When Sexual Harassment at IBLP Headquarters Is Acknowledged

17 April 2014, 06:00

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I attended my first Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) Basic Seminar during my junior year of high school. It was interesting, although I couldn’t believe we were watching a video. My parents had been attending these seminars for years. They accepted Jesus at one in 1976. I did my part at the seminar, paying attention and taking my notes. At the IBLP book table my mom met an Advanced Training Institute (ATI) family. They asked if we’d be interested in attending a follow-up Bible study course at their house. This is when ATI was introduced to our family.

    The IBLP Headquarters Production Center in Oak Brook, IL

The IBLP Headquarters Production Center in Oak Brook, IL

We were invited to go to IBLP Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, with the ATI family we’d met. My mom, older brother, and sister went. I stayed home because I was still in high school. Upon their return, Mr. Gothard asked both my older sister and brother to drop out of college and come work for him at Headquarters, and that is what they did. It didn’t take long for my older siblings to convince my parents that attending a high school was wrong, and that I needed to be homeschooled for the rest of high school. That is what happened. I was able to complete the first half of my junior year, and through a homeschooling umbrella school we used the credits I had earned to get my high school diploma. So there I was at the ripe age of 17, ready to conquer the world.

Mr. Gothard invited us to attend an ATI Counseling Seminar in Indy (ATI’s Indianapolis Training Center, or ITC) in ’93. Mr. Gothard asked if the three of us wanted to stay in Indy, and said he would cover the cost if we would stay and serve. We ended up staying about six months. My sister went home due to sickness. Mr. Gothard found out about this and asked her to get well and then come back to Headquarters to work in his office, and we asked him whether I also could go to Headquarters to be with my sister. He said yes.

Since I had asked to be at Headquarters rather than being called for a specific job, I was put in an entry level position in the warehouse. I eventually worked my way to a secretary position. My direct supervisor was then offered a transfer to a different position. This was looked at as moving up the ladder, and he asked to take me to his new department as his secretary. I was singled out from the other girls in the department to go with him, and maybe that should have been a sign. Instead, I saw it as me moving up the ladder, too. This is when the weirdness started.

It wasn’t long before I started noticing that my supervisor took a special liking to me. He frequently complimented me on clothing and hairstyles, and asked if I could teach his wife to do her hair like mine. He would corner me for a full frontal hug, which was always awkward. We had special prayer times, just him and me. He made me feel very uncomfortable. He would often cross the invisible personal space line when he leaned in towards my computer, then mention how he loved my perfume. He placed pictures of me and other girls under a clear mat on his desk. These things seem so simple, maybe not even that bad, but these things were not appropriate for a middle-aged supervisor to do to an 18-year-old employee, especially since his publicly shared testimony was of rebuilding his marriage after he had an affair. They were advances, and they were signs. They were signs that I ignored and dismissed because I was working in a ministry, after all. But I knew even at age 18, with the vibes he constantly gave toward me, that if I had wanted it to go further, it could have. All I needed to do was respond to his attempts at flattery or closeness. I just kept excusing his behavior.

How naïve my young self was, blinded by this position, by the “big Headquarters,” and by the picture that was painted daily of how lucky I was to even be there. Somehow my parents were on that same page, constantly telling my siblings and me how lucky we were to be where we were. We were brainwashed, all of us. At daily morning staff meetings the Headquarters staff was reminded that we were the lucky ones, and if we misstepped even once we knew we’d be the next standing up in a staff meeting, asking forgiveness of the entire staff before being “sent home.” Now, looking back, I see that it was all meant to instill fear in us so that we could be more easily controlled.

When the situation with my supervisor became very uncomfortable, I called my parents and told them what I was experiencing. They assured me that my supervisor displayed a fatherly type of love, that there was nothing wrong, and that I should just keep on serving. That is what I did for several more months.

I was not alone in the office. There was another girl—secretary to another department—and our desks were a few feet away from one another’s. She was able to hear almost every conversation and notice everything that went on. She noticed the same things that I had been noticing. Finally, the subject came up of one of my supervisor’s inappropriate remarks to me. My coworker and I looked at each other, and just stared. That led to us talking about it. I assured her that he must have just been trying to be fatherly towards me. I had a fear instilled in me that it all must just be me. She disagreed. I went to her apartment one evening. I opened up and shared with her all the things happening with my supervisor that I felt were wrong. Her roommate was home and participated in the conversation. This is when it started to blow up.

