The following is based on a letter originally sent to our family and friends on January 12, 2015.
Updated Response to Gothard lawsuit at the end.
Dear Family and Friends,
I have not heard much from many of you about the events that have been exposed over the past year about Bill Gothard and his organization. It is time to break the silence and tell you what I know and where we as a family stand. If any of you, years ago, had seen some of the things that I am going to share with you, I wish you would have warned us about them. Silence allows sin and false teachings to continue and many to be defiled by them. It is important that sexual abuse, false teachings, and deceptions be exposed to the light so that others are not deceived and harmed. Jesus has warned us that in the end times: “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13) We thought it would not happen to us—to be deceived—but it did.
I am grieved that I was so easily deceived by a false teacher. I have had to repent and apologize to my family for leading them in the false teachings of Bill Gothard, the conservative homeschool model, and their courtship model.
We followed God’s direction in 2005 and left Bill Gothard’s ATI (Advanced Training Institute) homeschool program, but many of his false teachings still influenced our family. This past year we have worked intensely to purge our thinking and practices from all the false teachings that we imbibed from Bill Gothard, ATI, and conservative homeschool leaders. It has not been easy, but we have made significant progress in unlearning false teachings and in making Godly corrections to our thinking. A number of our children rededicated their lives to the Lord and we have seen a significant change in their attitudes and thought processes.
As a family, we are committed 100% to following Jesus Christ and His Word, and have no desire to follow any man, man-made doctrine or division of man (denomination).
In documents that were just released in December 2014, it was revealed that there were 14 senior and long term staff people who worked closely with Bill Gothard in the 1970’s and 1980’s who were involved in sexual immorality. This gross and perverse immorality had continued for at least seven years that Bill Gothard knew about it and perhaps as long as 14 years. Bill Gothard kept them on as staff because they were producing materials that brought in millions of dollars to the organization.
I had known that Gothard’s brother, Steve, had committed fornication with seven secretaries, but did not know the extent of the sexual perversion of those who wrote many of the IBLP books and publications. These 14 staff people were involved in writing the following publications while living in known sexual immorality:
- Basic Seminar materials
- Advanced Seminar materials
- Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool publications
- Ministers Conference materials
- Character Sketches
- Men’s Manual
- Life Notebook
- Many other IBLP publications
The sexual immorality of these 14 staff persons has significantly influenced some of the teachings and publications of IBLP and ATI. Some of these influences have been pointed out by various people on the Recovering Grace website.
As serious as all of this is, the sexual immorality, sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Gothard’s organization is much more extensive than anyone imagined. There are many people that have come forward and exposed sexual impropriety by Bill Gothard, Steve Gothard, staff at Headquarters, staff at training centers, and in ATI homeschool families.
A Sheep With the Wool Pulled Over Its Eyes—God likens people to sheep. There are many similarities between people and sheep including this one of having “the wool pulled over one’s eyes”. When we were shearing sheep, one of the guys took a sheep that he had just finishing shearing. She was relaxed from the shearing process, and he gently laid her head down on the shearing board and covered her face with wool. She laid there, almost perfectly still with no one holding her for five to ten minutes while we went to get a camera and took pictures of her. It is not natural for a sheep to lie still in that position with no one holding them. The instant the wool was removed from her eyes; she jumped up and ran off.
The same is true of us as people. When we have “the wool pulled over our eyes” we willingly submit to the teachings and bondage that others place us under. Others looking on wonder why such intelligent people would willingly believe that teaching, or allow someone to put them under unnecessary bondage and they not reject false teaching or the bondage. The people with the wool over their eyes have been rendered helpless and need to have someone help them by removing the wool from their eyes and showing them God’s truth. God says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6
As I found out the following things, the “wool” was removed from my eyes and I could see the error for what it really was. Yes, we all knew that Bill Gothard’s theology and Biblical application was inaccurate and stretched in places, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt because he appeared to be such a Godly man, like we have given the benefit of the doubt to many others who have differing interpretations or applications in some areas than what we do.
Bill Gothard is perhaps the biggest false teacher, sexual predator, hypocrite, and fraud in modern conservative circles. His “ministry” empire in recent years was worth somewhere around $80 million dollars.
This is a brief synopsis and is not intended to cover all the evidence and documentation. Toward the end are some of my observations.
