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Realization, Fear, and Action without Acquiescence: Joy Wood’s Story
Editor’s Note: Joy Wood, an IBYC staff wife from 1974–1980, tells in today’s post of her and her husband’s time with the Institute, and of their resignation when asked to promote “lies of omission” after the 1980 scandal broke. This narrative, combined with Joy’s reflections composed shortly after her family left IBYC, records a journey out of the fear-based environment that surrounded Institute staff, and into freedom.
Early IBYC Days
Almost every Sunday at Mariner’s Church there was talk about a seminar called The Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts [IBYC]. My husband and I were not interested at first, but finally relented and joined other couples at Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles in April, 1971. This seminar was interesting, presenting ideas and stories about God’s design, spiritual gifts, principles of finance, character in marriage and family, and standing alone. We found it entertaining and convincing, but being a realist, my husband also visually estimated the head count and mentally calculated the total revenue paid by attendees to hear this six-day seminar.
Fast forward to 1973. My husband was now the head usher for the Los Angeles IBYC committee. He received praise for his organizational skills and how they impacted the success of crowd flow at the Long Beach Arena, where seminar attendance was estimated to be 10,000. Being integrated into the Headquarters staff was not our plan, but it happened. Traveling with the television crew was the next promotion. I was pregnant when we ventured up to Portland and Seattle. Assisting the local seminar committee was my job, while my husband, Bill Wood, worked with the TV crew and operated a camera. I worked with the volunteers who were parents of IBYC staff members, staff who would later be my friends and babysitters. Our volunteer relationship with IBYC continued until 1974.
In 1974, my husband became the Area Committee Coordinator (ACC) in Porland, in addition to becoming the traveling lead for approximately fifteen seminars. He went to part-time staff status with part-time pay. The execution of successful seminars led to further assignments for Bill. There was the recording production of the singing at the Men’s Advanced Seminar at UCLA, the inclusion in staff activities, and an increased travel schedule. His balancing a real estate job, being a father to twins, and assisting a dying parent was challenging to both of us. We decided to move to another state. After purchasing a home and experiencing the death of a parent, we packed to move to Idaho.
“How things work at the Institute”
Two weeks before the Los Angles Basic Seminar we were invited to move to Oak Brook, Illinois. William Gothard, Sr., and Bill Gothard, Jr., extended that invitation. We had a subsequent discussion with Steve Gothard, and were informed that staffers didn’t have televisions. We told him that we would be bringing our television and that we would also have a newspaper subscription. He agreed, but asked us not to advertise that we had a television.
Rerouting our goods and renting our our newly purchased home allowed us to enter full-time Christian work. Our twin girls were three years old. Since a home was not ready for us to occupy at Headquarters following the invitation by Bill and his father, and our presence was a surprise to the staff, we were housed with another family for a week. In one of my first conversations with our host staff wife she informed me that she spent only $19 a week on groceries for a family of four. Her story of this achievement was praised by Bill Gothard. She was hospitable, but I wondered how I would fit in. She was hoping for friendship between us and for our children to have playtime together, and I just wanted my own space.
It took me only a short time to recognize that the network of staffers, wives, and relatives at Headquarters served as information portals for Bill, Steve, and Mr. Gothard, Sr. This data collection network was confirmed through many examples.
My job was to purchase the groceries necessary to feed the staff at lunchtime. For a very small stipend, I reviewed the monthly menus, organized the products to be purchased, purchased them, and stocked the pantry. My interaction with the cook was at Steve Gothard’s direction. My husband and I had postponed an anniversary trip to Hawaii to accommodate our move to Illinois, and I was packing for this trip when I heard a knock on the door. It was a staff secretary’s mother, who worked out of a garage apartment on the shared property of our house. We had a familiar relationship, so I welcomed her in, not knowing what she wanted. After pleasantries were exchanged, she informed me that I did not know how things really worked at the Institute. She told me that I should not have eliminated the products that she and her husband provided to the staff kitchen. In the process of doing my job, I had eliminated some of the “previously standard items.” The woman informed me that her husband was the purveyor of these items. When I discussed this with Steve later, he laughed, and I wondered if I had been played. Obviously, I was unaware of all the history between Steve and the other parties, but subsequently that connection was made very clear. Needless to say, the flight out of Chicago was a relief. I was ready for Aloha, because in five months our third child would be born—though this was our secret at that time. The selection of my own doctor had been my decision, not a point of consultation.
