Bill Gothard: The Biggest Conservative Fraud in Modern Times?
The following was a letter originally sent to our family and friends on January 12, 2015.
Dear Family and Friends,
I have not heard much from many of you about the events that have been exposed over the past year about Bill Gothard and his organization. It is time to break the silence and tell you what I know and where we as a family stand. If any of you, years ago, had seen some of the things that I am going to share with you, I wish you would have warned us about them. Silence allows sin and false teachings to continue and many to be defiled by them. It is important that sexual abuse, false teachings, and deceptions be exposed to the light so that others are not deceived and harmed. Jesus has warned us that in the end times: “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13) We thought it would not happen to us—to be deceived—but it did.
I am grieved that I was so easily deceived by a false teacher. I have had to repent and apologize to my family for leading them in the false teachings of Bill Gothard, the conservative homeschool model, and their courtship model.
We followed God’s direction in 2005 and left Bill Gothard’s ATI (Advanced Training Institute) homeschool program, but many of his false teachings still influenced our family. This past year we have worked intensely to purge our thinking and practices from all the false teachings that we imbibed from Bill Gothard, ATI, and conservative homeschool leaders. It has not been easy, but we have made significant progress in unlearning false teachings and in making Godly corrections to our thinking. A number of our children rededicated their lives to the Lord and we have seen a significant change in their attitudes and thought processes.
As a family, we are committed 100% to following Jesus Christ and His Word, and have no desire to follow any man, man-made doctrine or division of man (denomination).
In documents that were just released in December 2014, it was revealed that there were 14 senior and long term staff people who worked closely with Bill Gothard in the 1970’s and 1980’s who were involved in sexual immorality. This gross and perverse immorality had continued for at least seven years that Bill Gothard knew about it and perhaps as long as 14 years. Bill Gothard kept them on as staff because they were producing materials that brought in millions of dollars to the organization.
I had known that Gothard’s brother, Steve, had committed fornication with seven secretaries, but did not know the extent of the sexual perversion of those who wrote many of the IBLP books and publications. These 14 staff people were involved in writing the following publications while living in known sexual immorality:
- Basic Seminar materials
- Advanced Seminar materials
- Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool publications
- Ministers Conference materials
- Character Sketches
- Men’s Manual
- Life Notebook
- Many other IBLP publications
The sexual immorality of these 14 staff persons and that of Bill Gothard has significantly influenced some of the teachings and publications of IBLP and ATI. Some of these influences have been pointed out by various people on the Recovering Grace website.
As serious as all of this is, the sexual immorality, sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Gothard’s organization is much more extensive than anyone imagined. There are many people that have come forward and exposed rampant sexual immorality and sexual abuse by Bill Gothard, Steve Gothard, staff at Headquarters, staff at training centers, and in ATI homeschool families.
A Sheep With the Wool Pulled Over Its Eyes—God likens people to sheep. There are many similarities between people and sheep including this one of having “the wool pulled over one’s eyes”. When we were shearing sheep, one of the guys took a sheep that he had just finishing shearing. She was relaxed from the shearing process, and he gently laid her head down on the shearing board and covered her face with wool. She laid there, almost perfectly still with no one holding her for five to ten minutes while we went to get a camera and took pictures of her. It is not natural for a sheep to lie still in that position with no one holding them. The instant the wool was removed from her eyes; she jumped up and ran off. The same is true of us as people. When we have “the wool pulled over our eyes” we willingly submit to the teachings and bondage that others place us under. Others looking on wonder why such intelligent people would willingly believe that teaching, or allow someone to put them under unnecessary bondage and they not reject false teaching or the bondage. The people with the wool over their eyes have been rendered helpless and need to have someone help them by removing the wool from their eyes and showing them God’s truth. God says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6
As I found out the following things, the “wool” was removed from my eyes and I could see the error for what it really was. Yes, we all knew that Bill Gothard’s theology and Biblical application was inaccurate and stretched in places, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt because he appeared to be such a Godly man, like we have given the benefit of the doubt to many others who have differing interpretations or applications in some areas than what we do.
Bill Gothard is perhaps the biggest false teacher, sexual predator, hypocrite, and fraud in modern conservative circles. His “ministry” empire in recent years was worth somewhere around $80 million dollars.
