Matthew Murray and Bill Gothard: Is There a Connection?

On March 26th of 1997 national news carried the headlines that 39 people in the group headed up by Marshall Applewhite that called themselves Heaven’s Gate had committed mass suicide. Were these suicides the result of Applewhite’s teaching? The answer is yes. He had redefined suicide as remaining on in their bodies and not being able to board the space ship that he claimed was following the Hale Bopp Comet. Since his followers believed his teachings they were obligated to escape their “container.” A direct link can be made between his teachings and their actions. False teaching has consequences and in some cases very catastrophic consequences.

On June 20 of 2001, Andrea Yates, a follower of Michael Woroniecki, drowned all five of her children, ranging in age from 6 months to seven years old. On March 15 of 2002, Robert Bryant, a Jehovah’s Witness, killed his wife and four children before committing suicide himself. In October of 2003, eight year old Joseph Smith died of what authorities said was a blow to the head. His parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, members of Remnant Fellowship, were charged and convicted of murder. Were these terrible acts the direct result of the teachings of Michael Woroniecki, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or Gwen Shamblin? I don’t think we can make a credible case that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the teachings of the various groups and the actions of the individuals. But that doesn’t mean there is no connection.

As a matter of fact, when we first heard the news about Andrea Yates our first question was, are they Gothard followers? As it turns out they weren’t but the teachings are similar enough that her actions made sense to us. She was well aware that her children were not living the “godly lives” that her “God given spiritual authorities” demanded, she was attempting to save them from the impending wrath of God and the possibility that they will be in heaven. So, although there was no direct teaching that led her to kill her children the teachings and expectations were contributing factors.

Having dealt with many Jehovah’s Witnesses leaving the organization Robert’s Bryant’s actions were not all that surprising. A number of them have told us that they realized they were not able to live up to the according to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s standards, and the additional burden of their families salvation being their responsibility, they had considered suicide. After all, they would be destroyed at Armageddon and they wouldn’t be the cause of their family not making it. In Bryant’s thinking he was taking the next logical step and ensuring that his family wouldn’t be destroyed at Armageddon and that they would have the chance to be recreated in the Millennial Kingdom and have the opportunity to earn eternal life in a blissful world. Were there direct teachings instructing Bryant to kill his wife and children? The answer is an unequivocal no! Were the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society contributing factors? I think the answer to that is yes.

By all accounts, Joseph and Sonya Smith were loving parents and wanted desperately to please God. Total and unquestioning obedience is Gwen’s Shamblin’s prescription to being accepted by God. They did not believe their son was totally and unquestioningly obedient and therefore not accepted by God. Out of their love and concern for him their attempts at correction, according to a jury of their peers, resulted in his death. Did Gwen ever teach that parents should beat their children to death? Not in anything I have read or her of her material. Again, however, her teachings are a contributing factor.

On Sunday, December 9, I received an email from our friend in the Denver area, Bill Honsberger with Haven Ministries asking for prayer. He had just received word that there had been a shooting at the YWAM base in Arvada, CO. As it turns out at 12:30 A.M. Matthew Murray shot and killed 2 and wounded 2. A little more than 12 hours later, at about 1:10 PM, he shot and killed 2 more and wounded others at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. It was widely reported that he hated Christians but it wasn’t immediately apparent why. As things have begun unfolding one of the links is Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles . For example, we read under “Influence on Matthew Murray” on Wikipedia:

I am 22 years old and I was raised in Bill Gothard’s homeschool program all the way through high school. I went to both the Basic and Advanced Seminars. My Mother was fully into both Bill Gothard’s programs AND the Charismatic movement.

What I found were all these other rules I realized I could never live up to, yet, the man seemed to have a biblical basis for everything. In Februrary 2001 at age 17 I plunged into a dark suicidal depression all because I thought I had lost my “salvation” and somehow couldn’t live up to the rules. Every single hour of every single day, up until October 2001 I thought about ways of suicide and hating myself for not being worthy enough and failing God. I felt like there was no reason to live because I had lost my salvation and could never live up to the rules.

On Azusa Street Survivors on December 1, 2007 (13 days ago) he posted in part:

Me, I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard bull**** and then trancing out…sh**……I’m still tranced out. I remember how it was like every day was Mission Impossible trying to keep the rules or not get caught and just….survive every single f***ing day. My mother’s a f***ing psycho too, her and her whole church and christian family.

Are Bill Gothard’s teachings directly responsible for this terrible tragedy? The honest answer to this would have to be no and he is probably positively horrified over these events. There in nothing in his teachings that would command or even endorse killing someone else. But that doesn’t mean that his teachings were not a contributing factor. Let me explain.

The core of his teachings are what he calls in his seminars the “7 Non-Optional Principles of Life”. If these are followed perfectly one will not have any difficulties in life, no sickness, financial set backs, relationship problems, etc. He has developed hundreds of steps, rules and principles to follow which are meant to insure fulfilling the “7 non-optional principles.” In addition he teaches that there is an “Umbrella of Protection” and obey them as though God were speaking to you directly through them, you will be protected. On the other hand, if you get out from under this umbrella (exhibit independent thinking) God will punish you with sickness, financial loss or worse. There is also his view that demons inhabit all sorts of inanimate objects and if brought into someone’s home will cause rebellion and bad behavior. Somehow demons are also passed on genetically from generation to generation and in order to get rid of them we must track them back to the original contact in order to be able to perform the correct rites to rid ourselves or others of them.

The list of rules, regulations, steps, principles and things that will brings God’s wrath down on you are so long that anyone who is really honest with themselves will have to admit, they cannot keep or live up to. If they truly believe the principles are “non-optional” it is completely understandable that the Inability to keep them would lead to giving up and depression as you are awaiting God’s big thumb coming down to crush you.

Are Bill Gothard’s teachings directly responsible for Matthew Murray’s actions? No, But bad teachings can contribute to devastating outcomes. When Matthew wrote:

What I found were all these other rules I realized I could never live up to, yet, the man seemed to have a biblical basis for everything. In Februrary 2001 at age 17 I plunged into a dark suicidal depression all because I thought I had lost my “salvation” and somehow couldn’t live up to the rules. Every single hour of every single day, up until October 2001 I thought about ways of suicide and hating myself for not being worthy enough and failing God. I felt like there was no reason to live because I had lost my salvation and could never live up to the rules.

He was admitting that life was pointless as he was simply waiting for God to destroy him. For Matthew killing 4 and wounding the others were but his last desperate act before God as Gothard had defined Him showed up to crush him.