Another incident, if not so wrong, could have been humorous. Bill Gothard’s nephews played basketball on the shared driveway of our house. One nephew worked on his vehicle that was stored in one of the garages. One day their grandfather, Mr. Gothard, Sr., asked if we would monitor the upstairs apartment over the garage, since the girlfriend of the young “mechanic” occasionally visited. That was a strange one! The basketball players were considerate, and even surprised our twins with a big gift for their fourth birthday, but the other nephew could be snarky, flipping us the bird when we asked him not to race his Corvette up or down the driveway. He was very quiet, but felt we had invaded his privacy by living in the house. We did not want to be his morality monitors.
A third incident occurred when my husband was traveling. Since my father lived in southern Illinois, I decided to go down to visit him. After discussing it with my husband, I left for a short trip with our three girls. I must have set off a silent alarm. Where was I? Why had I not told the Headquarters authorities? My husband was questioned. Caring was one thing, but scrutiny was another.
My husband traveled to seminars across the country and in Canada. He had wonderful support. The Headquarters secretaries, the truck drivers, the traveling staff, and the local committee members were our friends. We interacted frequently and enjoyed having them visit our home. Our three daughters were adored by them. The “single staff” was a group of dedicated, determined people. Even Bill Gothard spent many weekend evenings at our home. He frequently brought pie and stayed to play Uno, never leaving until he had won. He seemed to enjoy the interaction.
After a while, though, it was not all jolly. Rumblings of jealousy reared when the singles spent too much time at our house. We were advised that the single girls needed to spend more time at Heritage Manor with their resident dorm parents. We obliged, but the red flags began popping up. The words, “You really do not know how things work at the Institute,” were echoing in my mind.
One thing that did seem to work was the admonition to be loyal. Loyalty was a buzzword during this time, and the attempt to impose absolute loyalty was not new. Prior to our arrival, the imposition of absolute loyalty was managed by having the staff members sign a Loyalty Oath. This exercise instilled fear in many staffers, especially those who had counseled with Bill.
Then, in April of 1980, it began.
My husband got a glimpse of real problems that had surfaced with the scandal. While he was transporting Bill Gothard to the Long Beach Arena for the Los Angeles IBYC seminar, my husband was told that there might not be an evening seminar. Bill expressed concern over how difficult it would be, trying to dismiss 10,000 attendees from that venue. The seminar was able to continue uninterrupted that week, but the surfacing morality issues abruptly punctured the façade of this model ministry.
Who? How many? How could this be true? All these questions and more flooded my brain. As the days followed, new female names were added to the list of “transgressors.” It was agonizing to recognize the manipulation and “defrauding” that had occurred to them and to us. It was further affirmation that I really did not know “how things worked at the Institute.” Rumors, conferences, meetings, and unbelievable allegations surfaced. Former staff men began filtering through the Headquarters. The Smalleys, Ed Martin, and Don Crossland were huddling. Don was a guest in our home. I remember Norma Smalley visiting me in between her conferences with the secretaries, and she commented on my weight loss. I am 5’9″ and weighed 118 pounds. Not only did all this upheaval take an emotional toll, it took a physical toll on me as well. Could these rumors be valid?
More meetings continued, with private interviews and required staff attendance, sometimes on very short notice. One such meeting occurred in early summer. We had taken our daughters to Great America theme park for a special treat. During the day, my husband Bill checked in with his secretary, Bev. He was told that a command performance meeting had been called for the leadership. We hurried home, arranged for a babysitter, and then rushed over to the Staff Center. People were milling around, filtering into the Bible study room.
I was on the balcony waiting for my husband. From my peripheral vision I recognized one of Bill Gothard’s sisters aggressively approaching me. She started shouting that I had no business being there since I was dressed in pants. (It’s not like I was in jeans, but we had just cut short a family day at an amusement park to hurry back for this meeting.) Who did I think I was, she demanded? It was a very loud, public, verbal assault that continued for several minutes. To rebut her I quoted 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” She retreated only after other staffers rescued me. She and I had never had much interaction up to that point, nor after that. It was uncanny that her reference point was me in pants rather than the impending gravity of the situation at hand, because it was so clear that her brothers had violated all trust of staff and alumni. The ministry needed a temple cleansing! Either it stopped all together, or it delayed for a while until this tyranny of sin was dealt with and there was true restoration.