- Over 50 women have come forward and stated that they were sexually harassed or sexually abused by Bill Gothard. http://www.intouchweekly.com/posts/duggar-church-ati-iblp-147591
- Bill Gothard, over the years, hired many pretty, young, 14 to 16 year old girls to be his personal secretaries. Gothard’s sister was the official secretary that he told us about so that we thought he was above reproach. However, unknown to us, these girls served him in the early morning when he went to the office at 5:00am until his sister came in at normal starting time, and in the evening, after his sister left the office, until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. These girls were often alone with Gothard and he would sit next to them on the sofa in his office with his thigh pressed against theirs. His teachings on authority, the chain of command and the umbrella of protection, along with their lack of experience and wisdom, allowed him to control these young girls and get them to follow his every wish and command. If one stood up to him, she was immediately let go and another took her place. None of the girls have stepped forward and stated that Gothard went as far as having sexual intercourse with them. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/chronology-of-favorites/
- Bill Gothard admitted in 1980 to 14 years of sexual addiction to masturbation. One document quotes what C.S. Lewis wrote years ago about masturbation. What C.S. Lewis says about masturbation could explain why Bill Gothard had such an attraction in recent years to beautiful 14 to 16 year old girls and hired them as personal secretaries:”For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.”
(From a letter to a Mr. Masson dated March 6, 1956 in the Wade Collection at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL)
- In the 1970’s, Gary Smalley walked into Bill Gothard’s cabin in the North Woods property at 11:00 at night and found a staff woman dressed in a sheer nightgown sitting on his lap. Smalley said that Bill Gothard often had single staff women in his cabin late at night. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/media/12.30.13-10-edited-Authorship-Publication-of-Ministry-Materials-by-Men-Involved-in-Immorality.pdf
- Bill Gothard covered up his brother Steve’s sexual relations with seven secretaries and aided Steve in sexually assaulting them by banishing Steve for his immorality to the Northwoods property to work on the Character Sketches books, and then sending secretaries to help him in his “work”. These women were then sexually abused by Steve. Now I understand why the content of the Character Sketches books never really appealed to me. They were written in total hypocrisy by persons who lacked character and were merely writing academically to produce a product to make a lot of money off of it. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/media/12.30.13-10-edited-Authorship-Publication-of-Ministry-Materials-by-Men-Involved-in-Immorality.pdf
- Bill Gothard dealt heavy-handedly with all staff that tried to expose his sins and hypocrisy. One staff person named Tony, a Mennonite man from Kansas who was the moderator at many of the video Basic Seminars and handled the overhead projector, was cruelly attacked by Gothard to silence him from exposing the rampant sexual immorality. Gothard wrote a letter to Tony’s home church and repeatedly called him an “Agent of Satan”. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/06/the-agent-of-satan/
- In many of the testimonies and documents that were released, it has become apparent that Gothard did not personally apply in his own life the Seven Basic Principles and many of the other things that he taught at the seminars and required of others.
- Gothard, like many other sexual predators, gravitated to a ministry/job that gave him access to those whom he could sexually prey on. The homeschooling ministry of ATI provided a constant stream of young, pretty, 14—16 year old female “playthings”.
- He developed teachings to keep staff from exposing his sins and fraud around the time that the sex scandal involving his brother was made known. Some of the teachings were to not be “defrauded” by listening to an evil (negative) report, to not give an evil (negative) report, and other teachings. Doug Phillips did a similar thing by teaching that gossip, as he defined it as being anything negative about someone else, was one of the greatest sins. That teaching was very influential in preventing exposure and investigation of his immorality and the immorality in the organization.
- Gothard stressed getting wisdom, reading Psalms and Proverbs, wisdom searches, Wisdom Books (ATI curriculum), and asking God for wisdom. But he did not know how to acquire wisdom or how to teach others to have wisdom because he was proud (something he admitted), living a lie, living in sin and covering up sin. Many followed his teachings and were not able to see that they were false teachings because they lacked wisdom. The emphasis on wisdom was part of the fraud. People thought they and their children were getting wisdom when in fact they were not. Instead, Gothard taught many ATI families to be proud, to think of themselves as “noble”, “a five star family”, as better than others, having a higher standard, as having a superior way of life. These things kept families from having wisdom. “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
When he first started ATI, Bill Gothard said that the ATI curriculum was far superior to other education materials. He told us that with the content of the Wisdom Booklets and because of its unique approach of integrating education around the Sermon on the Mount, it would in 12 years not only give a child a high school equivalent training, but would also give the equivalent of four years of college, pre-law, and pre-med. The wisdom booklets in reality could not achieve even close to that. They were mere booklets that had to be supplemented with other textbooks. Many mothers felt frustrated in knowing how to implement the curriculum to achieve the results that Gothard promised. Because they thought Bill Gothard was such a Godly and honest man, they felt that their own inability was the reason why their children were not succeeding like others in ATI appeared to be succeeding.
- When ATI was first started, Bill said that apprenticeship training was far superior to college education
and he gave several examples to “prove” that it was true. He deceived us by promising us that ATI would have many apprenticeship opportunities in many different professions for our children when they finished the ATI curriculum. ATI would line up professionals who would work one on one with our children in real work settings to train them quickly in that profession. By the time our oldest had finished high school, there was no real apprenticeship program, only a sham of an apprenticeship program that enabled Bill to get young girls to sexually harass and abuse and to get labor, both guys and girls, for the organization. Many of these young people paid weekly to be there instead of being paid for their work. By then Bill had also started a college.
