Teaching Enables Abuse of Power

Gothard teachingAs Bill Gothard comes under increasing scrutiny for his personal behavior, some are beginning to talk about how his teachings enable and encourage such behavior. Case in point: Wade Burleson has written an excellent piece called, “Bill Gothard: His Umbrella of Protection Teaching Provides an Umbrage for Perverted Behavior.

Burleson has been a strong voice warning the church that “the major problem with American evangelicalism is an infatuation with spiritual authority.” I encourage you to read Wade’s blog for his incisive perspectives and critiques. You can find it in our blogroll for regular access.

Back to Gothard, Burleson, who has a long personal and family history with Gothard and his organization, finds his teaching on the “umbrella of protection” the most worrisome of his teachings. He quotes Bill Gothard:

By honoring and submitting to all authorities in your life, you will receive the privileges of their protection, direction, and accountability. If you resist their instructions and move out from their jurisdictional care, you forfeit your place under their protection and face life’s challenges and temptations on your own.

Furthermore, Gothard teaches that this is rebellion, akin to witchcraft (1Sam 15:23), moves the person out from under the protection of the “umbrella” and leaves him or her exposed to Satan’s attacks. Burleson notes that Gothard takes this to the point where such a person is subject to God’s judgment. Wade Burleson comments:

I would propose to you that any Christian who constantly vocalizes his “authority” over you and demands your submission to him for “your umbrella of protection,” is actually a man who casts a large shadow in terms of his own perverted and immoral behavior. In other words, he who is most concerned that another person “obey” and “submit” to his authority is actually showing indicators of personal moral failure.

Then, after reviewing evidence of the personal moral failure that is now piling up against Bill Gothard at sites such as Recovering Grace and Redemption Pictures, Burleson observes:

How ironic. Those Gothard sought to keep in the shadow of his umbrella of authority are the very ones who have come out into the sunlight to expose his perversity.

I’ve been saying this more and more lately: with today’s media culture, churches and Christian organizations are not going to be able to hide their foolishness and abuses any longer. The people of the light, and especially those leaders who “shepherd” them from dark thrones will finally be subject to the light they claim to represent.


  1. This is what happens when you get a cult of personality and these guys and gals get big money and big heads.

    It’s absolutely no surprise.

    Of course, they all don’t fall…but enough of them do. And they make us all look bad to those looking in who are unable to differentiate between the charlatans and the average preacher at the church on the corner.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > who are unable to differentiate between the charlatans and the
      > average preacher at the church on the corner.

      This used to REALLY trouble me. It used to make me angry. I felt as if these kinds of guys were impugning my character for ‘believing the same thing’ yet being thugs and crooks.

      It doesn’t trouble me so much now that I am so far from evangelicalism. Because I look around … and nobody sees them. They barely matter. They survive by constructing a ghetto, and in doing so they are insulated from both within and without. Talking heads of one stream of vitriol or another may use them as talking points [but if they couldn’t find a real thug they’d just imagine one anyway], outside of serving as canon fodder for the chattering class these guys don’t exist.

      If I was to stand up at a restaurant and ask the room if anyone knew who “Bill Gothard”… I would be able to hear the crickets.

      I didn’t believe this until I reached where I am. But it is both sobering – and a relief – how tiny and unimportant the disgusting crap jockey spewing his swill at 2AM on some obscure channel actually is.

      Liberty university… almost no one I know even knows what that is. Is that one of those online colleges?

      Those who do know came out of evangelicalism. They would just roll their eyes and move on the next thing.

      • There is something to what Adam is saying. I’ve always been in an evangelical church, and even I had never heard of this guy until I heard him mentioned on this site. I doubt many outside of evangelical churches know who he is.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          I am not and never have been an Evangelical, but I try to be an informed outside observer. But there is so much to keep up with: Gothard was a vaguely familiar name, but i couldn’t have told you any substantive about him before reading this piece.

      • onehitwonder says

        Adam is right on. The church does not matter to anyone outside the four walls. The world is rushing by, busy with life and the church lurches slowly into irrelevance, answering questions no one is asking, living in a world of their own making, ignoring what is going on right outside the window and wondering why no one stops in on Sunday!

        • You all are pointing out something obvious: the world is made up of sub-cultures. Internet Monk has always had a limited focus: paying attention to things that are happening in the world of Christianity, and most particularly in U.S. evangelicalism. We are well aware that not everyone cares about this, but we do. On the other hand, I have no stake in a thousand other areas of interest that other people are passionate about. So what? I don’t designate them as unimportant or irrelevant in life simply because they don’t directly affect my world.

          • Gothardville may be a somewhat small ghetto, but I commend you , Chap Mike, for saying and doing something. Every bit helps, maybe we can do a thorough examination to find out how/why this ever happened in a community that has a very high view of scripture.

            It should be noted that Bill has a big voice in the home schooling movement, so even though the seminars have come and (mostly) gone, a lot of his clout is kind of underground.

          • Gothard has been hugely influential in many evangelical/charismatic circles for decades, and people have suffered greatly as a direct result of his “teaching.” (i.e., propaganda.)

            Thanks for posting about this, CM!

          • greg r – I hear you on “underground,” but once you stumble into it all, you find out how pervasive it really is. 🙁

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          This statement is too sweeping. These little ghettos are irrelevant to the outside world. Or the world at large. However you want to say it.

          “The Church” is not irrelevant.

          There are many church communities engaged in the world, doing tangible things, changing the communities they exist in and reaching out to others. It is just not these groups who, ultimately, must define themselves by separateness [of an ill variety]. Albeit this is can seem uncommon; but engaged living church communities certainly exist.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It doesn’t trouble me so much now that I am so far from evangelicalism. Because I look around … and nobody sees them. They barely matter.

        As in “Admirals in Rowboats”?

      • “If I was to stand up at a restaurant and ask the room if anyone knew who “Bill Gothard”… I would be able to hear the crickets.”

        Unfortunately, I don’t hear crickets when the name of Bill Gothard is mentioned. Back in 1980 he was hailed as a great teacher in my church where many religiously (pardon the pun) attended his seminars and paid good money for his “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts” material.

        At that time I did not disagree so much with his teachings on raising children (I do now), but his rigid “no way!” stance against divorce & remarriage under any circumstances and subsequent relegation of victims of divorce, or worse, those who remarried after divorce, to second class church status troubled me deeply, even back then. For the life of me I could not find any Scriptural basis for his teachings in this regard. Consequently, I relegated him, IMO, to the status of “persona non grata.”

        Still, it saddens me to read that he is now embroiled in scandal. This is yet another black eye on Christianity and another breach in the walls of the Church for the enemies of our faith.

        Jesus Wept.

        • Fr. Isaac (or possibly Obed, but definitely not Fr. Obed) says

          When I was a teenager, the church my family attended was big on IBYC. We didn’t buy into it because the kids of those families were way too “stepford” for us. For example, one family wouldn’t let their daughters come over to play with my sister because my brother and I wore our hair long and listened to Christian metal.

        • Calvin, I can’t help being somewhat troubled that you are saddened by the scandal. If Christ were to shed tears in this situation, I believe it would be for those whom Gothard victimized.

          • Forgive me for not being more clear. I am not saddened for Gothard so much as I am saddened for the Church, which, as I stated, receives a black eye anytime a Jim Baker, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Gothard, et al., do something horrendous.

            These guys may me straying sheep or wolves in sheep’s clothing; I will let God sort that out. Regardless, we all suffer the consequences of their sins.

          • You know what? The kind of church that protects these guys deserves a black eye, imo.

          • Numo, again forgive me for my lack of clarity of expression. I am not referring to a local church which, as you stated, should assume responsibility for allowing these guys to do their dastardly deeds. Rather, I am referring to the Church (note my use of an uppercase “C” here as previously) by which I mean all Christians in all traditions. We all suffer shame when these things take place. And just as Ezra identified himself with the sins of the people even though he himself had not participated with them in such, we ourselves escape committing such evil by the grace of God alone, not because we are any better than the Gothards of this world.

