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I was invited to work at the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) headquarters during the summer of 1992. I said goodbye to my family in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we had traveled to attend the yearly Advanced Training Institute (ATI) annual conference, and climbed aboard one of the many vans transporting IBLP staff back to Oak Brook, Illinois. Along the way, we stopped at Ft. Benjamin Harrison outside Indianapolis, Indiana, and enjoyed the Fourth of July celebrations. I felt both excited and honored to have been invited to join IBLP’s staff. I was optimistic about the opportunities that were ahead as we arrived at the IBLP campus the next day. I was 17 years old.
My younger sister had made a brief visit to IBLP headquarters several months earlier and had made a few friends, so I was glad that I already knew a few people at Headquarters. While I would talk to these young ladies on occasion, I was well aware of IBLP’s stance that this should be a season of ministry, and that I needed to be careful not to “defraud” any of the young ladies at Headquarters by giving any of them undue attention. I also knew my parents would be upset with me if I were sent home for violating any staff rules, so I purposed to be very careful.
Once I arrived at Headquarters, I found that I enjoyed the collegial atmosphere of interacting with both young men and women. Despite my fears, interactions with members of the opposite sex were permitted so long as we did not single each other out or give undue attention to a member of the opposite sex. One thing I did notice, particularly at mealtimes, was that there seemed to be an “in crowd,” and everybody else. This “in crowd” was comprised of pretty young ladies and a few young men and always seemed to stand close to Bill Gothard, eat with him at the head table in our dining room, and accompany him whenever he interacted with any dignitaries. Neither the young men I had met, nor my sister’s friends whom I already knew, seemed to be part of this “in crowd,” so by default I was not either. That was okay by me, as my new friends made me feel at ease.
I was enjoying my time serving on IBLP’s lawn crew, where I operated a riding lawn mower, wore sunglasses, and spent a lot of time outside in the sunshine. I loved it. And by all accounts I was doing very well, making new friends and staying out of trouble.
Then one day, after lunch, I struck up a casual conversation with Rachel. She was about 15 years old, blonde, attractive, and had a nice smile. Although she had come to Headquarters about the same time I had, I had never really spoken to her, as she was part of that “in crowd.” I didn’t give the conversation a lot of thought, nor did I think I was singling her out in any way as there were other people around. I remember she laughed a few times, and afterward I thought to myself, “that went well.”
A few days later I ran into Rachel outside the Staff Center and we chatted for about 15 minutes. Again, I didn’t give the conversation a second thought as there were plenty of people walking past us as they came in and out of the Staff Center. It didn’t occur to me that I had done anything inappropriate, nor did I feel like I had broken any rules. It was just a casual conversation.
I was stunned the next morning when I was summoned to Bill Gothard’s office. I was both curious and a little nervous as I walked into his office. From what I had learned, Bill Gothard did not summon you to his office unless he had some opportunity he had pegged you for, or you were in trouble. Unfortunately, in this case it was the latter. Bill Gothard informed me that he was sending me home for “defrauding a young lady” on staff. I was shocked. I thought I had been so careful. My initial thought was that it was one of my sister’s friends. Perhaps someone thought I had spoken to one of them too frequently or that I was singling one of them out. There were those few times where I had called one of them in hopes of arranging transportation to church, since I did not have a car and IBLP did not provide transportation to church.
When Bill Gothard told me that Rachel was the young woman to whom he was referring, I was stunned. I’d only spoken to her those few times and I didn’t feel that either of us had said anything that was inappropriate. Nevertheless, my time at Headquarters was going to end and I was being sent home.
I tried to appeal to Bill Gothard on the basis that there were other girls at Headquarters whom I had spoken to much more frequently than I had ever talked to Rachel; I just didn’t understand why I was getting sent home for talking to her only a few times. Bill Gothard told me that Rachel was not like the other girls at Headquarters. He said she was fragile and was dealing with emotional issues, and that the last thing she needed at this time in her life was a young man like me trying to win her heart. He said that I was making her life confusing and could cause her more stress—or something like that. This really surprised me, as the few times I had spoken to Rachel, she had struck me as friendly, stable, and quite normal.
Since my parents were already planning a visit to Headquarters in a few weeks, I pleaded with Bill to at least let me stay until that visit as I did not want to cost my parents money for a flight home. I also hoped that I might yet redeem myself in Bill Gothard’s eyes, even though I felt hurt, confused, and even angry. Bill agreed to let me stay those few extra weeks on two conditions: first, I could not talk to Rachel at all during this time (a request I obeyed) and second, I had to stay with him in his office every evening after work as long as he was there (which I complied with as well).
Prior to this, I had not spent much time in Bill Gothard’s office, and I was surprised to observe that Bill Gothard frequently counseled young ladies in his office. In light of my “crime” this seemed like a double standard to me. Any phone calls that came into his office would be put on speaker phone, without Bill informing the caller that others were listening. I felt embarrassed for some of these callers, as they would share personal things over the phone. Bill would often put the caller on hold and ask me what I thought he should tell the caller. He would then take call off hold, and repeat exactly what I had just suggested. I felt honored that he perceived me as “mature” and “godly” enough that he wanted my opinion. I also felt hopeful that perhaps he would relent on his prior decision to send me home.
I would leave his office anytime between 9:30 and 11:30 P.M. each night. As I would bicycle back to the staff house where I had been living, I felt so many emotions: anger, pride, confusion, and even admiration. Yet, at the same time, my mind was filled with doubts about this man so many admired, loved, idolized, and respected. My parents arrived a few weeks later, and that was that. I left Headquarters never fully understanding why I had been sent home, why Bill Gothard treated me the way he did, nor why he seemed to treat those in his “in crowd” as a class unto themselves.