The GOTHARD Files: The Scandal, 1980

20 February 2014, 06:00

Moderator

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This is part two of a three-part series on the history of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, formerly known as the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC). Please click here to read the Introduction and here to read Part One.

Bill Gothard at a Washington, D.C., Basic Seminar, 1980

Bill Gothard at a Washington, D.C., Basic Seminar, 1980

Previously we explored events leading up to the IBYC scandal that broke in 1980. This article encompasses the very busy six to eight months of discovery and exposure that followed. For the staff of IBYC, the first months of 1980 were filled with enough drama to last a lifetime: intrigue, betrayal, confusion, distress, and, for some, despair. The telling of this part of the narrative necessarily becomes less of a story and more of a detail-strewn pathway through a very tangled web.

Many of us raise the same question upon learning of the deep and ongoing depravity that ran unchecked during the publicly successful 1970s heyday of the Institute: What was being done about it? After the scandal culminated in 1980, and following the discovery process that this article recounts, a group of “concerned Christians and concerned seminar alumni” collaborated to record a rough chronology of what had just happened, in order to facilitate ongoing examination of the facts. These people will be our guides. They wrote down what was done about it. For this article, we have pulled from several similar timelines and many documents from this era, but we were especially struck by the earnest desire that these particular dedicated people demonstrated to honor the Lord even during this difficult and shocking discovery period. The group stated:

These notes are solely for the purposes of (1) naming sin for what it really is to motivate proper mourning (1 Cor. 5:1–8), (2) to call for an honest and proper evaluation of a spiritual problem and need in the life of a church elder (1 Tim. 5:19–21), [and] (3) to clarify the need for a full repentance and an opening up to a thorough examination of any continuing problems or disobedience (2 Cor. 7:10–11) … This chronology is to delineate in a rough format how Rev. Bill Gothard, Mr. William Gothard, Sr., and the Board of Basic Youth Conflicts has handled some of the sinful situations that have existed in the Institute ministry since its very beginning and which have consummated in 1980 as persistent inquiries have revealed 15 key staff involved in immorality and some practicing perversion. It is very important for you to realize that these notes are a partial aspect of this group of concerned Christians taking the third step of Matthew 18:15–21, having unsuccessfully taken the first and second steps over the last one year period of time in scores of meetings with the above mentioned persons.

We have been given four different timelines that were compiled thirty years ago. These timelines reference a mixture of personal experience, documentation, and multiple confirmed reports from the time of the scandal. Shared timelines became a useful method for everyone involved to keep the facts straight. A striking theme that clarifies itself when the timelines are reviewed alongside each other is the disillusionment and fear overshadowing the shocking admissions of immorality within Institute ranks. The staff and volunteer seminar supporters dove into the process of recognizing and dealing with the devastating events, sincerely believing that Bill would follow the processes of repentance and accountability that he outlined so clearly in his seminars. When it became clear that Bill was willing to use deception and blame-shifting in order to save his own reputation and that of his ministry, the staff was distinctly unsettled and eventually feared for their own livelihoods and physical safety. Whether or not their fears for their safety seem warranted now is immaterial; their fear was real and, in those days of uncertainty, was based on what they were seeing. When Bill threw out the rules for himself, nobody was quite sure what he or his family would do.

Prodigal Son

By late 1979, the Gothard family was making efforts to privately resolve the situation with their prodigal son, Steve. The family of one of the staff members Steve had been sexually involved with was brought in to meet the Gothards and asked to release their daughter to marry Steve. The woman’s family did not give this release. According to statements from multiple former staff members, “Bill learned for sure the extent of the fornication in September [1979], [although] he did nothing officially about it.” Bill had been made aware of Steve’s ongoing promiscuity by 1976 at the latest and, according to contemporary accounts, knew much of the scope of Steve’s serial sexual involvement with Institute subordinates long before 1979, but Bill was trying to handle the situation away from the public eye.

Around this same time, in the latter months of 1979, two IBYC staff members stepped forward and began to ask questions about Steve’s ongoing behavior and Bill’s reluctance to address it. Several staff members had been waiting since 1976 for Bill to report back on his progress with rehabilitating Steve, and Bill kept asking for more time. Reports had begun to trickle through the staff, and their concern was growing.