Accusations flew at all the staff present. Charles Stanley’s finger was wagging at us as he reiterated how disloyal we were to Bill Gothard, and how we were going to cost Ronald Reagan and the Republicans the election. The Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention supported the flame throwers, as did John McLario, Bill’s new attorney. The accusations of Bill Gothard’s sister toward me were just a warm-up act in comparison to the verbal assault we all experienced that night. Accusatory words like “rebellion” and “mutiny” were slung at us, and we were challenged to decide whether to stay or resign. It was clear that their preferred path was to sweep the facts under the rug; in fact, that had already happened. The long meeting ended and we left wounded, but not broken. This early incursion was only a battle in a prelude to war. More battles followed.
Other events unfolded, including a phone call with Bill Gothard. When he suggested that my husband lie by omission on an administrative matter, the clarity of the direction we had to take was crystal clear. That call was witnessed by Gary Smalley, Tony Guhr, and me. We knew we had to resign. And so we did, giving a ninety-day notice as had been requested by Mr. McLario. We could no longer represent this sham of righteousness. Being in a vulnerable position, we initiated exploratory exit plans.
Since our Idaho home was rented to a lawyer who did not want to move, facilitating this move would be challenging. We checked out a job in Hilton Head, Georgia, that did not work out, so we started looking out west. My husband’s secretary, Bev, was like a family member, and was so helpful in assisting us.
At that time, those with whom we associated on staff were at risk of being accused of “consorting with the enemy.” Strange things happened, and I wondered if our phone was tapped. To avoid detection, one staff member walked over to our house rather than drive. Bill’s niece knocked on the door to find out when we were vacating the house. Suddenly we were persona non grata. Ninety days aside, they wanted us out!
This was a real walk in faith. We had twins who were six and a daughter who had just turned two. I had a household to move, so I had an estate sale. We lived in a large house on Ogden Avenue (the house was later purchased by the State for the expansion of the freeway), and the sale piqued the locals’ curiosity. What an opportunity to sell things we would not need! It was hilarious at best, since garage sales were just not done. I invited all the staffers who also would be moving to bring over their wares. About half of the staff at that time had chosen the exit path. Cars lined up on Ogden Avenue just to come to the grounds of our house. It was a big success! I sold our Oldsmobile station wagon and our riding mower. My husband was pleased when he called from his trip to Washington, where he was working on a job connection. We laughed together and knew that somehow it was going to be fine. God is sovereign, and we were starting a new chapter. All of this was accomplished with the help of Bev and another staff member, Susan, and we remain so grateful for their assistance.
Bad news traveled fast. My husband and I were not the leak, but we were soon fielding calls asking about the scandal from reporters from the Chicago Sun-Times, the Des Moines Register, the L.A. Times, and other publications. The IBYC seminar was feeling the impact of the departed staff, and from their stories getting out to churches and the public, despite best efforts to silence it. There was outrage towards us for speaking truthfully and for not continuing to cover up what we knew. What Bill Gothard did not know was that, unsolicited by us, two staffers called us regularly to check on the truthfulness of events whenever Bill shared in the daily staff Bible Study. He regularly reshaped the truth of what was still happening at the Northwoods retreat center in Michigan and at Headquarters. The cover-up continued by shuffling people and responsibilities.
I was trying to settle new first graders into school, enjoy our toddler, and prepare a new home for our family. My husband and I talked frequently about how to prevent others from being manipulated, sexually abused, and misled. (Those of you who want to blame the girls alone, you were not there. This was a complex situation.) We had tried to appeal to Bill Gothard, but that was met with deafening silence. Exhausted by following the steps of Matthew 18, the biblical appeal protocol, we finally had to treat him as a “heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17, KJV).
