World Magazine, The Washington Post, Christianity Today and in other places about the latest conservative Christian leader to fall: Bill Gothard.
If you haven't heard of Bill Gothard (lucky you!), he is the man behind the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and the homeschool program that is part of it, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). What started out as seminars on resolving basic youth conflicts morphed into a full-fledged homeschooling movement that came to characterize most of the pioneer homeschoolers of the 80's and 90's.
EXCEL 17 Class through IBLP
- Women should wear skirts only
- Married couples should have as many babies as possible (no birth control)
- Dating means you've given away too much of your heart, and couples should instead go through the courting process if they are interested in each other
- Homeschooling is the only correct way of educating
- Men are always considered to be under their father's authority whether they are married or not. Likewise, women are under their father's authority until they marry, and then that transfers to their husbands. The ages of those involved never play into the authority structure. (In other words, it's quite possible to have a 45-year-old man still under the authority of his 70-year-old father.)
- Women don't need college and should help around the house with their younger siblings until they get married
- Women are responsible for tempting the male if they are raped
- Men should be clean shaven
- Rock music is of the devil
- Cabbage Patch Dolls are possessed
- Adopting children brings all of the kids' forefathers' sins into your home. Those sins are usually very severe.
I could go on and on, but that's just to give you an idea. On top of that, there is Scripture taken out of context, facts twisted to fit Gothard's personal preferences, rules on how to be intimate with your spouse, and specifics on how to raise your kids. Lots and lots of rules and methods for success. (Note: my parents did not subscribe to all of these rules in our home, but these are rules that I absorbed during my time living in one of their training centers. IBLP is VERY effective at indoctrinating their students.)
A few weeks ago, Gothard was forced to resign due to allegations that he sexually harassed at least 34 women he worked with, including minors. He has also been accused of groping and covering up child abuse among those in his ministry. The details and allegations are many, so if you'd like to read more of the specifics, the Recovering Grace website (written by students who have made it out of the program), is a great place to start.
So...this is the guy who has been making all of the rules for all of these families enrolled in his program. Oh, did I mention that he is 79 and has never been married or had kids? Yeah, figure that one out. (Side Note: The Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting are huge proponents of IBLP, close friends with Gothard, and speak at his conferences. Just be aware of that if you find yourself drooling over their perfect life.)
I think I've mentioned it in passing before that I was homeschooled, which I really loved for the most part! Our years in IBLP didn't come into the picture until I was in my teens. I even lived in one of their training centers while attending a "finishing school" for a couple of months when I was 16 years old. I was *so* excited to go to the EXCEL class, because I thought that it would be all about cake decorating and flower arranging (hey, it was in the brochure!), but instead, it ended up being two solid months of brainwashing. Oh, if only I was joking, but I'm dead serious about the brainwashing.
Well...I did get to frost a cupcake.... (I'm in the purple shirt in the middle)
Over 10 years later, I can now see IBLP for what it is. It's a cult. In fact, some of us jokingly called the hardcore followers, "Gothardites." It was funny then, but terribly sad now.
It's taken me years to mentally and emotionally climb back out of the IBLP cult, and I'm currently in long overdue therapy to help me process through some of it. Thankfully, we were only enrolled for a couple of years before my parents pulled us out when I was 17. They started to realize that there was some wacky stuff being promoted, and thought it best to make an exit. I'm grateful that they pulled us when they did and always supported and encouraged me to pursue an education, but a lot of the damage had already been done. It's been over 10 years, but it's only been recently that I've started telling my parents about some of things that went on in the class that I attended. IBLP very effectively controlled all communication between parents and kids while the kids were enrolled in their programs, and the brainwashing ran deep. At 16 years old, you don't have much life experience to filter ideas through, and mental isolation makes it that much worse. Looking back, it is amazing to me how quickly and completely the group worked to manipulate and indoctrinate students and families. They had a system down, and it was extremely efficient and thorough.
Once your brain is hardwired to believe a certain way, it doesn't rewire easily.
One of the many sessions
Maybe you are wondering why I feel the need to write a post going all the way back to my teen years. That's a fair question. The answer has a couple of parts, but I'm sticking with the main one for now:
Because there are women and girls still in this program and in other programs like it.
I care about the men and boys too, but it's the women and girls that make my heart break. Sweet Christian women who are told that submission to the point of bondage inside a marriage, no voice or opinion, and being blamed for any shortcomings of her husband is the best way to be a good wife. That she is only good for running a house and raising children. That if her husband strays, it's because she wasn't a good enough wife. It's filled with guilt, the need to "just try harder," and the thought that if anything goes wrong, all fingers will be pointed back to her. Because she is a woman and that's her role in life....oh, friends. It's a horrible, horrible existence, and they don't even realize it. They don't realize it, because they are conditioned to believe it, and their acceptance is rooted in their ability to perform to those standards.
It is a form of slavery even though they aren't physically locked away.
The recent developments with Gothard, and my current therapy sessions have brought a lot of emotions and memories back to the forefront of my mind, and I feel like I have to say something in defense of these trapped women.
My team. I'm second from the left.
Sadly, it's not just in IBLP that women are doormats. I've seen this happen in regular churches, and in non-homeschooling families. I so badly want to grab these ladies and show them what grace and freedom in Christ looks like. I certainly don't have it all figured out, but I've been on their side and know what they are missing.
Friends, it's so easy to get sucked in by the promises of men who have a 5-step-plan to overcoming everything. Everyone wants a guaranteed outcome in life, but when you buy into a mindset like that, then you end up following the man and not needing God. There is no formula to a successful Christian life, but there IS freedom and grace if you choose to follow the Ultimate Authority instead of what some guy comes up with on a yellow legal pad.
Our team with one of the speakers (anybody recognize her?). I'm on the far left.
If you are trapped, thinking that you aren't worth anything, that your value is directly tied to your performance, or that you are at the mercy of the men around you, I want you to know that you've got it all wrong. Yay!
You are valuable, precious, and wanted by the God who created you. Please get help finding that freedom if you need to! It's a long, hard process. I'm not going to lie to you. Dissecting what you think is true to find what is really true is exhausting and frustrating. But it is so worth it in the end!
And if you aren't trapped in a situation and thought pattern like this, but know someone who is, please, please, PLEASE reach out to them. They will most likely have no idea that there is even anything wrong. But be that friend who sticks by them, and gently and patiently holds their hand. As a woman who has made it out and over to the other side, those friends are often the catalysts to starting the process of finding freedom.
***For further reading, please visit Recovering Grace.
***You may also enjoy reading my review of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. It's about taking a second look at the Biblical role of women...and it might not be what you think!
Special thanks to my amazing husband, Sean, for standing next to me over the past years as I've worked through my issues. He always encourages me to keep going until I find the truth, is willing to talk through my ideas with me, and pays for my therapy sessions every other week. :)