The staff’s dedication to Bill and the Institute is worth reiterating here. The growing concerns were coming from individuals who saw themselves as extensions of Bill’s own family, not as mere employees. Bill made it a point to bring people into the ministry who were willing to fully commit to its success. In the process of inviting them to come work for his ministry, Bill was known to require prospective staffers to sell their homes, and even their insurance policies, before moving to his Oak Brook, Illinois, headquarters. He exhorted them to place their trust in God and in the ministry to provide. Bill made a point of saying that he paid his staff according to need rather than on a set scale, although it is unclear whether there were written criteria that Bill followed in determining staff salaries. In 1980 most staff members were paid around $14,000 a year (approximately $44,000 in 2012 dollars), with married staff paid more, on average, than single staff. In comparison, Bill’s brother and father were both being paid around $30,000 annually (approximately $88,000 in 2012 dollars).

Bill Gothard and staffers at Northwoods Conference Center

Bill Gothard and staffers
at Northwoods Conference Center

Looking back, it appears that Bill handled the welfare of his staff rather carelessly in his quest for absolute commitment and loyalty. Wives who complained about their husbands’ long hours of unpaid overtime and months spent away from their families were accused by Bill of “murmuring” or of being out from under authority. Pressure was placed upon all staff and families to maintain a positive front and to be willing to adjust at a moment’s notice to the needs of the ministry. Bill promised that, for their sacrifice, IBYC would be their financial security. At one point it was even discussed that ownership of portions of the Northwoods property might eventually be parceled out to staff members. The staff as a whole dedicated themselves to what they believed to be the eternal value of Bill’s ministry, and they accepted his promises. Among those on staff who thought themselves in the know, most had also taken Bill’s word that the problems with Steve revealed in 1976 had been sufficiently handled. Nonetheless, by the end of 1979 it was becoming clear even to these optimists that the problems had not only not been addressed, but had worsened.

Whistleblowers

Air strip and main lodge at Northwoods Conference Center

Air strip and main lodge
at Northwoods Conference Center

One man who found himself in the thick of this was the younger of two artists employed by IBYC. He had been working with Steve at the Northwoods property in Watersmeet, Michigan, for three years. During his time with the ministry the artist had developed a strong distaste for the excess spending and sexual prowling he had observed there. In his view, aside from the content of the projects they were developing for publication, there was zero evidence that they were even working for a faith-based ministry. The artist later told a Chicago Sun-Times reporter that the way he saw it, “Steve [had] an obsession for things. Bill [had] an obsession for power.” [Sunday Sun-Times, September 28, 1980] The artist was also becoming disgusted with what he observed as “Steve’s sexual ‘domination’ over the secretaries and Bill’s avoidance of the problem.” [Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1980]

Both of Bill’s corporate pilots were also concerned about ongoing problems. Copious amounts of money were being spent on the Northwoods retreat center. In one year alone, a reported $4.5 million was spent upgrading the Watersmeet property, and according to reports the work still wasn’t finished. The airstrip at the Northwoods was large enough to land most corporate jets. It was rumored that Bill verbally fantasized about being visited by the President arriving on Air Force One, although the airstrip was too small for a wide-body airplane. In 1978, Bill considered putting in an airstrip at the Oak Brook, Illinois, headquarters.

Pilot’s log of misuse of IBYC planes 1979/80

Pilot’s log of non-ministry use of
IBYC planes 1979/80
click to view

The Gothard family was treating IBYC’s assets as their own, and Steve was the greatest offender. Bill Gothard later admitted to the Board that his family was “unable” to separate personal and ministry funds. This was evident in their flagrant use of the ministry’s airplanes for personal travel. Later, the pilot was able to show logs recording no fewer than fifteen flights made by members of the Gothard family over a fifteen-month period (from 1979 to 1980) that had nothing to do with the ministry. The trips included vacations, family holiday flights to the Northwoods retreat center, and several flights taking Steve around the country for personal visits and his private business ventures. One record shows Steve treating some of his staff to lunch in Niagara Falls—a day trip. Another recorded flight took them to dinner in Bayfield, Michigan, a two-hour drive by car. There appeared to be little to no accountability regarding these expenses.