Our attempts to remedy the lies, the sex, and the destruction of lives was accelerated to a class action lawsuit. This was scary and intimidating. David was preparing to meet Goliath. The implications were grave. We could not walk away without trying to expose the cover-up. With virtually no funds, it began. My husband and I endured ridicule, lies, and threats, but we went where no one had gone before, and the cost to us personally was heavy.
We were “marked” according to Bill Gothard, and to that end we were in his sights. He was determined to destroy the opposition, and he kept his finger on the pulse of where we were in order to disrupt our lives. It was a very difficult time, but we never doubted that we had done the right thing. Immediately we were judged by many Christian friends and acquaintances as “the enemy.” How could anyone challenge Bill Gothard? It was so interesting to see people evaluate only us, rather than him.
Initially, I too was an enthusiastic individual who sought to be part of a cause which could change the country. That was the motive of accepting employment with The Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. As a loyal staff wife, I believed in the message of the visionary. My commitment, along with that of my husband, was to serve this ministry and propagate the message of Christ. That was months ago now, and events have altered my life. But just today, in an orthodontist’s office, my mind reeled with recollections of times past in Oak Brook, Illinois. As I sat in the receptionist’s office waiting for my daughter, two ladies carried on an animated conversation about the most humble minister, one who speaks for hours about life principles. If I had not known this man and his message, it might have been interesting. But this was the visionary whom I had come to recognize as a deceiver.
In contemporary history, the events of IBYC are comparable to Watergate. John Erlichman relates how President Nixon acted entirely differently to each person in order to keep each one loyal to him. If doing business with the President led to unpleasant confrontation, there followed a freeze-out time, resulting in non-communication for several weeks. Then he reveled in revenge, but through subtle channels. The man definitely had “flat sides to his wheel.” The accusations sound overwhelming coming from a former staff wife, but. as I have come to know, those closest usually know their leaders best. That is why it is difficult for a leader to convey innocence when he gives approval and encourages a “spy network.”
I am no longer silent about my disillusionment with IBYC, because there is no more fear. My husband has resigned, and we have moved away from the confines of the Oak Brook headquarters, which once had seemed like the ultimate place to work. Fortunately, this is not Hitler’s Germany. I am recovering from having been trampled on, and from seeing my husband being used, then thrown out like rubbish when he would not acquiesce to Bill Gothard. The final blow is coming to realize that no one individual is beyond discarding when they bring up questions, or seek answers about certain business practices which are less than sterling. Suddenly, the pieces of the puzzle fit. I see how many Bill and Joys have gone before us.
Because I seek to decrease others’ pain and I hope to prevent them from being added to the list of castaways, I have prepared a list of my complaints:
- Absolute use of my husband for selfish, personal gain while undercutting his worth through the Administrative Vice President and Steve Gothard. They played as sheep, but were wolves.
- Specific harassment from Bill Gothard’s family.
- Continual disingenuousness and meddling in staff friendships in order to catalog information which could be convenient ammunition at a later date.
I suffer no illusions about how things remain at IBYC, but truth is unwavering. It is right, and not adjustable for shaping a legacy, Christian or political.
As time passed, the attendance of the seminars diminished. But then, a new revenue stream and a new “ministry” were unleashed in the form of the Advanced Training Instiute (ATI), Bill Gothard’s new homeschooling curriculum. That brings us to different verbiage, and different names, but the same recurring control and manipulation cloaked in spirituality. I do not have to go to YouTube to hear that same controlling voice again, and the same patterned responses—right down to the same facial expressions. This story has continued throughout the years.
Bill Gothard maintained control over many staffers and Christian leaders because of what he had learned about them through private admission or counseling. He held the catalog of sins. We did not counsel with Bill. We were and are very happy. We were respectful, but we managed to maintain our individuality.
Our first graders just turned forty, and our toddler is thirty-five. We have an auditor, an attorney and college professor, and an IT Analyst! Subjectively and objectively, they are the very best daughters. They attended public school and were taught to be salt and light in their environment. They are happy, productive, and successful—complete in Christ. They know that their parents were involved in a ministry that had problems. They remember a stream of wonderful house guests during their youth. It is for them that I even do this exercise of writing my experience in Christian service.
Through my experience I have learned that God’s love is not restricted by performance. He does not issue threats to try to destroy reputations. We hold no bitterness; God is sovereign. He is unchanging and always faithful.
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