          • I am not much concerned about xtians being shamed, but I *am* concerned that people are for those who have been abused, and also that we all work to expose this kind of evil. It is fed by a conspiracy of silence, by good old boy-nees, and, imo, by concern about being shamed and humiliated. Christ died for the least of these, for the bruised reeds. We are all that, but those who have been abused are particularly vulnerable. I think thatifJesus is weeping, it has nothing to do with reputation and everything to do with the way so many of us ignore or minimize the suffering of those who have been abused/are being abused.

            Further, it seems to me that Jesus did not care about reputation. It seems to be a moot point in his parables, the one about the Samaritan who rescued the man left for dead after some very religious people had walked past him and not even bothered to lift a finger to help him – were indifferent to whether he lived or died.

          • Numo, I don’t disagree with anything you said. Certainly the greater concerned is for the abused and ensuring that the abuse stops and that the perpetrators are outed, both by being identified and removed from office, and if applicable, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I’m not minimizing any of this. This much has been addressed in this post several times already.

            Still, if the Church is to be viewed in a bad way, then let that be the case because we’re being good Christians, just as our Lord told us that the world will hate us because it hated Him first. I am troubled, however, that we are in viewed disgracefully because we keep having our “Gothard moments” in which we act worse than what the even the world deems acceptable. And that is an impediment to the gospel. And if the gospel is impeded (not that that will ever happen totally as the Church will be triumphant in the end) then the world will go through worse times than it is going through now.

            Please understand my statements in the context in which I am writing.

          • Calvin, I do get what you’re saying, but truthfully, there have *always* been “Gothard moments,” because the institutional church is made up of human beings. And some humans choose to get themselves into jobs/positions where the can more easily abuse others, be it financially, sexually, emotionally – just about anything you could name.

            Yes, I agree that it is painful when our hypocrisy and evils are seen by everyone, out in the clear light of day. But God isn’t exactly unaware, and I don’t believe that Christ’s love and gospel are limited to or by those who are in the institutional church. Hypocrisy will be around for as long as humanity endures. So will evil, both small and great. But I’m not at all certain that Jesus’ work and message is dependent on those who might, by processing his name, seemingly make him look bad. I think this is so to the Nth power when a cult figure (in more senses than one) like Gothard is caught doing such great harm – because Gothard’s entire program has been deeply harmful to who knows how many, and has pretty much nothing to do with Jesus or his message. That there was (so to speak) so much offstage abuse and evil isn’t surprising to me. But then, every single xtian group I was involved with for 30+ years was tainted by both Gothard’s ideas and the ultras controlling “discipleship movement” that was at its peak during the 70s-80s.

            I escaped that world almost by accident, and not in a way I would ever wish on anyone. (I was booted out.)

            My perspective is very much informed by my experiences in this, but also… God is God. We are not. I think we often confuse the two, you know?

          • Apologies for weird sentences, especially that bit about “processing his name.” Autocorrect really mangled that, and I don’t recall what I was actually attempting to say!

          • Sounds as though you’ve had some horrendous experiences. May God bless you and heal your soul.

            My personal experience with Gothard and his teachings go back some 35 years. As a divorced man I was told by several members of my congregation and my pastor that I could never remarry even though my ex wife was not a believer, had committed adultery, abandoned me (in spite of pleas for reconciliation on my part), filed for divorce, and married another man. Whereas I thought I had a clean-cut case for remarriage (e.g., Matthew 5.32, 19/9, 1 Corinthians 7.15), I was told that “Gothard taught” that remarriage after divorce was illegitimate regardless of the circumstances, and that if I remarried I and my new wife would be committing adultery and that our future function in the church would be limited to attendance only. I can’t think of the label he made up for this, but the implication was that I would never be able to hold any church office, not even leading any ministry, and not even if my ex wife died at some future point. Tell me, where’s the grace in that?

            With some decent hermeneutics I was able to change my pastor’s mind with regards Gothard’s errors as well as that of the lady I married 32 years ago, but we lived under the shadow of illegitimacy and adultery in the eyes of some for some time after that.

            Although I assume that my experience is not nearly as horrendous as yours or that of the children he is accused of molesting, I believe I do feel some small level of the pain brought on the Church by a hyper-legalistic tyrant .

          • Calvin – my experience was awful, but so was yours. I mean, I can’t even begin to compare, as I wasn’t in anything like the kind of circumstances you and your wife went through. I can’t begin to imagine how hard that has been for you both, and the rejection [shivers]. It all reminds me of the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, where he says all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Not that I agree with the first part, but he’s right about problems and suffering being both common and, at the same time, unique.)

            Thanks so much for your kind words plus prayers – I will pray for you and your wife and family, too. (Btw, I can so relate to the kind of emotional meat grinder plus rejection that they put you through, albeit for different reasons.)

            Also wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying our convos here on iMonk. You make me think, and provide a different perspective plus compassion. Wish we could all have a big cookout someday! I bet a lot of differences would recede over good food, drink and just plain hanging out and laughing together.

          • Thank you for the kind words,. Numo. See you in another post, for sure, and perhaps a cookout, if not in this life then for sure in Glory Land. God bless.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Actual statements instead of a spiritual-sounding sermonette…

      Are you sure you’re the same Steve Martin who usually comments here?

  2. This Sunday, the adult Sunday school class I help facilitate looked at a couple of verses which can potentially be used/abused by church leaders to “control” their congregation.

    Hebrews 13:7 – “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
    Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

    I suggested to the class that if you look at the WHOLE of those two verses together, there’s an underlying assumption that allows some discernment on the part of a congregant. First, a leader who is asking us to obey and submit to them must be one who speaks the word of God. Second, the results of their conduct must be considered and deemed worth imitating. Third, they must be true shepherds – keeping watch over our souls! – and accountable. Fourth, they should be joyful in their leading, joyful in their looking out for us! In other words, for us to obey and submit to our leaders, our leaders must be outward in their love of God, love of others, and love of us personally! Any leader who suggests someone obey and submit to them without outward demonstration of these things is just a control-freak trying to get his/her way, and I think these two verses offer plenty to depth for a congregant to discern whether to call “foul”.

    • These are some of the very same verses that Prof. Radmacher (Western Seminary, if I remember right) leaned on to “sound the alarm” back in 1983. It was tough sledding: read Recovering Grace article “1983 Transcript”

      Gothardites typically cannot approach, or will not approach, scripture the way you did above. That’s a problem all by itself.

  3. These leaders who demand submission from spouses and followers create subordinates they can disrespect and therefore abuse. A man who treats his wife like a slave feels justified in physically and emotionally abusing if not also committing adultery against, because he has devalued that person to the point where faithfulness and respect are undeserved. Abusive pastors do the same to their congregations and staff – breaking wills through violent threats and insulting language.

    Jesus taught a very different model of leadership, which leads by example and shows strength through emptiness, humility and being a servant – even washing his disciple’s feet.

    To paraphrase something a friend posted on facebook recently, only a real man can love a strong woman. The same is true of pastors: to find a good pastor, look for a church where staff and congregation are encouraged to lead, where church leadership builds up rather than using condescending speech.

    • It is very similar to bullying: make oneself feel better by devaluing another person, rather than improving oneself. Gathard institutionalized bullying, and made a lot of money at the same time.

      Conservatives have too much of a “boys will be boys” mentality when it comes to bullying and sexual harassment. That is not the pathway to manhood. Perhaps conservatives are content with raising boys rather than men. Their idols sure look more like Peter Pan than true men.

      • Jesus set the path for manhood: “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me”.

      • How about “adulthood”? Because that seems to be the real issue, doesn’t it?

        • True. The ones preaching most furiously about “family” have a perverse understanding of adulthood.

          • I think they don’t understand it at all, as they leave emotional maturity out of the equation. That’s bad for everyone, men and women alike, though I think women are set up for abuse by their spouses via this truly perverse “teaching.” Kids, too, are left vulnerable.

  4. Neutron Star says

    For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

    Too many tin-plated popes, with nobody above them to whom they are accountable. Yet somehow, I don’t think the answer is more leveling and congregationalism.

    I remember back in my charismatic days I attended the Basic Youth Conflicts seminar with the Man himself. I remember thinking “these guys don’t have the Holy Ghost. At all.” It was the only Christian organization I had ever participated in of which I felt I could say that. The Rules had entirely replaced our Lord the Spirit.

