Bill Gothard, Great Youth Seminar Leader of the 70s and 80s, Accused of Sexually Harrassing Young Women and Teen Girls
RecoveringGrace.org posted the following letter this month.
Dear Recovering Grace Reader,
Today we would like to prayerfully share with you some important information about what is going to be happening on our website over the next few months.
When we launched our website in July of 2011, we did so with the express mission of helping people whose lives have been impacted by the teachings of Bill Gothard through the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) seminars and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool program. We have attempted to fulfill that mission through regularly posted articles primarily written by former students of ATI—articles that have covered a wide variety of issues such as theological discussions of IBLP teachings, personal stories of discovering grace, and bringing to light some of the darker aspects of working at an IBLP Training Center. What we truthfully did not realize at the time of our launch was the strong undercurrent of depravity displayed for decades at the highest levels of IBLP leadership. Our thought at the time was that the most viscerally damaging effects of Gothardism were spiritual, and that Bill Gothard’s worst flaws were theological and hermeneutical. As such, most of our attention for the first year of our website was focused on these areas.
In early 2012, this all changed for us when a young lady shared with us her experiences working for Bill Gothard at Headquarters. While it has long been widely known by anyone who worked there that Bill had his favorites, this young lady opened our eyes to what being a “favorite” meant: unwanted and unwarranted emotional and physical attention from a man in a position of authority to young women who could not refuse it. In other words, it was textbook sexual harassment.
So, on April 20, 2012, we published Lizzie’s story. And as soon as we did, we discovered that we had opened Pandora’s box. The emails and comments poured in like a flood, and we knew that we had stumbled across something bigger than we could have ever anticipated. A few weeks later, we published Annette’s story; a year later, Grace’s. Over the past two weeks, Meg has shared with us her very painful personal journey. And, later this week, we will share yet another account.
Since the time that Lizzie’s story was published, we have identified by name at least 34 different women who have experienced the same harassment, and we have sufficient evidence to believe that there are dozens more. We have had men and women who served in IBLP leadership confirm that the allegations are true, although they felt (and often were) powerless to do anything at the time. In fact, we have learned that the IBLP Board of Directors has on more than one occasion addressed this behavior with Bill Gothard, but to no lasting avail.
Once we had enough verifiable and/or witnessed accounts to be certain without a shadow of doubt that the allegations of ongoing sexual harassment were true (we have lawyers on our team reviewing the data), we issued a public Call to Repentance to Bill Gothard on June 6, 2013. In this article we identified the pattern of behavior and issued a call for him
Two weeks later, we received a brief email from Bill Gothard requesting a meeting with us for the purposes of “reconciliation.” What followed was a 12-day-long exchange of emails in which we would ask specific questions of him in an attempt to discern whether this was a sincere effort towards repentance. Each response we received from him was vague and non-specific, and at no time did he admit to or indicate that he took responsibility for any of the inappropriate behavior, only that he desired that the “painful memories” of those involved in the IBLP ministry could be “resolved.” Our last official communication with him took place on July 1, 2013, when we stated our belief that:
the first step towards reconciliation with those you have offended must be sincere repentance. While we respect that you feel sorrow over others’ painful memories, we do not believe that sorrow alone is sufficient to mitigate others’ pain. As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 7:10, a godly sorrow leads to true repentance. Until we see some evidence of this repentance and a desire to turn from your sin, our organization will be unable to assist you in reconciling with those you have sinned against. Reconciliation apart from repentance by the offender is, quite simply, impossible.
There was never a response to that email. However, Bill Gothard did contact one of our team members on October 18, 2013, at which time he stated in a phone call that he had requested a meeting with the Recovering Grace team and that “they didn’t feel that [a meeting] was in order at the time.” Our team member reminded him that we were waiting for specific indications of repentance, to which Bill replied that he would indeed follow up with such a response. This response was never received.
Meanwhile, our team continued to receive emails and collect information that confirmed to us that these problems were not limited to the ATI era (1984–present) of Bill Gothard’s ministry. We learned that this type of behavior was commonplace in the early years of the Institute ministry, culminating in a public “scandal” that led to Bill Gothard’s forced resignation from the ministry in 1980, only to see him forcefully return to power shortly thereafter, decimating the financial and spiritual lives of dozens of Institute staff members in the process. The ministry nearly came to an end at that point, but Bill was able to revive it with a new group of leaders who were willing to overlook what had taken place. A few short years later, in 1984, the Advanced Training Institute of America homeschool program was created, and with it came a new generation of willing laborers … and young victims.
As our database of troubling information has grown, our team has struggled over what to do with what we know. We have always tried to demonstrate a grace-based approach to our work and ministry, even towards the one man we believe to be the originator of the greatest damage. However, we also know that God desires both justice and mercy, and that grace does not preclude justice or truth. Every time we hear of another young person struggling with their faith in God, or dealing with chronic health issues because of physical mistreatment and exhaustion while working at a training center, or fighting depression and confusion because they were sexually harassed by Bill Gothard, an inescapable question confronts us: What can we do with this information to ensure that the abuse does not continue to happen?
We based our decision on a passage of Scripture familiar to most ex-ATIers: Matthew 18—wherein Christ teaches us how to deal with a sinning brother. We know that Bill Gothard has been confronted one-on-one many times about his sin, as well as in groups of two and three, so our team believes that it is time for us to engage in the final phase of this process which is found in Matthew 18:17: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
With this passage in mind, the Recovering Grace team has decided that over the next couple of months we are going to release a large volume of information concerning the life and ministry of Bill Gothard. This information will come in the form of personal accounts, never-before-published documents and correspondence, and factual reports of events that were swept under the rug years ago. Additionally, many of the coming articles will clearly show how individuals attempted to reconcile with Bill Gothard and/or follow the Matthew 18 process but were met with persistent refusal to acknowledge the issues, distortion of the truth, and a resistance to follow biblical steps towards humble repentance.
Guiding our release of this information will be one singular resolution that we hope will put an end to this malevolence once and for all:
Whereas Bill Gothard has exhibited a 40-year pattern of moral failure, abuse of spiritual authority, and mishandling of Scripture, and is therefore disqualified from Christian ministry according to Titus 1 and I Timothy 3, we believe that the only biblical course of action is for Bill Gothard to step down from all ministry and leadership positions, publicly repent of the above sins, and exhibit fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8).
After two and a half years of publications, we hope and trust that our readership has grown to understand that this statement and this series of posts is not one born of vindictiveness, spitefulness, or gratuitousness. Our hope is that this undertaking will provide healing for the many victims and repentance to Bill’s heart. Each member of our team has donated countless hours to this project at great emotional, mental, and physical cost, and each of us has, in many ways, left our current lives to revisit a time in our lives that we could just as easily forget. But for the sake of our younger brothers and sisters in Christ who are still in danger, we refuse to look the other way and allow the abuse to continue.
Amidst all of this, it is our ultimate calling before God that drives us now as it has since our first day in July 2011: a calling to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). It is our deepest prayer that God would use the efforts of Recovering Grace to demonstrate publicly what justice, mercy, and humility look like when exemplified in the church of Jesus Christ. We would ask for your prayers and support as we embark upon this endeavor.
The Recovering Grace Team