Matthew Murray and Bill Gothard: Is There a Connection? — 47 Comments

  1. Don, thank you for so bravely stating what needed to be said and for doing so with such grace.

    I, too, wrote about this yesterday and am praying that this might be a wake-up call to many homeschooling parents who follow the teachings of men and women within these patriocentric paradigms. I know for a fact that many of these teachings become quite destructive in the hands of some parents.

  2. I find all this very troubling. I have always had alot of respect for FBI profilers. I truly hope someone will investigate this and put the pieces together.This involves not just profiling Matthew but his parents and church family as well.
    This has to stop.
    I really also hope the christian community doesn’t blame all this “on the devil” and it will be back to business as usual.

  3. Church Shooter Raised a Gothardite, The Cincinnati Beacon, December 12, 2007 (Original article has links to source material):

    “A murderer who shot up Christians before getting killed by a church security guard was raised a Gothardite—a cult-like sect of ultra-evangelicals who follow the teachings of Bill Gothard. These teachings, incidentally, have a secularized front designed to infiltrate social and political institutions (like police departments), known as “Character Cities.” We happen to have a Greater Cincinnati Character Cities organization—originally implemented by Phil Heimlich, with Anthony Munoz as a front-man for advertising.

    In a piece written for In These Times by Silja Talvi, entitled ”Cult of Character,” Talvi highlights many of the troublesome aspects of the “character” movement. And a few years ago, an I-Team in Indianapolis released a series of stories detailing the abuse kids experienced in one of these Gothardite training centers.

    With direct connections to Bill Gothard, one must wonder how congressional candidate Phil Heimlich might respond to this most recent tragedy involving a young life led astray by these weird teachings. One must also wonder about Anthony Munoz, generally respected in the community as a principled leader.

    The Greater Cincinnati Character Council has continued to plug away, with no real exposure about their strange connections to a character like Bill Gothard.”


  4. Don, I think you handled this piece very well. The way you compared and contrasted how direct teachings vs. indirect teachings influenced various people clearly made your point that although Bill Gothard would never teach anything like what Matthew Murrary did, there was an unintended result to those perfectionistic teachings anyway, and I have seen that same despondency in many other Gothardite families as well.

    “The list of rules, regulations, steps, principles and things that will brings God’s wrath down on you are so long that anyone who is really honest with themselves will have to admit, they cannot keep or live up to.”

    Not only that, Don, but I lived my life in fear of God would do to me, of getting “in trouble” even as an adult, and of never being good enough. The harder I tried, the more obvious it was that I didn’t measure up. It was a self-defeating cycle.

    You’ve been speaking out against false teachings like this for years, Don, and you’ve had an impact in people’s lives. Thank you. Now it’s time for more of us, like Karen and me, to step up to the plate. This incident just reinforces in my mind why legalism is so toxic.

  5. People often say about murderers like this, that they previously came across as very bright and intelligent and sometimes even normal individuals … so this next may seem cliche on my part.

    Yet it’s somehow astounding to read through Murray’s forum posts, cited by Don above.

    He was not confused about his motivations and the reasons why he developed such senses of moral bondage and self-loathing. He knew exactly where it had come from: his mother’s insane behavior, to be sure, yet also the profound legalism found in Gothard’s teaching, which, combined with the be-careful-lest-a-demon-get-you-because-they’re-everywhere superstitions, can be spiritually sickening, if not lethal.

    Nothing in Gothard’s teaching specifically leads to Murray’s behavior, of course. Yet there’s really nothing in there to prevent it, either. The hopelessness inherent in the “work harder so you can merit more Grace” mindset will result in liberty-based and joyful Christianity, not as a rule, but only as an exception. And the teaching was already un-Biblical enough without being wielded by, apparently, a home “authority” that was already insane as it was.

    The end result, then, is the mindset of Christians In the Hands of an Angry God.

    Murray saw the hopelessness and the illogic in that and threw out Christianity altogether.

    And one might could hardly fault him to do — save for the fact that on internet forums and pages he surely could have been exposed to real Christianity, real help for that bondage. Somehow or other, though, and despite the availability of information about Gothard’s un-Biblical doctrine twisting, he did not accept it in his heart. That is sobering realization, yet I take comfort in the fact that the information was there. And who knows how many Goth-esque legalistic breakdowns such as this have been prevented — and moreover, how many lives have been turned toward God’s truly amazing, sovereign, unmerited Grace.

  6. I wonder if Gothard ever gets introspective regarding his teachings. Does he ever consider that maybe there is something wrong or imbalanced regarding them? It would seem that he is a one-note orchestra. I guess if all you got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    Consider this: “Ultimately, Gothard blames rock music for Murray’s murderous rampage.

    “That is the most contributing factor,” said Gothard, who is based in a small town south of Chicago. “It’d be important to see the connection between his passion to rock music and how it ultimately brought this on.”

    Gothard said whenever he gets calls from parents having trouble with their kids, he asks about what they listen to. “In every case, (the kid) is listening to rock music,” he said.”

  7. I have enjoyed much of Bill’s teaching and it has been good for me but we did not allow ouselves to buy into the homeschooling movement. We saw abuses back in the 80s and felt Bill wanted to be the expert in all areas in life and he does not have the qualifications to be a DOCTOR, LAWYER, COUNSELOR, OR EDUCATOR OF CHILDREN.

  8. The super-overwhelming majority of people involved in ATI would never do what Murray did, nor would Gothard ever teach something like this, of course.

    But there are people who have written to the Yahoo Gothard discussion list, and the forum “Independent Spirits” who have expressed the same emotions Murray did — frustration over never being good enough, frustration of not being able to live up to all the rules, and worse.

    No, they would not do what Murray did, but the fact is many of them have expressed the same emotions he had about being involved with ATI.

    Don once said to me in a private email that “legalism is a real killer” in our relationship with God. Most of the time that would mean a death we can’t see. Here, it appears from Murray’s testimony that legalism was at least some kind of contributing factor to his rage and anger, that led to real killings. Yes, Murray alone is responsible. But I hope this is a wake-up call to IBLP about the damage their teachings have done — the “killing” by legalism that isn’t seen, except perhaps glimpsed now and then in pinched, drawn faces of people burdened down by performance expectations they were never meant to bear.

  9. We need to remember, too, that it isn’t just Gothard who teaches a perfect paradigm for raising children. In many ways, those who followed after him and the various mutations on his views are just as bad, if not worse.