    Crazy. It’s like a carnival-mirror reflection of the monastic virtue of obedience.

    • Too many tin-plated popes” — true enough. And the Pope himself has a confessor, but these men answer to on one.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Ultimately there is always someone, or somebodies, who are at the top; for whom there is no true monitor. This is unavoidable. So choose them wisely.

        “Who monitors the monitors? Or the monitors monitors?”

      • +1

        …and the Pope does not appoint himself!

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > those leaders who “shepherd” them from dark thrones will finally be
    > subject to the light they claim to represent

    Nah, this is wishful thinking. (a) nobody cares about these guys, pays them any attention, or even is aware they exist – except the norther borders of the ‘wilderness’ and the people they are exploiting (b) the people they are exploiting are sufficiently ghettoized that they either are disconnected from or distrust other authorities.

    Social media makes fracturing a society into ghettos easier, not harder. Everyone’s information channel is dialed into exactly what they want to hear from only the sources they choose. Their internet search results are tweaked to match their previous searches. If they happen upon another channel it will likely be a shrill and strident voice – reinforcing the notion they should stay in their own channel – it is a cruel world filled with “enemies”.

    Every grubby little king on his dark throne is rubbing his gnarled hands together in delight – this is a land in which they will prosper, a people over which they can reign.

    • Adam, I hear what you are saying, but don’t miss Burleson’s bigger point. He’s not just writing about Gothard. When he says, ““the major problem with American evangelicalism is an infatuation with spiritual authority,” he’s writing about churches in every community across the land. That’s not a small ghetto.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        No, it is not a small ghetto. It is a constellation of ghettos.

      • Radagast says

        Admittedly, in Catholic circles we do not come across Gothard or those like him. But that’s another reason why I come here, to be alerted to this. I have known some in ecumenical prayer groups who follow teachings like this. At least I can be aware of what is orthodox and what is spiritual abuse. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our own personalities this side of the Tiber, but because the Bishop of the diocese has the final say on what goes on in said diocese these guys are weeded out or at least made irrelevant by the Church in whole….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Every grubby little king on his dark throne is rubbing his gnarled hands together in delight – this is a land in which they will prosper, a people over which they can reign.

      And play the Game of Thrones with all the other grubby little kings and their dark lands.

    • Adam, don’t misunderestimate the reach of these kinds of charlatans. I grew up in a Baptist youth group that made ample use of his materials. His reach is strong and far, with untold numbers of people who have sat under his teaching. While people with absolutely no influence of religion in their life may have remained outside his circles of influence, that does not minimize the kind of damage he does. He has hurt many people within Evangelicalism and driven many from it. For those who remain, to the extent that he maintains a devoted following, he is also impacting the face of Evangelicalism in a way that keeps many others out.

      And, on social media, many atheists and skeptics take great delight in publishing this kind of story. A restaurant is too small a sample size for people to know many a genuine celebrity, so just because Gothard is not a household name doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous to people’s emotional, spiritual, and psychological health, and it doesn’t mean he’s not bringing the name of Christ into ill repute. We can hope that his influence is minimal, but as somebody who has been up close to it and stepped away, I highly doubt it. I’ve found his materials in my own church (LCMS!) library. This guy has reach.

      • Migule – amen to everything you said in this comment. I’m not surprised that you came across some of his junk in your church’s library, either. His “teaching” is everywhere – unfortunately.

      • I’ll second this. His material has gone far and wide. And many in my conservative Mennonite background went to his seminars. My growing up church was heavily influenced…and it played a role in many hurts I believe…many were relatively unscathed but many families/teenagers etc ran aground, and looking back I wonder how much gothard’s influence played a role in the shipwrecks…

        • Special Mennonites that got special ‘beard dispensations’ no doubt…(Bill was anti-facial hair); how weird

          • You’re thinking of the Amish, not the Mennonites per se. I don’t recall seeing bearded Mennonite men back in the day, a few teenagers excepted. And they were just trying to be hip.

  6. At 43 the illustration I saw Bill Gothard point to when I was 13 is still seared in my mind. It was an enormous umbrella with “God” labeled on it and drips coming off either side, under it was another umbrella labeled “husband” with it’s corresponding drips, and finally one labeled “wife” with it’s drips – under it was something about children. When they put it up they pointed out the verse about rebellion. I was terrified.

    Anything you did that was in your own conscience was rebellion. God told Dad. Dad told Mom. Mom told us. If Dad had to tell us that meant we weren’t under Mom’s protective umbrella and were rebelling. I struggled with huge levels of guilt about all my rebelling.

    PS. It looks like they’ve updated the illustration – but here

    • If the umbrellas were successively smaller, how did dad and mom have drips? If the umbrellas were successively larger, God must be really weak and maybe cruel. I don’t get this illustration.

      • I know! In the cold light of 40, it makes no sense. But they could scare the snot out of you with their proof texting.

        Check out the new one – Satan somehow is under God’s umbrella – and dripping everywhere.

  7. It all sounds a little silly; how can people just accept this kind of “teaching?” Common sense is important.

    • Hanni, I agree, but “common sense” doesn’t seem to be too common. It seems like it’s becoming less common with the combination of more people searching for some meaning and someone on Facebook willing to provide their version. Pray for common sense!

    • Hanni, I don’t know how old you are, but I remember a time in the 1970’s when tens of thousands of people were flocking to Gothard’s seminars nearly every week in major cities across the country. It was a phenomenon. The movement went somewhat “underground” later, focusing on homeschooling, and in every church I’ve been part of there have been people who were either disciples of Gothard or influenced by his teaching.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        For a while in Christianese media and subculture, Gothard WAS the Fourth Person of the Trinity du jour, superseding the other Three.

      • And it went “underground” in the wake of massive sexual scandal (mostly around Bill’s brother Steve) in 1980. But here’s the deal: Bill stepped down for a grand total of 17 days ! yeah, you just can’t make this stuff up, and Bill reinvented his ministry with ATIA and the homeschool curriculum.

        How could this happen ?? One reason is evangelicals seem to have some kind of unspoken “hands off” rules reg. the other guys fiefdom. Blatant error in teaching, even about authority, raises not an eyebrow.

        The ONLY reasons this is now a big deal is 1) it has sex attached to it and 2)the internet now makes everything much harder to sweep under the rug Mostly #1.

      • this from the 1983 transcript:

        Rev.Hagenbaugh: People don’t care about hermeneutics, for the most part, even though in some way or another their theology comes out of their hermeneutic no matter how bad or good it may be.

        Dr. Radmacher: And their life comes out of their theology.

        Rev. Hagenbaugh: Their life comes out of their theology. The only way we think we can get the attention—see, we went to a pastors’ conference. We talked about hermeneutics. No response. One small word of immorality, and the whole place came unglued. We can’t—we’re not going to be able to get their attention with hermeneutics or with philosophy or what went on over that long period of time that you’re talking about. Somewhere along the way, we’re going to have to say to them, “Look, there is a pigpen, and Gothard was in it…

        I’d say: still true today: false teaching just doesn’t get too many people fussed up until the horny old toad comes out to play or….fill in the blank. If it isn’t salacious, most of us say “What’s the big deal…..”

        • Christiane says

          hard to imagine living in one of those patriarchal families as a young girl in this day and age . . . and then being thrown to a Gothard-like wolf . . .

          part of the way this worked was that the girls had been brought up to submit to authority, and the ‘great leader’ was not someone that they thought they could say ‘no’ to . . .

          all that ‘unassertiveness training’ of those girls served the predator in the end, and I really can’t believe that a lot of people weren’t aware of what was going on . . . I feel so sorry for the victims.
          You have to credit the teachings with a lot of responsibility for enabling this evil.

    • Hanni, we were all mesmerized by his “chalk talk”, plus he had the world’s most powerful overhead projector.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I remember a small-time preacher whose “chalk talk” PROVED from SCRIPTURE that Catholics worshipped Satan. His jumping-off point was that Greek had two words for “priest”, “Ekklesiastica” and “Presbyteros”; mix in Revelation’s mention of the “Nicolaitans” and a saturation barrage of proof-text Bible Bullets and PRESTO! Romish Papists Worship Satan! Beware the Jesuit hiding under your bed!

