In Grayson Flap, Misses Webster Ties To Christian Reconstructionism
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 12:02:41 PM EST
So how close is Republican Congressional candidate Daniel Webster, running against Democratic Representative Alan Grayson for Florida's 8th Congressional District, to evangelist Bill Gothard? That question is now politically salient because of Gothard's participation in a radical Christian political movement called Christian Reconstructionism that seeks to impose stoning as a form of capital punishment for crimes including murder, adultery, "heresy," and "witchcraft." (for more on Christian Reconstructionism, see story appendix)
The answer to that question would be, very close. As a February 16, 1997 story in the St. Petersburg Times described,

"Last summer, Daniel Webster journeyed to South Korea on a religious mission, meeting with the country's president and other political and spiritual leaders. He was joined by Bill Gothard, the head of a $30-million Christian evangelical group. Four months after the trip, Webster ascended to one of the most powerful positions in Florida: speaker of the state House of Representatives. He brings with him 14 years of experience with Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles, where Webster has not only attended seminars, but also taught classes and even made an instructional video that raised money for the institute."

As an August 5, 1996 article in the Gainesville Sun quoted Webster, 'I respect (Gothard) as much as anybody. As Webster told the Gainesville Sun, "I wouldn't have gone [with Gothard to Korea] but he wanted me there."

Bill Gothard, in turn, was a close ally of R.J. Rushdoony, considered the father of Christian Reconstructionism and founder of the movement's flagship institution, the Chalcedon Institute.

As Vice President of the Chalcedon Institute Martin Selbrede stated in the Institute's March/April 2010 issue of Faith For All Of Life, the only reason Bill Gothard didn't agree to use Chalcedon founder R.J. Rushdoony's monumental Institutes of Biblical Law tome in Gothard's sprawling evangelical empire is that the two couldn't agree on divorce. Rushdoony's Institutes was a template for instituting Biblical law in government (for more on Reconstructionism, see story appendix.)

As Selbrede wrote,

"[T]he divide between Gothard and Rushdoony on divorce was a deep and abiding one. Gothard proposed using Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law as a resource for his massive ministry; the sheer volume of the resulting sales would have made Rushdoony both rich and famous. Gothard's condition for moving forward on this was letter-simple: Rushdoony merely needed to remove the section on divorce from his book, and the highly profitable deal would be sealed.

Rushdoony refused the offer."

So, while Gothard was categorically opposed to divorce, Rushdoony, a virulently racist Holocaust denier who espoused Geocentrism, was a little more liberal on divorce. In other words, the two men were otherwise in substantial agreement - except for the sticking point of divorce, they both agreed that Rushdoony's vision for Biblical law should be imposed upon America.

That vision included instituting stoning as a form of capital punishment for rape, kidnapping, murder, heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent, extreme juvenile delinquency, and "unchastity before marriage."

Daniel Webster's association with Bill Gothard's Institute For Basic Life Training has continued into the present, and a speech Webster made at a Nashville IBLP conference in 2009 has now become a source of controversy due to a new Alan Grayson campaign ad. Grayson is currently taking a media drubbing because of an ad campaign ad that calls Grayson's political opponent, Republican Daniel Webster, "Taliban Dan."

An assessment from, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, criticizes a new Grayson campaign ad attacking Grayson's political opponent, Republican Daniel Webster, for allegedly taking out of context statements Webster made in a speech at a 2009 conference of a religious organization called the "Institute of Basic Life Principles."

But die-hard religious right researchers at are raising questions about's charge, and Religion Dispatches editor Sarah Posner calls out in turn for its benign depiction of Bill Gothard's IBLP, noting that " fails... to describe what the IBLP is really about, describing it as a "non-denominational Christian organization that runs programs and training sessions."

Many across the political spectrum appear appalled by the Grayson campaign's "Taliban" label but Daniel Webster's nearly three-decade long, intimate involvement with the Bill Gothard and the Institute For Basic Life Principles suggests that the label may be less than hyperbolic.