- Gothard’s organization often broke the law by requiring underage ATI students that worked at headquarters to work very long hours. In addition, those young people that were paid, were not paid for more than 8 hours a day even though they might work far more than that. Sometimes requiring them to work all night to get ready for a seminar. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/04/a-long-nights-journey-through-the-iblp-system
Another marketing deception was the marketing of the “Peace Be Still” harp music recording. Gothard told a story about how calming harp music being played was in one family’s home. He then announced that ATI had a new recording of harp music that would calm the home. What he did not say was that the recording was not actual harp music, but merely a keyboard/synthesizer imitating the harp sound. The keyboard sound is evident when you listen to the recording.
- Bill Gothard was a hypocrite and did things to be seen of men that Jesus told us in Matthew 6:1-8 that hypocrites do. Instead of seeing the things he did as an indication that he might be a hypocrite, we viewed it that he was very Godly. Bill did things to be seen as a very godly man. He told us how he got up at 4:00am to spend time with the Lord and he would work late into the evening. He told us how he would fast every week and how he would go to the Northwoods each winter and fast for 30 days. He encouraged us men to follow his example of rising early and fasting so that we could be great men of God (like he was). We should not have been deceived because Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that hypocrites want others to know they are praying and fasting. They want others to think that they are spiritual. Instead, it is an indicator that they are a hypocrite. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:5) “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:16)
- Gothard put an emphasis on the outward appearance—having a “higher standard”, a bright countenance, the model ATI look and dress, and an emphasis on character qualities. Jesus warned us about those who put an emphasis on outward appearance: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:25-28)
- Gothard’s emphasis on character qualities was part of his deception. I had often wondered why Gothard put so much emphasis on character when God does not in the Bible. The emphasis on character qualities is a focus on works of men to appear Godly rather than displaying the fruits of the Spirit which comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The emphasis on skirts and dresses for ATI families was developed somewhere around 1980 and appears to have been part of the reimaging of Gothard’s ministry after the sex scandal broke about his brother. In the 1970’s, IBLP staff women wore pants. Putting more strict “modesty” and conservative dress requirements on women is a typical move by sexual predators. It puts the responsibility on the women instead of the men to prevent sexual immorality and at the same time puts the women and girls more under the control of the sexual predator. The conservative modesty doctrine often results in a perverted view of right and wrong by conservative sexual predators. They blame the women and in doing so, they view themselves as the victim and the girls or women as the perpetrators. As a result, they often do not own the responsibility for the sexual abuse that they commit. When a leader puts a strong emphasis on modesty, it is a red flag.
- We are seeing the failure of the eternal security doctrine to produce righteousness, with sexual abuse and its cover up occurring at Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, Pensacola College, and with Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, and many, many other Baptist and Calvinist pastors. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness…” (Jude 1:4a) also 2Peter 2:18-22
- Because of the eternal security doctrine and his own personal sins, Bill knew that he could not tell people that if they habitually sinned they would go to hell. Therefore to get people to do “right”, he defined breaking a vow as more serious than committing a sin (such as sexual immorality or lying) and that God would discipline you for breaking the vow. He then encouraged people at the seminars to make many vows. For example: one vow was to read the Bible each day for at least 5 minutes. In doing so, Bill created a man-made sin of not reading the Bible every day for at least 5 minutes.
- Bill Gothard turned the hearts of many fathers away from their children and the hearts of many children away from their parents. This we see in the results of many ATI families that are not on speaking terms with their children. All the while, Gothard was promising ATI parents that they would have success as parents and that they would have the perfect family.
- Gothard’s teaching produced the opposite results of what he stated that they would. His teachings on a superior education, excellence, a higher standard, appearance, character, etc. produced expectations in parents for their children that were very difficult for their children to achieve. The teachings also gave the children expectations of perfection for their parents that was very difficult for them to achieve. Wives expected greater “spirituality” and perfection from their husbands than what they should have, and the husbands of their wives. These expectations have resulted in much conflict in the homes. Children were not achieving the model status that Bill had said that they would; therefore it was the children’s fault. The children perceived that their parents were not the “model Christians” as Bill Gothard had defined and taught them to be. Therefore, the children felt justified in not obeying their parents or following their parents’ expectations.
- Many of Gothard’s false teachings have an element of truth in them. That is why so many of us were deceived by him. There is a certain amount of truth from Scripture, but then elements in the teaching are given their own definition or interpretation by Gothard which is not in scripture. This is also true of many false denominational and theological doctrines in churches today.
- Gothard gave his own definitions and applications to “Biblical principles”. In doing so, people who followed his principles were following him rather than Christ. This is similar to what the hypocrites—the scribes and Pharisees—were doing in Jesus’ day in defining what it meant to swear—Matt. 23:16-22.
