The deeper I move into traditional realms of theological thought, the more I am convinced that one of the biggest dangers in the teachings of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) is that it teaches a subtle form of superstitious determinism. Rather than being free to live our lives without fear, we are taught that any small compromise with “the world” — even an unintentional or innocent one — may put us in danger of losing our salvation or of being overcome by demonic influence. Hundreds of children had their beloved dolls taken away — some of them had to watch them being destroyed — because Bill Gothard told their families that Cabbage Patch dolls were evil and opened their children to demonic influence. Other people found themselves compelled to divest their homes of family heirlooms because the figurines, masks, or other items, even though used purely for decoration, were focal points for demonic influence, according to Gothard’s teachings.
I do not doubt that some people found relief from fears and problems after removing such things from their homes. Because the human mind has remarkable, frightening power. But I am coming to believe that things do not have power unless I give them power. If I fear that the Cabbage Patch doll, ancient Indian artifact, or African tribal mask on my wall might harbour evil spirits, then I am giving those things power over me. I believe that this is why God was so clear that He had “not given [us] a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Anyone with a sound mind who is confident in their God-given power knows that a carved piece of rock or wood or an ugly baby doll is not going to harm them.
That is not to say that I think it is appropriate for Christians to have statues of Kali, or Buddha, or other foreign gods adorning our homes. I do think God was serious when He told His people “You shall have no other gods in front of my face.” (That is a loose translation from the Hebrew, in which the words על־פני are translated “before me” in Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7, but as “upon/over the face of” in Genesis 1:2.)
So no, I don’t think we need to start decorating our homes with Buddha statues, but I also think that we need not be afraid of those kinds of things, because He who indwells us is greater than those idols. If you have a statue that has been passed down in your family, I don’t think you need to get rid of it just because you unexpectedly learn that it is a fertility god statue from ancient Mesopotamia. I have known people who have done just that, and I have known yet others who would not visit other believers because of a particular piece of decor in that person’s home. That is legalistic bondage, not freedom.
To teach, as Bill Gothard does, that toys and statues and masks and the like can somehow have a malign influence upon your family seems just as superstitious to me as does the idea that breaking a mirror will land you with seven years’ bad luck. And God seems to be pretty clear that superstition is one of the burdens that Christians should be free from.