By the time the scandal broke, Bill had brought his old seminar coordinator back into the fold, a man whom he and Steve had driven out following Steve’s 1976 confession. Although we find it is difficult to comprehend how anyone would have been willing to work again for Bill after such a painful experience, this man wanted to believe that things had changed and was willing to give the ministry another chance. The coordinator was well aware of Bill and Steve’s history, however, and continued to observe a marked familiarity between Bill and his secretaries when traveling. Bill had not yet acknowledged or apologized for his behavior toward the coordinator years before (though he would later do so when his back was against a wall). As a result, the coordinator’s loyalty to Bill was often strained in the days leading up to the scandal break. We believe, based on recent conversations and from past accounts, that the coordinator sincerely believed Bill would ultimately handle all of his personal and family issues honestly and properly, if scripturally confronted. The now-former coordinator is not the only dedicated Institute staff member who has found himself repeatedly fooled by Bill’s duplicities. (The coordinator found himself on both sides of the scandal throughout 1980 and for years to follow. He was an invaluable asset to the discovery process, as he had personally observed much that he was willing to share for the sake of resolution and repentance. He continues to offer this open and honest approach to this day, and for this we are grateful to him.)

Other IBYC associates became major players in the attempted resolution of the scandal. Bill enjoyed a close relationship with his Los Angeles seminar committee, which was staffed by loyal alumni. This area of California boasted the largest seminar attendance, and the L.A. Committee became close friends with Bill and many of his traveling staff. Two brothers—twins—were among the L.A. Committee volunteers, and one of them had reportedly walked in on one of Steve’s sexual encounters on IBYC property back in 1976. The twins were keeping a close eye on how Bill was handling Steve’s accountability. One noted in frustration in a 1977 diary entry that “one year after revelation of Steve’s sexual immorality nothing is being done.” Of primary concern to them was care for the secretaries involved, which appeared to be nonexistent.

Documentation

One of the strongest voices involved in seeking resolution for the staff’s concerns in 1979 was a young aide who had become integral to IBYC. He had attended his first seminar in 1968, and proved so dedicated to the ministry that, at the age of 23, he was entrusted by Bill with assisting the area committee in the launch of a new seminar office in Denver, then later with coordinating the first-ever videotaped Basic Seminar. Despite fears that attendance would suffer due to the absence of a live speaker, he was able to pull in a crowd of over 10,000. Following this success, he spent some years assisting Bill’s national office director in managing several area offices. He eventually began traveling as Bill’s stand-in emcee for the video seminars, writing notes on the overhead projector as Bill spoke onscreen. During the years leading up to the scandal he attended over 40 Basic seminars on Bill’s behalf. New seminar video was recorded every year, and the aide was part of this revision process, utilizing the verbal feedback he had received from seminar attendees around the country. His grasp of the seminar material made him useful in improving the Basic, but it also made him question some of Bill’s teachings. The aide later said that during this time he “began to quiz [Bill] in regards to his views on eating no pork, opposition to men wearing beards and mustaches, and the increasing practice of obvious misinterpretation of entire passages of Scripture, forcing personal views and opinions on Bible texts, raising his own human wisdom to an equal authority as God’s Word.”

Bill assigned this aide to work from the Oak Brook offices with Steve, who was supposed to be working on new IBYC publications in the Northwoods. Over the course of several months the aide attempted to stay in regular contact with Steve, who was preoccupied with other matters and usually ignored him completely. Still a young man in his twenties and eager to be put to work on the important aspects of the ministry, the aide lamented Steve’s careless treatment of him. He was assigned to work with Steve’s male assistant and threw himself into whatever projects he was given, both in Oak Brook and at the Northwoods. In his free time he continued to ask questions, and his relentless queries were making it difficult to continue to cover Steve’s lifestyle. It would later surface that Steve’s male assistant was actually part of the problem, as he was using Institute funds to procure X-rated films for Steve’s private viewing at the Northwoods Conference Center and in the basement of the Gothard family home in La Grange, Illinois. The aide’s relationship to Steve and his assistant, combined with his working both at Oak Brook and the Northwoods, helped the pieces come together in the ensuing months of discovery.