- Many of Bill Gothard’s teachings, such as following Christ’s commands, rock music, debt, courtship, not going to college, homeschooling, the father taking the lead in the home, etc. had an element of truth that mainstream churches had overlooked. As I have researched these subjects in Scripture, I have found that part of what Bill taught was true but he was not fully teaching what the Bible taught. I believe that Satan gave these teachings to Bill to use to deceive Christians. Satan knew that most churches are not following what Christ had commanded in these areas and Satan had Bill to introduce them as forgotten truths to deceive the elect if at all possible. However, because Bill was not a Christian, his teachings on these subjects were used by Satan to turn Christians from following Christ. People implemented Gothard’s teachings on these subjects and followed Gothard instead of searching the Scriptures and finding out what God was actually saying and follow Christ.
- Bill Gothard handpicked 49 commands of Christ and said that if a person followed them, it would guarantee success in their Christian life. He could not make any such claim because he was not teaching people to follow all of Christ’s commands. In reality, he was ignoring over 600 other commands that Jesus has given to us in the New Testament.
- Bill Gothard had a flat view of Scripture. He taught that some of the Old Testament commands applied as much today as commands in the New Testament, such as “skirts and dresses only” for girls and women, not eating pork, circumcision, and abstaining from sexual relations in marriage during times stated in the OT. God has told us, that as Christians we are no longer under the Old Testament Law. We are to follow and teach ALL that Christ has commanded us (the second half of the Great Commission).
- To try to salvage IBLP and ATI and purge out the false teachings is not possible. It is founded upon false teachings, concepts, applications, sexual immorality and lies.
- He conned millions of people out of hundreds of millions of dollars and built an 80+ million dollar Bill Gothard empire ministry that was centered around him and his teachings while posing to be centered around Christ.
- Bill Gothard was a master deceiver and liar. Because he appeared to be a very godly man, many never suspected that he would be deceiving them and lying to them. Christians tend to trust other Christians because true Christians don’t lie. If things seemed a little off, we gave him the benefit of the doubt because he appeared to be such a Godly man that could be trusted even more than most Christian leaders. This trust enabled him to deceive many. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
Gothard’s Courtship Teaching
The doctrine of courtship as Gothard taught it was filled with deceptive promises and ideas, and has been adopted and modified by many conservative Christians including conservative Mennonites. He said it was the formula for a successful marriage and wrote a book about it. One of the indicators that his teaching is false is that two of the men who promoted it the most, Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips, were sexually abusing or sexually harassing young women for many years while they were teaching it. Preventing immorality was one of the main stated purposes for the courtship doctrine. It does not work. In fact it can be a tool of control by a dad or religious leader who is a sexual molester. One ATI father that I know personally put a strong emphasis on courtship. The mother of his one son-in-laws said that the courtship process with the dad was so intense that it was more about dating the dad than his future wife. Gothard’s courtship process was supposed to protect this couple from sexual immorality, but what had really gone on in secret was the Dad had sexually abused the young lady and her brothers and sisters for many years. A dad taking control over the dating process of his daughter, can give a dad extra power over his daughter to be able to sexually molest her because she has submitted her will and her romantic emotions to his control.
Many young people have shared how their lives have been damaged by the courtship process. Because of the courtship doctrine, many young people feel like they cannot relate properly with those of the opposite sex even years after they are married. The courtship teaching was supposed to bring the guy’s and the girl’s families together and create harmony, instead it has caused divisions in many families where the young married couple is not on relating terms with their parents.
Some of the problems with Gothard’s courtship model are:
- Bill Gothard had never married and had no personal experience of what makes a marriage work or how to relate to a wife as a special individual and truly understand her as a person. His perspective as a bachelor was looking at marriage from the outside looking in at something he had never personally experienced. A marriage is different from any other relationship. Much of his courtship teaching focused on externals such as learning how the other person handled themselves in a family or group setting and academic things such as what the young man believed, rather than the couple learning to know each other for who they really are behind their public appearance – their thoughts, feelings, fears, dreams, likes and dislikes, etc.
- The girl gives her heart to her dad to “guard” until Mr. Right comes along and she is not supposed to have romantic feelings toward a guy. Often she is asked to make a vow to God to “guard her heart” which in effect makes it a “sin” for her to have romantic feelings or thoughts. This can make it difficult for her to truly love her husband after she is married because she has suppressed those romantic feelings as if they were sin.
- Before the couple can start the courtship process, the girl’s dad checks the guy out and asks him questions to approve him for marriage to his daughter. In some cases, this process can take months during which the guy does not know if he will be acceptable or not. This hurdle prevents a lot of guys from ever trying to start a courtship process. Some guys have been rejected many times. Young people are complaining that many girls are not getting married.
