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The Agent of Satan
Over the past couple of years, several members of the Recovering Grace leadership team have gotten to know some of the former staff from the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC, now IBLP). Most of them talk of the great love they had for the ministry and for Bill Gothard, and they speak with great pain about the events of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
One of the individuals who played an important role in unveiling the cover-up of the 1980 scandal is a gentleman by the name of Tony. You’ve read about him as “the aide” in other articles, and he has earned a great deal of admiration from our readers for his integrity and tireless efforts toward keeping IBYC accountable. Within our Recovering Grace leadership team, we sometimes affectionately refer to Tony as “the agent,” which was a moniker chosen without affection by Bill Gothard in an obvious effort to discredit Tony in a letter Gothard distributed widely. Because of the negative memories surrounding “the agent” reference, we elected to use an alternative reference to Tony in our articles.
In the image to the right, you can read Gothard’s praise of Tony in 1979. Just twenty months later, following the 1980 scandal, a much different letter would be written.
Gothard personally wrote a detailed 19-page letter of “bad report” and used it to wreak havoc on Tony’s church fellowship, his livelihood as a Christian minister, and his relationship with his family. You might remember our mention of the “19-page letter” earlier this year in our Gothard series. At the time, Tony was not convinced that this letter published in full was essential to our story. Additionally, our team was anxious not to re-victimize Tony with the letter, as we feel that he was an undeserving victim of Gothard’s 1980 cover-up, and he certainly suffered for it at the time. Not only did Bill Gothard’s letter do great harm to Tony, but it was intended to do so in a very public way. After years of teaching his followers to avoid spreading a “bad report,” Gothard did just that to Tony, utilizing his position and influence to push Tony out of active ministry for many years to follow.
Tony now believes the time is right to share the letter with you after repeated private attempts to persuade Bill Gothard to repent. He agrees with us that this letter reveals the hubris, manipulations, and character of the man behind IBYC in a way where simply telling the facts of the story can only scratch the surface. We believe that this one letter from Gothard undermines Gothard’s credibility and qualification for Christian leadership as much as almost any other evidence produced thus far. Gothard clearly lashed out in anger and retribution in this letter, and in doing so he betrayed the vanity of his inner man.
Reading the letter today, there are parts so ridiculous that they seem laughable. Tony’s own uncle wrote a response to Gothard at the time, reflecting his incredulity following receipt of the letter. Yet we understand how personal the pain of the contrivance was to Tony, and that Gothard’s evil intent was no laughing matter. The letter is ludicrous and stands alone as such–even more so in light of recent revelations of truth about Gothard. That said, in addition to sharing with you the original letter, we will also share Tony’s lengthy defense against the letter; not because a defense is needed, but because his words are enlightening as to how far Bill Gothard was willing to stretch the truth to destroy a man who had gotten in his way.
Tony has provided a number of documents and files in an attempt to provide detailed clarity to many of the issues raised by the letter, both in the past and in the present. These documents will be linked throughout this article for you to read at your convenience.
RG’s relationship with Tony
Many of our leadership team members have had the privilege of meeting Tony in person as his business travels take him around the country. Tony is extremely likable and jovial, and he enjoys fellowshipping over a good meal. He has obviously spent many years studying the scriptures and coming to a closer understanding of his relationship with Jesus Christ. We have benefited as a team and personally from our interactions with Tony, whose goal today is the same as it was more than thirty years ago–to glorify God’s kingdom in all that he does.
Tony is a prolific writer. His writing conveys his passion and his love of God’s word. Recovering Grace has been fortunate to receive much of what Tony has written, and we look forward to sharing it with you in days to come. We’ll share another glimpse behind the scenes, here–Tony’s writing style takes more than a few minutes to get through! Those of us who enjoy regular emails from Tony also enjoy giving him a hard time for the length of them! A quick question for Tony will often return with a quick response that he will get back to us, followed by a several-page analysis. We know we can trust Tony to think through his answers and that behind the intensity and verbosity is true caring and honesty. We truly believe that Tony’s driving passion is a zeal for introducing Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient source for life and spiritual growth for the believer.
Tony wants to do his best in his work, and he wants to do his best for the Lord. It was for this reason that he originally went into the ministry and joined IBYC. What Bill Gothard likely did not foresee is that when Tony’s zeal kicks in and he sees the need for justice, Tony can be like a bulldog. All of this to say, we do see glimpses of the Tony we know and love in Gothard’s destructive letter about him. But what Gothard did to Tony in that letter was to twist the character of a Godly man into a disturbing caricature of a power-hungry opportunist. Nothing could be further from the truth about Tony.
