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Bill Gothard released a long-awaited public statement last Thursday evening, April 17, 2014, regarding his resignation from the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). We at Recovering Grace have spent several days processing this statement and considering our response.
We see several positive aspects to this letter. Gothard generally acknowledges that the Christian life is not about ministry, standards, or outward appearances, but about allowing the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself through us as we experience His grace and mercy anew in our lives each and every day. He specifically confesses to focusing on his ministry over the needs of people and to having “left his first love.” We are thankful for this acknowledgment.
We are also encouraged that Gothard admits to unjustly terminating staff members from the IBLP ministry. As he states, “People who didn’t ‘measure up’ were cut off and those who were not seen as adding value to the ministry were treated as though they were expendable.” Likewise, he acknowledges that a focus on external behavior caused many to feel that “expectations where[sic] so high that they could never measure up to them.” Both of these acknowledgments are crucial, as they appear to acknowledge what happens when we “teach as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7)
Even with these positive elements, however, the statement leaves us troubled. We have concluded that Gothard’s statement, as it stands, is incomplete. We realize that only God can see Gothard’s heart to know whether his statement is indeed a genuine first step of repentance. For this reason, we have decided to share with you four areas of concern that we as a team still have after reading the statement. Gothard asked us to review his statement prior to its release, and we responded that the following issues would certainly be raised if he released it in the form sent to us, which he has done.
1. Gothard acknowledges that his emphasis on outward appearance resulted in parents putting undue pressure on their children. While Gothard refers to a “wrong focus” that led to these negative consequences, we would have liked to see him reference specific teachings, rules, and principles. Parents did not simply imitate his outlook on the Christian faith; they followed guidelines that he dictated to them as requirements for being involved in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) home education program. We hope to see Gothard more fully address these issues, and publicly retract the wrong teachings to which he refers.
2. Gothard’s failure to address his disqualification for Christian leadership in ministry leaves the door open for a return to IBLP. This concern is based on past events. On July 22, 1980, Gothard released a statement to seminar pastors that, in many ways, was similar to the one he released last Thursday on his personal website. It addressed wrong priorities within his ministry, and then stated that he was taking a leave of absence from IBLP (then IBYC) to seek the Lord’s direction. As we have described in previous articles on Recovering Grace, this leave of absence lasted a mere seventeen days.
In both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, Christians are given specific qualifications for positions of leadership, including blamelessness (being above reproach), humility, gentleness, self-control, uprightness, holiness, and being of good report. Although we know that God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness are extended to each of us when we fall, we hope to see Gothard acknowledge that his actions disqualify him from positions of Christian leadership.
3. Gothard did not outline a plan for avoiding similar failures in the future. Has he submitted himself to the accountability of a local church for spiritual leadership? Has he sought professional counseling to help work through his areas of temptation and abusiveness, so that he might understand fully how his actions have impacted others?
It is our firm belief that Gothard needs to take these important steps going forward, lest he find himself repeating his past mistakes. As an outward manifestation of good faith and as a valuable method of public accountability, we would hope to see Gothard outline the corrective measures he is going to implement.
4. In his statement, Gothard acknowledges that his behavior with selected young women “crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong,” yet he states two sentences later that he “has not touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.” This issue concerns us the most. There is a clear contradiction in this portion of Gothard’s statement, since the specific behaviors he confesses to (holding hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair) are behaviors that even our broader culture views as sexual in nature between adults. These unwanted behaviors are grossly inappropriate with students and subordinates, and sexually confusing to sheltered young women brought up in the strict “purity culture” espoused by Gothard and his followers. Furthermore, since these indiscretions took place in an employment setting, his actions would clearly be understood as sexual harassment by the standard legal definitions of the term. This behavior was persistent and sexual in nature, and must be acknowledged as such.
We also would have liked to see Gothard confess to the more clearly sexually charged behaviors he engaged in with these women—behaviors which have been confirmed by multiple women and even by witnesses where applicable. We believe that a confession of the following behaviors would have demonstrated a commitment on Gothard’s part to complete repentance and change:
a) gifts of money designated for the purchase of Gothard’s preference in supportive undergarments;
b) private counseling sessions with young women who worked for Gothard, wherein he requested and repeatedly dwelt upon details of these very young women’s personal sexual experiences and temptations;
c) strong suggestions and/or mandates from Gothard of medical cosmetic enhancement procedures for young women who worked closely with him, as he cited their physical imperfections as “distractions” from ministry;
d) dismissal of concerns about and objections to Gothard’s behavior that were raised by the young women in his employ and their families at the times of the behavior, when Gothard insisted that they misunderstood his intentions.
Gothard also declares that he has “never kissed a girl.” This statement is a clear denial of Charlotte’s story. He also states (as referenced above) that he has never “touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.” We are deeply concerned for the women who have told their stories on Recovering Grace. Their selfless actions have served to warn others of danger and have emboldened many more women to come forward with their own stories. Some of these women have already endured a great deal of backlash for their boldness, and they chose to speak out knowing that such backlash was likely. They were the prey of a man who, for more than forty years, has actively bypassed any attempted accountability in order to engage in predatory behavior. Gothard’s behavior caused physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual trauma to dozens of young women, many of whom are still suffering the effects today. Gothard’s statement denies the truth of their stories, is disingenuous in its insinuation that his persistent actions over many years were merely misunderstood, and lacks a clear commitment to repentance, change, and permanent retreat from a teaching and ruling position.
As much as we at Recovering Grace would like to accept Gothard’s statement in good faith as a heartfelt apology, we find ourselves unable to offer a response without speaking the truth as boldly as the many IBLP and ATI alumni who have told us their stories.
We urge the IBLP board of directors to publicly address these issues, as they are now accountable for the past, present, and future of IBLP and ATI. We understand that Gothard offered his confession to the board several weeks ago, and several parties who were interviewed as part of the internal investigation have informed Recovering Grace that they confirmed many of the allegations. Yet at this time, there has not been an acknowledgement of the truth from the board. We urge the board to clearly address the specific reasons for Gothard’s resignation, publicly recant the specific teachings that led to the abuses to which he has confessed, and take all measures needed to ensure that these violations against women never happen again within the ministry.
Finally, we reiterate the necessity of IBLP soliciting an independent and external investigation of these and other issues regarding the misconduct, teachings, and abuses of Bill Gothard and others within the organization. We believe that such an action would show to the world that the current leadership of IBLP is ready to operate in a transparent manner going forward. The truth has been revealed; it is now time for godly leaders to step forward and take action.
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