        Fridge logic applied; ten minutes after he finished, the emotional high faded and you realized it was all BS.

        The trick is to not let that high fade — keep up the high-pressure, the barrages of Bible Bullets, the peer pressure from the rest of the crowd (like chickens pecking the defective to death in the barnyard), and offer the lure of the Inner Ring, the only Real True Christians in history, the only ones who are Really Right With God (who will hand you over to Satan and Hell if you dare step outside). And always keep the pressure up, fast and furious.

        • Gothard’s chalk talk used an ultraviolet chalk. He would chalk some pastoral scene while speaking softly, and your mind would lull, like when watching Bob Ross paint on his PBS show. Then at the end of his talk, he’d flip on some ultraviolet lights, and voila – suddenly a cross pops out, right in the center of the scene, as if it had been there all along, but we just couldn’t see it except “in the right light”, so to speak.
          The 70s do not seem that long ago, but it’s amazing how easily we were impressed by such simple technologies.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “BEHOLD THE POWER OF RA!”
            And a static electric charge rips from the disguised electrostatic generator in the temple to the Egyptian high priest’s staff.

    • Because a lot of people crave an authoritative, neat, buttoned-down, sense of certainty about all things spiritual. It’s much easier than dealing with mystery, doubt, ambiguity, and the wandering journey of faith that most of us experience if we’re honest, never mind some dark night of the soul. They want answers, everything black and white, laid out neatly, and they’ll follow someone who does that and makes things sound credible even if it’s BS.

      Then, at some point, it becomes part of their identity, so they cling to it and defend it.

      This is a widespread phenomenon and it’s not limited to Gothard. Even with somewhat more mainstream fundamentalist types (John MacArthur and his followers come to mind).

  8. The problem is protestantism in general, the is no authority but individual conscience, unlike Catholics, they are unrestrained by ‘the church,’ and unlike Orthodox, they are unrestrained by 2000 years of holy tradition. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are the natural conclusion of the protestant reformation, they just took the fast track.

    Take a lesson from Max Weber’s sociological analysis of authority. Catholic and Orthodox have traditional authority, but of different variants. Some protestants shoot for rational authority, but most end up with charismatic leadership. I quote wikipedia (which quotes or paraphrases one of his biographies), charismatic authority “possesses the right to lead by virtue of magical powers, prophecies, heroism, etc. His followers respect his right to lead because of his unique qualities (his charisma), not because of any tradition or legal rules. Officials consist of those who have shown personal devotion to the ruler, and of those who possess their own charisma.” I.e. they lead grace a BS.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says


    • David Cornwell says

      Most mainline protestant churches have a type of traditional authority, though of a more divided nature than that found in Catholicism or Orthodoxy. I suppose you can label this as “rational.” Normally at the top there are some sorts of councils, synods, conferences etc. and the leadership is thus less authoritarian.

      The problem arises in standalone churches or small groups of churches. Many times these are formed around a charismatic pastor-leader-shepherd-boss. I have noticed that as some of these churches move along, eventually a conflict arises and a power struggle takes place. If a rebellious faction is powerful enough the pastor-leader-shepherd-boss will be gotten rid of, and in some cases his name, record, and story is expunged from the historical record. This is not always possible, because many times the originating pastor seems to have locked in legal controls, or something approaching that.

      I have never been to a Gothard seminar, but in the 1970’s he was quite well known, and people would flock to them.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The problem arises in standalone churches or small groups of churches. Many times these are formed around a charismatic pastor-leader-shepherd-boss. I have noticed that as some of these churches move along, eventually a conflict arises and a power struggle takes place.

        Many years ago, a Wiccan told me the reason Wiccan covens are limited to 13 is more than that number and factions form, resulting in a power struggle that ends up splitting the coven.

        I have never been to a Gothard seminar, but in the 1970?s he was quite well known, and people would flock to them.

        In the Seventies, Gothard was the Christianese Justin Beiber — THE big CELEBRITY, God’s Special Anointed. Even more so than James Dobson, he promised Perfect Biblical Families, Perfect Christianese Children, just Follow Me.

    • cermak_rd says

      Actually, the Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans have both Bishops to whom clergy are accountable and the Bishops are accountable to the Synod or other denominational authority which is usually at least partly elected from the membership of the church itself. I would imagine the Presbyterians are similar.

      • Fr. Isaac (or possibly Obed, but definitely not Fr. Obed) says

        As an Anglican priest, my oath of obedience to the bishop is to pay “true and canonical obedience . . . in all things lawful and honest. This sets some good limits on the bishop’s authority over his priests and deacons. And there have been times where some of my brother priests have had to stand up to bishops that want to use the oath of obedience to make the priest do something that is outside of this oath. I’m too young in the vocation to have had to have done this, myself, but it’s good to know where the limits are. I have, however, had to go against my bishop’s wishes once, and since it wasn’t something that could fall under the oath, he didn’t try to strong-arm me. Plus, that bishop is a good guy who wouldn’t do that in the first place.

    • Robert F says

      “The problem is protestantism in general, the is no authority but individual conscience, unlike Catholics, they are unrestrained by ‘the church,’ and unlike Orthodox, they are unrestrained by 2000 years of holy tradition. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are the natural conclusion of the protestant reformation, they just took the fast track.”

      You say this as if there were no deep-seated problems with the abuse of authority in the Church before the Reformation. That position relies on historical myopia. For an example of how such problems existed and continue to exist up to the present, look to the contemporary problem of the Roman Catholic Church avoiding “scandal,” and protecting its prestige, by covering up the abuses performed by its priests.

      • Robert, the grass is not greener on either side of that fence. Protestantism is equally guilty of suppressing scandal. The difference is that one Pope can get in there and clean things up a bit. With us, there is no authority beyond a popularity contest. Protestant ecclesial leadership can get away with whatever they like so long as they have fans. No matter what church body fires you, your groupies will follow you to whatever new body you adopt or form. Celebrity and brand loyalty are so much stronger than theological, traditional, or congregational loyalty among us.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Groupies or True Beliebers?

        • Robert F says

          Miguel, you said “The difference is that one Pope can get in there and clean things up a bit. With us, there is no authority beyond a popularity contest,” but the Pope does not control the Roman Catholic Church, there are factions with centuries old interests at play, and there are popularity contest, too, amid these factions. Even where a Pope is able to accomplish something significant, his successors may undo, and have undone, his work. I think you overestimate the power of Popes to change anything.

          • You did hear that Benedict defrocked some 400 dudes, right? Like I said – cleaning it up a bit. Yes, the Pope doesn’t control the church, but he has authority, and that authority doesn’t change with his approval ratings. I agree, though, that Popes can’t necessarily change much. But that is also a compliment to the Roman Catholic Church.

        • Robert F says

          And then, of course, there are those Popes who have gotten in there and made things a bit worse.

          • Even a bad pope has limitations. A bad Evangelical celebrity clearly does not. See, there’s this thing called “heresy.” The church of Rome may have plenty of err, but the circus of American religion can run circles around it while juggling idealogical trends, pandering to demographics, and playing footloose with a shell of orthodoxy.

          • Robert F says


            It’s exactly in the search for and prosecution of heresy that the Church exhibited, and exhibits, the most perverted and fiendish abuse of power and authority.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            i.e. “NO POPERY! NO POPERY! NO POPERY!”

        • Robert F says

          And, Miguel, I’m not trying to claim that Protestants have any kind of overall advantage when it comes to avoiding the abuse of spiritual authority; I’m saying that it may take different forms, but it’s no better or worse on either side of the fence.

        • Robert F says

          And, Miguel, do you honestly think there was less abuse of spiritual authority when the RCC was the only game in town, as it was in medieval Western Europe? If human nature was the same then as it is now, the abuse of spiritual authority must have been staggering in that ecclesial monopoly, even beyond the already ample testimony of history to that effect.

          • Robert F says

            Also remember that there were popular preachers in the Medieval church, who had followers and hangers-on and sycophants; these preacher/priests often operated far outside the effective control of Rome, even where that control might have been salutary, and were revered as practical gurus by many, though they often had the ethics of thugs. In addition, even celebrated and honored figures of that era sometimes exerted influence that amounted to spiritual abuse of authority in certain matters; for instance, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was instrumental, through his preaching, in supporting the Second Crusade, a terrible abuse of spiritual authority.

