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When Sexual Harassment at IBLP Headquarters Is Acknowledged
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.
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
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