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As a former ATI (Advanced Training Institute) parent, I’ve appreciated many of the articles published on your site. They have opened my eyes to things that went on behind the scenes at IBLP (Institute in Basic Life Principles) and caused me to rethink much of what we were taught (and at one time I believed) by ATI.
One question, though: So many of your articles and the comments that follow them seem to be blaming the parents for all of this. Why are we blamed when we only wanted what was best for our children?
Perplexed in Perkinsville
Most of us, as former students, have been encouraged not to be too hard on our parents. In many respects, we’ve been asked to work overtime to see this from our parents’ perspective and to give you the benefit of the doubt. Many of us have done this, and now we ask for the same courtesy — please try to see this from our perspective.
We know that you were sincere in your efforts to raise godly children, and we are grateful for it. There are several factors to consider when evaluating where the breakdown happened.
Most of us were children — incapable of making educated decisions — when our families first enrolled in the ATI program. We had neither the choice, nor the outside perspective, to evaluate things like Wisdom Booklets, the Knoxville training sessions, the benefits or detriments of higher education, courtship over dating, etc. Even our eventual decisions as early adults were largely made in ignorance from what little we were taught within the boundaries of the ATI program. And within many ATI families, the only decisions we were allowed to make in early adulthood were various forms of bounded-choice.
In contrast, our parents were fully-grown, emotionally-, physically-, and spiritually-developed adults when they joined the ATI program (often with much more “life experience” than they’d care to acknowledge). In many ways, though they were deceived too, they should have had more wisdom to see past ATI’s marketing hype (“Get perfectly obedient, godly children in these 7 easy steps!”) to the flaws within its teachings. Unfortunately, too many parents didn’t dig deep. Instead, they swallowed Bill Gothard’s teachings at face value — without question, without research, without reservation — and, in doing so, failed the number one requirement of parents: to protect their children from spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical harm.
Some parents did have reservations, but chose to stay in the program anyway, often failing to pass these reservations on to their children. Most failed to keep tabs on what their children were being taught separately, or were being pressured to vow, while in Knoxville sessions, conferences, and while serving at training centers. Many times our vocalized concerns were dismissed by our parents with phrases such as, “You must have misunderstood,” or “You’re taking it too far,” or “You’re just bitter/rebellious.”
In contrast, Mr. Gothard was (and often still is) put on a pedestal for his “wisdom.” While their own children’s pain was ignored, parents gave him a free pass because he helped some other person’s marriage, finances, or broken relationship. Often we were told, “He is an exhorter!” in response to why he gave us empty promises or phrased things in a misleading way. His motives were always assumed to be pure, but we were considered bitter or rebellious for questioning inconsistencies. Gothard was loved and revered; we were held at arms length and rebuked. And so, regardless of how damaging, graceless, or wrong the offense, many parents’ loyalty and love remained with Bill Gothard, while their own children were ostracized and family relationships were sacrificed over one man.
We know that our parents have also been hurt through the teachings of this program. We see your pain and empathize with your choices. We realize you have the difficult dilemma of either acknowledging that Bill Gothard was not God’s Anointed (as he has claimed) and The Answer to your broken family, or you are still clinging to the ideal that Gothard was some sort of modern-day apostle Paul and that you just didn’t apply his methods correctly. Neither option is comfortable, of course, because either way you’ve hung a lot of hope in the flawed promises of a man. In sacrificing relationships for principles, many ATI parents realize too late that they’ve lost the respect and hearts of their children.
I love God’s grace! Grace gives us a second chance — all of us — when we deserve none. It is possible for grace to transform broken family relationships, but only if we have made it an attitude of our heart (reflecting God’s unconditional, accepting love and forgiveness for others, regardless of what they do or do not do to deserve it), not another principle to put into action. No one can tell you, “Go do x, y, and z, and you will suddenly receive and understand God’s grace.” You can do a correct action, but without understanding and exhibiting the gracious heart of God in how you do it, it is for nothing. Martin Luther said, “All works, no matter how good they are and how pretty they look, are in vain if they do not flow from grace.”
The same is true of parenting. No matter how good your parenting, how many biblical principles you have applied, how many Wisdom Searches you have led your family in, or how often you have meditated on Scripture and encouraged your family to do so, if you do not exhibit a heart attitude of grace towards your children — unconditional love and acceptance in a way that they feel loved and accepted — you will most likely lose their hearts. Graceless homes do not build lasting relationships, because graceless homes do not have Christ’s unconditional love at the center.
If you currently have broken relationships with your children, or if you know an emotional wall has been put up and you’re not sure how to reach out to them, please don’t give up! In talking with many former ATI students, there is a common thread — they just want to be heard, loved, and accepted unconditionally. While some have given up on ever having a good relationship with their parents again, others still remain hopeful that a parent will reach out to them. In many cases, they don’t expect their parents to fully understand their pain; they just want them to listen, acknowledge, and validate.
One former ATI student shared with me, “As angry as I was at my lowest point, I never would have rejected an ‘I’m so sorry’ or an ‘I was wrong’ from my parents, nor would I have been inclined to turn around and beat them over the head with it either. Everyone is different, but I remember how angry I was (seething, really). I didn’t want vengeance…I just needed validation from them.”
Others have said they wished they could hear the following grace-filled acknowledgements from their parents:
“I’m sorry. I really hurt you, and there is no excuse for my behavior. It’s okay if you need to heal and don’t want to be around me for awhile. I’ll wait for you to let me know when/if you want to see me.”
“I am so, so sorry for being so selfish and neglecting your needs. I am sorry for using you to meet my own needs, and not loving and nurturing you as I should have. I’m sorry for putting you in the position of having to parent your siblings, and not being a real parent to you. I’m sorry I stole your childhood from you, and there is no way I can ever make that up to you. Please tell me more about how this affected you. I know it will be painful for me to hear, but that’s okay… I caused you so much pain, and I want to learn from my mistakes. If you don’t want to talk to me for a while, or ever again, I understand, and that is fine too.”
“We wish we had trusted God to guide you and simply enjoyed you as the capable adult you were.”
“I’m sorry we stood between you and God and invalidating your walk with Him. We shouldn’t have kept you dependent on us after you were an adult. We should have encouraged you to follow Him with all of your heart and not expected you to follow us.”
“We made a mistake in letting all those teachings take over our lives and relationships. We’re sorry we didn’t listen to you and made you feel like you needed to behave and think a certain way in order to be loved. We will love you no matter where you go or what decisions you make.”
“I was wrong. I do not expect you to forgive me; I don’t deserve it. But I was wrong in how I treated you.”
While there’s not an easy solution to restoring a broken parent/child relationship (especially in more difficult cases where abuse has occurred or trust has been severely violated), approaching your adult child with a heart attitude of grace, humility, unconditional love and respect will go a long way towards finding healing.
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