    For example, imagine the rejection many young women feel today when they are told that they have no callings of their own from God, but rather, have only one purpose in life, that of serving their fathers and then their husbands. I have already heard the stories of these precious young ladies and the sense of despair they experience because of these extra-biblical beliefs that are making their way throughout the homeschooling community.

  10. This is an unsubstantiated remark:

    “…these extra-biblical beliefs…are making their way throughout the homeschooling community.”

  11. Rockman, this seems an unsubstantiated remark on your own, that thatmom‘s remark was unsubstantiated. I am curious as to your reasoning? thatmom and others have substance enough to support the contention, based on a truly Biblical view of Grace and its results, Veinot’s book about Gothard, and multiple testimonies from those who found not delight in God and His new life in Gothard’s “Non-Optional Principles,” but mere moralism, despair, and duty-driven, joyless “faith.”

  12. Rockman, for thousands of comments on the topic of “isionary daughters” many if which contain direct quotes from the writings of patriocentrists go to

    for podcasts relating to patriocentricity which also contain direct quotes and interviews with those who have studied this topic for years go here: or

    If you want substantiated, I can give you substantiated! 🙂

  13. Rockman, if I were to change any of what thatmom said, I would change it to:

    “. . . these extra-biblical beliefs have already made significant inroads into the homeschooling community.”

    Examples — “God doesn’t allow women to vote.” Brian Abshire

    Wives who work outside the home are blaspheming Scripture — Jennie Chancey

    Wives who work outside the home are to be compared to harlots — Bill Gothard

    It is a total insult in Scripture to be called uncircumcised, and the only moral choice parents can make is to have their sons circumcised in order to follow in the footsteps of Jesus — Bill Gothard

    “Unmerited favor” is a “faulty definition” of grace. Grace for sanctification is merited as we humble ourselves before God — Bill Gothard

    Females who enjoy horseback riding have a problem with rebellion — Bill Gothard, from testimonies of people who use their real names who have heard him say this in person

    Unbiblical submission taught — Abigail was WRONG to do what she did in saving Nabal and his servants — Bill Gothard

    Tamar was partially at fault for being raped, because she wasn’t spiritually alert and didn’t cry out — Bill Gothard

    Rock music is evil because it is evil — Bill Gothard

    Cabbage Patch dolls are demonized — Bill Gothard

    And rhemas, and the umbrella of authority, and sexual rules from the Old Testament plus a few of Bill’s own making, and on, and on, and on.

  14. My family, too, was involved in ATI for eight years. Been to Knoxville, Indy, Big Sandy, the whole nine yards.

    It is true that there are several programs that cater to homeschoolers that are as you say “patriocentrist”. Vision Forum, ATI, True Womanhood, and others. However, the implication that all of homeschooling was being influenced by these programs gives them far to much credit. I have yet to see evidence that these have more than marginal influence. Perhaps the evidence is there, I just haven’t seen it. The existence of a website or two or three dozen does not qualify as evidence.

    Perhaps I misunderstood your remark?

  15. Rockman wrote:

    Perhaps the evidence [that Gothard and other legalistic teachers have had influence on the homeschooling movement] is there, I just haven’t seen it.

    If indeed you’re saying that you think homeschooling is safe from such hyper-chauvinist — as opposed to equal-before-God-yet-with-different-roles-in-a-marriage, Grace-minded understanding of Biblical complementarianism — then I certainly wish I could agree with you. Perhaps your homeschooling “circles” have indeed proven more Grace-minded than some I have seen, and that many more observed, and sometimes participated in, by others, including many who frequent this blog. If so, I can only hope that this “next generation” of balanced homeschooling thought will continue to grow.

    As C.S. Lewis wrote, the Devil is quite fond of dealing with opposites … and for all its positive outcomes, many in the homeschooling movement have unfortunately often swerved directly to the very opposite errors of that which they’ve sought to shun.

    In reaction to ultra-feminism and un-Biblical notions of male/female equality meaning near-absolute sameness of marriage roles, the lie gets about that neo-chauvinism is the answer instead.

    In reaction to the slow and insidious takeover of many public schools, entertainment venues and such by anti-Christian influences, the lie gets about that near-total withdrawal from society is the answer instead.

    And in reaction to quasi-“Christian” attitudes toward God’s standards of wise discernment in how we exercise our freedom in Him, the lie gets about that Legalism / “merited Grace” (as bad a logical and theological oxymoron as was ever excreted by man!) is the answer instead.

    May God continue to focus everything solely on Him and the balanced Truths of His Word, so that we swerve neither to the left or right extreme, but keep Him and His real Grace and Gospel in the very center.

  16. My original comments wre in regard to the amount of influence that programs such as the ones Gothard and Phillips run. According to government statistics, there are over 1.1 million homeschooled pupils in the US in 2006. If you assume an average 4 students per family (which is probably high), this equates to 275,000 families. In its heyday ATI had about 6,000 – 7,000 families – about 2% of the estimated number of homeschooled families. I contend that this is marginal influence.


    Regarding the teachings of Gothard: I am fully aware of his aberrant teachings. This is mostly due to a frustration I had with what I perceived to the proof-texting. I finally read the Word for myself and found that I could no longer have my children subjected to not only his teachings, but also his poor scholarship. My concerns were confirmed when I consulted other sources including the MCO website and a discussion forum called “Bill Gothard Discussion” on Yahoo groups. Also, I don’t know if Don remembers it, but he and I exchanged a few Gothardic e-mails prior to “A Matter of Basic Principles”.


    Hope this clarifies a few things.

  17. Don, re: Applewhite. When you say “He had redefined suicide as remaining on in their bodies and not being able to board the space ship “, you may mean “He had redefined _living_ as remaining in their bodies and not being able to board the space ship.” Suicide let Heaven’s Gate leave their containers, not stay in them.

    Interesting comments, all, on Homeschooling. But alas, I have no children so let me get back to Gothard and Murray.

    There’s been discussion about legalisim playing a part in Murray’s actions. I don’t disagree per se but I think Christians sometimes miss a nuance.

    IMHO, legalism doesn’t pop up out of nowhere. It occurs in response to the more basic belief that the world around us is evil. A legalist can truthfully state that they believe salvation into heaven comes by Grace – and salvation from the “world” (be that Rock & Roll or women working outside the home) comes by following the laws.

    Which takes me to the logic that may have occured inside Murray’s head.

    1 – The world is Evil.
    2 – The Law is here to protect me from the Evil.
    3 – I am not following the law as well as I need to
    4 – Ergo, the corruption of the world is coming into me. The dam
    of Law holding back the corruption has broken.
    5 – I am Evil.
    6 – The wages of sin is death.
    7 – I need to die. So do other people.
    8 – I can get other people to pay for their sins by killing them -which is theologically good – and that also gives me revenge.
    9 – Then I can pay for my sins by killing myself.