Much of the following is condensed from testimonies and documents on www.recoveringgrace.org and from comments by readers. Toward the end are some of my observations. This is a brief synopsis and is not intended to cover all the evidence and documentation.
- Over 50 women have come forward and stated that they were sexually harassed or sexually abused by Bill Gothard. The number could actually be several hundred who have been sexually harassed or abused because of the access that he had to a large number of young girls over the last 40 years who were working at headquarters or who were counseled in private by him. Sexual abuse statistics in general usually find that only 3 or 4 percent of sexual abuse cases are ever reported.
- Bill Gothard, over the years, hired many pretty, young, 14 to 16 year old girls to be his personal secretaries. Gothard’s sister was the official secretary that he told us about so that we thought he was above reproach. However, unknown to us, these girls served him in the early morning when he went to the office at 5:00am until his sister came in at normal starting time, and in the evening, after his sister left the office, until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. These girls were often alone with Gothard and he would sit next to them on the sofa in his office with his thigh pressed against theirs. His teachings on authority, the chain of command and the umbrella of protection, along with their lack of experience and wisdom, allowed him to control these young girls and get them to follow his every wish and command. If one stood up to him, she was immediately let go and another took her place. None of the girls have stepped forward and stated that Gothard went as far as having sexual intercourse with them.
- Bill Gothard admitted in 1980 to 14 years of sexual addiction to masturbation. One document quotes what C.S. Lewis wrote years ago about masturbation. What C.S. Lewis says about masturbation could explain why Bill Gothard had such an attraction in recent years to beautiful 14 to 16 year old girls and hired them as personal secretaries:”For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.”
(From a letter to a Mr. Masson dated March 6, 1956 in the Wade Collection at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL)
- In the 1970’s, Gary Smalley walked into Bill Gothard’s cabin in the North Woods property at 11:00 at night and found a staff woman dressed in a sheer nightgown sitting on his lap. Smalley said that Bill Gothard often had single staff women in his cabin late at night. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/media/12.30.13-10-edited-Authorship-Publication-of-Ministry-Materials-by-Men-Involved-in-Immorality.pdf
- Bill Gothard, in the 1970’s, would walk unannounced into staff women’s rooms at the Northwoods property at bedtime when they were dressed in their nightgowns and give them full frontal hugs.
- Bill Gothard covered up his brother Steve’s sexual relations with seven secretaries and aided Steve in sexually assaulting them by banishing Steve for his immorality to the Northwoods property to work on the Character Sketches books, and then sending secretaries to help him in his “work”. These women were then sexually abused by Steve. Now I understand why the content of the Character Sketches books never really appealed to me. They were written in total hypocrisy by persons who lacked character and were merely writing academically to produce a product to make a lot of money off of it.
- Bill Gothard repeatedly lied to staff and the IBLP board to cover up the sex scandal of his brother Steve and himself in 1980. Bill lied so much that staff would carry note pads to write down what he said so that they could point back to him at what he had said.
- Bill Gothard dealt heavy-handedly with all staff that tried to expose his sins and hypocrisy. One staff person named Tony, a Mennonite man from Kansas who was the moderator at many of the video Basic Seminars and handled the overhead projector, was cruelly attacked by Gothard to silence him from exposing the rampant sexual immorality. Gothard wrote a letter to Tony’s home church and repeatedly called him an “Agent of Satan”.
- In many of the testimonies and documents that were released, it has become apparent that Gothard did not personally apply in his own life the Seven Basic Principles and many of the other things that he taught at the seminars and required of others.
- Gothard, like many other sexual predators, gravitated to a ministry/job that gave him access to those whom he could sexually prey on. The homeschooling ministry of ATI provided a constant stream of young, pretty, 14—16 year old female “playthings”.
- He developed teachings to keep staff from exposing his sins and fraud around the time that the sex scandal involving his brother was made known. Some of the teachings were to not be “defrauded” by listening to an evil (negative) report, to not give an evil (negative) report, and other teachings. Doug Phillips did a similar thing by teaching that gossip, as he defined it as being anything negative about someone else, was one of the greatest sins. That teaching was very influential in preventing exposure and investigation of his immorality and the immorality in the organization.
