When Asking “Why” Does Not Bring Answers

22 April 2013, 06:00




Editor’s note: The following testimony references Bill Gothard’s “Why Did God Let It Happen?” teaching. This teaching has been delivered in several different formats, many of which do not directly reference sexual abuse. However, the Counseling Sexual Abuse document that was distributed at ATI (Advanced Training Institute) counseling seminars applies this teaching directly to sexual abuse. It raised the same issue of “modesty” and “obedience” that this former ATI student struggled with in her own personal story.

Even though my parents divorced when I was nine years old, my mother did everything in her power to raise me to be a young woman who wanted to follow God with all her heart. She made sure I was around healthy, “whole” families with strong spiritual standards. She fully vetted my friends to ensure that I wasn’t spending the night with just anyone, and constantly invited my friends over to keep me from falling victim to all the tragedies that befall many young women in our culture. I remember at eight years old fearing rape because, in my young mind, purity was such an important thing, perhaps the thing that my worth as a person hinged upon. This belief was not particularly due to my mother’s influence; I chalk it up to the culture within the churches that we attended, and I attended church as far back as I can remember.

After my parents divorced, we moved from overseas back to the States. As we settled into our new home near my mother’s family, we found a new church to attend — one that espoused the teachings of Bill Gothard. I remember attending several Basic Seminars before we actually joined ATI. Since I wanted to be the best Christian possible, with every bit of my naïve little heart I lapped up the teachings and took copious notes. I particularly remember Gothard’s teaching on “Why Did God Let it Happen?” I wrote out fifteen reasons I thought God had allowed my parents to divorce, and tried to use those reasons to rid myself of the bitterness I held towards my father for leaving me, not protecting me, and not letting me be like all the girls in “whole” families that I was around. Since this seemed to work, I internalized this teaching and was quite pleased, in a weird sort of way, that I could now have an explanation for everything bad that happened to me and see God use it for “good” in my life.

When I was fifteen and the holidays rolled around, my grandfather came to visit, as he always did. Since my father had left and now lived halfway around the world, my grandfather had easily slipped into the role of my surrogate father shortly thereafter. I adored him, and it helped that I was his favorite grandchild. Whenever my mother thought I was too young to know or hear about certain things, he would always fill me in. He made me feel like I wasn’t a silly child. I remember many breakfasts at his favorite places with just him, and how he could make friends so easily with his quick wit and sense of humor. So much of my childhood happened with my grandfather.

During his visit this particular year, I was very ill and had already been in bed for a few days. When my grandfather came to visit he was always given my bedroom to stay in. My mother made it clear that I was to sleep on the couch on these occasions, and I had always obeyed. However, this night my grandfather came to bed in my room before I could make it to the couch. When I started to get up out of bed, he gently held me down and told me to stay because I didn’t feel well and was already comfortable. I started to fall asleep to his quiet murmurs of how pretty I was and what a heart-breaker I was — stuff he used to say to me all the time. As he spoke, he began touching me under my clothing, and I remember slowly waking in horror as this burning sense of dread paralyzed me. I prayed, begging God to let me wake up as I was convinced I was having a nightmare. I told myself over and over that I was hallucinating, willed myself to be hallucinating, dreaming, anything. I have no idea how long exactly I was there, but I finally was able to will myself to get up and go into our living room.

I sat there shaking, hugging my knees to my chest. I remember wondering if I should wake my mother. Then I realized that if I woke her up, I would have to tell her what happened, and that would make my grandfather look bad because I had disobeyed her. I thought about why God let this happen for a very long time while sitting there, and concluded that it had to be because of my disobedience. If I hadn’t been disobedient, this never would have happened. Also, if I said anything, I would deprive my sister of the only father she had ever really known. An hour or two must have passed, and I finally fell asleep.

For many years after this incident I stuffed this memory; I couldn’t bear the guilt I shouldered since I was convinced I had caused what happened. Even though I buried the memory, I took the guilt out on my body, hating it. I blamed anything remotely attractive about myself as something that had tempted my grandfather and cause a good Christian man — the closest thing I had to a father — to sin.

A year later, I attended an ATI girls’ counseling seminar. After one of the sessions, a girl who had experienced something similar to what I had experienced asked Mr. Gothard during the Question and Answer time why God might have let that happen to her. His answer was that the abuse was to teach her to value her spiritual soul above her physical body and make her “mighty in spirit.” This only added more fuel to the hatred I felt for my own body. I spent so many years wishing I was built like a boy, hiding under turtlenecks and jumpers, wishing I wasn’t someone who was remotely attractive because the abuse was my fault. When I ended up moving to the Indianapolis Training Center a few years later, all my body-hating reached new levels as I was regularly told by the leadership that I was probably immoral due to my father’s affair, and that they were there to “help” me.

My grandfather ended up molesting and raping several other girls, something I didn’t find out about until I was an adult. One of his other victims, who was just a child at the time, was asked by my ATI-affiliated pastor (per Mr. Gothard’s teachings) what she was wearing when the abuse happened and if she had “cried out.” I cannot tell you the rage I felt towards all these men when I heard that question was directed towards a child.

When I realized that what my grandfather did to me wasn’t an isolated incident caused by my “disobedience” and realized that he would never stop, that was the impetus needed to push me to report him to the police and finally begin to forgive myself for something I had never even done in the first place.

Looking back, I see that my grandfather was a classic groomer: He made me keep secrets from my mother, and he pushed physical boundaries way before he actually outright crossed them. And the reasons I was so convinced that God had “let it happen”? I now realize that this just fed into my need as a victim (and the needs of those in authority) to find a reason — any reason — why it had been my fault so I could keep it from happening again.

Lisa D has left all of ATI behind and is currently living in freedom in the Midwest, where she is happily married and works for a software company. While there are many residual affects of an ATI brand of fundamentalism left over, Lisa continues to work through these things aided by her husband and the catharsis of sharing her story.

If this sexual abuse series brings up any emotions that you would like to process with a professional counselor, please e-mail us at: [email protected]g. We would be happy to recommend some professional counselors who are associated with the Recovering Grace ministry and who are familiar with the fundamentalist background of ATI and IBLP.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


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