Wesbter's association with Bill Gothard and the IBLP is noteworthy for other reasons :

As described in a February 18, 1999 story in the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, by Bob Norman, Bill Gothard's Character First! curriculum, now being taught in public school systems across the United States, teaches an extreme form of submission to authority. As Norman's story begins,

One of the lessons for today is obedience, and the first graders at the school inside the First Christian Church building in Fort Lauderdale sing about it quite obediently.

While the students at the Charter School of Excellence are divided fairly evenly between blacks and whites, they dress alike, with the boys in dark blue pants and green buttoned-up golf shirts and the girls wearing white blouses under plaid jumpers. All eyes are focused on their young and attractive teacher, Mrs. Blocker, who leads them in song:

Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma'am!"
Hup, two, three!

A July 20, 1995 story in the Dallas Observer, by Julie Lyons, underscores the authoritarian nature of Gothard's programs and also corroborates Alan Grayson's charge that Daniel Webster indeed referred to a Gothardite doctrine of female submission in his 2009 Nashville speech. As Lyons writes,

"It is one of the stranger sights in South Dallas: each day, when the weather is fair, 125 teenage girls stream out of the Ambassador hotel and cross the street into Old City Park. The girls are dressed almost identically, in navy blue smocks and skirts and crisp, lace-collared blouses, their long hair cinched with bows or bands. All but a few of the teens are white.


No, these teens aren't part of the exhibits at Old City Park, or some lost tribe of Girl Scouts. But they are vestiges of values past, students in an eight-week religious finishing school--works in progress at a factory seeking to build pure and perfect teens. The program is called EXCEL, which stands for "Excellence in Character, Education, and Leadership." It costs $900 per teen.

The girls, who range in age from 15 to the early 20s, come to Dallas from all over the country for the year-old residential program at the Ambassador. Though they hail from a variety of evangelical and fundamentalist churches, they've all been nurtured in the "basic life principles" of well-known Bible teacher Bill Gothard--principles that include unquestioning obedience to their parents, future submission to their husbands, eschewing rock music and television, and remaining chaste.

A January 9, 2006 In These Times report from Silja J.A. Talvi suggested that Bill Gothard's approach  has changed little if at all since then, and other news reports have  also underscored the same authoritarian, anti-feminist streak in Gothardo's teachings.

As a March 9, 1997 story in the Ocala Star-Banner characterized Gothard's IBLP,

Some critics have accused Gothard of employing exorcism which, in the following account, would seem, to function as a method for disciplining unruly wives. In her 2003 book Bonshea, by Coral Anika Theill, Theill describes undergoing the following therapeutic regimen at one of Bill Gothard's facilities:

"My husband counseled over the phone with Mr. Jim Logan, a man who specialized in counseling in matters regarding demon possession. He suggested my husband take me to the Bill Gothard Indianapolis Training Center in Indianapolis. A few months later, in September of 1994, my husband took me by plane to Indianapolis for counseling and reprimand. Mr. Bill Gothard of Basic Youth Conflicts runs this "Christian" training center.


I was told how I had not learned to submit to my husband and religious "authorities" and that God was punishing me because of my rebellious spirit. I was accused of witchcraft and they tried, through prayer and exorcism, to cast demons out of me on a daily basis.

I was forced to listen to presentations by the Institute every single day on how to be  a more submissive wife. The central theme message was from 1 Cor 11:3-9, "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." " [Bonshea, pages 56-57]

Gothard teaches a doctrine of "generational iniquity" in which sinful behaviors are passed down through ancestral lines, as curses. As Gothard writes in "Bill Gothard Thanks His Critics,",

"I used to use the term the "sins of the forefathers" to explain the negative influences that parents can pass on to their children. Several pastors reacted to this idea. This forced me to see that Scripture was not talking about the sins of the forefathers, but rather the iniquities of the forefathers."