    • ” David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are the natural conclusion of the protestant reformation, they just took the fast track.”

      And what were the Crusades and the Medieval Inquisition, the slaughter of the Cathars and Waldensians, to name a few, the natural conclusion of?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Mystery Babylon Romish Popery?
        (because that’s where all your references have been heading…)

        • Robert F says

          Your analysis of my comments is completely off the mark, HUG. I’m only saying that all the problems surrounding the abuse of power and authority in the contemporary Christian world also existed aplenty in earlier Christendom, including the time before the Reformation. There have been good popes, there have been bad popes, both inside and outside of Roman Catholicism. I don’t approach the subject with the mindset or lexicon of someone obsessed by, or interested in, End Times scenarios, as you seem to.

    • And don’t forget the auto-da-fe’s…

  9. I am struck more and more as I read about this sad situation and other such controversies in evangelicalism – we have a huge problem with pragmatism ie, the end justifies the means…. it’s been around for decades now – from Gothard to Furtick and so many in between. For Gothard (and family), even if the original intentions were good, the means should have been suspect….(seminars making millions that benefited the few, authoritarianism, insularity, fear, etc) Why do we evangelicals think we can cut corners in our means and not pay for it and why is so little attention paid to the means? People seem so blind to this aspect… go read comments defending someone like Furtick…every single one of those is hyper-focused on the ‘end’ and gives very little regard for the means….

    • This. In Christianity i.e. following Jesus, the means are everything. But Lord we cast out demons and did mighty works in your name? Jesus replied, “Your means stink, you were working iniquity the whole time.” Whatever we do, if we don’t do it His way, in His manner and spirit, in His love and compassion; then the end is wood, hay, and stubble. No matter how good it seems to look, if the right means weren’t followed it will burn up like the chaff it is.

    • AZ: you have hit the proverbial 500ft. home run. There is absolutely no way to overestimate the role played by PRAGMATISM in all this. I’m convinced it was both Bill’s way “in” to his lofty role as the guy who knew how GOD wanted all of us to live AND it was the trump card that helped deflect honest, and truly biblical criticism. Bill got his huge audiences because “this stuff works….” and was able to rebuff the (occaisional) Prof. Radmachers with “what about the fruit…. it works….lives are changed …”

      On RG and other blogs, this is still the defense most often used to hold high the LORD’s anointed: this ministry has changed SO MANY lives….how can you question the work of GOD …etx. (that one, and “you have a problem with bitterness/unforgiveness/rock’n’roll)

      Once BIll was able to amass a certain # of positive testimonials, I think he was essentially bulletproof. Until the sexual stuff 1)started to add up to double digits of (alleged) victims 2)the internet got up and running.

  10. What continues to astound me, particularly after our blog work regarding Harvest Bible Chapel, is how this segment of the Church is usually rabidly anti-Catholic, yet within their own little fiefdom, they adopt a similar claim to authority that Rome does, while drying it to Rome. So very puzzling.

  11. My parents took me to IBYC in the mid 70’s. It ran over several weeknights and a full Saturday. It was arena filled with parents and teens, including a lot of pretty girls!, so I wasn’t automatically looking for the exits.
    Gothard opened with his “life verse”: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
    The first night was about self-image, and reminding us that we were all uniquely created by a loving God. There was lots of encouraging stuff for the teen mind. Another night was about forgiveness. Again, some really good things for families that fight a lot.
    Somewhere along the way, he started in with the umbrella of authority thing. Funny, I hadn’t heard that in scripture before. But, our parents are really happy he’s talking about how they’re in charge, and I don’t want God to oppose, me, so I’ll humbly accept it.
    Somewhere along the way, he started talking about music, and how God revealed to him that pop songs that finish with a “repeat and fade” are Satan’s way of deceiving us into thinking that there will be no “end times” in this world. That’s when the spell was broken for me, because it was so obviously extra-biblical.
    I went to my youth pastor that Sunday and told him my doubts. He agreed that the self-image and forgiveness stuff was good advice, but to forget the rest of what Gothard said, and just appreciate that my parents really wanted peace in our family, and to try to respect that, rather than buy into the whole seminar thing.
    My parents still bought some of the IBYC stuff, like the “Character Sketches” book of animals.
    A lot of other families in our church eventually got deeply into the whole IBYC thing, and I couldn’t relate to their kids anymore, except on the most superficial level.
    A few years later, Steve Taylor came out with his prophetic song called I Manipulate, and it was clear his seething lyrics were taking aim straight at types like Gothard (“Take your notebooks, turn with me / To the chapter on authority…”) I was very thankful for this song at the time – – I felt like I wasn’t the only one who thought something was deeply amiss.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I Manipulate
      by Steve Taylor

      “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,

      “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,

      “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…”

      • I had no Idea. Now I’m even more impressed with Steve Taylor.

      • James the Mad says

        From that line about the “umbrella of power,” near the end, I wonder if this wasn’t pointed right at Herr Gothard? Of course, he probably wasn’t the only one to use that illustration, but it certainly looks suspicious.

        • You combine that with the reference to the notebooks (the Red Notebook was standard issue to any IBYC attendee), and it’s hard to conclude otherwise. Still, I had seen people take Gothard’s approach and run even further with it than he did, so it’s possible he was referring to an entire segment of the Christian subculture.
          In the 70’s I recall Gothard’s as being somewhat soft-spoken in public, as compared to a stereotypical fire-and-brimstone preacher. You would not picture the goose-stepping third reich when you heard him speak (though perhaps some of his imitators were harder edged). That’s why it lasted as long as it did: you would not initially suspect anything sinister by the tone or mannerisms.
          Actually, it would be oddly more comforting to find out he was consciously 100% two-faced all these years, and not merely self-deluded and unaware as to the shortcomings of his theology and his personal character.
          Anyway, Steve Taylor’s harsh lyrics helped to shine a light on the underlying distortions of scripture that were present in some of that teaching.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You combine that with the reference to the notebooks (the Red Notebook was standard issue to any IBYC attendee), and it’s hard to conclude otherwise.

            The Little Red Notebook of Chariman Gothard?

          • HUG, I used to call it the Big Red Book, but my parents did not give any recognition to my passive-aggressive label. Oddly, IBYC was one of the ministries invited into post-soviet Russia by Yeltsin in an attempt to jump-start some sense of morality in the country.

        • As one who bought several of Taylor’s blue cassette tapes with my lawn-mowing money and seriously contemplated liberating Poland from the Soviets all by myself (still love “the Iron Curtain Rod” line from “Over My Dead Body”), I will say this much. It was possible as a teen in the 80s to (A) attend a Christian school for 9 years, (B) be a member of an AG church, and (C) to have absolutely no idea about the likes of BJU or Gothard apart from references within Taylor’s lyrics.

          Notwithstanding the critiques already noted, there is an upside to pragmatism. In my own experience, it was precisely because Gothard-esque weirdism DIDN’T work all that well at the end of the day that my own teachers, parents, and ministers didn’t go there to begin with.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Not just “umbrella of power”, but in the context of “woman’s place”, male supremacy, wifely submission, and paterfamilias. Add the “notebooks” reference and Taylor’s gotta be writing about Gothard. Hits too many defining characteristics of Gothardism.

  12. Joseph (the original) says

    I attended one Bill Gothard seminar in Southern California (Pasadena) in early 1980’s…maybe 1982-83?

    I had been on my Christian journey for just about 8 years. I was a practicing charismatic, although not affiliated with any one denomination. the small church I was attending then got ‘Gothard’ fever and encouraged all of us to attend. I don’t recall how much the seminar cost, but it was not cheap. and the binder you received, worked thru and wrote notes on was rather impressive…

    however, during the entire time I always felt, well…burdened by the ‘be perfect’ emphasis that was something I knew I was not capable of. as I looked around the auditorium each nite I also wondered if I was the only one who thought this approach to be self-defeating and about as useless as, as (fill in the blank ________)…

    I was never so discouraged about wanting to be a Christian after that indoctrination. I remember getting a bad vibe from that huge binder being in my room, so I threw it away shortly after that with a “good riddance” gesture wiping my hands as I did…

    what a total waste. lifeless. dry. condemning. and really the ‘bad news’ no Christian needs to hear…

    Lord…have mercy… 🙁

    • My husband’s family couldn’t afford to send him when a lot of his peers (including me) were going. Until the recent revelations of unpleasantness surfaced, Daniel had always felt that he missed something.

