Sacred Grooming, Part Four: A Secretary’s Account of Life With Bill Gothard

27 January 2014, 06:00

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[Editor’s Note: The young woman referred to only as “she” and “her” in the following account is the author herself, “Meg,” but she has written it in the third person. The author was twenty years old during the events in this post. The following is a true story. Click here for Part One of Meg’s story, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.]

A MistakeThe Staff Center at IBLP Headquarters, photographed by the author

On a busy afternoon she was taking phone call after phone call for Bill Gothard. In the rush she put a call through that she shouldn’t have, and Bill had to talk to a very mentally imbalanced longtime fan. She was so busy, she didn’t even notice Bill standing in the doorway until she put the phone down and looked up.

He was frowning at her, and he looked displeased. Her heart started thumping and she felt the blood rushing from her face. What had she done wrong? He looked upset.

He asked whether she knew who that was on the phone and told her what kind of conversation he had just endured. He said she needed to be more careful who she put through to his phone, that it had worked out okay this time, but he’d rather it didn’t happen again.

She nodded. She was sorry, she said, and would pay better attention next time. She could feel her heart rate slowing down and the color returning to her face. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t going to fire her. But she felt terrible that she’d let him down and made something difficult for him. She wanted to be the best secretary he’d ever had.

He came over to her and said he knew it was an accident and was sure it wouldn’t happen again.

How Shall You Love?

In the summer warmth of the afternoon, the office was quiet. He’d gone out for the afternoon. She thought she might just dash over to the house and pick up her mail while it was quiet. As she stepped out of the office into the bright afternoon, she saw a woman walking towards her. The woman waved and called out her name. It was an Institute in Basic Life Principles [IBLP] Board member’s wife. She knew this woman quite well and enjoyed her company. She stopped and waited for the woman to catch up, and, leaning over, she gave her friend a hug.

The woman said she wanted to ask something very specific.

“Okay. Sure,” she replied, thinking that this sounded interesting. She had the sudden instinct, though, to put up her reserves, to be on her guard. Somehow she knew the question was going to be personal.

In asking this, the woman said, she wanted her to know that she had only her best interests at heart. She said she was asking this because she was concerned about her, and that was all. Did she understand that?

Of course she understood that. She understood what her friend was saying, but underneath it all, she knew that the concerns would be about him. All the Board members were fiercely protective of him. If they felt that anyone was hindering him, then they’d have no hesitation in making sure that person didn’t come anywhere near him, ever again. She knew this.

The woman was talking. She said that some people had expressed concerns about “the attachment between you and him,” then fell quiet for a moment. She put her finger over her mouth and tapped her lip a few times, as though thinking.

“People are starting to notice that he is paying you special attention.”

So? So what if he does, she answered. She was away from her family and hometown. Wasn’t it natural for him to show her special attention? He was being very kind to her, she said. She didn’t have much time to socialize with the other girls, and she supposed it was his way of making up for that.

Look, the woman said, could she ask a question? “Have you formed an emotional attachment to him?”

She laughed a little as she replied that, sure, of course she’d formed an emotional attachment to him. It would be pretty hard not to, working with him day in and day out—nearly 16 hours a day. How could she not form an emotional attachment? She had become very, very fond of him these last months she’d been there, and she knew him so well now. She said she almost knew him well enough to predict what he was going say and do next, and that it was the same for him with her. But she saw that as a natural outcome of their working relationship. They just went together nicely. So well. Their personalities fit, and she loved him for that. She loved him for his kindness and his care of her, and because he was a good man, trying to help others, giving his life to God.

She asserted that she was not in love with him, that in fact she was still in love with a boy back home whom she’d broken up with only a few months ago. She’d been in love with him since she was 13 years old, and she didn’t expect that was going to change anytime soon. To be honest, she said, she was starting to get a little tired of all these insinuations that she and her boss were in love with each other! It was like everyone had a fixation on the subject. She didn’t see anything wrong. She said it was a natural human relationship: when you put two people together in a close environment, they were either going to love each other or hate each other. It just so happened in their case, she said, that they’d become fond of each other, and close.

The woman nodded, but she looked grave. She looked concerned.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” the woman said. “I’m glad to hear your side of it. Just be careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I know. Thank you,” she replied.

Love Like There’s Nobody Watching

On Sunday afternoon it was all quiet in the house. A warm wind was blowing outside and the late spring sunshine was beginning to wane as she stepped outside the front door and walked across the lawn and driveway to his office. His car was parked in the driveway, and he was expecting her.

Sundays were always quiet around here. Local staff went home to their families, and those who stayed normally slept or did quiet things around the house, preparing for the week ahead. Nobody went to the office, and that was why he liked to be there, on his own. It was peaceful and quiet in the lull of the weekend. She found him in the little back room, putting some files away.

“Come here,” he said, holding out his arms. She went to him.