My coworker’s roommate was outraged. The roommate worked in Seminar Operations, a department that was led by the Vice President of IBLP. She insisted that we tell all we had been discussing to her direct supervisor, the Vice President. I was very hesitant. My parents had told me that what was happening was okay, that my supervisor was being just fatherly, but my spirit was telling me that it was not okay! I was so scared; I was certain that my parents were going to be so mad at me for sharing these things with my friends. But it was out of my hands at this point.

My coworker’s roommate went to work the next day and immediately told her direct supervisor, the Vice President of IBLP. He was not okay with what she told him. At the same time, my coworker told her direct supervisor, the head of the Trucking department. The head of Trucking called me to his office, and had her and me sit down and tell him all the things that had bothered me. He, too, was outraged. He called the Vice President and they discussed the matter. I was interviewed by the Vice President and shared what had happened over the course of the last year. I explained all the inappropriate conversations, hugs, private prayers, and comments on hair and dress. I was shaking and scared, but knew it was the right thing to do.

The next day the Vice President and the head of the Publications department had a meeting with my supervisor. It lasted for hours. He was dismissed from his position and put to work on the loading dock. He only stayed there a week, and then they moved him to the print shop, an assignment that lasted another week. Then he was moved to the office of the Vice President. I was so confused. The man never apologized to me, but in two weeks got a position in a more desirable department than where he had started. I never understood how and why. In light of the recent articles on Recovering Grace, I now understand why, I think. What my supervisor did wasn’t all that wrong in the leadership’s eyes after all.

It seemed like he should have been up in front at a staff meeting, asking the entire staff for forgiveness, as the single staff were required to do for smaller offenses. Instead, he just got… well, promoted. The Vice President called my parents and told them he was aware of what had happened, and assured my parents that it would be taken care of and would not happen again. He told them that my now-former supervisor was demoted. My parents were devastated. I was scared that they might be very angry with me. Thankfully, they were not. They apologized for not fully understanding what was going on.

I wanted to stay and continue to work at Headquarters. I was still blinded by the ministry. The level of control, of power, that Bill Gothard had over us as a staff, and even over our parents, still has me boggled. I can’t remember whether I was told to keep the incident quiet, or I just chose to keep it quiet. The incident was entirely concealed except from those of us in the department. Not a word was mentioned to anyone else.

I continued to work for the Institute, putting that issue behind me, for another year or so, then decided to go home to court someone I had met at Headquarters. When this young man approached Mr. Gothard about his interest in me, Mr. Gothard’s main concern was my weight. That was it. Nothing else. He said nothing to my intended about my walk with the Lord, and did not say anything positive about me. He just expressed concern over my appearance. I had gained a few pounds while serving there.

I had put my heart and soul into my job at Headquarters. My job required 60 hours a week or more, and I put my work there above everything else. It was such a blessing to go home. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I had been trying to “earn” godliness by works. I learned that I was trying to look and act the part so I could fit in, not for God but for man. I didn’t believe in every commitment Bill Gothard asked us to make, but I did try to fit in. I realized that God was not interested in outward appearance, but that what He wanted from me was a personal, individual relationship, one that required my heart, one that was genuine and authentic. A relationship that is not earned but is free. I acknowledged that there was nothing I could do to deserve God’s grace. Acknowledging that grace is God’s unmerited favor, His ability to do in me what I cannot do for myself, I realized just how silly I had been in “acting,” and just how gracious God was in pointing me home.

I wrote this article to help shed light on how things worked on the inside of the Institute. Harassment was allowed in other departments and not dealt with correctly. Anything negative was kept quiet. I do not blame God, my parents, myself, or even Bill Gothard for any of it. I truly believe that my parents thought they were doing the right thing. I thought I was doing the right thing. I do wish my walk with the Lord had been grounded deeper. I have taken this experience and learned a great deal about how to study for myself and know Christ on a personal level, how to listen to my own children, and how to listen to the Holy Spirit.

My hope is that, if you are reading this and you have a story to tell, this inspires you to follow through with it. There is a healing process that takes place when you lay it all out and let the bad out, so that there is room for the good to grow. I personally know half a dozen people who could write stories. Things that happened to them, similar stories that have already been written, are so similar in fact that all they’d need to do is just sign their name at the bottom. I pray for you, for healing. I pray for the IBLP staff and board members to really dig deep and break this pattern. I pray for healing and for wisdom.

Now is the time to know who you believe and why. We live in perilous times. Many will come in the name of Christ, and many will be deceived. Do you know Him? Do you know the One True God? He is waiting, knocking; will you answer the door? We are all sinners. Do you believe He died for you and me? He took the place of our sin. He rose from the grave and lives in those who believe.