Bill Gothard had already been disqualified from ministry when he wrote the 19-page letter against Tony on Sept. 5, 1981. His Board of Directors, including men who were deeply loyal to him and were loath to push him out, found that in the face of overwhelming testimony they had to remove Gothard as president of IBYC (July 5-6, 1980). Gothard was never officially “re-qualified” for ministry after that scandal, in spite of the fact that he reinstated himself. Gothard is further out of bounds today, especially in the face of more recent testimonies of Gothard’s misbehavior.
You might be asking what Tony had done to deserve this letter? Well, he had done exactly what Bill Gothard had asked him to do: to investigate internally the scope of the scandal surrounding his brother Steve, and to present evidence of and corrective measures for the gross immorality within the IBYC ministry. However, when Tony’s investigation began to reveal that Gothard himself was part of the problem, Gothard turned on Tony, slandering him to his friends, his family, and to Christian leaders across the country. He multiplied his bad report and brought local churches into his sin.
In Gothard’s 19-page, 26-complaint letter, the majority of the “facts” Gothard shared described Tony’s initiative, determination, organization, and ability to ask tough questions and forge relationships for a greater purpose. These are the types of qualities that most employers look for. As a young man in 1980, Tony’s relentless determination to complete his task undoubtedly revealed some “rough edges” that have matured over time. However, his dogged determination to do well was just that and nothing more. Tony wanted to serve the Lord within the IBYC ministry, and he was eager to be used for that purpose. In the letter, Bill paints Tony’s zeal and proficiency as treachery and manipulation.
Sixty-nine times in the letter Bill refers to Tony as “the agent” of Satan, stating in the introduction that, “I am not going to use the name of your nephew in this document. There is also another reason for the title I will use to refer to him. It is a reminder that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare, not against people, but against ‘the rulers of darkness…’ In this battle, we can either become an agent of the Holy Spirit or an agent of Satan’s influence or power.” Bill’s choice to refer to Tony as “the agent” suggests to us that Gothard wished to dehumanize him in an effort to better discredit him. This tactic appears to have worked with the many Christian leaders who received a copy of the 19-page letter, though it was not as effective with those who knew Tony well.
Dr. G. A. Hemwall signed the letter on behalf of the IBYC Board, and Reverend Everett Hovey signed the letter as pastor of LaGrange Bible Church (LBC).
ORIGINAL LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS
• Bill Gothard's 19-page letter. This copy of the letter was sent to Tony's parents.
A number of friends and family wrote to Bill Gothard in defense of Tony after they received copies of the letter. The following are examples of such:
• A brief note showing that Wiebe had already been pushing Gothard for an independent examination of the IBYC ministry, and that letters to that effect had been exchanged.
• Multiple letters from Pam (last name redacted), a former IBYC secretary who helped gather information about the scandal, to Gothard, the IBYC Board via Dr. Hemwall, and the LaGrange Bible Church.
Bill Gothard followed this letter by paying for two men to fly to Kansas and visit Tony’s life-long home church, Emmaus Mennonite Church, where the two men falsely accused Tony in a secret meeting with the church elders and pastor. Tony was excommunicated on a technicality, and his family had to ask him to leave the state in order for the family business to survive. He faced repeated shunning and rejection by other churches and leaders who received the letter, loss of standing in his small rural community, and loss of future ministry opportunity in his areas of passion and preparation.
In the 33 years since this letter was written, Tony has never offered a public defense against Gothard’s 26 charges and 69 references to him as an agent of Satan. Rather, he waited on God for his defense, finding consolation in Matthew 10:24-25 and the words of Christ: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.” Tony believed that if the Pharisees called Jesus a devil, then as a disciple of Jesus and a member of His household he was to expect no less.
Tony was advised by volunteer attorneys in 1981-82 that this libelous letter by Bill Gothard, the Institute corporation sponsorship and endorsement of it, and the co-endorsement of the letter by the LaGrange Bible Church (Bill Gothard’s home church) could result in an easy $10,000,000 settlement. Tony elected instead to trust God for His provisions in life.
As we stated above, Tony has somewhat reluctantly agreed to let us share with you his response to Bill Gothard’s letter, only because he truly believes that the truth needs to be exposed now that he has exhausted many attempts for reconciliation with Gothard.
• Tony’s responses to Gothard’s 26 "facts." This response was included in a package of 140+ pages of evidence and exhortation to the IBLP board, LaGrange Bible Church, IBLP's advisory board (as listed online at the end of 2013), and LBC’s denominational office. All of this information was sent at Bill Gothard’s repeated request. As of the present, Bill Gothard has neither acknowledged nor responded to this document.
• Does Bill Gothard understand the damages that come from his hating another brother with libel and false witness? A document written by Tony listing how Bill Gothard's letter and actions affected him.