    It’s good (and correct) for Christians to state that Legalism is wrong, but this attacks Murray’s chain of `logic’ at Step #2. It’s better to attack the logic at step #1. Legalism isn’t necessary because the world isn’t evil.

    To believe that the world _is_ evil is either to believe that God _created_ an Evil world – which is Gnosticism – or to believe that Adam and Eve’s Fall somehow undid God’s creation. But Genesis 3:14 states that the Earth is _cursed_. Not evil. God created a good world, not an evil one. Genesis 1:10 comes before Genesis 3:14.

    One last thought. Suppose that Christians changed their emphasis from “Salvation comes by Grace” to “Our world is good”. Do you think that our approach to non-Christians would be more effective or not?

  18. Rockman, if you take a look at the state homeschooling conventions and then at the local ones and see who the keynote speakers have been for the past few years, you will see that the majority of states welcome and feature patriocentric speakers. Then if you look at the workshops and their topics you see that these teachings are considered mainstream. “Connie” on the TW blog shared her experience in Colorado with this very thing. (visionary daughters thread #3 (toward the end) or #4.

    Her story is what I have seen as well. This is why there are starting to be more local groups coming up with their own support groups and seminars.

    I also know of one woman who was banned from the speaker list (she had previously been a well-respected speaker) because they sent their daughter to college and she and her husband were told that they were no longer considered to be good examples for the homeschooling community. (This came directly from her.) And sometimes these state groups have been known to apply pressure on convention planners to have certain speakers and guess who those speakers are? Yep, patriocentrists.

    Also, look at the influence Kevin Swanson has. He holds to patriocentric teachings and is the new most-favored speaker on the homeschooling circuit. Voddie Baucham is the up and comer and my bet is that the spring of ’08 speaker lists at conventions round the country will list Voddie many times. Doug Phillips and James and Stacy McDonald also have full schedules as keynote speakers.

    One more thing….to those who homeschooled 15-20 years ago, the patriocentric views today, though they have “mutated” into even more weirdness than Gothard, are considered to be the “good homeschooling norm.” For example, any thoughts other than their views of courtship or apprenticeship, in many places, are thought to be “liberal.”

    Shortly after my first podcast on patriocentricity, I got a personal letter from a homeschooling mom I have known for more than 20 years. She told me how grieved she was that I have now “gone over to the side of the enemy” when she had always thought that I was a “good Christian homeschooling mom.” (her words) There are younger and newer homeschoolers who might not understand all the ramifications of these teachings, but they are attracted to the cool VF catalog and the genuinely Christian idea of fathers leading their families. But they don’t yet “get” everything that comes in the package. And, from what I have observed and heard from others around the country, this “package” is being marketed fairly heavily in nearly every state group. That is why I could make the statement that these teachings are making their way throughout the homeschooling community and with gusto.

  19. >> A legalist can truthfully state that they believe salvation into heaven comes by Grace – and salvation from the “world” (be that Rock & Roll or women working outside the home) comes by following the laws.

    This is an interesting concept. Never thought of it this way.

    I tend to approach it this way: Think of all the “methods” out there that are designed to help a person accomplish a goal. There is the Dale Carnegie method for learning public speaking, Evelyn Wood’s method for speed reading. South Beach and Atkins diets for losing weight. People want methods. They want to believe that if only they follow the method they will achieve their goals. Gothard, Phillips, Ezzo and many others see this need and (I think) out of a genuine desire to help people, gladly provide methods for raising kids.

    However, the Christian is not to walk by a method but by the Spirit. God gave the method for salvation to Israel – and they could not live by it. He gave in its stead a Savior and the opportunity for a new life and a new heart. This new life requires living by the Spirit and not by rules. The ramification is that many decisions that need to be made during the course of the Christian walk are not clear – they require an element of faith and a deep reliance on the Spirit. I know a lot of people who think they would be better off with a list of do’s and don’ts. Its been tried – doesn’t work.

    Some parents approach child training much the same way. They want to have a list of do’s and don’t thinking that “if only I follow this plan my kids will turn out”. Perhaps they do not have enough confidence in the Spirit of God and His Word to lead them. Perhaps they are unwilling to put in the time and energy it takes to raise kids – to understand their needs, to correct their behaviors, to deal with their failures and help to heal their kids when they fail.

    In any case, I think people put a false hope in legalistic systems.

  20. One last thought. Suppose that Christians changed their emphasis from “Salvation comes by Grace” to “Our world is good”.

    Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that we should not be comformed to “the world,” yet the meaning there really denotes this present world/age. The World to Come, the New Heavens and New Earth, is what we anticipate, and despite sin’s corruption, much about this Earth is not intrinsically Evil. God made the world to be good, and He will redeem it someday.

    Though we certainly must not bypass the general call to repentance, we would indeed do well to remind others of that future world and what we as Christ-followers yearn for, rather than merely pointing out all that’s bad about this one. The unredeemed heart is bad enough; that is all the unsaved really need to hear about until after they have been “born again.”

    Rockman, again I am strongly alongside you in your Spirit-led life view expressed above! Yet my experience thus far has proved that even homeschooling families who’ve never heard of Gothard or ATI have nevertheless bought into those moralistic memes circulated by him and others.

  21. Rockman, I know that ATI doesn’t comprise most of the homeschoolers out there, but it isn’t just within ATI or Vision Forum ranks where these kinds of teachings are found.

    Thatmom is right — I’ve been to a few Christian homeschooling conventions and conferences, where I’ve seen . . . Jonathan Lindvall, Richard Fugate, Michael Pearl, to name a few. I haven’t seen them all, and there are lots of other names out there who are very much like Gothard. And they all of this stripe, some more than others.

    Keep in mind HSLDA is very friendly toward Phillips and Gothard, that many people have attended Gothard’s seminars and homeschool who are NOT in ATI and you’ve just got this influence all over the place in Christian homeschooling circles. It isn’t just confined to ATI. Thankfully, I know many homeschoolers who are not like this, and there is a parallel universe of homeschoolers out there who distance themselves from HSLDA, etc., as much as they can, have their own conventions, try to be more inclusive and just make homeschooling about homeschooling and learnign at home and not all kinds of axes to grind.

    But be that as it may, Gothard and others do have influence that goes way beyond the confines of what is at ATI.

  22. You all are correct in a lot that you say. However the real problem with Christians is that they never read the word. They spend little time if any in it.