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. —Revelation 12:11

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. —Philippians 3:10

He is the one Who has saved us
He is the one Who forgave us
He is the one who has come
And is coming again
He’s the remedy
—David Crowder Band, Remedy

Cindy is a wife and stay at home mom. She has been married for 14 years to Rob, and together they have four amazing children. They raise their family in Tennessee and are blessed beyond measure.
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.

30 Comments

  1. WendyA April 17, 2014 Reply

    I remember you, Cindy, from my time at Headquarters! We lived together at Gracebrook. I remember how much I liked and admired you and your sister and brother, and how I thought I could never be as godly as you three. Well, I'm not, but hey, was any of us really as godly as we thought we were, back then? LOL!

    I remember the strangeness of these events ... your story cleared up so much! I remember you being very upset but not sharing why, and then the announcement that your supervisor was changing positions—so I assumed you were upset that he was moving jobs and that you couldn't work for him anymore. (Well, that was certainly a wrong impression!)

    I also remember how puzzled everyone was by your supervisor's constant shuffling of positions until he landed in clover in the department where almost everyone wanted to work! As I recall, the supposition amongst the staff at large was that they'd decided they needed him in that position, but had to work him there in stages because of needing to move other staff around first. Looking back, that seems a most ridiculous procedure, but back then, I don't think any of us was sophisticated enough to see through it.

    I'm glad to know that you have succeeded beautifully in your life after ATI.

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Thank you Wendy! I remember you too. I often wondered what others thought of this situation since it was never really talked about. Glad I was able to clear that up for you. Thank you for posting.

  2. KariU April 17, 2014 Reply

    I remember you too, Cindy. It breaks my heart to know that this man--whom we all trusted--was never disciplined in the way expendable students were disciplined and shipped back home on a weekly basis.

    Your boss wasn't just a teenager pushing the boundaries and learning life's lessons. He was an experienced adult with a lovely wife we all loved, and in a position of authority in the ministry--a ministry that thrived on the efforts of hundreds of student staff who had been raised to respect and fully trust their authorities!

    I suppose that the VP (and Bill Gothard, since nothing was ever done without his approval) thought it would be safest to keep this man under the watchful eye of other leadership by moving him to the higher department, but what a slap in the face that was to you. The fact that you were never offered an apology, or professional counseling, or any kind of compensation for his behavior--it's just astounding! And I'll bet there was never one change in this man's salary.

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Hey Kari! Yes you are right. The VP did move him to his office to keep watchful eye on him. He did tell me that. I was confused at the time. Not so much anymore.

  3. Lauren April 17, 2014 Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I know it must have taken a lot of courage. I'm so sorry you had to walk through this. May the Lord continue to give you beauty for ashes! ((hugs))

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Thank you! The comments have been healing too!

  4. Mindy April 17, 2014 Reply

    I'm so proud of you for writing this all down. I know you've been on the road to healing for years and this seems to be another great step towards total healing.

    It must be so hard to relive these memories as sometimes these situations cause so much guilt and shame. However, God has been faithful in your life to turn this around for His glory and your good. This situation has compelled you toward compassion and understanding but also a more firm foundation than ever. Your faith was tested and your trust violated by the very people you esteemed so good. Praise God for having the last word in your life and now in the lives of your husband and children.

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Thank you dear for your sweet encouraging words. Much love to you!

  5. Jennifer April 17, 2014 Reply

    So wonderfully written and expressed, my sweet friend. I didn't know you then, but I know you now, and your life is a testimony marked by grace, healing, and wisdom. Grace extended TO you by our God, but also grace in knowing that what happened was your story and can be used to help others heal and forgive. Healing by not just letting God restore and rebuild you from the inside out, but also by being open, honest, and vulnerable so others can feel validated and learn from your experience. And wisdom, so much wisdom... In listening to the Holy Spirit, searching and searching God's word for what is truly true, and learning how it all fits into your life now - as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am so blessed by your friendship and could not imagine living this journey without you and your family a part. You are a beautiful person, and your transparency, kindness and service inspires me. Love you, friend.

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      That was amazing Jennifer. Thank you for that.

  6. Tiana April 17, 2014 Reply

    So proud of your courage to share something so personal after so many years of your spiritual recovery! I pray many more will have the courage to be honest and open about their time their, but most of all that they would seek and find truth!

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Yes! That is my wish. To think that I could help someone else experience the freedom that I have. Then it is worth it all! Thank you!