The IBYC staff enjoyed a close bond with one another, and the aide was no exception. In 1979, he became aware of specific concerns about ongoing sexual relationships among the staff. He spoke with some of the women staffers, who shared some details of what was going on with Steve. Knowing very well Bill’s teachings for how such reports should be dealt with, the aide approached Bill directly to see what might be done about the situation. He ran into a brick wall. Several appointments were made to discuss the allegations with Bill, but Bill kept canceling the meetings. Something was clearly wrong.

By January 1980, the younger staff artist in the Northwoods had seen more than enough and, in his disgust, started to talk to IBYC staff who were not involved in the scandal. Steve encouraged him to leave. In the week before he left, the artist met with the aide and filled him in on all that he knew, insisting that someone needed to stop the ongoing immorality. In the conspicuous absence of Bill’s leadership in addressing these concerns, the aide began to gather the facts of the situation on his own. His rapport with the rest of the staff made this discovery process relatively easy. Over the course of several months the aide interviewed each of the women involved with Steve, eventually interviewing fifteen staff members who were involved in one inter-staff sexual relationship or another, mostly with Steve. Once the women involved with Steve began talking, they expressed eagerness for help escaping what the aide later interpreted as “the slavery they were involved in.”

While the aide was busy gathering information, Bill was busy doing damage control. His most commonly given reason for why staffers like the artist had begun to disappear was that they had a problem with authority, or had been poisoned against him by other disgruntled staff. One of the L.A. Committee twins was alarmed by Bill’s false reports, and contacted the former coordinator to explain what was going on. Following that conversation, the aide also contacted the coordinator, and the two discussed what might be done going forward. It was agreed that they would sit down with Steve. Based on Bill’s recent behavior, the aide and the coordinator didn’t believe that Bill would approve the meeting, but they went ahead and made the arrangements with Steve, who agreed to meet with them. Bill found out about the meeting and tried to have it canceled. The aide and the coordinator spoke again with Steve, who agreed to meet with or without Bill. On April 14, 1980, the aide met with Steve and then had two additional men join them for a later meeting with Bill. The meetings lasted the entire day, as Steve offered a partial confession to ongoing sexual relationships with several staff women. Now that they had a confession from Steve, the men felt that resolution could begin.

Bill, however, instructed the aide to keep the gathered information to himself, and to not inform the IBYC board of directors. The men replied that they could not agree to this, and continued to meet to discuss what must be done. Bill’s duplicity became still clearer in subsequent meetings when he was asked about his part in the matter: Bill tried to insist that he had known nothing of these things until Steve confessed in April 1980. Unfortunately for Bill, several persons knew quite well that he had long been aware of what Steve was up to. Those to whom Steve and Bill had confessed in 1976 pressed for an honest handling of the situation.

Confession

By May 1980, it was evident that the story could not be contained. The IBYC staff was up in arms about the rumors they were hearing and were beginning to lose confidence in Bill. His half-truths and lies began coming back to haunt him. Staff members took to carrying notepads to jot down what Bill said to them so they could point his own words out to him later. Staff morale was fast reaching an all-time low.

Bill became resigned to the fact that the rest of the Gothard family needed to be informed of what was about to, despite his best efforts, become public. For some reason Bill suspected that the rest of the family wouldn’t meet with him at his own request, so he asked the aide to set up it for him. The aide arranged and facilitated the family meeting, and on Monday, May 12, 1980, Steve confessed to his siblings and parents his moral failings. One can only imagine the pain and heartbreak this meeting caused in the family, and Steve reportedly appeared to “genuinely break and desire help.”

Next, the IBYC board had to be told. On Tuesday, May 13, more than a month after he had confessed the majority of his conduct to Bill, Steve confessed to the IBYC board of directors. They were stunned. Once again, the aide was sharply commanded by Bill to not look into the matter further, and the board recommended that Steve be put on leave and sent to live with his brother Dave in California while the matter was resolved.