    I worked for Bill for nearly 9 years. Myself and one other person brought a class action law suit against him exposing most everything that is talked about in this blog. The sad thing is no leaders, no pastors no one ever supported us. All they did from the Charles Stanley on down was wanted to sweep this under the rug.

    Now we are seeing the results of a man that has very little understanding of God. All you have to do is look to his own family to see dis-function.

    Bill has no guilt over any of this, because he never sees himself making any mistakes. He developed a philsophy one time and told me he new it was right, now all he had to do was find it in scripture, that sums it all up.

    Folks if you will just spend time in the word, you will not follow after these false teachers.

  23. I doubt anyone at IBLP headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois will ever read this (CharacterLink, which I helped create, probably has this site blocked), but I posted my full name just in case. I was a member of ATI for a number of years, and I worked in Oak Brook on numerous occasions. I’ve heard ATI families complain countless times that the organization’s critics never identify themselves, or that their claims are beyond verification, but that excuse won’t work in this case. I’m sure my name is still in the database somewhere.

    I was shocked when I found out this evening that Matthew Murray was a member of ATI. But then I immediately wondered why I was shocked. I’ve witnessed in my own family the despondent reasoning that is characteristic of Murray’s writings. In particular, I have a brother who has rejected all things Christian, because he realized years ago that he could never be the kind of Super-Christian that his Gothard-following parents and peers expected him to be. He now firmly believes that Christians are hypocrites, and that people like Marilyn Manson are morally superior to Bill Gothard because, at the very least, they’re honest about who they are and how they feel.

    I personally struggled with suicidal tendencies almost constantly throughout my teenage years; tendencies that faded soon after my family left both ATI and our fundamentalist church. It has been eight years since I last stepped foot in Oak Brook or attended an Advanced Seminar, and I still consider myself to be going through “therapy” in terms of my thinking. Fortunately I am now the member of a church that teaches the doctrine of immutable grace. But for too long I was deceived into believing the dogma of basic life principles, which if adhered to would supposedly merit us favor from God and a bright countenance, but in reality placed the disciple beneath the hammer of the law.

    I do not deny that our sovereign God used IBLP and ATI for good in my family, but it is certainly not in the way that Bill Gothard implied would happen when I attended my first ATI Conference in Knoxville. Amazingly, my first real introduction to a new, reformed theology was by an employee at Oak Brook who was disillusioned with ATI and had begun to ravenously consume the works of Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton. My exposure to this individual was the beginning of the end of my ATI mindset. (Last I checked, this individual to whom I owe such a great debt is now a producer for MTV. Oh, the irony!)

    Though I no longer believe that I can ever merit God’s favor, or that my rigid application of “life principles” can do anything to ensure “success,” I do occasionally relapse into Gothard’s thinking, and inevitably depression follows. To some extent, I can understand why Matthew Murray felt the way he did. The Christianity of my youth was oppressive and suffocating to the degree that this Christianity supported Gothard’s teaching. I never felt that I could measure up even to my father’s standards, much less God’s. As a result, my relationships with both my earthly and heavenly fathers stagnated. To this day, my relationship with the former is virtually nonexistent. To this day, whenever someone refers to God as “Father,” I have a difficult time hearing it, because however unintentionally, the most honest thing that IBLP ever published was the Basic Seminar diagram depicting the father as a hammer. I do not think it is a stretch to say that the majority of children and young adults who have been involved in ATI have felt that their parents (and their father in particular) would be best depicted as a hammer. Or better yet, a sledgehammer. When I think back on my own ATI years, the first thing that comes to mind is the daily routine of being pounded into submission spiritually, mentally, verbally, and sometimes even physically. This will seem like a strong statement, but I don’t say it lightly: if ever there was a haven for abusive Christian fathers, it is ATI.

    One specific example is an ATI mother who was forced to divorce her husband after it came to light that he had been molesting their children. State officials told the mother that there was no way she could remain with her husband and keep her children, so she did what any loving mother would do in such a circumstance. Sadly, ATI was not so understanding, because divorce is not acceptable in almost any circumstance. The mother had removed herself from the “umbrella of authority,” so this woman and her daughters became ATI outcasts in what was likely the most difficult and needy time of their lives. Not surprisingly, it was their “liberal” local church that came to their aid.

    Whether it is actually canon or not, ATI’s stance is that the father is always right. Authorities are always right. Women who are beaten by their husbands are told that they must be doing something wrong; that if only they responded correctly to their husbands, the abuse would not occur. Students who have suicidal tendencies or emotional problems are told that Satan must have strongholds in their life, and that submission to authority is one of the first remedies. Never mind the fact that the actions of these authorities are often the root cause of the child’s desire to end his or her life. ATI’s teachings make the organization a paradise for overbearing, tyrannical authority figures. They are given the spiritual justification that they need, and the spiritual and mental oppression of their children continues unabated.

    I agree with the writer of the above article that Bill Gothard and ATI cannot be held wholly responsible for Matthew Murray’s violent rampage. But at the very least, it seems that Gothard’s teaching planted the seeds that caused Murray to shut down and begin to suffocate. This teaching is dangerous, and I feel like I’m confronting its fruit constantly as I try to help my now-atheist brother with his own violent tendencies.

    Thank you, Midwest Christian Outreach, for your efforts to expose the erroneous teachings of Bill Gothard (and by extension ATI and IBLP). If you’ve prevented only one family from being led astray, then you have done well.

    Lookout Mountain, GA

  24. E. Stephen Burnett:

    Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that we should
    not be comformed to “the world,” yet the
    meaning there really denotes this present world/age.

    When we say “the world” do we mean “human society”, “the planet earth” or possibly “the natural world” as opposed to the spiritual one? The semantics gets interesting.

    At any rate, I understand Paul to mean “human society” whereas I understand Genesis to refer to “the earth”. But even if Paul were referring to “the earth” then there is still no contradiction. While the earth may be good, Paul would say that Heaven is better and that’s where our minds should be.

    The World to Come, the New Heavens and New Earth, is what
    we anticipate, and despite sin’s corruption, much about this
    Earth is not intrinsically Evil. God made the world to be good,
    and He will redeem it someday.

    Right. This is part of what I’m driving at.

    Though we certainly must not bypass the general call to
    repentance, we would indeed do well to remind others of that
    future world

    I agree that Christians should not bypass a general call to repentence, but I disagree that Christians need to start by reminding others of that future world. I’m saying that Christians and non-Christians can both agree that _this_ world _now_ is good.

    o Christians state that the world is good, but cursed so we
    need a new world.

    o Secular humanists state that the world is good, and not
    cursed so do we don’t.