- The guy is scrutinized by the girl’s dad, but the girl is not questioned in the same way by the guy’s dad. This gives the perspective that guys are bad and girls are good. Guys can’t be trusted. At the same time, it also intrinsically says that girls can’t be trusted to choose the right husband for themselves. When both the guy and girl are over 21, it says that neither can be fully trusted as adults to make their own decisions. It does not allow the girl to act as an adult and learn to relate on a deeper level with her potential husband. This vetting process has backfired with several couples that we know, and caused major problems after marriage with the young couple relating to their parents and a problem with parental control in certain areas after they are married.
- Gothard’s courtship vetting of the guy by the girl’s dad can result in the girl’s family setting ideals for the guy that are almost impossible for him to reach at his age and maturity.
- In some cases, the courting couple is not allowed to be alone together during much of their courtship. They can only interact together in a family setting with either his or her family present. Dates are often chaperoned by another family member to hold the couple accountable to moral purity. This public type of interaction prevents the couple from learning how to relate on a deeper level as a couple, to share their inner thoughts and feelings with the other and to be able to really get to know the other person because someone else is always listening.
- It is important that a couple learns to communicate inner thoughts and feelings with each other before they are married. They need to discuss beliefs, ideas, and experiences before engagement. Is this the person they want to spend their life with? It is important for a couple to spend time alone together to really get to know the other person. If their hearts don’t bond, they are probably not meant for each other.
- There is also a big problem with Gothard’s teaching of requiring a couple to court in the presence of other people, and that is, if the guy or girl can’t be trusted to be alone because they might be tempted to commit sexual sins before they are married, then they can’t be trusted after they are married either. Josh Dugger’s adultery is an example of this. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/reliable-source/wp/2015/08/20/close-reading-the-strange-josh-duggar-adultery-confession/?utm_term=.2f3293464c34 It would be much better for the guy or girl to find out that they can’t trust the other morally before they are married, rather than after they are joined together in marriage. If a young man can’t be trusted to protect and treat a young lady with integrity before marriage, he cannot be trusted after marriage.
Gothard’s purity culture and sexual abuse.
Gothard’s courtship teaching has also been called a purity culture. The adding to God’s Word on modesty and purity backfired and resulted in unexpected consequences of sexual crimes and sexual sins being committed. The following are some articles that correlate the purity culture with sexual abuse:
- The Troubling Connection Between Modesty Culture and Rape Culture http://time.com/3918215/modesty-culture-rape-culture/
- Purity Culture as Rape Culture: Why the Theological Is Political https://rewire.news/article/2013/10/22/purity-culture-as-rape-culture-why-the-theological-is-political/
- How Christian Purity Culture Enabled My Stepfather to Sexually Abuse Me alternet.org/how-christian-purity-culture-enabled-my-stepfather-sexually-abuse-me
We are living in the end times. We need to be sober and we need to be vigilant, because our adversary the Devil is going about seeking whom he may devour. God has warned us that Satan will try to deceive the elect if at all possible. It is time to stop giving false teachers the benefit of the doubt. If a teaching seems off, check it out. Check out the teachings that you have held for years to see if they are really true. If it is not what Scripture teaches, forsake the false teaching and make the appropriate changes. Many doctrines of man are based on Scripture and appear to be what Scripture teaches, but they have added the interpretations of man and are false teachings.
It is important that sexual abuse, false teachings, and deceptions be exposed to the light so that we and others are not deceived and harmed. The silence about sexual abuse and false teachings needs to end.
I share this out of love for you, and I desire the best for you and your walk with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Update Lawsuit Against Gothard Dropped
On 2/26/2018 The 17 people who had brought a lawsuit against Bill Gothard for sexual abuse and harassment issued a statement for the reason the case was dropped:
“Due to the unique complexities of this case, including the statutes of limitation, we have made the difficult decision to voluntarily dismiss our lawsuit against Bill Gothard and The Institute in Basic Life Principles. We want to make it abundantly clear that by dismissing our lawsuit at this time, we are not recanting our experiences or dismissing the incalculable damage that we believe Gothard has done by his actions and certain teachings. Nor are we disregarding that his organization chose to protect themselves instead of those under their care.” https://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2018/02/26/breaking-lawsuit-against-bill-gothard-and-the-institute-in-basic-life-principles-dismissed/
Gothard proclaimed it a great victory. However, the lawsuit being dropped does not prove his innocence. It does prove that it is difficult to bring a lawsuit against someone with a lot of money. Having read a number of these ladies’ stories, and having done a lot of research about sexual abuse, I believe that they are telling the truth. Dropping the lawsuit does not end the matter. It is still only the beginning and will likely go on for years even after Gothard’s death.
