Bill Gothard, Prominent Evangelical Christian Leader, Accused of Sexual Abuse and Harassment
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Thu Jan 14, 2016 at 10:15:52 AM EST
There's a sexual harassment case involving a fellow named Bill that's rocking the headlines, and it has nothing to do with Bill Cosby. Welcome to the world of Bill Gothard, where at least ten women have thus far filed lawsuits accusing the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) of sexual abuse and harassment, according to numerous reports.
According to The Washington Post, "Each of the 10 plaintiffs -- Gretchen Wilkinson, Charis Barker, Rachel Frost, Rachel Lees, Melody Fedoriw, Jamie Deering, Ruth Copley Burger and three Jane Does -- are seeking at least $50,000 in damages, alleging that Gothard and the organization, claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, willful and wanton and civil conspiracy.

"The lawsuit in DuPage County Circuit Court in Illinois, where IBLP's headquarters is located, charges that IBLP, its employees and board members received reports of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and `inappropriate/unauthorized touching' from women and girls. But, the women allege, the defendants never reported the `potentially criminal allegations' to law enforcement authorities or the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services as required by state law."

Gothard, who, the Washington Post noted had "resigned from the ministry in 2014 after more than 30 women had alleged that he had molested and sexually harassed women he worked with, including some who were minors." is not a household name nor did he have a popular "family values" television program, but to evangelical Christians, he has been an exalted and revered figure.

Last spring, when In Touch magazine published an explosive report that Josh Duggar -- the oldest child of the ultra-conservative Duggar family of TLC's hit reality show 19 Kids and Counting -- had, as a teenager, sexually abused five minor girls, it was also revealed that the family turned to Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles for help for their son.

In a Talking Points Memo story dated September 10, 2015, Sarah Posner reported that Gothard's operation is "an insular and authoritarian evangelical homeschooling ministry whose charismatic founder, former followers say, sexually harassed female employees, blamed rape victims for provoking their attackers, and subjected young disciples to grueling physical labor for little or no pay."

According to Posner, "By keeping Josh's confession--and punishment--in a small, closed circle, the Duggars were acting in accordance with the teachings of IBLP's founder, Bill Gothard, and the Advanced Training Institute, IBLP's exclusive homeschooling program that provides curricula to parents, holds conferences, and offers missionary and work opportunities. The Duggars have belonged to ATI since 1992, when Josh was four, according to their own accounts on 19 Kids and Counting."

In a recent Washington Post story headlined "New charges allege religious leader, who has ties to the Duggars, sexually abused women," Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported that Gothard, a major force in the Christian homeschooling movement, "denied allegations that he had raped one woman."

"Oh no. Never never. Oh! That's horrible," he told the Washington Post. "Never in my life have I touched a girl sexually. I'm shocked to even hear that." Gothard also denied sexually harassing women. "That really is not true," he said. "I'd rather hold off to comment until I see what's in the lawsuit."

The Washington Post pointed out that "Gothard's ministry was once a popular gathering spot for thousands of conservative Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting." His "Advanced Training Institute conferences, where families would learn from Gothard's teaching, were popular among homeschooling families. He has also rubbed shoulders with Republican luminaries like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee."

Last week's lawsuit contains "an undated letter in which Gothard allegedly wrote to the women who were accusing him. 'I was very wrong in holding hands, giving hugs, and touching their hair and feet. I was also wrong in making statements that caused emotional turmoil and confusion,' the letter reads, describing what he did as 'sin.'"

After the dust clears, Gothard apparently intends to return to the ministry. "During the past seven months, God has allowed me to publish six new books that contain a powerful new message that I want to get out to all of the alumni," Gothard wrote in an affidavit.

For more from the women's point of view, see the website Recovering Grace, and their special section titled "The Gothard Files," which is "run by former IBLP-affiliated women, [who] began posting stories from more than 30 women alleging they experienced sexual harassment and abuse," the Post reported.

According to Recovering Grace, "Guiding our release of this information is one singular resolution that we hope will put an end to multiple forms of emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse being perpetrated":

"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)."

with what I experienced and was taught, back when I was in the Assemblies - and the experiences related to us since then.  (It also falls in line with some of my experiences, although I was  never sexually abused by a church leader.)

One of the "rules" drummed into us in the Assemblies was that there was only one way to deal with problems... if it was a person in the church, you went TO that person and if that didn't resolve it, you went to your pastor and the church... and if the pastor and church "felt" you were in the right and the person refused to listen to them, you were to treat that person as an outsider.  (You weren't supposed to talk about it with other people, however although the pastor can do so in 'asking for prayers' - translation asking people to lecture you and some people would do so anyway - it's called in some circles spiritual gossiping.)

If a Christian but not from your church violated your rights, you went to the pastor about it.  He was supposed to deal with it.  You were supposed to turn the other cheek.

The #1 big rule of all that was that you NEVER, but NEVER got the "authorities" (law enforcement) involved.  You NEVER went to them for help.  You NEVER BUT NEVER reported another Christian for wrongdoing.  Calling the police was verboten.