    But both parties agree that this world is good. So what
    happens when Christians approach evangelism in the spirit of _cooperation_ over what everyone agrees on rather than _confrontation_ over what we don’t? Is it any less Biblical?

    I maintain that starting with cooperation shows love and builds trust. And IMHO, the `world’ is more likely to listen to Christians when they see trust and know Christians are serious about tending the garden that we’re in.

    And doing so requires a change in focus.

    Scott Gregory

  25. Lynn, Thanks for bringing up HSLDA. A couple weeks ago their monthly e-mail included a promo for the book Pssionate Housewives, Desperate for God that was written by Stacy McDonald and Jennie Chancey. Michael Farris’s wife is quoted on the back cover of the book and Vision Forum published it and sells it. There were links from the e-mail to VF as well. So now we have the #1 advocate for homeschooling, the group that takes in millions of dollars and speaks as though they represent all homeschoolers, promoting Vision Forum. And for those who haven’t followed any of the discussionon the True Womanhood blog, Jennie Chancey has written that women ought to not vote and that a woman working outside the home is blaspheming God’s name.

  26. Bill, I so appreciate your comments. One thing I have purposed to do is to continually point homeschooling moms back to the Word of God. I have also tried to impress on them the need to study theology as well as the women of the Bible in order to have an accurate picture of what God’s purpose is for them. One thing that repeatedly shows up in patrioentric teachings is the belief that a woman’s purpose, from before the foundation of the world, is to be a wife and mother. (seriously this is what is taught,) and that they have no calling whatsoever of their own, that their purpose is to fulfill the calling of either a father or a husband. I circled the word “role” as I read through the Passionate Housewives book and it is astounding how many times it appears. But the truth is that God’s word teaches us that we have one purpose alone as Christians, that being to glorify Him and that He will make our callings clear to us and that He will use us, even women, in a variety of ways (roles) throughout our lives. God’s Word is sure and He promises that He WILL fulfill all of these things in our lives. I think that is part of the reason the patriocentrics are not so keen on women receiving the same education as men, so they can pass off some of these weird views without women knowing. Hence, we MUST send everyone back to Scripture continually.

  27. Jonathan,

    Thank you for so candidly sharing your own story. I know it will be helpful to many people who will come upon it.

    Only by God’s grace did my family make it out alive of the Gothard program. Just this week I was chatting with another former ATI mom and we we talking about how we were ever so blinded and foolish. The conclusion we came to is that, as parents, we really want to do the right thing with our children. And as Christian parents, we desire nothing more than that our children walk with the Lord. In our zeal to see this happen, we respond to the good things that are in these ministries and foolishly overlook those things that are so terribly damaging. One thing you mentioned that seems to be a reoccurring theme with many who have come out of these teachings is the discovery of grace and God’s sovereignty. That is what began my own journey as I began to compare the doctrines of grace on the pages of Scripture with the teachings of man. Now what really has be stumped is why so many of those within the modern patriocentric movement claim the those same doctrines of grace as their own but are so unwilling to demonstrate that same grace to others. Having been on the inside with ATI, do you have any insights into that?

    Again, Jonathan, bless you for sharing.

  28. thatmom said:

    “Now what really has be stumped is why so many of those within the modern patriocentric movement claim the those same doctrines of grace as their own but are so unwilling to demonstrate that same grace to others. Having been on the inside with ATI, do you have any insights into that?”

    That’s an interesting question, and one I was discussing with my wife just recently. (She was never in ATI, but grew up in the Church of Christ, so we’ve both had to work through legalism). Just like every other ATI student or parent, I always would have affirmed my belief that salvation was the result of grace, an unmerited “gift of God.” Yet when I look back at the way we lived as ATI members, I don’t see any evidence that we really believed in grace.

    I think that in part, the problem was ATI’s emphasis on being “set apart.” Of course there is nothing wrong with being truly sanctified, but ATI’s take on what that means was doctrinally suspect. Essentially, we all believed that we became Christians as a result of grace. However, if we were truly going to make a difference in an evil world, we had to be different from the world. That included looking different. Behaving different. Being so different that someone could tell by looking at you that you weren’t at all like them.

    And of course this looking different—physically manifested as the “bright countenance”—was trumpeted as a root cause of ATI’s success in programs like the Russia ministry, youth rehabilitation in Indianapolis, Character Cities, EQUIP, ALERT, etc. Governments both local and international were asking for our help because they saw something different in us. And this success seems to have gone to our heads, because at some point we started to believe that even though people who listened to rock music and went to movie theaters could conceivably be Christians, their similarity to everyone else in the world was limiting their effectiveness for Christ. Basically, their Christians were nominal and ineffective. Our Christians were set apart and in demand. The differences between us came down to a certain list of basic life principles. While grace had saved all of us, it was just the beginning. You needed to apply the principles if you were going to live for God to the fullest.

    It is true that Scripture separates mankind into two basic categories: there are the lost (unsaved/destitute/Gentiles), and there are the sanctified (saved/righteous/Israel). Scripture clearly shows us that what makes someone sanctified (“set apart”) is the unmerited grace of God. But Bill Gothard’s teaching moves the plumb line. Being a Christian isn’t enough if you want to the world to see Christ’s light in your life. To be really, really set apart, you’re going to have to do more. Don’t believe us? Look at the results! It isn’t enough to be saved by grace. You need to be set apart to be effective! Now, here are your standard issue navy pants, and here’s a white oxford shirt.

    Of course, being saved by grace as opposed to being set apart is a distinction without a difference, but this false differentiation is a clear component of the ATI mindset. I bought this teaching hook, line, and sinker, and without immediately realizing it, every other Christian I knew who enjoyed a U2 song or appreciated an imported dark beer was no longer sanctified, because they didn’t look nearly as set apart as I did.

    Another factor in my own life is that during that ATI years, I was not grounded enough in good doctrine to understand that not only had I received grace (at the time of my salvation, I thought), but I was continually receiving grace. Grace is almost like a state of being, and this is something that I never remember being taught in ATI. If I had awakened every morning—whether at home, in Oak Brook, or Indianapolis—and recognized that it was only by God’s common grace that I was breathing the air and enjoying the sunshine, or that it was only by his special grace that I was a part of his kingdom, then I would have probably behaved very differently. Instead, I seem to have thought that “grace happened once upon a time,” and after that I was a card-carrying member of the kingdom. (Actually, those of us who lived by the basic life principles got golden VIP cards.) If I had understood that I was living every moment of my life as the constant recipient of grace, I think I would have shown more grace to others. By then, however, it wasn’t continual, unmerited grace that was setting me apart. It was the things I did differently (read: abstained from) that made me different. And since this wordly abstinence seemed to be resulting in great success for ATI’s endeavors, was it really a stretch to believe that God was delighting in us to an uncommon degree?