  7. Shane April 17, 2014 Reply

    "When this young man approached Mr. Gothard about his interest in me, Mr. Gothard’s main concern was my weight. That was it. Nothing else. He said nothing to my intended about my walk with the Lord, and did not say anything positive about me. He just expressed concern over my appearance. I had gained a few pounds while serving there." Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!?!

    Thanks for sharing your story. It's a continued painting of the culture that existed in this organization; not a healthy one.

    • greg April 17, 2014 Reply

      Shane, I was going to make a comment about the same paragraph that you commented on,,,, INSANE....billy is no more concerned about Godliness than a hole in the ground,, it is all about him and his appearance

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Yes, this was crazy. A little humiliating to share, but shed so much light doesn't it?

  8. kevin April 17, 2014 Reply

    Cindy,
    Thank you so much for having the courage to share your story. I'm so very glad to hear that you have found true Grace!
    As others have noted, Bill Gothard would have been made fully aware of the report of this man's conduct. It is interesting, that Bill did not force this man to make a public confession and send him away, as he did with so many students. Rather, he effectively promoted him. This does not surprise me, and I don't believe it was by accident. I believe that this is exactly the kind of person that Bill wants in leadership. He knows this man's dirty laundry. If this individual were to ever see Bill participating in sexual misconduct, or to receive a report of said misconduct on Bill's part, he would be powerless to take action for fear of being outed himself.

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Yes Kevin, It wasn't until RG website and the stories that I read, when it all made sense. I came to the same conclusion. Thank you for posting.

  9. kevin April 17, 2014 Reply

    "When this young man approached Mr. Gothard about his interest in me, Mr. Gothard’s main concern was my weight. That was it. Nothing else. He said nothing to my intended about my walk with the Lord, and did not say anything positive about me. He just expressed concern over my appearance. "

    How incredibly insensitive and inappropriate. What kind of person brings that up as their man concern? Why in the world would he see that as his place to comment on something like that?

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      I thought this important to share because as an adult I see straight through it. I think all of the readers will too. Thank you for commenting.

      • 'Megan' April 17, 2014 Reply

        Cindy, would you please elaborate on the 'see straight through it' part? I have a relative who did something similar once, and would like to understand what their thought process was.

        • Cindy April 23, 2014

          Yes, what I mean by "see straight through it" was that BG cared more about how his staff appeared, than their spiritual state.

          It was all about him.

        • 'Megan' April 23, 2014

          Thank you! Your comment confirmed my own thoughts for my relative. Groan...

  10. Robin April 17, 2014 Reply

    Cindy, I'm so saddened by your story. Thank you for courageously sharing the truth. Your story demonstrates another example of how improprieties which would damage the ministry are the only ones covered up, while non-threatening indiscretions are publicly exposed. Such a troubling inconsistency. Hugs to you...

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Thank you for posting. Yes I agree.

  11. Jon Owens April 17, 2014 Reply

    I am an avid reader of this site. I don't comment often but follow closely. Cindy, just so you know, you are supported by many like me who have worked at HQ, follow this site, but don't comment often.

    • Cindy April 17, 2014 Reply

      Jon, thank you for commenting. I too follow closely but do not comment often. Thanks for your support.

  12. Leon Hipp April 18, 2014 Reply

    Great article!!

  13. Guy Cooksey April 22, 2014 Reply

    When I was in college I was involved in a respectable campus ministry group that I now clarify as a Christian cult. I use the word "Christian" because their orthodoxy was sound. However, their practice was absolutely cult-like: no question of authority, emotional manipulation to where you are dependent on the group, and command-dictates that spell your life out for you. I was in this "ministry" for 3 years and it just about drove me crazy. Finally, I got out, recovered in no man's land for awhile, and eventually got back involved in a proper Christian Church--from which I have been wonderfully blessed since. The Institute IS NOT a church, and yet it goes far beyond one in seizing its members with almost cult-like devotion. Some call this legalism, but when the emotions are involved it becomes a cult that strangles its victims.

    • P.L. April 22, 2014 Reply

      I appreciate your point on the difference of orthodoxy and practice. I have many times heard the argument, 'but they're preaching the gospel' used to justify corrupt behavior.

    • Cindy April 23, 2014 Reply

      Yes, I have often used the word "cult" to describe what I experienced. That is what I believe it to be. Praise God He brought me through it and showed me the truth!

      I served at HQ for 4 years. During that time, it was pretty much discouraged to join a church. We were taught that our service was with IBLP. We were only allowed to go to church on Sunday mornings. We even had an option to go to a early Sunday morning Bible Study taught by BG. I knew a lot of people that used that for church instead. Even when in the midst of that, I always had a check that IBLP was wrong about that.
      ...just another form of control

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