“Ye are the light of the world; a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”
According to Bill Gothard, this verse clearly directs women to avoid clothing with “eye traps” that might attract a man’s lustful attention.
As a quick recap, my previous articles explained:
1. Bill Gothard set himself up as the final authority over all of his followers, teaching them that if they disagreed and “got out from under authority,” God would punish them.
2. Gothard conditioned his followers to doubt themselves and look to him for answers, deliberately cultivating this mindset in his “homeschool” curriculum, the Wisdom Booklets.
With those “basic principles” firmly lodged in his audience’s mind, Gothard was ready to take on the world of fashion.
At first glance, it might not be clear how “ye are the light of the world” has anything to do with how a woman could “trap” a man’s lustful attention by what she wears. Well, for the record, the verse also applies to lasers, the Crusades, and the authority structure in the home. It’s all laid out in Gothard’s Wisdom Booklet 15, which children from age five to twenty-five studied together with their parents.
As I said before, the sheer volume of information we had to take in was overwhelming. It’s difficult judge the merits of each resource, much less each booklet. Some of the science, history, and theology is good. Some of it is dated but unobjectionable. Other former students have skimmed through the booklets and found errors, incomplete information, and outright propaganda, especially in the Law Resource.
As for me, I now understand why I always felt exhausted and confused after trying to understand a single one of Gothard’s points. For instance, this passage from Wisdom Booklet 17:
“How can the meaning of a name affect the health of the one who understands it?
A man suffering from severe arthritis was asked by his doctor if he had any earlier experiences which had caused him to become bitter.
The patient explained that when he was a boy, his father called him “good for nothing.” By this that father gave his son a new name.
The boy purposed that he would prove his father wrong. However, the bitterness in his life damaged important relationships and he was now experiencing the fulfillment of his “new name.”
Most people tend to live up to their perception of the meaning of the name given to them. For this reason, one of the best works that you can do for others is to translate their name into motivation for Godly character and achievement.” (pg. 677, first edition)
Gothard starts with a logical fallacy, a false premise; his opening question assumes that it’s true that a name meaning affects one’s health. That settled, he then relates an anecdote that doesn’t actually answer the opening question or support the conclusion.
As a student, I often knew his conclusions confused me. But under pressure to finish each Wisdom Booklet in a month, I didn’t have time to figure it out. People like me just moved on, accepting his insinuation that bitterness causes arthritis and name meanings have mystical power.
Eventually, it became a habit to just accept what was there and move on.
So it was possible to start with the verse “Ye are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hid” and follow the wandering flow of Gothard’s logic into the realm of lust and women’s dress.
In Wisdom Booklet 15, Gothard informs his followers that “apart from your words, your countenance can be the most effective means you have to show the love of the Lord Jesus Christ to others around you. In fact, your face can actually cancel the effect of your words, so powerful are its expressions.”
He goes on to use words like “shining” and “glowing,” and explain that a sad face directs attention to yourself and away from God. By this time, most of us were drawn in. We sensed a connection between “light of the world” and “bright countenance.” From there, it was an easy step to “we should direct attention to our faces, where we show Jesus’ love to others.” And then we found ourselves taking fashion advice from Bill Gothard.
The first edition of Wisdom Booklet 15 is laughable now because of its dated sense of style. But it was fun at the time. My family got together with other ATI friends. We tested which “color season” we were, which shades looked best on us, and whether our hairstyles matched our face shape. The fun distracted us as we swallowed the poisonous philosophy that Gothard actually wanted to teach:
This catchy little phrase meant a great deal to ATI girls. It referred to anything about our clothes that drew a man’s eyes away from our faces. Since Jesus said that any man who lusted after a woman in his heart committed adultery with her, it was up to us women to make sure we didn’t stir up that lust.
As usual, there was a bit of truth to the idea. Men do notice women’s bodies, and women can easily get their attention with some strategic display. But Gothard wasn’t talking about plunging necklines and tight short-shorts. His standards went far beyond the normal concept of “modest dress.”
On page 625, we were given a full-page illustration of six women in tasteful (if now dated) outfits. All were wearing dresses—the ideal ATI woman never wore pants—and none of the dresses were revealing. Still, Gothard asked, “Can you identify the eye traps?”
As best I can remember, the eye traps are: 1. See-through lace on shoulders and arms. 2. Long necklace and design that draw the eye away from the face. 3. Drop waist that also draws the eye away from the face. 4. Slit in the skirt that draws the eye up the leg. 5. V-neck shirt and drooping bow draw the eye downward. 6. Patterned stockings distract from the face and draw attention to the legs. The V-shaped collar might have been an offender, too.
The message was clear, reinforced over and over throughout our teenage years: a male was a lustful creature whose sexual impulses were nearly too powerful for him to control. A female had to protect herself (and him) by how she behaved, who she talked to, and especially by what she wore.
If a man did accost or assault a woman, it was reasonable to ask, “Was she out from under authority? Was she dressed immodestly?”
After all, Jesus said it right there in Matthew 5:14. Didn’t he? Wait, where is it… Well, there’s no time to go back over it—we have to finish this booklet by the end of the month. Check your clothes for eye traps, girls, and let’s keep going.
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
An ATI Education: Introduction
An ATI Education, Chapter 1: Under the Umbrella
An ATI Education, Chapter 2: Is It Just Me?
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