Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble. Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half a century. He was one of the pioneers of the Christian homeschooling movement, but is probably best known to us as one of the leaders of the Quiverfull movement. Indeed, the most famous Quiverfull family of them all, the Duggars, are big fans of his. He's rubbed noses with the likes of Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Sonny Perdue. Back when Sarah Palin was just the mayor of Wasilla, she attended one of Gothard's conferences and had Wasilla adopt his "Character Cities" program.
But that's in jeopardy after the board of the ministry he founded, the Institute for Basic Life Principles, placed him on administrative leave amid allegations that he sexually harassed female employees and failed to report child abuse. The bulk of these claims, which go back as far as the 1970s, have been posted at Recovering Grace, a Website run by former Gothard followers.
The allegations against Gothard dovetail with financial woes. In recent years, IBLP’s net revenue has dropped significantly, and the ministry is losing money. In 2009, it reported a net income loss of $1 million. It lost $4.1 million in 2011, and $3.5 million in 2012, according to its most recently available tax forms. Its net assets dropped from $92 million in 2010 to $81 million in 2012.
Since it started as a class at Gothard’s alma mater, Wheaton College, in 1961, more than 2.5 million people have gone through his “basic seminar” training on authority, success and other issues. IBLP held 504 seminars in 2010, but that number dropped to fewer than 50 in 2012.
The financial decline came around the same time that the whistle-blowing website Recovering Grace was formed in 2011. A string of allegations has been posted on the website, including one alleging Gothard molested a woman who was underage in the early 1990s. Four articles allege Gothard engaged in sexual harassment, and four articles allege his failure to report child abuse to Child Protective Services.
Calls placed to IBLP Thursday and Friday were not immediately returned.
Some of the stories are absolutely gut-wrenching. Among them:
- "Ruth," who worked for Gothard from 1970 to 1980--the last seven years as his personal secretary--reports that Gothard not only interfered with all of her relationships, but also frequently peeked in on female staffers in their nightgowns on retreats. She died of breast cancer in 1994, and her husband Larne shared her story.
- "Lizzie,"who worked for Gothard from 1994 to 1998, claims that Gothard touched her, stroked her hair and played footsie with her on numerous occasions. She also claims that Gothard had been warned as early as 1997 by his own board about taking girls as young as 15 on trips and acting inappropriately on those trips--and yet, his behavior didn't change.
- "Annette" was taken in by Gothard after fleeing from an abusive environment at her home. She claims Gothard took advantage of her in a sordid and despicable way--touching and petting her in much the same way that "Lizzie" experienced.
- ""Charlotte" writes that not long after she started working for Gothard at age 16, he began playing footsie with her. It progressed to hand-holding and hugging, and then to touching her breasts. On one occasion, they were coming home from a conference, and he put his hand up her legs and felt her all the way up. Incredibly, this was actually the second time she's been molested like this--her preacher father had been molesting her since she was seven years old. Two fellow staffers, "Dixie" and "Ryan," corroborated Charlotte's account of what happened to her.
- "Grace" writes that soon after she came to work for Gothard in 1999, he deliberately tried to get her to play footsie with him. It continued for her entire yearlong commitment to work for him. When she told her parents--who had been devoted to Gothard's teachings since she was six--they didn't believe her. As she put it, "they chose to believe that the man they followed and trusted with their lives — and the life of their first-born daughter — was infallible."
- "Rachel" says that when she went to work for Gothard, he stroked her hair, rubbed her legs and played footsie with her. She said that what happeed to her was similar to what other girls experienced, and can also vouch for what happened to "Charlotte."
This isn't the first time that Gothard has been under fire. Back in 1980, his ministry was almost destroyed when it emerged that his brother Steve had been having sex with students and staffers. It was a lot easier for fundies to survive dumdum bullets back then, though.
IBLP board chairman Billy Boring says that the board will respond "at an appropriate time" once the review is complete. The only acceptable response, if it hasn't happened already, is to call the police. And if this is at all true--and there's little reason to doubt it is, based on reading what Recovering Grace has gleaned--it doesn't matter if Gothard is 79 years old. He needs to go to prison.