      Now he feels relieved.

      It’s hard not to drink the cool-aid. I’m impressed you were able to.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        it’s not that Gothard’s teachings/approach didn’t impact me, they did. but I was already under my own sense of being more human than saint. I had my own issues of being unworthy. somehow, whatever supra-spiritual ZAM-POW! Holy Spirit unction failed to manifest itself in my life, or maybe just didn’t stick when the Holy Spirit descended on me. I didn’t feel any grand sense of holiness that somehow was the Holy Grail shortcut to being transformed into a certifiable saint. Gothard’s teachings simply offered me no real hope. and although it was billed as Basic Youth Conflicts, much of the material had little relevance to me.


        IBYC was the popular Christianese ‘thing’ at the time and many independent non-denominational churches like the one I attended felt this ‘ministry’ would be of some use to the many younger, single attendees like myself.

        during the seminar, there were times I was too worn-out emotionally to write down anymore answers in the Big Red Binder. the literal ‘weight’ of that tome was more spiritually truthful than the convoluted teachings it contained…

        Lord, have mercy… 🙁

  13. Chaplain Mike, I hope these aren’t famous last words:

    I’ve been saying this more and more lately: with today’s media culture, churches and Christian organizations are not going to be able to hide their foolishness and abuses any longer.

    But, if a charismatic leader knows how to manipulate the media, and if a gullible public yearns to follow his teaching, a lot of damage can be done before the media catches up and works against him. In the meantime however, it’s been working in his favor.

    • …with today’s media culture, churches and Christian organizations are not going to be able to hide their foolishness and abuses any longer.

      But what if the shephards, or even their sheep, don’t acknowledge the foolishness and abuse as such? I’ve been foolish enough to post a couple things on Facebook about the Furtick stuff. The accusations are met with either “why’s that such a bad thing?” or some variation of blame-the-media. “They’re making stuff up! It’s been discredited by numerous sources” (None of which, curiously, are provided, even after being asked for them)! People already do it with politics and science–why not with religion stories?

      Even if the media catches up to these guys more quickly than in the past, it can’t stop people from simply rejecting information they don’t like.

      • What you say is true, but over at RG, I’ve seen two things happen, representing two sorts of mindset:

        1)the die hard defenders of Bill: no amount of witnesses , testimonies, first person accounts, scripture itself, is enough…. they’ve made up their mind about Bill (in fairness to them, often bouyed by their positive experiences) and that’s that

        2)those who showed up to post a defense of Bill and then they started reading what’s there at RG…..oh, crap !!! you’re not kidding ?? this really happened ?? and they change their tune….

        #2 happens a lot less than #1, but it does happen, and without the internet , RG doesn’t happen at all

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          1)the die hard defenders of Bill: no amount of witnesses , testimonies, first person accounts, scripture itself, is enough…. they’ve made up their mind about Bill (in fairness to them, often bouyed by their positive experiences) and that’s that

          The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  14. The older I get, the more I realize how Holy Tradition and the canonical bounds governing monks, priests, etc., are actually the very protections that Bill Gothard talked about. But, they are protections AGAINST misbehaving authorities. Almost every time you read a canon that either prohibits a behavior or allows some freedom in a certain area, you can be assured that it came about because of some abuse or another.

    No, they are not a final solution. Only our final redemption by God will be. And, they can be quite easily ignored by bishops, priests, monks, etc. (see the various recent scandals). But, they are a touchstone that can allow a more “Luther” type of person (how is that Chaplain Mike?) to stand up and say that such and such is not right, and the Fathers knew it was not right. Holy Tradition and the canons can actually create a possibility for change and a support when challenges need to be mounted.

    And, they are certainly much safer than relying on one pastor, his Bible, and his umbrella!

    • If you want to see how this works IN REVERSE: read about Bill’s teaching on spreading a bad report, which became IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) mandetory reading just after the big 1980 scandal.

      This is how Bill did damage control, and reigned in all dissenting voices (those who were’n’t fired). This is how he is still trying to control the herd more than thirty yrs later. Sad. And if you follow the comment threads at RG and homeschoolersanonymous, this club is still being swung.

      Your point is very well taken: beware of anyone who has a novel approach to scripture that becomes the house rules.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Didn’t Pope Francis say recently that one of the signs of a false preacher/teacher was if the preacher/teacher had an airtight theology leaving no room for doubt?

    • Fr. Isaac (or possibly Obed, but definitely not Fr. Obed) says

      Amen, Fr. Ernesto. And that’s why I try to be a student of the Fathers and Holy Tradition as well as the Scriptures.

  15. Nary Ex-Pharisee says

    It’s unfortunate that the old adage: “If something doesn’t seems right, don’t do it.” never seemed to apply to the Gothardites. I too have seen his gatherings and could have sworn I was at some Sun Mung Moon Unification Church wedding – loved the wholly misplaced enthusiasm. I attribute the rise in popularity of the IBLP principles with the attempt of 1970’s evangelicals and fundamentalists parents to shelter their kids from the aftermath of the ’60’s. Gothard’s ideas flowered in this atmosphere of fear. In places such as Dayton, Ohio, where I raised my kids, the principles attracted many transient military families, I believe, because they resemble a military “line and staff” organization chart.

    Even as late as the mid-2000’s, Gothard’s ideas were embraced by private christian schools. The leaders of my kids’ school in brought him in personally with thunderous applause to teach his Basic Youth Conflicts seminar. There, I saw that there was a deliberate effort to control the written seminar materials and have since been told that his disciples are warned not to let materials fall into the hands of the general public lest they be “misconstrued”.

    Here’s my quick list of things we should thank Mr. Gothard for:
    (1) Contemporary Christian Music – since he hated anything post-circa Fanny Crosby.
    (2) Womens’ Shelters for those brave enough to leave idiot husbands punishing them with Eph. 5:22
    (3) Therapists everywhere for the thousands of hours they’ve spent with patients that were victimized by this legalism during their childhoods.
    (4) The migration of (tens of) thousands of us away from evangelical theology.

    In the end, common sense demands you ask the question: Should you ever trust an old dude with creepy, slicked back hair who’s never been married to actually tell you how to raise your children? I think not. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I attribute the rise in popularity of the IBLP principles with the attempt of 1970?s evangelicals and fundamentalists parents to shelter their kids from the aftermath of the ’60?s. Gothard’s ideas flowered in this atmosphere of fear.

      I got caught up in another incarnation of that atmosphere of fear: The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay/Christians for Nuclear War, who promised shelter from the Cold War and the Sixties by God beaming then up to Fluffy Cloud Heaven before destroying the world. (Any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…

      The leaders of my kids’ school in brought him in personally with thunderous applause to teach his Basic Youth Conflicts seminar.


      In the end, common sense demands you ask the question: Should you ever trust an old dude with creepy, slicked back hair who’s never been married…

      And who surrounds himself with young female interns?

  16. The Bible contains a verse, “Come, let us reason together.” It is nice to see Christians using current technology to do this “reasoning.”

    I think the overall message of this article is for us to consider to whom have we submitted our lives and to be careful to serve those we protect rather than command obedience in the name of Jesus.

    Joseph could have been considered a rebel when he refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife (his master). He knew adultery meant a sin against God and refused. If we place any man’s commands above God’s, we need to stop and think. Consider any action a person in authority may ask of you. Jesus rebelled against the religious leaders of the day; I guess according to Gothard, Jesus was “out from under the umbrella of protection.”

    And, woe be unto those who bully by position or abuse those in their care. Those authority figures have heavy burdens of responsibility which are more often than not quietly left untaught. Parents are commanded not to frustrate their children. Husbands are told to give their lives to their wives. Teachers are warned they will be held accountable for their teachings.