Many people believe that false accusations of sexual abuse against men are common. That is not true. Only a very small number turn out to be false accusations. The great publicity of those false accusations make it seem like a much greater percentage. This does a great injustice for those who have been sexually abused in getting people to believe them. In Gothard’s case, if only one or two women accused him of sexual abuse/harassment the possibility of it not being true would be a lot greater. But when 50 women come forward and said it happened to me AND Bill Gothard resigned from his position when he was exposed, we can be fairly certain that their accusations of sexual abuse and harassment are true.
The ‘Men Against Abuse Now’ website, whose mission is to lead men in joining women to free the world of men’s violence against women, states:
“Only about 2% of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false, the same percentage as for other felonies (FBI). So while they do happen, and they are very problematic when they do, people claim that allegations are false far more frequently than they are and far more frequently than for other crimes. Put another way, we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she says she was robbed, but for no good reason.
“On a related note, only about 40% of rapes are ever reported to the police, and this is partly because victims know that if their claim becomes public, their every behavior will be scrutinized, they will be shamed for their sexual history, and they will be labeled as lunatic, psychotic, paranoid, and manipulative. Just because someone does not report their crime does not mean it did not happen.” http://web.stanford.edu/group/maan/cgi-bin/?page_id=297
“Some people believe that recantations are a sure sign that a child lied about the abuse. However, a recent study found that pressure from family members play a significant role in recantations.” http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/csa-acc.html
Bill Gothard’s sexual abuse and harassment and the sexual abuse in his organization follows a pattern that I have called the MennoPornite Syndrome. I am writing a book on sexual abuse in conservative Christian groups using the Amish and conservative Mennonites as a case study. The book is titled “The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.” In some of these Amish and Mennonite communities sexual abuse is running rampant.
The Mennopornite Syndrome is a term that describes the phenomenon that occurs when religious groups add modesty and dress regulations, whether written or verbal, to the commands that God has given us in the New Testament. Instead of producing morally pure, holy, Godly men and women, these modesty and dress regulations backfire resulting in these groups having high rates of addiction to pornography and high rates of child sexual abuse. There are many other consequences of these conservative man made dress regulations that result in very undesirable consequences in the lives of people. These consequences and results follow a pattern as well and are part of the Mennopornite Syndrome.
In my book I include a case study of a man, John Howard Yoder who in many ways is similar to Bill Gothard while at the same time very different. He was highly esteemed by many and had a golden tongue that could win any debate. But how his sexual abuse was handled and covered up did not bring closure to his victims and it is still being addressed publicly years after Yoder’s death.
John Howard Yoder Case Study
This case study looks at a sexual abuse case in which a liberal Mennonite seminary covered up the sexual abuse of their star theologian to protect the image of the seminary and the image of the man they viewed as a celebrity. I am including it here because it is helpful to look at the numerous mistakes that were made over the years in dealing with John H. Yoder’s sexual abuse of women to see why it is so important that sexual abuse be dealt with immediately and publicly. Because of the cover-up, there was not closure of the subject for many of his victims, nor for the seminary and the broader church denomination, even years after his death.
John Howard Yoder was a professor and former president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Goshen, Indiana. Yoder sexually harassed and sexually abused over 100 women in three continents around the world during the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. Although the sexual abuse was known by seminary leaders, pastors in his home church, and leaders in the conference he was part of, it was not publicly addressed. Their silence and cover-up of the abuse resulted in them being enablers in many more women being abused because they covered up the abuse to protect their own image. They viewed John H. Yoder as a Mennonite celebrity and wanted to protect his image and theological works.
Yoder used the woman’s liberation movement of the 1970’s to his advantage in sexually abusing women. He would ask them to help with an important experiment and theological study in helping women to have freedom from the traditional constraints on sexuality between Christian brothers and sisters. He lured women by stating to the one he was grooming that he valued her intellect and collaboration. He would often pray with the one he abused during or after the abuse.
Yoder was a very intelligent man with a golden tongue. He would explain away his sexual abuse of women with theological arguments that were hard for others to refute. It would become a “tug of words” over what was right and wrong. He was known as a man who could win any debate. Marlin E. Miller, the president of Goshen Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, kept the situation secret and tried to hold Yoder accountable, first by confronting Yoder himself for a number of years, and then by setting up a total of seven accountability groups over the years, also with no success. The abuse of women by Yoder continued.
I am including below some excerpts from the article ““’Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse by Rachel Waltner Goossen in the January 2015 edition of the Mennonite Quarterly Review.
I found it very disgusting to read the “Defanging the Beast” article, not only with the actions of John H. Yoder, but even more with the actions of the seminary in their cover-up and their significant role as sexual abuse enablers of Yoder, enabling him to sexually abuse many women because they did not fire him and publicly denounce what he was doing to women.