In 1990 Bill Gothard's Institute on Basic Life Principles published a tract titled TEN SCRIPTURAL REASONS WHY THE ROCK BEAT" IS EVIL IN ANY FORM which was being distributed on the Internet as late as 2008. The tract, which claimed rock music causes brain damage and was demonic, focused on the alleged evils of the "Rock Beat":

"The "rock beat" is a dominant and repetitious offbeat which competes with the melody and distracts from the words of a song. The contradictory messages in the beat, the words, the melody, the style of the presentation, and the appearance of the musicians all create a subtle confusion in the minds, wills, and emotions of the listeners, which leads them to question the absolute moral standards of God."

Perhaps the most eccentric charges against Bill Gothard have been leveled by conservative Christian critics concerning Gothard's teaching on Cabbage Patch Dolls and troll dolls.

According Richard G. Fischer, writing for Personal Freedom Outreach ministries, in 1986 Gothard taught that Cabbage Patch dolls caused "strange and destructive behavior" (as Fischer characterized Gothard's teaching.) Fischer states that in that same year Gothard's organization sent Personal Freedom Outreach a letter calling Cabbage Patch a "violation of the first Commandment."  

The Cabbage Patch Doll controversy continued well into the next decade, according to Fischer, when in 1996 one of Gothard's organizations mailed out a strange newsletter:

"[The] January 1996 Basic Care Newsletter from his Medical Training Institute defines the potential of the once-popular dolls. The publication stated that there are a core of midwives that are working against "Satan's program from Genesis to Revelation to destroy the Godly seed." This report endorsed by Gothard and his organization then describes "cleansing the home from evil influences." The midwives searched the homes for Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and Troll dolls. They believed the destruction of these facilitated the births. Just having these items in the home retarded a speedy delivery, said the newsletter. Attributing this much power to a doll goes beyond the pale of reason and lapses into pagan superstition."

A history of the Christian homeschooling movement (upon which Bill Gothard has been a major influence) published in the now defunct Gentle Spirit magazine appears to corroborate Richard G. Fischer's account:

"In 1996, Gothard stated that a core of midwives is "working against Satan's program... to destroy the godly seed by helping pregnant women to "cleanse" their homes from evil influences, to include Cabbage Patch Dolls and troll dolls. The rationale was that having these dolls in the house hindered the birthing process.

As did Fischer, the report cited a Basic Care Newsletter allegedly mailed out from Bill Gothard's Oak Brook, Illinois Medical Training Institute.

Appendix: More on Christian Reconstructionism

As Frederick Clarkson, in his landmark 1994 article on Christian Reconstructionism (otherwise known as Theonomy) at The Public Eye entitled Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence, gives provides a list of of capital crimes under Christian Reconstructionism, or Theonomy, and some helpful context:

Epitomizing the Reconstructionist idea of Biblical "warfare" is the centrality of capital punishment under Biblical Law. Doctrinal leaders (notably Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen) call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder. Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, "unchastity before marriage."

According to Gary North, women who have abortions should be publicly executed, "along with those who advised them to abort their children." Rushdoony concludes: "God's government prevails, and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them." Reconstructionists insist that "the death penalty is the maximum, not necessarily the mandatory penalty." However, such judgments may depend less on Biblical Principles than on which faction gains power in the theocratic republic. The potential for bloodthirsty episodes on the order of the Salem witchcraft trials or the Spanish Inquisition is inadvertently revealed by Reconstructionist theologian Rev. Ray Sutton, who claims that the Reconstructed Biblical theocracies would be "happy" places, to which people would flock because "capital punishment is one of the best evangelistic tools of a society."

The Biblically approved methods of execution include burning (at the stake for example), stoning, hanging, and "the sword." Gary North, the self-described economist of Reconstructionism, prefers stoning because, among other things, stones are cheap, plentiful, and convenient. Punishments for non-capital crimes generally involve whipping, restitution in the form of indentured servitude, or slavery. Prisons would likely be only temporary holding tanks, prior to imposition of the actual sentence.



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