About his involvement and devotion to the IBYC ministry, Tony confesses:
I for one bought into the overall scheme of the doctrinal distortions [of IBYC]. I have to deal with that in my community regularly. “How could you have agreed with and promoted so enthusiastically what was so rotten and contrary to the Scriptures? You knew better.” My only defense is that I eventually did come to my senses and saw the conflict between the Seminar teachings and the Scriptures and began to push back. My practice today is to agree with all who complain to me personally that I indeed was caught up in a religious system that was in conflict with the grace of God by faith, so that the promises of God are counted as the only reliable source of life and instruction. Romans 4:16.
Today, Tony seems to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, and would be just fine without our public “intervention.” However, because Bill Gothard has rejected every opportunity on many previous occasions to right this wrong, we believe that it is necessary to present this as yet another evidence that Bill Gothard does not meet the biblical requirements of Christian leadership and ministry.
We would strongly urge Bill Gothard and the IBLP Board to seriously consider obvious corrective actions that would exhibit true contrition for the sins committed against Tony. We would also ask LaGrange Bible Church to consider if in retrospect they might have done Tony wrong, and to consider that they might have an obligation to make right the wrongs committed by their former leadership, specifically their endorsement of this libelous letter and their repeated refusal to examine the teachings and behavior of their ordained and commissioned church member.
We would also encourage the current leadership at Emmaus Mennonite Church to reconsider their former actions against Tony following Gothard’s false character assassination.
In conclusion, we would like to share with you a short story of life in IBYC prior to the scandal of 1980. Tony wrote this account as a testimony to the loyalty and sincerity of all of Bill Gothard’s employees, and as a testament to “what could have been.”
A Great Honor Derailed by Bill Gothard
Bill Gothard, in 1980 and since, has placed a lot of blame on his staff for the troubles of the Institute, and for doing great damage to the cause of Jesus Christ. Bill blamed his staff for outright rebellion and disloyalty during the Scandal period, spreading word in forceful and desperate ways to an untold number of Christian leaders.
What Bill Gothard actually did know
Bill Gothard knew he had the most loyal, loving, adoring staff that any Christian leader could ever hope to have. He knew without a doubt that his staff had great respect for him and honored him, as proven over many, many years in thousands of situations on a regular basis. In reality, because of their deep love for him, they were willing to confront him about sin and ungodliness, speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
What Bill Gothard did not know
To my knowledge, this story has never been shared with the public or with Bill himself. You and he will learn this bit of history together.
All of Bill’s staff were working on a great honor for him in complete secrecy.
From 1978 and into 1980, I developed a plan that was presented to every staff member (except certain Gothard family members). Everyone embraced the plan without reservation. They were excited about pulling it off in honor of the founder of the ministry.
Bill has so very often told the story of his early days of school and ministry, when he began to realize the importance of spending much time alone with God and His Word, memorizing and meditating on it. Bill has illustrated that effort by recounting his days as a railroad employee. He asked the railroad if he could utilize an idled caboose, where he could sit and read and pray. He memorized the book of Romans, one of his favorite texts of Scripture.
My plan was for 100% of the Institute staff, about 100 people, to memorize the book of Romans. Together, we would recite this Scripture as an honor and expression of our common and shared gratefulness for Bill Gothard’s ministry into our lives.
Additionally, each staff, as they were able, contributed to an account to purchase the very same caboose from the railroad used so many years previously by Bill. The caboose was to be moved (without permission from Bill) to the Institute headquarters property and set up as a memorial to the importance and value of studying God’s Word and making it a part of our lives.
After the first year of effort, many of the staff had memorized into chapter 8, some even further into chapter 12 of Romans. Others who struggled still faithfully worked on verses as they were able. All were growing in their anticipation of presenting the book of Romans from memory to a very surprised and very gratified Bill Gothard.
I finally located the exact caboose Bill had used, and a price was negotiated, as well as movement of the caboose to Oak Brook. The staff were regularly updated with photos of the caboose. Its foundation and installation were being planned for when Bill was away for a week or two in early 1980.
You can only imagine the excitement of it all!
And now you can somewhat grasp the great sadness as this same loving, loyal, most grateful staff watched their Teacher violate every universal, non-optional principle he had ever taught, and his public disobedience and rebellion against the plain and most basic teachings of God’s Word defamed the Lord God Almighty.
This unusual gift of honor for Bill, which required a very large investment by each staff member, was never made known.
You can imagine how we each felt as we were lambasted by Dr. Charles Stanley, Dr. Jack Taylor, Dr. John McLario, Bob Jones III, Dr. Bob Wood, and many others. These Christian leaders accepted Bill Gothard’s word on the matter without conducting any careful inquiry before joining him in railing against what they concluded was the terrible sin of rebellion. They simply did not know, did not care, and never took the time to find out.
Bill, for many years, experienced the great love of a wonderful group of staff. We pray that even yet today he would pursue with all of his heart to understand how it is that we love only because God first loved us. And if we know God, we will love each other. “If someone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” I John 4:20-21
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