Rachel Goossen writes: “As Marlin Miller and other Mennonite leaders learned of Yoder’s behavior, the tendency to protect institutional interest – rather than seeking redress for women reporting sexual violation – was amplified because of Yoder’s status as the foremost Mennonite theologian and because he conceptualized his behavior as an experimental form of sexual ethics. In a 1974 solicitation in which he appealed to women to engage with him, he wrote: ‘Only thanks to your friendship, sisterhood, can I do the theology.’ Remarkably, Yoder was conveying that the women whom he persuaded to join him would be test subjects for him. They were tools for him to use in his quest to perfect Christian theology.” p.10
“More than two dozen Mennonite men and women involved in various accountability efforts keep, either in institutional files or in home storage, the written records generated by their efforts. By the 1990’s, documents in the form of memoranda, handwritten notes, meeting minutes, and mental health records had piled up. Still, leaders of Mennonite accountability groups sought to control and contain information, and not all the materials survived. As one leader queried another, ‘We have a considerable amount that needs shredding. Do you know where we could have this done?’ Time and again, systemic destruction of files pertaining to Yoder’s sexual abuse occurred.” p.15
“The noted sociologist Andrew Greeley has written of sexual abuse and institutional response mostly in the context of American Catholic hierarchies, but his insights cut across religious lines. ‘The clerical elite,’ he argues ‘will rally around the accused person because an attack on him is an attack on the whole elite… For the sexual abuser this provides an almost perfect situation. You can exploit, and your colleagues will protect you from the effects of your exploitation either by denying it or finding you another place to exercise your power.’” p.18
“There were plenty of women in Yoder’s world – in cars, offices, classrooms, and church settings – and he had time to hone his methodologies. Some women who knew him in a variety of settings would assert that his personal attentiveness had been positive and broadening, and they appreciated his friendship. A generation later, professionals knowledgeable about sexual abuse would label Yoder’s range of opportunistic approaches as ‘grooming’ behaviors, subtle come-ons that suggested to whomever he was engaging with that he valued her intellect and collaboration.” p. 26, 27
One seminary student, “Elena”, was repeatedly sexually abused by Yoder in the fall of 1978. “In the late spring of 1979, Yoder was preparing to leave for Europe, and he asked Elena to record in writing everything he had taught her about Christian sexual relationships. She complied and mailed it to him. Within weeks, Yoder’s wife, Anne, discovered Elena’s letter and took it to Marlin Miller as further evidence of her husband’s extracurricular activities. That summer, the G.B.S president called Elena into his office. In shock and shame, she stood as Miller showed her the letter she had written, and she listened in disbelief as he told her: ‘I have the authority to expel you from the seminary.’ She nodded, and after leaving Miller’s office, sank in to depression.
“Miller, the theologian at the helm of her church’s seminary, had threatened her with expulsion. That had been his response to written evidence that Yoder was engaged in explicit sexual experimentation with selected students; the letter she had written and sent to Yoder at his request, just weeks before, had been clear on those details. Elena stayed on campus for the upcoming school year, even sitting in on a class offered by President Miller. But ultimately, she later recalled: ‘He didn’t have to expel me. I did his job for him.’ Concentrating on studies was difficult, and she dropped out of one class after another. She departed Elkhart at the end of her second year without a degree. Her sojourn at the Mennonite seminary had been darkened by Yoder’s abuse, by Miller’s blaming, and by her own shattered sense of self. These experiences, she later recalled, set her up for further abuse by several other male predators who sensed her vulnerability.” p. 31, 32
“Miller had a range of concerns in keeping Yoder’s secret. Given the strains on the Yoder’s marriage, it was possible that Anne Yoder would become so angry that she would expose her husband’s behaviors to the broader church. It was also conceivable that some woman, known or unknown to Miller might tell her story publicly. Yet another risk lay in exposure by aggrieved husbands. By 1979, Miller has become aware of marriages in trouble because of Yoder’s actions in North America and on other continents; a prominent theologian had written to inform Miller of two women in South Africa whom Yoder had violated sexually.” p. 35
The “Defanging the Beast” article goes on for another 45 pages detailing cover-up and failure to properly address Yoder’s sexual abuse by various organizations. It also shares the failed attempts by accountability groups to bring John H. Yoder to repentance. I encourage you to read the full “Defanging the Beast” article. It will give you a better understanding of how cover-up hurts victims and the stupidity and foolishness of a religious group hiding sin. The full article is available at: http://www.washburn.edu/academics/college-schools/arts-sciences/departments/history/images/Goossen%20Defanging%20the%20Beast%20MQR%202015.pdf
After the seminary repeatedly failed to address these abuses, a group of victims threatened to engage in a public protest in 1992 at a Bethel College conference where Yoder was to be a speaker. Several months later, Yoder’s credentials were suspended.
A five part series of investigative articles about the allegations of John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse were published in the Elkhart Truth newspaper.