- Gothard stressed getting wisdom, reading Psalms and Proverbs, wisdom searches, Wisdom Books (ATI curriculum), and asking God for wisdom. But he did not know how to acquire wisdom or how to teach others to have wisdom because he was proud (something he admitted), living a lie, living in sin and covering up sin. Many followed his teachings and were not able to see that they were false teachings because they lacked wisdom. The emphasis on wisdom was part of the fraud. People thought they and their children were getting wisdom when in fact they were not. Instead, Gothard taught many ATI families to be proud, to think of themselves as “noble”, “a five star family”, as better than others, having a higher standard, as having a superior way of life. These things kept families from having wisdom. “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
- When he first started ATI, Bill Gothard said that the ATI curriculum was far superior to other education materials. He told us that with the content of the Wisdom Booklets and because of its unique approach of integrating education around the Sermon on the Mount, it would in 12 years not only give a child a high school equivalent training, but would also give the equivalent of four years of college, pre-law, and pre-med. The wisdom booklets in reality could not achieve even close to that. They were mere booklets that had to be supplemented with other textbooks. Many mothers felt frustrated in knowing how to implement the curriculum to achieve the results that Gothard promised. Because they thought Bill Gothard was such a Godly and honest man, they felt that their own inability was the reason why their children were not succeeding like others in ATI appeared to be succeeding.
- When ATI was first started, Bill said that apprenticeship training was far superior to college education
and he gave several examples to “prove” that it was true. He deceived us by promising us that ATI would have many apprenticeship opportunities in many different professions for our children when they finished the ATI curriculum. ATI would line up professionals who would work one on one with our children in real work settings to train them quickly in that profession. By the time our oldest had finished high school, there was no real apprenticeship program, only a sham of an apprenticeship program that enabled Bill to get young girls to sexually harass and abuse and to get labor, both guys and girls, for the organization. Many of these young people paid weekly to be there instead of being paid for their work. By then Bill had also started a college.
- Gothard’s organization often broke the law by requiring underage ATI students that worked at headquarters to work very long hours. In addition, those young people that were paid, were not paid for more than 8 hours a day even though they might work far more than that. Sometimes requiring them to work all night to get ready for a seminar.
- Gothard deceived many with the Sonic Bloom program he promoted which used music to raise high quality food. He built a greenhouse to demonstrate Sonic Bloom. The tomato plants did very poorly and had to be rescued with commercial fertilizer. Knowing full well that Sonic Bloom did not work, he lied to ATI families at the ATI conference about how wonderfully it worked and how great it was and sold them Sonic Bloom starter kits to recoup his investment in the Sonic Bloom program. He then dropped Sonic Bloom and moved on to something else.
- Another marketing deception was the marketing of the “Peace Be Still” harp music recording. Gothard told a story about how calming harp music being played was in one family’s home. He then announced that ATI had a new recording of harp music that would calm the home. What he did not say was that the recording was not actual harp music, but merely a keyboard/synthesizer imitating the harp sound. The keyboard sound is evident when you listen to the recording.
- Bill Gothard was a hypocrite and did things to be seen of men that Jesus told us in Matthew 6:1-8 that hypocrites do. Instead of seeing the things he did as an indication that he might be a hypocrite, we viewed it that he was very Godly. Bill did things to be seen as a very godly man. He told us how he got up at 4:00am to spend time with the Lord and he would work late into the evening. He told us how he would fast every week and how he would go to the Northwoods each winter and fast for 30 days. He encouraged us men to follow his example of rising early and fasting so that we could be great men of God (like he was). We should not have been deceived because Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that hypocrites want others to know they are praying and fasting. They want others to think that they are spiritual. Instead, it is an indicator that they are a hypocrite. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:5) “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:16)
- Gothard put an emphasis on the outward appearance—having a “higher standard”, a bright countenance, the model ATI look and dress, and an emphasis on character qualities. Jesus warned us about those who put an emphasis on outward appearance: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:25-28)
- Gothard’s emphasis on character qualities was part of his deception. I had often wondered why Gothard put so much emphasis on character when God does not in the Bible. The emphasis on character qualities is a focus on works of men to appear Godly rather than displaying the fruits of the Spirit which comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The emphasis on skirts and dresses for ATI families was developed somewhere around 1980 and appears to have been part of the reimaging of Gothard’s ministry after the sex scandal broke about his brother. In the 1970’s, IBLP staff women wore pants. Putting more strict “modesty” and conservative dress requirements on women is a typical move by sexual predators. It puts the responsibility on the women instead of the men to prevent sexual immorality and at the same time puts the women and girls more under the control of the sexual predator. The conservative modesty doctrine often results in a perverted view of right and wrong by conservative sexual predators. They blame the women and in doing so, they view themselves as the victim and the girls or women as the perpetrators. As a result, they often do not own the responsibility for the sexual abuse that they commit. When a leader puts a strong emphasis on modesty, it is a red flag.