    Furthermore, ATI does not generally attract the kind of parents who understand the doctrine of grace, or who are willing to place into God’s hands the raising up of their children to the degree that a sincere understanding of grace would require. My mother has confessed to me that the primary reason our family joined ATI was because of her and my father’s desire that their children not repeat the mistakes they made in their youth. While this concern is admirable at first glance, it belies the fact that my parents didn’t believe that the living out of grace in their marrage combined with sound Biblical teaching would be enough to keep their children straight as arrows. There had to be another way to protect us from an evil world, and ATI’s rigid checklists provided them with a comfort that mysterious grace could not.

    Finally, ATI’s teaching that the world is evil is possibly as toxic as the world could ever be. My parents caught wind of ATI at just the right time. They had children who were approaching their teenage years, and as they looked at the “secular” world around them, their life philosophies combined with their faulty doctrine allowed for only one conclusion: the world is evil, so we should separate ourselves from the world. It wasn’t until years later that I would read Wolters’ seminal work “Creation Regained,” at which point I began to realize that Christ did not come only to redeem man, but rather the whole of creation. Like grace, this redemptive process is ongoing, and the sanctified man is its agent. But we did not understand any of this in ATI. We only understood that the world was evil, and that only man could be reconciled to God. The world should be abandoned. Wasn’t God going to start over and make a new one anyway?

    This denunciation of the world sat very well with my parents. I don’t think it ever occurred to them that perhaps their children could do just as much for God in Hollywood as they could in Oak Brook. But if ATI is anything, it is the pious stuffing of God into a very small box, a box too small for God’s grace to have the remotest chance of redeeming the art and institutions of man. Men and (especially) women who were working in secular society in a redemptive capacity were at best wasting their God-given talents and at worst furthering the cause of evil. I guess we didn’t believe that grace could exist in the presence of evil, which makes me wonder how (if?) we ever believed that grace could triumph over evil. In the end, a thorough examination of my own experiences in ATI leads to this question: What did grace have to do with any of it?

    And here I am today, many years later, a husband and a father. I think about the friends closest to my heart, and I am forced to admit that most of them are people that I once judged very harshly for the manner in which they lived their lives. Now I see that while I was busy making sure that I stuck with the basic life principles, they were surrendering to God’s amazing grace, waiting in hopeful anticipation to see how it would play out in their lives. Recently during a brief stopover in Nashville, I had dinner with one such friend. In a few short years he has become a successful arranger and composer on the Nashville music scene, both “secular” and “Christian.” We were sitting in a pub on the Franklin town square enjoying pints of Guinness and comparing notes on our comparatively traumatic childhoods. And then we talked about our lives now, about our work, our families, our hopes, and our dreams; about how the life of our childhood seemed so distant; about how far we’d come. I looked at Stephen and asked him, “We don’t even resemble the people we used to be. How’d we get here?”

    He thought for a minute, smiled, and said, “Kind of makes you believe in grace, doesn’t it?”

    Yeah, it does.

  29. For all those who feel that they did not measure up to Bill Gothards 7 non-optional principles do not feel bad. Having worked with Bill for nine years, he DID NOT conquor them either.

    Just to know the man, you will understand that he has a poor self image, he runs from any type of authority in his life. He fired his own father and denied him his pension. If was only after much documentation on my part and Bill’s brother that Mr. Gothard Sr. got his pension.
    So do not feel bad. Bill has no understanding of the blood of the cross or the concept of Grace.

  30. Bill Wood said:

    “For all those who feel that they did not measure up to Bill Gothards 7 non-optional principles do not feel bad. Having worked with Bill for nine years, he DID NOT conquor them either.

    Just to know the man, you will understand that he has a poor self image, he runs from any type of authority in his life. He fired his own father and denied him his pension. If was only after much documentation on my part and Bill’s brother that Mr. Gothard Sr. got his pension.

    So do not feel bad. Bill has no understanding of the blood of the cross or the concept of Grace.”

    In hindsight, this doesn’t really surprise me. I remember the first time I set foot in Bill Gothard’s office in Oak Brook. It only took a few minutes for me to get the distinct impression that he was a very different person when he wasn’t standing on a stage. He seemed to treat certain members of his staff as if they were merely tools and not people.

    Over the course of one of my stays, a staff member that I particularly admired started entertaining job offers in the private sector because he decided that the stress of trying to keep Mr. Gothard happy just wasn’t worth it. He could have been earning an impressive salary in the “secular” workplace, but instead he was giving his time and effort to Bill Gothard and IBLP for free. He deserved more than a little gratitude, but criticism and “exhortation” were his reward. The staff member felt used and unappreciated, and I don’t know how he couldn’t. Bill Gothard treated us like we didn’t exist (except when he needed something). It was always about his Next Big Thing, not about the people. I think that at the time, I wrote this off as being characteristic of a leader in a large, successful organization. Now I can’t help but see his egotism for what it was and is.

    I didn’t know Bill Gothard well, and in the intervals between my visits to Oak Brook, he always managed to forget me. As a result, we met for the first time more than once. In the summer of 2000, I received a call from the Institute. They wanted me to take a permanent staff position as soon as possible. Fortunately for me, the call came a couple of months too late. I’d started attending a church that taught grace, among other correct doctrines. I’d also realized that I was not under Bill Gothard’s authority. I turned down the Oak Brook offer without a moment’s hesitation. It was among the first of many baby steps toward freedom.

  31. Growing up as a Gothardite – I understand the frustration wholeheartedly. It wasn’t quite 10 years ago that I had contacted Ron Henzel via email questioning the teachings I was in, and fearful of the consequences of turning my back on “God’s non-optional principals”. This was my first step in trying to find the truth. Thankfully, along with Mr. Henzel, my loving husband and local counselor I have slowly but surely been able to confidently turn away from such teachings. Though I still sometimes struggle with the past and the things I have been taught, I have learned to go the Bible for answers, and rely on the Lord to guide me – not man.

