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Editor's note: The Recovering Grace team understands the seriousness of the allegations made in this story containing descriptions of conduct of a sexual nature between a minor and an authority figure. This story, more so than others, has caused the RG team to examine our hearts, to ensure that our motives are pure as we humbly seek to balance justice with grace and mercy. We have sought counsel from trusted advisors, and have spent many hours in prayerful consideration before publishing this story. While there will always be an element of “He-said/She-said” in stories of this nature, we have spent over eight months investigating this story. We have interviewed witnesses, some of whom have agreed to go on the record. Combining this investigation with what we have previously researched, we believe this to be credible. Note that some will understandably ask why this is not the subject of legal action. It’s understood that any statute of limitations has expired in this case. “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” --Proverbs 31:8
Editor's note: The Recovering Grace team understands the seriousness of the allegations made in this story containing descriptions of conduct of a sexual nature between a minor and an authority figure. This story, more so than others, has caused the RG team to examine our hearts, to ensure that our motives are pure as we humbly seek to balance justice with grace and mercy. We have sought counsel from trusted advisors, and have spent many hours in prayerful consideration before publishing this story. While there will always be an element of “He-said/She-said” in stories of this nature, we have spent over eight months investigating this story. We have interviewed witnesses, some of whom have agreed to go on the record. Combining this investigation with what we have previously researched, we believe this to be credible. Note that some will understandably ask why this is not the subject of legal action. It’s understood that any statute of limitations has expired in this case.
“Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” --Proverbs 31:8
It is hard for me to bare my soul. I was raised to put my best face forward and act like all is well. I am a preacher’s daughter, the youngest of seven children. In the world I grew up in, the pastor and his family always had to be perfect.
I have been told I am alive because of Bill Gothard. My parents became involved in the seminars in the early 1970s, and at that time they were done with having kids. My parents told Gothard that, because of him, they were convicted to have more children. I was born in 1975, and from the get go I was told that I was special—the seventh child, God’s perfect number—and that I owed my life to Bill Gothard. My parents told Bill that they, like Hannah, were giving me back to God.
My parents hosted Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC) seminars in California, and were deeply involved in the IBYC (later renamed the Institute in Basic Life Principles, or IBLP) way of life. We moved to New Jersey when I was five years old. I was put into Christian school there until the second half of first grade, when my Mom pulled me out to homeschool me. I cried to go back to school. The Advanced Training Institute (ATI, Gothard’s homeschooling program) was just starting, so my parents were among the first hundred or so families to be enrolled in this new program when I started second grade. My three brothers who were closest to me in age were attending college back in Indiana at the time, but my parents pulled them out of college when we joined ATI. One of my brothers went straight to the IBLP Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, to help with landscaping.
My father was so deep into Gothard’s teachings, and he preached them so much, that his church board had issues with it. He was forced out of a church in Minnesota. He blamed this on the board not being willing to grow. I have my own theory of why he was forced out, though.
My father was a sexual predator. He had been forced out of churches in California and New Jersey for taking indecent liberties with young girls. My mother turned a blind eye to it all. My father’s sexual abuse of me didn’t start until we moved to a pastorate in New Jersey, when I was seven years old and got my own room.
We left that church when I was 13 years old, and we moved to Virginia when I was 15. I went kicking and screaming! The move took me from my friends and my job. I hated my parents’ rules: Don’t cut your hair. No makeup. No music that wasn’t approved. And the purity rings! I thought that was a joke. I hadn’t felt “pure” since my father took my virginity when I was eight years old.
We went to a conference in Knoxville in July of 1992. That’s where I first met Bill Gothard. I remember he wouldn’t let go of my hand, and he kept telling my parents how sweet, beautiful, and pure I was. I was in awe as I listened to the man whom I had been told was responsible for me being alive tell my parents that he wanted me to come to Headquarters. Me? The youngest of seven children, a preacher’s daughter? What did I have to offer him, this man whom my mother almost worshiped and my father would preach about in his sermons? That was during the first week of July. By mid-August I was at IBLP Headquarters by his request. I was put on payroll right away. I was 16 years old.
Bill wanted me working in his personal office. My brother was working at Headquarters as the head landscaper. I fussed so much about wanting to be outside that I became one of the first girls to work on the landscape crew. Bill didn’t like me working outdoors. He pushed me to take a job near him, inside, but I wouldn’t.
My parents had told Bill about my attitude, about the boy I was seeing, and about how immoral we were for simply kissing. My parents portrayed me to Bill as a sexual, rebellious teen who needed help—but I had only kissed a boy. That was all. Bill told them he would give me intensive counseling.
Bill would call me into his office for “counseling and teaching.” I was open about my relationship with my boyfriend. As we talked, Bill would play footsie with me. I loved to be barefooted, and he would always comment on the shades of polish on my toes. I’d talk, and he would rub my feet with his.
He wanted all the details of my past sexual experiences. He asked me a lot about how much I had let my boyfriend touch me, how we kissed— it went on and on. He seemed to get pleasure from pulling every detail out of me. We would then kneel at the couch and pray. I remember how my knees would hurt after a while. He made me confess, often holding my hand. He liked to make me cry over it. Bill told me that God had a better plan for me.