- Bill Gothard taught the false teaching of courtship. He said it was the formula for a successful marriage and wrote a book about it. One of the indicators that it is a false teaching is that two of the men who promoted it the most, Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips, were sexually abusing young women for many years while they were teaching it. Preventing immorality was one of the main stated purposes for the courtship doctrine. It does not work. One father that I know put a strong emphasis on courtship, and all the while he had been sexually abusing his daughters for many years. Many young people have posted on the comments section on Recovering Grace website whose lives have been damaged by this teaching. Because of the courtship doctrine, many feel like they cannot relate properly with those of the opposite sex. The courtship teaching has caused divisions in many families.
- Sexual abuse has occurred in many ATI homeschool families, and one very close to us. It was made public in a lawsuit several years ago that Charlie Llewellyn, a father that was in the ATI father’s group that I was a part of, physically and sexually abused his sons and daughters during the time he was part of our accountability group. I never knew about it until recently. His oldest daughter, writing in the comments on the Recovering Grace website said that sometime she would tell her story. One of the telling things is that she said that she named her son after Boz Tchividijian, Billy Graham’s grandson. Boz Tchividijian is the head of GRACE, a Christian organization that investigates sexual abuse. I want to go on record as stating that accountability groups do not work. A sexual predator is a deceiver. He deceives himself, he deceives those he abuses and deceives those he is accountable to. http://www.brentdetwiler.com/brentdetwilercom/the-conspiracy-surrounding-plaintiff-grace-goe-at-covenant-l-1.html
- We are seeing the failure of the eternal security doctrine to produce righteousness, with sexual abuse and its cover up occurring at Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, Pensacola College, and with Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, and many, many other Baptist and Calvinist pastors. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness…” (Jude 1:4a) also 2Peter 2:18-22
- Because of the eternal security doctrine and his own personal sins, Bill knew that he could not tell people that if they habitually sinned they would go to hell. Therefore to get people to do “right”, he defined breaking a vow as more serious than committing a sin (such as sexual immorality or lying) and that God would discipline you for breaking the vow. He then encouraged people at the seminars to make many vows. For example: one vow was to read the Bible each day for at least 5 minutes. In doing so, Bill created a man-made sin of not reading the Bible every day for at least 5 minutes.
- Bill Gothard turned the hearts of many fathers away from their children and the hearts of many children away from their parents. This we see in the results of many ATI families that are not on speaking terms with their children. All the while, Gothard was promising ATI parents that they would have success as parents and that they would have the perfect family.
- Gothard’s teaching produced the opposite results of what he stated that they would. His teachings on a superior education, excellence, a higher standard, appearance, character, etc. produced expectations in parents for their children that were very difficult for their children to achieve. The teachings also gave the children expectations of perfection for their parents that was very difficult for them to achieve. Wives expected greater “spirituality” and perfection from their husbands than what they should have, and the husbands of their wives. These expectations have resulted in much conflict in the homes. Children were not achieving the model status that Bill had said that they would; therefore it was the children’s fault. The children perceived that their parents were not the “model Christians” as Bill Gothard had defined and taught them to be. Therefore, the children felt justified in not obeying their parents or following their parents’ expectations.
- Many of Gothard’s false teachings have an element of truth in them. That is why so many of us were deceived by him. There is a certain amount of truth from Scripture, but then elements in the teaching are given their own definition or interpretation by Gothard which is not in scripture. This is also true of many false denominational and theological doctrines in churches today.