It was then time to inform the rest of the IBYC staff. Bill planned for the meeting to be a moment of confession and immediate reconciliation, followed by a special communion service, after which the IBYC staff would all move on from this. The staff was given some information about the scandal in a three-and-a-half-hour meeting on Wednesday, May 14, but after months of rumors and subsequent staff shakeups they were looking for more than vague and incomplete confessions. The meeting began to fall apart as Bill’s plan to control the information the staff was given was rejected and the staff began to push for the full truth of the matter. Bill’s planned communion service was canceled. After the meeting was adjourned, one staff member recalled that Steve expressed his “excitement about his three-month vacation to California granted by the board.” Things weren’t adding up, and the staff was becoming agitated and distressed.

The board stepped in that evening and recommended that all parties involved in the scandal be dismissed from the ministry. According to later accounts:

Bill Gothard resisted and suggested that Steve work with him around Oak Brook and help him write the Character books. The directors overruled in the discussion on the Biblical basis and practical arguments, and the Board finally voted to dismiss Steve and all the girls involved. Mr. Gothard’s [Sr.] solution at this time was to help Steve get married to one of the girls by June ’80, and then Steve would be “all right.”

It is stunning that the Gothards believed any of the girls’ grieving families would be willing to endorse their daughters going back to the man who had so callously used them, and that this might be accomplished in a mere six weeks or less!

The Unsigned Confession

The Unsigned Confession
click to view

The aide strongly recommended that Bill involve his pastor and home church in resolving the situation according to Matthew 18, but Bill refused. Bill did ask the aide to arrange and manage a staff meeting for that Saturday at noon. Bill said that he just didn’t have the heart to manage the meeting himself. Some of Bill’s trusted staff met with him over the days prior to the meeting in an attempt to produce a draft of a confession statement that Bill would be willing to sign and read to the staff. One staffer who was there recalls, “It was more dictated and then typed up. The next day BG refused to sign and there were some corrections….Again the next day BG refused to sign or admit to it all. It was a very interesting time as we met with him. During the mornings or afternoons when we met, he would be more open to talk about his sins, then he would go home and come back the next day a totally different person. He would be strong in the fact that he had done nothing wrong. It was totally weird.”

Up to this point the prescribed submission to authority that Bill taught in the seminars and applied to his staff according to his whims had not been followed by Bill himself. The women staffers involved with Steve were all young, single, and, according to Bill’s teachings, still under their fathers’ “umbrella of authority.” One girl’s mother had begged Bill not to send her daughter to work with Steve, but Bill had sent her to the Northwoods anyway. Bill was, in fact, responsible for sending each of the secretaries to Steve. Bill had met with a few of the parents of the women involved but had avoided calling others. Despite the fact that he had talked to only a few of the parents, Bill encouraged the women to all confess openly to the staff at the Saturday meeting. In making this request, Bill callously disregarded the psychological bullying, sexual mistreatment, spiritual manipulation, social blackmail, and abuse of authority they had experienced at the hands of Steve. Nevertheless, five of the women did agree to confess.

The meeting lasted for eight hours. The five women confessed; Steve confessed; Steve’s male assistant even confessed to buying pornography with Institute money. Bill confessed to some of his deceptions and to violating the staff’s trust in him. The staff was devastated. One former staff member says that he can today barely remember the details of the meeting—not because it was so long ago, but because he was so busy handing out tissues and offering support to staff who were too overwhelmed to stay in the meeting. It was becoming clear to the staff that there were several women who had been involved with Steve at the same time unbeknownst to one another, and there had to have been more sinister behavior on Steve’s part than was being said. This wasn’t being addressed at all. In fact, Steve’s part in the scandal appeared to be considered at the same level as that of the girls, based on the confession process. Following the staff meeting, the Gothard family and some others attended a smaller private meeting. One of Bill’s sisters verbally attacked one of the girls who had confessed, and she ran from the meeting in tears and collapsed. Her father picked her up and comforted her, and the girls were subsequently escorted to the Northwoods to pack their belongings. None of them was ever offered professional counseling by IBYC for the trauma they had suffered.