He said he knew he’d said this before, but just couldn’t say often enough how much she meant to him, how much he looked forward to coming to work every day, just because she was there. “You are my jewel,” he said, “my gem. You are my energy-giver.”

He spoke softly into her ear as he held her in a close embrace. She closed her eyes against his shoulder as he began to run his hands up and down her back, pressing her closer to him. He turned his face and his cheek brushed against hers.

“I’ve never kissed a woman before.” He whispered.

She said she knew. He was famously known for that.

He said he wouldn’t kiss anyone until he got married, that “I said that I wouldn’t, and I won’t.” He spoke now as though to himself, as though he needed to remind himself of this vow.

She could feel his breath on her face. She could feel his words as he spoke them softly against her skin. She could feel his chest heaving up and down as he held her. The pale late afternoon light from the small window fell on her face as he held her head against his.

They were so close. So close.

And it was quiet. So quiet.

This Is No Game

When they both climbed into the van later that night, she tucked a small note into his hand.

He was sitting next to her, and they had decided not to work on the long drive up to Detroit. They would be in Detroit for a week. He was speaking and having meetings, and it would be a busy week for all of them. The van was full. They were taking extra staff with them this time. He flicked on the overhead light and pulled out her note before the van began to fill up with bodies.

The note said, I love being your Gem. I love being here with you.

He folded it and tucked it into his coat pocket. He smiled down at her, that special, soft smile that he kept for her. She smiled up at him briefly and dropped her eyes, turning her head to look out the window. She felt his hand on hers and he held it there between them, resting on the seat in the dark. Nobody would see.

As they sped through the night, he kept his hand over hers. She liked the feel of it there. She liked the connection she felt to him. This lonely older man, who told her he had never kissed a woman before, had almost kissed her. Her soul was so connected to his now that she felt that she could read his thoughts, read his heart, know what he would be thinking, know how he would act.

As she was sitting there next to him with her eyes closed and head resting back on the seat, leaning slightly towards him, he was leaning slightly towards her, and she felt his foot brush up against her leg. She had her office skirt on. There hadn’t been time to change into something more comfortable before they left.

When they had started driving, she had taken off her navy pumps and enjoyed the feeling of bare feet, stretching her toes out under the seat in front. She had long legs, and sitting still for so long always made her feel cramped and awkward. She was relieved to get the shoes off. He had done the same, unlacing his business shoes and leaving just his socks on. She was always glad to see him do this. He so seldom relaxed. His life was always focused on the ministry, on what needed to be done. He barely allowed himself time for recreation, for letting go and being casual.

When she first felt his foot run up the back of her leg, she was startled. He was taking a big risk, in this vehicle with other staff members in close proximity. One of his male assistants was sitting just on the other side of him, but she saw that he was asleep, oblivious to the advances her boss was making towards her in the darkness of the van. He locked his leg under hers, and she felt his foot rubbing against hers. He was playing footsie with her!

But it was more intimate than that. This was no game. His foot stroked the back of her leg, played with her toes, explored her leg all the way up her calf muscle and back down again, again, and again. All the while he gripped her hand with his, hands between them. It was incredibly intimate and very sensual.

She lifted her hand up to intentionally break his hold, but as she did he pulled her hand over to his thigh. She resisted slightly, feeling that they were getting into dangerous territory, but he held her hand tight and rested it on his thigh, covering her hand with his. Patting it, massaging it, rubbing her fingers with his thumb, running it slowly up and down between her fingers, over and over. He was breathing slowly, methodically. She looked up at him in the dark, and he looked down at her. He didn’t smile.

For the first time, she began to wonder how all this would end.

You Could Have It All

All that following week there was a new presence in their relationship. She would often look up and find his eyes on her. There was a greater softness in the smile he gave her. Something had changed. She didn’t know what, but something had. He was becoming more affectionate with her. More physical.

He couldn’t be in love with her! No, he couldn’t be. He was too old for her. Too powerful. She was a nobody. They’d never let him fall in love with her. As for marriage? No. No. No.

She thought of Bill’s sister’s question, “Do you want to marry my brother?” Why did she think that? What was it that was making all these women ask that question? That caused her to pause for a minute, to be honest with herself.

And without knowing why, she thought of the boy, her old love that had abandoned her back home. She could see the boy’s dark eyes in her mind. She could see him looking at her. She could feel his arms around her. But he had hurt her. He didn’t want her.

She suddenly felt a hand on her back as she shook herself out of her reverie. Bill was rubbing her shoulder. He was here. He was here now. The boy wasn’t. The boy had gone. The boy had abandoned her. But he was here. He was loving her. She was important to him.

The Toothpaste Scandal

She was coming down the stairs in the hotel when an IBLP staff member who had come with them to Detroit joined her as she stepped out of the elevator.

