Through IBLP and his “homeschool” program (the Advanced Training Institute), Bill Gothard stifled hundreds of dreams in the name of godly living.
As the first wave of apprenticeship students reached teenager-hood beginning in the 1990s, all of us naturally needed to explore and develop our own gifts. But as we sat through Gothard’s sessions in Knoxville and the training centers, we discovered that our fledgling passions were dangerous.
Gothard warned that exploration and curiosity might lead us out from under authority, which would open us up to Satan’s destruction. So, to be safe, we had to channel our gifts toward pre-approved goals that reinforced his own seven basic principles. If a dream stretched beyond the sharply-drawn boundaries of the Institute, we learned that we should discard it.
And that went double for females. A young woman’s passion couldn’t ever compete with the Institute ideal of submissive womanhood. She was to crave motherhood; otherwise, her purpose was to help her father or husband achieve their dreams.
As a young ATI woman, I was lucky—my passion was writing. That fit in really well with the Virtuous Womanhood ideal. But Gothard’s teachings managed to fence that in, too. Writing fantasy was bad because of magic. Writing romance was bad because of sex. Thanks to Gothard’s teachings against “cliques,” even stories about friends were suspect.
But I never stopped writing. Everyone around me encouraged my gift. I went through those straitened teenage years and emerged on the other side with my dream intact.
Gothard was already there.
He’d always promised us that we’d change the world. Business owners would offer us jobs, colleges marvel at our knowledge, city leaders request to hear our wise counsel. All we had to do was live by his seven principles and demonstrate our sterling character. We certainly shouldn’t focus our time and energy (and our parents’ money) on school or our future careers.
He had smiling apprenticeship students give testimonies of how they stayed under authority, lived the right way, and saw God bring all their dreams to life.
(All these young people worked for the Institute, of course. And we somehow completely missed the fact that Bill sure didn’t just sit around waiting for God to sell his books and run his seminars.)
I got the message. I shouldn’t bother to take classes to improve my writing, and I shouldn’t make an effort to promote or sell what I did write. A former teacher of mine got me a job at the local newspaper, but I didn’t capitalize on the opportunity. I “worked where God put me,” without any thought of how I could use my experience to lay a foundation for a writing career. After all, even though I was deviating from the Institute ideal by working outside the home, I still thought my highest and best purpose was marriage and motherhood.
I married at age twenty-three, and was a mother by age twenty-four. I was happy about both events. But I realized that it wasn’t enough. Woman though I was, there was much more to me than these two facets of my life.
Looking back, I’m sorry for all the stifled musicians, artists, engineers, teachers, and would-be doctors and nurses who found out that God didn’t just make things happen for them. It’s a lot harder to pursue a dream when you’ve got a marriage and children at stake.
Again, I was lucky. Writing fits into the empty spaces of everyday life. I blogged throughout my children’s young years. After a few years, I started reading articles about marketing my writing. Finally, when I was thirty, I dared to contact the editor of a local parenting magazine. She liked my blog and accepted my articles. I wrote for them for years.
God didn’t bring her to me, or even make our paths cross. I had to find her, and I had to have a good back catalogue of writing samples. I had to do it myself.
Of course, even now with a regular blogging job and a novel coming out this fall, I can’t possibly support myself or my children with my writing. I’m fortunate that my husband has a good job and is committed to his family, but it’s a precarious existence to be completely dependent on another person’s good health and good behavior.
We’re all kind of shortsighted when we’re young and single. I wouldn’t have written any bestselling novels by age twenty-one even without Gothard’s teachings. But I wouldn’t have wasted my time thinking that living a righteous life would open up all my pathways without any effort from me.
Bill stole, stifled, and neutralized my generation’s dreams. I hope he doesn’t wonder too hard why we would dare to challenge his.