Damage Control

Bill Gothard and a female staffer in an IBYC Learjet

Bill Gothard and a female staffer in an IBYC Learjet

In the midst of the flurry of confessions and subsequent board meetings, Bill was still working hard to cover his own actions relating to the scandal and his own inappropriate interactions with the women on his staff. After all, his own staff member had personally observed Bill with a secretary on his lap late at night (Bill insisted to the staffer that he was dating the woman at the time, although he later told her father that their relationship was nothing of the sort, and that he had never made any promises of marriage). Bill was overly physically familiar with the female staff, although he was not accused of engaging in intercourse with any of them. Some of the girls reported that they had felt the need to lock their doors at night to avoid unannounced late-night visits from Bill when he was at the Northwoods. Bill had asked the women to phone him any time they felt “tempted morally.” One staff member remembered seeing Bill wipe spilled soda off the front of one of his secretaries during an Institute jet flight. These and other stories added up to a disregard for the strict anti-dating behavior Bill taught in his seminars and expected from his staff, and a disturbing attitude of possessiveness and control over female staffers’ minds and bodies. Although Bill did confess to “defrauding” some women, the staff began to realize uncomfortably that what he would say to them in one meeting he would later deny in another. Bill would confess minor sins that, in retrospect, were offered as distractions from the real issues. He also began to exhibit hostility toward the aide and toward others who had helped bring Steve’s and others’ behavior to light. The aide recounted one such instance:

In one meeting [Bill] was having with Department Directors in May 1980, as they were learning what widespread immorality was going on among their friends and staff, [a meeting] which I was sitting in, they had just heard [Bill] acknowledge to them his 13–14 year history of “‘sexual addiction to masturbation.” Now that was shocking to them, though they immediately realized the connection between that struggle and his inability to deal with the immorality of those around him. In their pressing him about his new revelation to them of his own struggles, he began to resist revealing any more detail.

To change the subject [Bill] then quickly started accusing me of traveling for months all over the country to interview [Steve], each of the women, meeting with parents, all on Institute credit cards and the United speed tickets we had in those days (make your own reservation, write your own ticket and walk on to the plane). He was angry, desperate, and the charge was personal and direct. All of the Department Directors turned to me to watch me deal with my confession of that theft of ministry funds. I replied, “Bill, I realized that someday you just might ask me that question and charge me as you have just now.” Pulling out my large and fat envelope of receipts, I said, “Bill, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have spent only my own personal money on all flights, hotels, meals and rental cars. And here are all of my receipts to prove that statement.” [Bill] asked no more questions of me that day.

Bill’s hypocrisy in accusing his staff member of misappropriating Institute funds is almost mind-blowing in light of his own admission that his family did not separate personal and ministry funds. Bill’s behavior toward his aide was reminiscent of Saul in the Bible, who at one moment was soothed by David’s harp, and in the next moment attempted to impale him with his spear (1 Samuel 19:10). The story of Saul and David might be considered an appropriate parallel for other reasons, as Bill often spoke about not stretching out one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed, a designation that Bill applied to himself (1 Samuel 24:6). For many years before the events of 1980, many on his staff had accepted Bill’s application of this teaching to himself.

Publicity

Letter mailed to alumni pastors

Letter mailed to alumni pastors
click to view

At the end of May 1980, discussions were still ongoing as the directors and staff attempted to approve a draft for a letter explaining the situation to the seminar alumni pastors. Bill was strongly against sending out this letter, but IBYC staff and leadership had almost completely lost confidence in his judgment by this time. Bill had lost control over his staff, and he knew it. They refused to remain under Bill’s asserted authority and were insisting upon straightforward and public transparency about the scandal. Bill pulled in two men from Bob Jones University—the administrative vice president and a BJU board member, Rev. Van Geldren, to help confront the staff. The BJU delegation rebuked the staff, stating that “a letter to pastors should not be sent out, and that it was wrong to inform the pastors and supporters of the Institute what was happening.” They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at the [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.” In the end, though, Bill did send out a letter. The public and the media had picked up on the story, and he decided that he needed to make a statement.