We've heard the same sort of rules coming out of Southern Baptists and other churches.  The more conservative, the more likely the rules would be in place.

My wife and I have spent many hours listening to women who had been raped as little girls by their church leaders.  Most of the women lived with it because they had nowhere to turn (they couldn't even trust their own parents).  Some women made the mistake of going to their parents or to other church leaders and didn't keep it "quiet" - and were punished by the church and their family (shunning, etc.) and labeled "Jezebels".  (Indeed, if we hear that a woman was labeled "Jezebel" as a girl, we instantly assume that she'd made the GIGANTIC mistake of going to the church or her parents for help.  So far, we've always been right.)

If the victims went to the authorities (RARE because of the rules), usually the girl was thrown out of the church,  sometimes her family too.  (It happened to boys too, but far less often.)

We knew one woman (late 20s) who'd been raped by a "church elder" while a toddler.  She got an STD from it, and the doctor reported it.  It created a huge stink, and the "elder" went to prison.

The church labeled her a Jezebel and both the church and her family blamed her for seducing the elder (remember, she was a toddler).  The last time we talked with her, they all were STILL trying to get him out of prison and the records purged/sealed - and blamed her. Needless to say, she has nothing to do with her family and is not Christian.

The sad thing for us is often the women who went through that would break down in tears, because people just wouldn't listen to them and the pain they carried.

Only when the crime is too extreme and been going on too long, and the church is unable to shove it back under the rug, do they do anything about it - and the norm is to make a huge fuss, put the person through a "program" (or a series of hoops), and then either make a big scene about "forgiveness" (implying that the victims MUST forgive their attackers) or quietly bringing them back into power.

So you see, what happened with Gothard is SOP for churches like the Assemblies of God.  Even his treatment is SOP, and I'd bet that they will make every effort to remove the (legitimately applied) tarnish to his reputation.

I admire the women who brought these actions against him, and I will say that they need a great deal of support.  It's also a much larger problem than most people even begin to realize.  We can hope for change because of the importance of Bill Gothard, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Jan 14, 2016 at 02:21:41 PM EST

I believe that in many or most jurisdictions, clergy are required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse. Doctors, teachers, social workers everywhere are required to report.

by NancyP on Fri Jan 15, 2016 at 10:58:09 AM EST
That's why the (whatever you want to call them, theocrats, dominionists, whatever) have created an alternate economy system, partially so that they can avoid people who would report abuse (sexual, religious, or other forms).  Dogemperor reported at length about that alternate economy, and this topic - sexual abuse by clergy (especially towards little girls, but also women in general and even boys and men), has popped up in the discussion (and has long been known as a problem).

I know about the requirement to report (I went through Stephen Ministry training back when I was Christian), but there is also the issue of the statute of limitations.  You do understand that these were not kids going through it or that we were talking about recent events in their lives, but adults who were relating what happened to them decades before?  I think that the statutes of limitations are still in force today in this state - something like 4 years, unless there is DNA evidence and a match is made (in such a situation, I think a woman has a year to file charges) and in cases like we heard, I don't see the requirement to report having applicability.  

I haven't kept up with these sort of issues because of schoolwork - indeed, I really haven't talked with anyone (like that) in a couple of years and the last two cases I heard about had been reported - one was the 20-something whose rapist went to prison (and she talked about it in not-so-private situations and was rather open about it).  

I know that there has been a move to repeal the statute of limitations for sexual assaults (especially on kids) - but don't know where that's gone.  Based on what we've heard, I think that to be a rather good idea.  However, if we were required to report on the cases we'd heard before... it would cause some real issues because we didn't keep records - and we understand confidentiality quite well (and most of the adult women were expecting confidentiality even though the "relationship" was informal. We have/had the reputation of not being gossips and keeping things to ourselves, and willing to listen and not be judgmental).  Also, while the women reported what happened to them, in only a few cases were any names mentioned at all.  We were listening to what happened to THEM.  They weren't giving testimony or anything like that, we were dealing with very deep wounds.  Our focus was on helping them cope and try to recover, not on the crime itself - and we didn't ask for names (funny thing, in every case, the denomination itself was volunteered - the women left those churches as soon as they were able and never returned, and I can say that all of the cases involved very conservative and strictly hierarchal churches - the ones we often discuss here).

A sad fact is, often when adult women do report these things (which we encouraged even though the statute of limitations had passed), they're often not believed.  I wish that would change... the sort of things that happened to them all have so much in common, and another sad fact is that "authorities" often assume that the "Good Christian" pastor (or church leader) MUST be a good person and only when they're overwhelmed with reports do they do anything (and in such a cases, CYA and denial becomes the rule in the church - can't have the church structure and hierarchy being blamed, dont'cha know?).  That's what this situation with Gothard looks like!  (Also, something I've noticed in recent cases - when one person finally exposes one of those pedophile preachers, suddenly others take notice and join in - I'd say encouraged to finally talk about what they'd been put through by the first person filing charges!)

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jan 15, 2016 at 02:26:03 PM EST

I can assure you Gothard had a huge impact on the shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. Sadly, this story is too late to help much.

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