- Gothard gave his own definitions and applications to “Biblical principles”. In doing so, people who followed his principles were following him rather than Christ. This is similar to what the hypocrites—the scribes and Pharisees—were doing in Jesus’ day in defining what it meant to swear—Matt. 23:16-22.
- Many of Bill Gothard’s teachings, such as following Christ’s commands, rock music, debt, courtship, not going to college, homeschooling, the father taking the lead in the home, etc. had an element of truth that mainstream churches had overlooked. As I have researched these subjects in Scripture, I have found that part of what Bill taught was true but he was not fully teaching what the Bible taught. I believe that Satan gave these teachings to Bill to use to deceive Christians. Satan knew that most churches are not following what Christ had commanded in these areas and Satan had Bill to introduce them as forgotten truths to deceive the elect if at all possible. However, because Bill was not a Christian, his teachings on these subjects were used by Satan to turn Christians from following Christ. People implemented Gothard’s teachings on these subjects and followed Gothard instead of searching the Scriptures and finding out what God was actually saying and follow Christ.
- Bill Gothard handpicked 49 commands of Christ and said that if a person followed them, it would guarantee success in their Christian life. He could not make any such claim because he was not teaching people to follow all of Christ’s commands. In reality, he was ignoring over 600 other commands that Jesus has given to us in the New Testament.
- Bill Gothard had a flat view of Scripture. He taught that some of the Old Testament commands applied as much today as commands in the New Testament, such as “skirts and dresses only” for girls and women, not eating pork, circumcision, and abstaining from sexual relations in marriage during times stated in the OT. God has told us, that as Christians we are no longer under the Old Testament Law. We are to follow and teach ALL that Christ has commanded us (the second half of the Great Commission).
- To try to salvage IBLP and ATI and purge out the false teachings is not possible. It is founded upon false teachings, concepts, applications, sexual immorality and lies.
- He conned millions of people out of hundreds of millions of dollars and built an 80+ million dollar Bill Gothard empire ministry that was centered around him and his teachings while posing to be centered around Christ.
- Bill Gothard was a master deceiver and liar. Because he appeared to be a very godly man, many never suspected that he would be deceiving them and lying to them. Christians tend to trust other Christians because true Christians don’t lie. If things seemed a little off, we gave him the benefit of the doubt because he appeared to be such a Godly man that could be trusted even more than most Christian leaders. This trust enabled him to deceive many. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
We are living in the end times. We need to be sober and we need to be vigilant, because our adversary the Devil is going about seeking whom he may devour. God has warned us that Satan will try to deceive the elect if at all possible. It is time to stop giving false teachers the benefit of the doubt. If a teaching seems off, check it out. Check out the teachings that you have held for years to see if they are really true. If it is not what Scripture teaches, forsake the false teaching and make the appropriate changes. Many doctrines of man are based on Scripture and appear to be what Scripture teaches, but they have added the interpretations of man and are false teachings.
If you find out about false teachings that I have believed or that others are believing, please let us know. It is important that sexual abuse, false teachings, and deceptions be exposed to the light so that we and others are not deceived and harmed. The silence about sexual abuse and false teachings needs to end.
If you don’t believe or agree with some of what I have shared with you, please don’t spout off at me until you have investigated at least some of the evidence first. There is a lot of evidence out there. If it is not worth your time to investigate the matter, it is not really worth my time reading or listening to your uneducated opinion and responding to it. If, after you have looked at the evidence and still disagree, I would like to hear what you see. I want to know what is truth. God has not asked me to argue or to force you to change your mind.
I share this out of love for you, and I desire the best for you and your walk with our Lord Jesus Christ.
PS. Please feel free to pass this on to others who you think should know about it.
- ATI: Designed Around a False Education "Principle"
The Advanced Training Institute (ATI) curriculum was promoted and sold to pastors and homeschool parents as the best homeschool curriculum in the world. Instead of being the best, it has failed horribly in many ways. The ATI curriculum was produced by Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles and was designed around a false education 'principle' that produces results that are opposite of what Bill Gothard stated that they would be.
- Doug Phillips, Vision Forum and the Bigger Picture
Doug Phillips’ extra-marital affair is not an isolated incident of a conservative church leader being involved in sexual sins. There is a much bigger picture that we need to see.
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