Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Time to talk about Bill Gothard

I've been thinking about what to write for over a month now.

Some time in April, Bill Gothard's hidden past came to light. He resigned from his position as head of his behemoth ministry called Institute for Basic Life Principles due to allegations of sexual abuse.

I was shocked.

Ken and I had attended one of his IBLP seminars in Taipei a few years back and were enamored. Here is what I had to say about the seminar.  I cringe every time I read my own words. I remember feeling an overwhelming zeal after each nightly seminar was finished. I couldn't wait to apply the six steps, or ten steps, or twelve steps to conquer certain struggles or sins in my life. I remember wondering, "With so many thousands of Taiwanese attending this seminar year after year, why have we not experienced revival in this country yet?" I was truly puzzled. I knew that from then on, I was going to be a new, very perfect person, and I now had the tools to raise my children to be very perfect people.

Ken and I decided to look into applying to be a part of their homeschooling program. That way, we could use their materials alone to teach our children all the steps they need to know to live a life pleasing to God. Sadly, when I read over the application, I came to the realization that we as a family did not meet all their standards. We just weren't holy enough. I had a feeling that my testimony, which the required to be written out, would not get cleared by the upper echelons of the ministry. So we bought a few books from the IBLP Taipei headquarters, and settled back into life. All my attempts to memorize the necessary scriptures, and complete all the steps gradually faded away into routine living. Every now and then, I would open the huge character study volume that we had purchased, with a renewed determination to make my kids diligent, hard-working little angels. Then I would stop at the introduction, which delineated all the requirements before using the book. They didn't fit with our multilingual family. Lastly, I would close the book in defeat. It is still sitting in our shelf, unused.

And now I'm pretty sure we won't be using it, even if the requirements didn't exist.  Now, looking back, I can see the red flags. Now I can detect the anxiety hidden under that zeal. Also the hyper-vigilant naval gazing that a pursuit of holiness apart from the finished work of Jesus Christ often produces. Now I understand why that family we visited in the States, while we were still in the throes of Gothard worship, left their homeschooling program when the wife was a child. That visit alerted me for the first time that all was not as it should be in this program. Finally we started catch a glimpse of the blatant legalism that characterizes Bill Gothard's teachings. That barely perceptible vice-grip began to loosen.

And then this happened. A group of adults who had grown up under Gothard's teachings, created a website to point out many issues they had with his doctrine. They never knew they would start receiving story after story of girls being targets of Bill Gothard's misconduct. As they (with discernment) posted more and more of these accounts, people started to take notice. It was that triggered the sequence of events which led to Bill Gothard's resignation.

I admit, I spent (off and on) at least seven nights reading accounts from recoveringgrace deep into the night. Call it morbid curiosity. I think it was, partly. But also, the more I read the more I was convinced that our family could have easily been sucked into that culture where abiding by the letter of the law was the chief end of living; where fear and second-guessing every motive or outcome were common methods of coping with such lofty laws. We could have totally lost sight of the simple freedom of believing in the kindness of God who made provisions for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be free from the condemnation of the law.

This is such an old, old stumbling block. Paul warned the Galatians about getting tangled once again in the law. What is the allure? Why were taken in so easily? What is it about those millions of steps to follow that was so attractive to us? I have a hunch it has something to do with the need to control one's own life. I think I was drawn to the supposedly simple steps that could guarantee personal holiness and children who would grow up zealous for God. If I just followed the steps, all would go well. I was trying to take my helpless reliance on the person of Jesus for everything in my life - physical and spiritual - out of the equation.

Why? What ugly pride in us always seeks to be self-reliant? To be able to say at the end of our lives, "I got myself to this place."?  Well, there it was, festering in my very bowels. Yup, bowels.

Looking back, I thank God that we weren't "holy" enough to gain admittance into their homeschooling program. I'm sure (judging from my last post about BG) that we would have lacked the discernment to separate the truth (because there is plenty of it thrown in) from the toxic lies. Here is an insightful article from that tackles the fallacies of Bill Gothard's teachings head on. I especially like what they wrote at the end about grace and faith.

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus; just to take Him at His word. Just to rest upon His promise...

Yes, indeed - to rest.

Anyone who is a part of ATI (their homeschooling ministry) or contemplating joining, take a good look at all the information at, and proceed with (a restful) caution.


  1. Ah, the pursuit of perfection is tantalizing. It's very sad that so many people suffered because of this man.

  2. I have often thought that I am attracted to legalism over relationship because in its sterility it seems simpler. But as I read your words, it occurs to me that at its foundation, a preference for legalism may hide a belief that God is not good. Why else would I choose the never-ending difficulties of legalism and all its 4 steps or 10 ways or 7 things to follow ... instead of resting in the grace of an eternally faithful God?

    It's hard to admit when you're wrong, or when you've been deceived. I admire your honesty!

  3. Exactly right, both of you! Here is an insightful quote from a friend: "We all fall short of His grace. Sometimes, while our intentions to pursue holiness are good, we can be blinded by the pursuit itself, and not missed the mark - the presence of God."