He knew what my father had done to me, but he called me into repentance for my own sins without confronting my father or addressing his sin. I was a temptation to men; Bill Gothard told me that I had tempted my own father.
I craved Bill’s attention but felt guilty about the increasing touches he gave me. I wanted a relationship with a man that was like a relationship with a father. Bill Gothard gave me that feeling of being worth something.
He wanted me around him as much as possible, wanted me to be with him as much as he could get me. I started meeting with him in his office in the morning, every morning. He would pick me up in his blue classic car by 5:30 a.m. for prayer and Bible study. There were others there, but they would leave, and he’d keep me with him to “talk.” It started out with him telling me how beautiful I was, how I inspired him, and how I made him feel alive. It went to hand-holding, then long hugs. He would touch me and hug me after devotions and then take me to the eight o’clock staff meeting session. His assistant would drive us to the staff meeting.
I began to have discord with my housemates, and I asked Bill to move me to a different house. He said the woman in charge of housing wouldn’t “let” him. It all came to a head one night when I told one of my housemates about the long hugs Bill gave me. She got very upset and told me that I was lying, that Bill would never touch a woman. She was so upset that she reported it to one of the staff leaders.
Next thing I knew, I was called into a disciplinary meeting with a couple of senior staff members and Bill, and they confronted me about my claims. They said that I was wrong—Bill would never hug a girl, and that I shouldn’t make claims that weren’t true. They made it clear they didn’t believe me. A short time after that meeting, I was walking home alone when a car pulled up beside me. Bill was driving, and he told me to get in. He told me that what happened between us needed to stay between us. I was never to tell anyone else because it was our little secret—was that clear? I understood perfectly.
Bill would have me accompany him in his car to the airport, and be there to pick him up when he got back from trips. He insisted that I go on the first IBLP trip to Australia that October and paid for me to go. We were all so busy on the trip, I didn’t see much of him. When we got back from Australia he added counseling after-hours, at night.
We would meet after dinner in his office around 7 or 8 p.m. That’s when he started really touching me. I am curvy, and he loved my breasts. He gave me cash and told me to buy bras that pushed me up more; he wanted me to always wear them when I was around him. He never wanted me to show him, though. He just liked to touch over the clothing. He would drive me home so I wouldn’t walk alone to my house in the dark. He would hold my hand and rub my leg and tell me not to tell anyone about what we did in his car.
I was getting a lot of heat from my housemates. I was known as Bill’s “pet.” I loved the attention, but I felt dirty. But a part of me thought this was how I was to treat “godly” men. After all, my father had trained me well. I was turned on by Bill, but I also felt terribly guilty.
I went home at the end of October for a week, and Bill called and talked to me daily. I told my mom about what was happening, and she told me I was lying. Bill arranged my flight back to O’Hare so we could ride back to Headquarters in the car together. That’s when he first put his hand between my legs and felt me all the way up.
There were rumors going around about Bill and me. My brother started hearing things and asked me about it. Of course I denied everything. Bill had sworn me to silence with both guilt and fear. I was the one who was at fault because I was tempting him. If I told anyone, the future of the entire ministry could be compromised. Why would I want to hinder God’s work? He told me that this was our little secret, just between us. If I told anyone, he said he would kick my family out of ATI.
There was enough of a stir about how much time I was spending alone with Bill that my brother went to a higher-up in January and had him try to get Bill to send me home. As I understand it, the IBLP Board called Bill on the carpet for spending so much time alone with a young girl, and I was sent home in January. I believe my brother saved me.
When Bill knew I was being sent home, he called me into his office. He took me in his arms and ran his fingers through my hair. Hugging me tight, he told me never to cut my hair, that I was his inspiration. He then kissed me deeply on the lips and told me never to forget him. Then I was picked up and put on a plane, and I have never heard from him since.
My parents blackballed me and thought I was the devil because I was sent home from Headquarters. I was a shame to the family for being sent home. I really went on a tailspin after that. I tried to take my life a number of times. I turned to sex and men to make me feel better about myself. I thought that sex was all I was worth.
I had a falling out with my parents and married a man close to Bill’s age. He left me five months later when I was 21. I have since been remarried a wonderful man, and have re-found my God. I have two beautiful boys, and a beautiful baby girl who is now in heaven.
I repressed the memories of my father’s abuse until after he died in 2006. At that time, a family member asked if my father had abused me. At first I denied that he had, but mentioned the things that Bill Gothard had done to me. I had told my parents about Bill’s abuse earlier, but they told me I had “asked” for it and that I “tempted” Bill. I had told no one else about what had happened with Bill until I talked with this other family member in 2006, because even my parents didn’t believe me.
With the stirring up of memories from my past came terrible nightmares and flashbacks. I eventually found a counselor and am working on making peace with my past, and moving on. I am still wrapping my head around it all.
I recognize that Bill didn’t take my virginity; my father did that. But Bill took my faith, and it’s taken me years to rebuild my life, my relationships, and my faith in God because of it.