In a sharp turn of events, two days after confronting the staff, Rev. Van Geldren had already apologized to the chief pilot (who was involved in uncovering the scandal) for his blind support of Bill, and apparently informed him that he had come to the conclusion that Bill could not be trusted. Rev. Van Geldren then did what we pray many parents are doing right now as they read these reports thirty years later—he withdrew his daughter from working at the Institute.

In the process of all these confessions and revelations, it was becoming very clear to the staff and area seminar committees that in addition to the sexual conduct in question, the Gothard family’s use of IBYC funds for private expenses was a serious issue that needed to be addressed properly. Bill agreed to allow a staff committee to do an immediate internal audit to answer all financial and legal questions. The committee consisted of four trusted staff members. Two days later, Bill changed his mind. That evening, “Bill Gothard told [the internal audit committee] that the staff committee audit [was] canceled and that no records would be open to the directors’ inquiry. This was after Bill had checked with his dad about the procedure [that the aide] and the committee had set up to do the audit.” The committee did not let the matter go completely. The clamor for financial transparency was growing.

The aide knew too much for Bill’s liking and had kept copious notes. Bill found himself leaning on his aide to help answer the many internal and external requests for information, but when the opportunity presented itself to distance himself, Bill took it. The day after Bill canceled the internal audit, the aide was scheduled to leave for vacation. Bill had influenced the board to give the aide a one-month paid vacation, with the stipulation that he stay away from the Institute and avoid speaking to anyone about IBYC’s problems. It was during the aide’s absence that the Gothard family actively began to go through the finances themselves. One family member later admitted to knowing that a secretary had been asked to shred some of Steve’s records in the Northwoods. The IBYC board had been settled down somewhat, and had agreed to meet again in a month. Bill’s efforts at damage control appeared to be gaining traction.

Bill and his father still seemed to think that this could all go away if only they could get one of the girls involved in the scandal to marry Steve. Once again, there appears to have been an appalling lack of concern over the women’s reportedly fragile states following the intense recent events. By the end of June, Bill had met with several of the women’s parents in an attempt to have one of the women agree to marry Steve. Steve himself called three of the former IBYC secretaries in one day in order to propose marriage to them. He called one knowing she would refuse him, just to ask for a list of which girls she thought might accept his proposal. She insisted that she was sure none of them would have him. Bill’s parents became involved and invited one family to dinner for the same purpose. None of the women agreed to these proposals.

Board of Directors

Staff confidence in Bill continued to plummet. The staff was becoming aware of some startling details of Steve’s sexual perversion that disturbed and disgusted them greatly. The directors were concerned about the Gothard family’s gross misuse of funds, and demanded a meeting with Bill to get his answers to a list of thirty-one financial questions. Once the meeting was in session, the discussion turned again to what Bill had actually known about the scandal and when. There were too many staff members who knew the truth by now. Bill admitted that the girls involved with Steve had confessed to him, but still he insisted that, “I have never allowed a girl to confess the details of immorality to me.” Bill’s secretaries later recounted interviews they had with Bill in past years wherein he did, in fact, ask detailed questions about their sexual experiences.

After an intense couple of months, the scandal had reached internal critical mass. The aide scheduled a meeting with the IBYC board in early July to go over all the information he had compiled regarding Bill’s and Steve’s respective sexual improprieties, as well as the Gothard family’s misappropriation of Institute funds. Bill did not initiate or approve this meeting, but he was invited to attend the meeting and participate in the process. The Gothard family was understandably feeling under fire. At one point an Institute secretary was typing up notes in preparation for the board meeting, and two of Bill’s nephews showed up and yanked the notes out of her typewriter (Bill’s brother-in-law returned the notes later). The staff, already on high alert, became fearful of the family’s motives.