The third article in the Elkhart Truth, dated July 14, 1992 – “A Known Secret: Church slow to explore rumors against leader”, addressed the cover-up of Yoder’s sexual abuse. The article states: “’A lot has been learned in the past 10 to 12 years about how the allegations should be dealt with,’ said Clara, one of eight women who brought allegations against Yoder. ‘The assumption back then was you keep these things quiet and you assume, and hope, they will go away.’
“Increased public attention to sexual harassment and authority abuse within the last decade has prompted churches to find ways to address the concerns brought forward by victims, although many still are reluctant to publicly reveal allegations for fear of ruining an individual’s reputation.
“But concerns about false allegations do not outweigh concerns for public confrontation of allegations of authority abuse, according to James Lapp, general secretary of the Mennonite Church General Board, ‘The church has been more seriously charged with complicity in a cover-up. That must end,’ Lapp said in an interview before departing for an overseas mission trip. ‘The church must be on the side of healing, reconciliation and hope for victims, and not participate in their further victimization through silence.’” http://peacetheology.net/john-h-yoder/john-howard-yoder%E2%80%99s-sexual-misconduct%E2%80%94part-three/
As the above statements suggest, people at the time thought that they were making improvements on how to handle Yoder’s sexual abuse over how it had been handled in the past. But how the case was handled by the leadership did not bring resolution and closure to the case. There is a temptation for people at any given point in time to think that they are handling sexual abuse cases better than what others did in the past and feel good about what they are doing, when in reality there is still not enough being done.
In a July 2013 article (21 years after Yoder’s credentials were suspended and 16 years after Yoder’s death) titled: “Revisiting the Legacy of John Howard Yoder”, Sara Wenger Shenk shares how not enough was done in dealing with the John Howard Yoder sexual abuses. She states:
“As the current president of AMBS (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary), I’m committed to a new transparency in the truth telling that must happen. We must strive to get the facts straight, to acknowledge healing work that has been done, and to shoulder the urgent healing work that must still be done…
“The renewed outcry for truth-telling about what really happened and what didn’t happen in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s has deepened my resolve and the resolve of Mennonite Church USA leaders, including Ervin Stutzman, to continue the healing journey…
“True, there was confusion about who John Howard should be accountable to with various influential church leaders and institutions continuing to send him all over the world even as AMBS leaders of the time discouraged his use as a resource. It took far too long to realize how he was out-manipulating persons who sought to confront him, along with providing his own theological rationalization for his sexual activities.
“But it’s time to say frankly that we have fallen short. Even those of us now in leadership who weren’t remotely involved at the time, must commit to the deep listening needed to get the facts straight. What did actually happen? What was done to address it and what was left undone regrettably, or done poorly, in retrospect? Who suffered because of that failure? Who was disbelieved for too long even as an abuser was allowed to continue his globetrotting ministry without public censure? In what ways would we respond differently today given the benefit of hindsight and so much learning in the meantime?” http://www.ambs.edu/publishing/2013/07/Revisiting-the-Legacy-of-John-Howard-Yoder.cfm
On March 22, 2015 the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary finally apologized to the more than 100 women who were sexually violated by John Howard Yoder. It was the first time leaders in the seminary had publicly apologized to the women who had been victimized.
In a “Service of Lament, Confession and Commitment” in the seminary chapel, seminary president Sara Wenger Shenk said: “I am sorry that we neglected to genuinely listen to your reports of violation and that even after hearing your warnings, we failed to raise the alarm.
“I am sorry that by choosing to remain silent about your violation, we isolated you, only deepening your sense of betrayal. I am sorry that in our exhaustion and desire for closure, we didn’t listen to those of you who said this is not finished, the full truth of what happened has not yet been named.” http://mennoworld.org/2015/03/23/news/ambs-on-abuse-we-failed-you/
While the wheels of human justice in dealing with the sins of John H. Yoder moved very slowly, God’s justice seems to have moved much faster. Marlin Miller died of a heart attack in 1994 when he was only 55 years old. Three years later in 1997, Yoder died of a heart attack at the age of 70.
One lesson to learn from the handling of the sexual abuse by John H Yoder is that the cover-up of sexual abuse does not end the matter. Instead it multiplies the problem and potentially significantly increases the number of victims. Cover-up makes it very difficult to end all the hurts inflicted on the victims and to end all the consequences of the cover-up. The hurts and consequences of Yoder’s sexual abuse and the seminary’s cover-up continue even after the March 2015 apology.
Another lesson to learn from this case study is that leaders of a church or organization have a conflict of interest when it comes to addressing sexual abuse by one of their leaders or by another within their group. They have their own reputation to protect and are not qualified, regardless of their credentials and the high respect others have for them, to properly handle and address sexual abuse in their midst.
The lawsuit against Bill Gothard being dropped does not end the matter. It is just the beginning for these 50+ women who were abused and harassed by Gothard in their fight for justice. They need us to join them in standing for justice and truth. This plague of sexual abuse in Christian churches and organizations needs to end!