If a woman doesn’t cry out when she’s raped, God holds her equally guilty with her attacker.
This biblical mandate is familiar to every student and parent who went through Bill Gothard’s Wisdom Booklet #36.
Reading it as a bald statement like that, it’s hard to believe that a thinking Christian would admit to believing it. But what most non-ATI (Advanced Training Institute) people don’t realize is that before a family got to Wisdom Booklet #36, they would have completed Booklets #1–35.
Before that, they would have attended a week-long Basic Seminar and another week-long Advanced Seminar. Then there were the regional conferences and “apprenticeship opportunities.” As ATI families, we were continually taught to rethink everything according to Gothard’s worldview.
The re-education began months or even years before we ever got to that claim in Wisdom Booklet #36. Against the right backstory, even the most outrageous claims seem to make sense.
When trying to explain what it was like as a Gothard follower, it’s hard to communicate the sheer volume of information that we had to take in. At a seminar, there was never time to pause and reflect on what he said. We were furiously writing answers in our workbooks, forced to ignore the dozens of Scripture references he listed, overwhelmed and exhilarated by the entire experience.
Later, as the foundation of our education, we read the Wisdom Booklets — thousands upon thousands of words about random, unconnected subjects. Each section started with a point, ranged widely over several other claims, and ended up at a conclusion that Gothard said was God’s, with a Bible verse tacked on to seal his claim. It was an intensive and bewildering way to approach God and life.
Further isolating us and our worldview, Gothard made it almost impossible for outsiders to see IBLP (Institute in Basic Life Principles) and ATI materials. He warned families not to lend them out, because people who hadn’t been to his seminars wouldn’t understand them correctly. Years later, even for students like me, it was hard to go back and check what we actually learned against what we remembered.
Recently I gained access to nearly all of the original Wisdom Booklets (plus several of the updated second editions). I thought I would summarize each one to show exactly what Gothard taught us. Halfway through the first few pages of Wisdom Booklet #1 (out of 54), I realized I couldn’t do it.
Gothard defies easy summarizing. He uses hundreds of words to prove a single point. His explanations and logic are twisty, working around the obvious message of Scripture to support his own claims.
So, instead of trying to summarize, I’m going to take highlights from the Basic Seminar Textbook and several Wisdom Booklets. My point isn’t to discuss their theological merit; Recovering Grace has featured many excellent authors who did a better job than I ever could.
My purpose is to show how so many well-meaning Christians came to Gothard thinking, “I am excited to know God better,” and ended up nodding as he said, “God holds a woman guilty if she doesn’t scream when a man rapes her.”
It’s not an impossible journey to that hateful God. Especially not with Gothard to lead us every step of the way.
Wisdom Booklet 36 – Law Resource
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
An ATI Education, Chapter 1: Under the Umbrella
An ATI Education, Chapter 2: Is It Just Me?
An ATI Education, Chapter 3: Thou Shalt Not Trap the Eye
An ATI Education, Chapter 4: The Law of Grace
An ATI Education, Chapter 5: We the People Under Authority
An ATI Education, Final Chapter: Guilty Silence
Sara Roberts Jones spent her teenage years under the teachings of Bill Gothard. Her debut novel, The Fellowship,
explores spiritual abuse and the search for grace. She blogs at SaraRobertsJones.com