The aide’s meeting with the IBYC board went on for twelve hours, lasting into the early hours of the next morning. Bill admitted to several inconsistencies between his teachings and his personal behavior, and there was a rather convoluted issue with the property at Northwoods Conference Center that had been owned by Steve before his 1976 confession. (Steve had at that time agreed to gift his portion of the property to IBYC. There was some assertion that a clause existed that effectively returned the property to Steve if the Institute’s goals were ever altered. This clause had disappeared from the files sometime in the recent months of discovery, and there was distrust as to the true ownership of the deed.) Bill admitted to prior and ongoing knowledge of Steve’s immoral behavior, clarifying his direct responsibility for sending new young women employees to the Northwoods, where he knew they would likely be sexually targeted. He confessed that he had overlooked moral failures within his leadership in order to keep the ministry running smoothly. Bill admitted to physically and emotionally “defrauding” several women, as well as being aware of the severe strain the secretaries had been under as a result of his refusal to address the issues sooner. Bill admitted that both he and his father had actively withheld the truth for the sake of the ministry. At the end of the meeting, the board of directors requested that Bill resign his positions as president of the corporation and a member of the board, and that he temporarily step down from any role in the ministry. Bill agreed.

"Eternity" magazine--July/ Aug 1980

"Eternity" magazine--July/ August 1980
click to view

The media frenzy was being held at bay with partial truths about mishandling of Institute properties. Some prominent members of the IBYC staff and of the evangelical community began to step forward to help handle things. John McLario, an attorney and executive council for Bob Jones University, was asked on July 8, 1980, to take over as IBYC president and chairman of the board. William Gothard, Sr., submitted his resignation to the IBYC board on this same day. McLario took a heavy-handed approach to what he believed to be a rebellious staff. According to one timeline, “McLario meets with the entire staff and, without anybody saying who he was, he commenced to inform the entire staff that they have one hour to decide to resign immediately from the ministry or continue to work without any more resistance or questions. This action of McLario was fully supported by the Board and Bill Gothard.” At least one of the girls who had been involved with Steve received a phone call from McLario pressing her to remain compliant and silent about all that had happened (we are told this inspired exactly the opposite reaction from her). Within days, approximately one-half of the IBYC staff had resigned or been fired.

Six IBYC Area Committee Coordinators (ACCs) arrived in Chicago to meet with Bill and get to the heart of the matter. Bill was working closely with McLario from behind the scenes to actively discredit the aide who had so methodically assisted in exposing the events that were the subject of the scandal. The ACCs confronted Bill on his deceptions and insisted that he continue to work with the aide. It was later stated that “Bill was confronted on a series of direct lies he told about [the aide] when they had first arrived in town. Bill initially attempted to deny what he had said, but one ACC had written each lie/item in his notes.” Bill sent the ACC team away with promises to work on resolving the issues. One prominent IBYC staffer, who worked with twelve to sixteen area committees, had previously stated that he and the committees would mutually “support a temporary termination of the public ministry of the Institute,” an action that was being strongly considered by the ACCs.

As is often the case in fact versus fiction, what happened next was both anti-climactic and profoundly remarkable. John McLario abruptly resigned only seventeen days after assuming Institute leadership, reportedly to avoid dealing publicly with his own alleged sexual immorality. Bill Gothard was immediately reinstated to his previous position on the board, although, in acknowledgement of the many still-unresolved issues, he agreed to a temporary leave of absence wherein he would waive his right to a board vote. It was later revealed that at all times during his official resignation and his later reinstatement, Bill never left the function of IBYC president, and remained firmly at the helm of his ministry. Nothing had changed.

According to July 5, 1980, board notes that were later deemed “informational only,” at the time of his dismissal Bill was awarded $25,000 and his car for his contributions to IBYC. We don’t know whether he paid any of that $25,000 back to IBYC upon his reinstatement seventeen days later. The board notes from the day McLario resigned from IBYC were worded to suggest that Bill had merely been on a leave of absence that whole time. William Gothard, Sr., was granted salary for six months following his resignation from the Institute board, at which time he was hired by IBYC as a financial consultant at the same salary. Father and son received a $1,700 and $3,500 bonus respectively at the end of 1980.

[Click here to read the next part in the series: “Failure to Reconcile, 1981–ATI part I”]

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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