It is no secret that Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) have a bizarre outlook on male/female relationships. In a world where falling in love means losing a piece of your heart forever, relationships are a spiritual distraction, and in a place where marriage is a last resort, it is no surprise that the leadership would go to great lengths to discourage or prevent boy/girl relationships. Even in the case of young men and women of marrying age or beyond it, male/female interaction was viewed as a great taboo.
Here are a few examples:
Oklahoma Training Center, 1999. In a rare moment of free time, the students were allowed to walk around the parking lot for exercise. I was walking with a group of several young men and women, and struck up a conversation with a couple of young ladies about a certain radio program. Within five minutes, I received a tap on the back. It was a member of leadership, and I was reprimanded for having a casual conversation with girls. I was told that it was the Training Center’s job to protect my heart.
Indianapolis Training Center, 2001. I was attending an advanced musical course. The music courses tended to be more relaxed than the other Training Center (TC) programs, simply because it was more of a dedicated instructional atmosphere. We were all paying for “education.” Our class seemed to have a lot of camaraderie, partially because we had undertaken a couple of last-minute musical performances for important guests of the Training Center. We genuinely enjoyed each others’ company. Apparently, we were enjoying each others’ company too much, because the head of the music program informed us one day that the TC leadership was concerned about inappropriate relationships. We were then told that men and women were no longer allowed to be in the same room with any member of the opposite sex (even in a group setting) unless there was an adult present. Keep in mind that almost all of the students were over 18, and many of them were in their 20s. In the real world, we were adults. This edict effectively destroyed the camaraderie and Biblical fellowship of this class.
Arlington, Texas, 2006. In my post-Advanced Training Institute (ATI) involvement, I still had connections with folks in the program. One such connection allowed me to work on a recording project for an ensemble that consisted of students from a church comprised mostly of ATI families. After we completed the recording, my wife and I suggested that we all go out for dinner. I still remember being stunned as one young lady had to ask her parents for permission to go out with mixed company. Their answer: as long as my wife and I went as “chaperones” it would be okay. The irony? The young lady in question was older than we were.
The mentality that male/female interaction leads to undesired consequences is a dangerous one. Sure, there can be bad results when young men and women engage in relationships in a manner that does not honor God. But we must never forget that God created men and women to be together not only in marriage relationships, but also in ministry partnerships and in friendships. What often happens to young men and women raised with a fear of relationships with the opposite gender is that they end up fearful and confused about how to relate to each other. It is not uncommon for it to take years before they are able to have relationships that function as God designed.
We must never forget that God created humans to be in healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex. Young men and women should be encouraged to have maturity in their relationships, rather than simply being mistrusted and suspected. Rather than strictly forbidding all interaction with the opposite sex, parents and leaders should focus on teaching their children how God desires them to treat one another as brothers and sisters in the faith.