    I struggle to separate legalism from grace to this day due to that umbrella anaology. I attended many of Gothard’s seminars and dutifully took notes and tried to apply Gothard’s principles in my life. I experienced abuse at the hand of a grandparent while under his “umbrella.” Does that mean God “allowed” for me to be abused? Of course not! Do not even for a moment put that evil at God’s door. People have free will; hurting people hurt others.

    It is ironic, is it not, that Gothard’s teachings never acknowledge free will and freedom of choice?

    Life is not as formulaic as Gothard tried to make us all believe, but some of us bought it anyway.

    * Letting go of stone in hand *

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It is ironic, is it not, that Gothard’s teachings never acknowledge free will and freedom of choice?

      Sounds more Calvinist than Calvin could ever imagine.

      • Gothard is no Calvinist, regardless of whether he mentions or makes no mention of anything about free will or freedom of choice. There is much more to Reformed Theology than nuances on free will and freedom of choice, and I do not see these particularly emphasized in his teachings.

  17. Dana Ames says

    I went to Basic and Advanced when I was in my early 20s (late 1970s) when I was adrift in the sea of Evangelical/Charismatic “ministries.” I just wanted to do what God wanted me to do. I believed that those with years of “bible study” could be trusted. Like Steve at 11:22, I was encouraged with the early parts of the seminar. Unlike Steve, it was difficult for me to identify the bad teaching; my personality is one that is amenable to “following the rules,” I had a parent with a particular manipulative pattern that I emulated and so was blind to it, and I had some fears that propelled my attempts at finding Certainty. The reaction to the swinging ’60s that Nary Ex-Pharisee pointed out was endemic. Evangelical teaching of the ’70s regarding family life was crazy-making, but in my immaturity I could not see it then. The hold loosened somewhat as I came to some understanding about myself through 12-Step. Also, once I had children of my own I realized that the good parenting my parents gave me was worth reaching back to and emulating. (There was bad parenting too, and I made a great effort to not pass along my parents’ bad stuff; my children had enough to contend with with my own bad stuff…) I did not home-school, nor did I send my children to Christian schools.

    Gothard wasn’t the only one to teach “chain of command.” The whole “women as not-quite-human beings and to be greatly feared” thing was in the air long before Gothard came on the scene. There will continue to be fallout from that poison as long as it is being taught as “God’s Biblical Design.”

    Americans aren’t the only ones infatuated with “spiritual authority” and Certainty; there are parts of the Orthodox world with this problem too. People chase after a “word” from particular elders, and some of those “elders” like that people do that… Consistent with the highest virtues being seen as self-offering love and humility, a true elder will literally hide, scurry off to a cave deep in the woods, rather than let a personality cult develop. As Fr Ernesto wrote, there are safeguards in Orthodoxy that, while not always preventing abuse, furnish tools to remove the abuser and promote healing of the abused; the Church also recognizes the good help a skilled therapist, Orthodox or not, can give.


    • Dana – I come from that era, too, and have been in groups that had a side of Both are and his imitators along with the main course, which was the ultras controlling “discipleship movement.” So I hear what you’re saying

      ELCA Lutheranism is by no means perfect, but I’m so glad I had a decent place to go back to when it all became too much.

  18. For the most part I agree with the critique of Gothard’s ministry and message. However, I am getting tired of the constant use of hyperbole, not just in this article but in the media in general. What I am talking about is Burleson saying things like “…expose his perversity.” Perversity? Really? Yes Gothard stared, played footsy, and made a number of younger women feel uncomfortable. It was sexual harassment no doubt. But to call it perversity is another matter.

    There is nothing more natural than for a man to be sexually attracted to a pretty young woman. When Abraham was a lot older than Gothard he married a pretty young woman. King David, even when he was to old to do anything about it, slept next to a pretty young woman in order to keep warm at night. Men of all ages are naturally (not perversely) attracted to pretty young women. The issue here is abuse of power, not perversion. I think it is important to keep that straight and avoid slanderous name calling.

    • Richard McNeeley says

      Remember one of the girls was 16 at the time and Mr. Gothard was almost 60. I think that qualifies as perverse.

      • Only in this small slice of history called “modern times.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Gothard was right. I’m just saying that what happened was sexual harassment (that is bad enough) rather than some unusual form or perversion.

        • It is both abusive and perverse. Finding an underage person attractive is one thing; taking advantage of that person is quite another.

          • I won’t beat this to death, but playing the “I’m an old friend of the family” role (much like a MUCH older uncle) in order to establish trust, and then abusing that ‘familial” trust….. that is perverse. The sexual attraction, I get it…. or at 58, I would like to get it…

          • The fact is he WASN’T family. It isn’t like he’s Woody Allen. Now there is perversion and the abuse of a familial relationship that rises above “harassment” and to the level of “taking advantage of that person.”

    • I think you might need to recheck the actual definition of “perverse”…

    • Danielle says

      It is important to recall that the women whom Gothard approached had been taught that that even holding hands, even a simple glance, even a little infatuation, was dangerous and that they must guard themselves. In fact, they had to be guarded by their parents and other authority figures, because their own feelings and judgements were not trustworthy, and they were a temptation to others. Within Gothard’s own system of thought about sexuality, these footsie was a major transgression–and the guilt for it cut strongly against the girl being approached. In addition, the girls he approached were not teenage dates he was courting and pushing a bit over the Gothard-sanctioned line (as creepy as that would have been) – they were employees and followers. Gothard was Pastor-Father like figure, not a near-equal like a boyfriend, who was to be trusted and obeyed. These were girls who had to get permission to even contemplate liking a young man from their parents (or, while at Gothard’s compound, even Gothard himself), and only then if marriage was in mind and the young man was suitable–and there comes Father-Figure Gothard with his Umbrella of Authority, putting his hands places they don’t belong.

      That’s not a small thing. In someways, its actually more insidious than if he’d just been corning people and raping them. Rape breaks the spell. Long hugs and inappropriate touches, longing conversations where he delves into a particular person’s personal spiritual life — all this is subtle enough to be allowed persist. Which it did.

      And its so much more damaging than a male boss walking over to me at work and doing something inappropriate. I’m equipped to respond to that situation. Those girls were not.

  19. OK..but how “natural” is this. To Ruth , his secretary that he had feelings for, he made it seem like they were an item. When quizzed about this by Gary Smalley, he was assured that his feelings for Ruth and the other girls was just “fatherly”. His hugs to the girls , at night just before bedtime, were not the kind of embraces that one gives a relative or casual friend. How “fatherly” is that ??

    I’d say “perverse” states the case, maybe not in the tabloid sense of the word, but I can’t see how it is unfair.

    • A basic definition of Perversion is corrupted or unnatural. One of the MOST natural things in the world is for a man to be attracted to a woman. I know our society has developed a taboo regarding age differences in partners, but this is a historical aberration. Most men don’t “outgrow” and attraction to young women.

      IMO one of Gothard’s problems was that somewhere along the way he came to believe he had the “gift of singleness.” Obviously he did not. His behavior clearly shows that he had a life-long longing for a female companion. He kept denying it, but he kept acting it out none-the-less. He’s not a pervert, he is a guy who “believed his own press” and ended up denying who he really was.

      • Oh, Gothard is perverse, no question. And his behavior was/is seriously abusive.

        As for older men not chasing after teenage girls, sheesh! Men have historically kept women and girls in subservient positions. With increasing equality, it is normal for such relationships to be seen in a different light.

        • Refer to my comment above about this small slice of history. As late as the mid 19th century wealthy older Europeans were marrying teenage brides. But I agree with you that the freedom today to not have to marry for the sake of financial security has given women greater freedom. However, it doesn’t seem to have improved the happiness of most marriages.

          • I cannot think that A 60y.o. getting married to a teenager is good for the girl *or* for the marriage. I’ve known some women who were in that situation, and things were *not* good for them. (All arranged marriages, btw.)

            Also, your citing old men and very young women is kinda creepy. (I’m a middle-aged woman, fwiw.)

          • Like I said earlier, look up “perverse.” It has a different meaning than “perversion.”

  20. I would suggest that the Bill Gothard phonenemia is indicitive of a larger scandal. I agree with Wade in talking about the problem of spiritual authority. But I would also suggest that Gothard, along with Benny Hinn, Mark Driscoll, SGM, child abuse, prosperity theology, etc… (the list keeps on going…) is indicitive of bigger and more more distrubing scandal. The fatal flaw for many evangelicals is that many don’t know how to discern. They can’t connect the dots or think critically about much of this theology. For me I would question or wonder why people would follow a person or group who changes their theology with the passing of time.