“Where are you going?” the girl asked, walking beside her as they took the last flight of the grand stairway to the ground floor.

She said she was just popping out to the hotel store to get him some toothpaste. Apparently he’d run out, and he’d asked her to go and pick some up.

“Toothpaste?” the staff member repeated, incredulously.

“Yes,” she said, “why?” What was so odd about that?

The girl frowned, “I don’t think that is the sort of thing you should be buying for him.”

“Why not,” she asked? What was wrong with that?

“Well….” the girl’s voice trailed off, “well it’s kind of a personal item, isn’t it?”

She nodded. Yes, she said, but we all have to use it, and he’s run out, and you know he doesn’t like going to buy these sorts of things.

Sure, the girl responded, but why send her? Why not send one of the guys?

She supposed he sent her because she was the only one not busy at the moment, she answered, and it was such a small errand. It wouldn’t take very long. Really, she was fed up with these girls and their uptight, over-active morals.

The staff member just looked at her. “Well, I just don’t think it’s appropriate, that’s all.”

She thought about that statement and said to herself, I’d love to tell you what else he does that isn’t appropriate. Toothpaste is nothing.

But instead, she parted from the staff member, hooked her bag up over her shoulder, and set off for the store.

My Body Is Not My Own

They sat together in the doctor’s office waiting room. He reached over and squeezed her hands.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, “It won’t hurt.” This was a very good doctor whom he’d known a long time.

She nodded quietly, smiled wanly and looked around her at the waiting room. They were the only two people sitting there in the vinyl seats, waiting for the doctor. The clock said 3:45 p.m.

Just a few days before, she had gone over to the office for their regular Sunday afternoon Bible study. He’d asked what she’d been doing that afternoon.

She told him she’d had a lovely, long nap after lunch, and that morning had phoned her grandmother overseas and had a wonderful chat with her.

He nodded. He said he was glad she got to call home, that it was important to him that she keep those connections up, and that he didn’t mind how many times she called her grandmother or her family.

She thanked him and said she knew it was not cheap to phone, and that she appreciated him paying for it. She couldn’t afford to  call otherwise.

He stepped closer to her. She had on her white blouse with the large white collar. The neckline sat wide on her shoulders and dipped into a V-shape.  It was one of her standby work blouses, but she knew he liked it because he’d told her several times how nice she looked in it.

But today he was looking at her neck, just where it met her shoulder. Her hair was loose, not tied back as she liked to do it for the office. She had let it fall where it wanted today, and it softly curled over her face and down her back. He stepped close to her now and with one hand tenderly smoothed some loose strands back off her shoulder. He reached out his hand and flicked her long, wavy hair that had fallen over the front of her shoulders, and pushed it behind her back. Then he did the same to the other side, quietly and without a word, smoothing it back with his hand until all her hair was curling down her back.

“I like it like that,” he said. “It looks better than in the front.”

He touched the side of her neck.

“You know, you have these … things … here on your neck.”

She reached over and felt on her neck where his fingers were touching her. It was two tiny little nodules, skin tags, each the size of a grain of rice.

“Oh those,” she said. She’d always had them. She told him they weren’t dangerous.

He smiled at her. “I know, ” he said, “but they’re a distraction. When I look at your face, I am distracted by them, and it draws my eyes away from your eyes — away from your countenance.”

She was taken aback by his words. Instinctively, she laid her arm across her throat and covered the skin tags with her fingers.

He said he thought they could get them removed quite easily, that he would take her to see his doctor. He would be able to get them in quickly. He would phone first thing in the morning.

Her fingers played with the skin tags while he was talking. She had this funny, irrational thought that she didn’t want them removed, that they were part of her. She liked them there.

Later on, as she walked back to the house, she wondered why they were a distraction to him. Was it just that they caught his eye, or was he trying to make her as perfect as was humanly possible? She was pretty, young, slim, and well-dressed. She had long, lush hair and large eyes in her pale face.

But this — it was as though he were starting to control her body as well as her thoughts.

She would do this to please him, so that she wasn’t a distraction to him or to other men. So that he looked at her eyes instead of her neck. She did not wish to be a distraction. She did not wish her body to cause him or other men to look “elsewhere” other than her eyes, her countenance. As godly men they were not supposed to look at her throat or her neck or her shoulders. 

He was right. They were a distraction. They would come off.

 

[Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two; here to read Part Three, here to read Part Five, and here to read Part Six.]

See how the experiences Ruth, Annette, Charlotte, Rachel, Meg, Lizzie, and Grace had with Bill Gothard fit together chronologically here, and behaviorally here.

Meg’s family was in ATI for more than ten years. After leaving Bill Gothard's office, Meg continued to work for IBLP for several years before she met and married her wonderful, non-ATI, Mr. Right. She is now busy raising their family and enjoying a happy and ATI-standard-free life.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.