    Much of evangelicalism struggles with idolatary and Bill Gothard was an idol for many people. The other scandal I would suggest is that many evangelicals will be too embarrassed to admit they were had or are in a place of pride where they can’t repent of who and what they were following. Many evangelicals don’t know how to repent. Seriously….how many scandals play out and the leader or the followers do not repent?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The other scandal I would suggest is that many evangelicals will be too embarrassed to admit they were had or are in a place of pride where they can’t repent of who and what they were following.

      The key to an effective con job is to get the mark emotionally attached to the con man and the swindle, to the point his identity is all tied up in the con. At that point, the mark will stay in the con even after he KNOWS he’s being taken to the cleaners, because having to admit to himself he was conned is too much to take.

    • Eagle, these people and ministries gave us (and our parents) what we wanted: unambiguous principles to negotiate a complicated world. The real scandal is with us – – just like the Isrealites in the desert, we’d rather have a Golden Calf to give us comfort than a living God who will walk with us through our desert places.

      • Yes… they gave us applied bible and how to self help, or in this case a systematic approach based on one person’s mind.

      • Danielle says

        This is the crux of the issue.

        If Gothard had never laid hands on a single teen girl, this would still be the issue.

        The Bible was to be gleaned like a giant Book of Proverbs for Principles.

        If you could only understand them, thanks to Gothard, and apply them, then all would go well with you.

        You could not dare stray, or dare step outside the umbrella of authority, because the world was dark and dangerous and only God (but actually, Gothard, husbands, and parents) could protect you.

        Walk the line, or else.

  21. Gothard is not evangelical.

    He is a lunatic and a false teacher, but this episode is not symptomatic of anything happening within the broader evangelical movement. His Basic and Advanced Seminars contained teaching way outside the normal boundaries of American Protestantism.

    As someone who was part of Gothard’s subculture for well over a decade, I know that Gothard’s devotees were always hard core fundamentalists and anti-government homeschoolers.

    • Danielle says

      I would also classify Gothard as a fundamentalist, but his influence in evangelical churches was certainly felt, especially during the heyday of his Seminars.

      And this stranger and more extreme views were not shared by evangelicals. But the way he gleaned the Bible for Life Principles and sought to guarantee safety and prosperity by teaching them to eager rooms of pencil-wielding audiences with workbooks? That is something we’ve seen again and again.

  22. This is a good discussion; I am especially moved by how many in the iMonk community have firsthand knowledge of Gothard and all he wrought. So many issues have been brought up here that will be worth discussions in the future.

    For myself, I can’t get past how I have seen tactics and attempts to control similar to Gothard’s played out on a much smaller scale in local churches. The ways leaders can screw up churches and the people in them, especially in the evangelical world where there’s often little authority beyond the local church, just seems to play out over and over again. Different scripts, but similar plots.

    Guess I’m just thinking about the pervasiveness of sin on the day before Ash Wednesday.

    • “For myself, I can’t get past how I have seen tactics and attempts to control similar to Gothard’s played out on a much smaller scale in local churches. The ways leaders can screw up churches and the people in them, especially in the evangelical world where there’s often little authority beyond the local church, just seems to play out over and over again. Different scripts, but similar plots.”

      Vera – this is very much what I experienced in my previous church. In the early 90’s many of us used to attend Gothards seminars every year. I’m glad that Wade and Chaplain Mike are writing on this because now I really understand and am making the connection, how these teachings shaped the pastors’ views on authority in the church and how overemphasized they were. I’d heard my former pastor use the phrase “umbrella of protection” many times and never knew where it came from. Then I read Wade’s post and a light went off in my head.

      • goldibel says

        ++1 ditto for me, this is a good discussion, the escape away from being under that “umbrella of protection” has allowed for the sunshine of the gospel to shine on my journey.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      For myself, I can’t get past how I have seen tactics and attempts to control similar to Gothard’s played out on a much smaller scale in local churches. The ways leaders can screw up churches and the people in them, especially in the evangelical world where there’s often little authority beyond the local church, just seems to play out over and over again. Different scripts, but similar plots.

      Slacktivist described it this way in a recent post about two Fundagelical Texas legislators who fell for a con man:

      He targeted a tight-knit tribe that’s notorious for its uncritical acceptance of anyone who embraces the tribe’s totemic signifiers. These aren’t secret handshakes or coded passwords — the tribe is explicitly public about its shibboleths and litmus tests. That makes the tribe particularly susceptible to impostors. Add to that this tribe’s instinctive refusal to listen to critical or skeptical questions from outsiders and you’ve got a subculture that’s perfectly groomed for exploitation.

  23. Most of the traffic has probably come and gone by now, but I highly recommend todays post over at Recovering Grace; it is their (RG”S) appeal to the IBLP board and some other words to their audience regarding the leave of absence. thanks

  24. Christiane says

    a story from my past:
    I am Catholic but was invited to attend a speech given by an author at a local Protestant Church . . . the theme was ‘Bloom Where You Are Planted’ and the speaker was a lovely woman who looked like a model and had a lot of poise. She was advocating the teaching that a wife should ALWAYS be obedient to her husband who was God’s chosen head for the family.

    We were allowed to ask questions at the end of the speech. It was a lively audience and I was encouraged to participate because everyone else seemed eager to be a part of the discussion that followed the speech. So I asked, this:
    ” What should a wife do if her husband asks her to be involved in something that violates her own God-given conscience?”

    what followed was that the crowd took over and women were arguing and yelling at each other at times . . . I clearly had touched a nerve . . .

    being Catholic IS different from evangelical patriarchy in this respect: that although the Church asks us to consider our situation thoroughly, and to understand and consider the teachings of the Church on an issue, and to pray before making a decision;
    the Church does respect that a person’s private conscience is not to be ignored in favor of responding to any authority

    it came out that a LOT of Protestant women were very concerned about this issue of ‘authority’ and ‘conscience’, and that these women were, many of them, more main-stream in the Christianity than conservative/evangelical, or so it seemed from the reaction . . .

    it was an education for me . . . and I will never again take for granted the power of a simple question to ignite a whirl wind discussion . . . whoah!

  25. No one has used a term I have heard and had trouble with for some years. It is “covering.” Similar to the umbrella of Gothard’s teaching, it conveys the idea that you (I) had to be under somebody’s covering or anything I did in ministry would be a. In danger, b. Suspect, c. Out of order. This is particularly true since I am an unmarried woman since my husband just up and died without asking anyone’s permission. My response now is that Jesus is my all-sufficient covering.

  26. Gothard has resigned- posted to the news about 2 hrs ago. Ironic, that today was the day that Recovering Grace had dedicated as a day of prayer for the entire situation from the victims to IBLP.

  27. Danielle says

    I’m late to the discussion, but I wanted to say that I think the comments made here, about the appeal of Gothard and the shadow he has cast over so many lives (even if briefly) is so important.

    This is a strangely emotional topic, even though I was never really in Gothard’s movement. My first years as a practicing Christian were also my years as a home schooled teenager, and Gothard’s ideas were certainly in the mix. In addition, there are parallel movements that are very similar to Gothard – the Quiverfull Movement and the Courtship advocates come to mind. This all gave me (an intense bookish kid with a newfound faith and a bit too taken with the fundamentalist-evangelical picture of the church at war with the world) all sorts of alluring and terrifying ideas to contemplate. The emotional and intellectual cost of the claims Gothard and those like him made are something I worked on out on my own, abstractly, privately–this fact protected me somewhat, because there never was an Umbrella of Authority under which I labored. In fact, that I spent plenty of time around people who could not have been more ideologically removed from Gothard’s world. I had lots of competing claims with which I wrestled, so his Gothard-like views dogged me, but never became my Reality. They were a troublesome spector.

    But for others, Gothard … or Quiverfull … or this or that strange small church (or house church) … was their world for many years, in some cases for their entire childhood and youths.

    Gothard’s ghetto may have been small, but it was Everything to some people.

    God help us.