    I have been there – fearing God’s wrath, suicidal depression, surrounded by my failure and wondering what is the point of trying to please a perfect God, with the “perfect system” that I couldn’t live up to. I watched my family change from Christian to “critical” – which resulted in cutting off the world around us. We became an isolated group, with nothing but our “spiritual successes” to rest our security in. I hated it. And I hated Christians. Often during my teen years I toyed with the thought of just proving them all wrong. Taking the teachings, doing something crazy out of anger, and then asking them where the upbringing helped? Looking back I can see God’s mercy. But for the Grace of God go I……….. I just wanted one time to prove that they didn’t have the secret to perfect acceptance from God – thankfully God protected me from acting on my anger.

    I Thank God daily for Romans 3-5, which I call my hope chapters. It’s been a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve learned that God loves me, not for my spiritual accomplishments, but for his work on the cross. There is no “levels” of acceptance with Christ. He sees me through his Son’s perfection – the same perfection he sees clothing the next Christian. What a surety! I am just beginning to understand the depth of the verse in Romans where it describes God as both the Just and the Justifier. He had to stoop low to pick up this child, and yet he did it without hesitation when I came to Him.

  32. Part of this blog talks about Gwen Shamblin, who runs her Weigh Down Workshop and Remnant Fellowship church near my home in Nashville, TN. I find it uncanny how similar Bill Gothard’s and Gwen Shamblin’s teachings are. Among other things, they both preach unquestioned submission to authority in general that ultimately leads to unquestioned submission to their personal authority.

  33. God is so good. I praise Him for leading me over the past few days to find these websites and blogs. As of two days ago, I was making plans to attend an advanced seminar (attended a basic in ’97) so that I could purchase the Wisdom Booklets. Having examined many articles and testimonials from former ATI-ers, I will stay away—far away.

    My parents attended Basic in the 70’s and we were brought up with Character Sketches as morning devotionals. These were wonderful. I hesitated to mention any of my findings to my mother, but when I led her to several of the articles I’d read and she began googling things on her own, I got a phone call that said “don’t go anywhere near this stuff—I think this man took a dive off the deep end somewhere in the 80s.”

    I must comment on the reply from Gene S. about how similar Bill Gothard and Gwen Shamblin’s teachings are. While reading over the past few days, I’ve related to many of the former ATI-ers because I felt that way after finding that I was following too closely to Gwen’s teachings. I spent a few years doubting my salvation and being scared to death that I was going to Hell because I have a problem with overeating. I honestly believed that God could not love me as an overweight person because of her abuse of the scriptures.

    Praise God—when we seek Him, He will show us what to do.

  34. Several years ago we walked away from a reformed presbyterian church with elders and church families deeply steeped in Gothardite indoctrination and reconstructionist/dominionism, who were making life hell for our non-all of the above family. The mental health of our children was clearly being negatively affected.

    We found that the only answer in the face of these types, church or not, is to turn and run. You alone are responsible for your family and who or what influences them. Unfortunately, when it is “church” that is the negative influence and nobody there can see the forest for the trees then take your babies and get out. That, unfortunately has been our experience.

  35. Comment 25 –
    “Students who have suicidal tendencies or emotional problems are told that Satan must have strongholds in their life, and that submission to authority is one of the first remedies. Never mind the fact that the actions of these authorities are often the root cause of the child’s desire to end his or her life.”

    That hit me SO hard. So, so, so hard. I have struggled with depression and suicidal thinking, and something rather similar to what is described here has been one of the greatest agravations to the despair. Then, I actually find what I feel worded by someone else! I can’t describe the struggle to go on believing on my own in my own way, wondering why God doesn’t have people always agreeing with me or laying it out for me … but I do … this helped me to do so. Thanks, Jonathan.

  36. While I was reading this article I could not help but rehash my experiences being raised in one of Bill Gothards “training institutes.” I lived there for many years and always felt depressed and useless. The expectations and standards were always set very high, and if I never achieved them I was punished in a variety of ways. One being locked in a room for weeks at a time never knowing the exact date I would come out.
    Looking back at the scenario now, I realize I never experienced a normal teenage life. I think I can hold the Advanced Training Institue for that one. I had aspirtations of leaving the institute and getting my highschool diploma, but I had to settle for my GED instead. Due to the fact that the institutes schooling program is not credited in the real world.

  37. It is discouraging sometimes to see people rip other Christians apart based on opinion and not Scripture. We bring down so many and speak as though we know all. Thatmom according to your own posts discuss honoring parents properly yet you dishonor those who might be leading improperly from such a demeaning way. The teachings of Bill Gothard do not make a young man murder. He does it according to Scriptures. We make the choice not the teaching of a mere man. Jeremiah 17:9-10 9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings” that young man made his choice. The parents used the information wrongly in my opinion.As a mom of seven myself, I see clearly my own failings but I love my children so very much. I pray they love me with an unconditional love as Christ loves me. The parents were the ones who enforce legalism not Bill Gothard. He just give guidelines. However a lot of times, we don’t want to take the Word literally. We use every excuse possible to misuse it and blame a man. We have a responsibility to read it, understand it by the power of the Holy Spirit and teach it properly to our children and those we lead but that does not excuse a grown man from killing others. Mark 7:18-23 “So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness,all these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Psychology teaches this concept that it is the environment that defiles, that is not true Christianity. Otherwise, I could excuse my sin too and why would I need a Savior. My heart is wicked, I need a Savior and I teach that to my children and explain they have to take responsibility for their sin. Because I teach them this, they can then make wise decisions on what to accept and what not to accept. They sometimes have a better understanding of God’s grace than I do or even some of you. Instead of jumping on the band wagon with other opinions, lets quote Scripture. In all honesty, every man is just that, a man not God. There are many wonderful things that Bill Gothard’s teachings say. But he is a man who is teaching…period. You take what is Scriptural and you apply it so that you can change, then discard what you feel according to Scripture is not correct or does not convict you. Let’s start working together as a body of Christ.

  38. “Females who enjoy horseback riding have a problem with rebellion” — Bill Gothard,

    OH boy, am I in trouble now!!! LOL! I have 3 horses and ride often. What gets me is that Goatherd also said that you could have a pet dog as long as it was a little dog. Like having a big dog was a sin somehow. I find that people really go overboard much more on little dogs, because they are so much cuter than big dogs. Nothing against Bill, but I think he has some control issues.

    But about 20 yrs ago I really did feel lowest of the low because of my love for horses and cats/dogs and my artistic talent. Our church was into this “authority” thing and I had attended a Goatherd seminar in the early 80’s and read lots of his other stuff and came to the conclusion that I was so lost and not able to ever measure up to all those rules, especially how woman should dress and keep house, have kids, and here I was with a deep desire to have and ride horse and not kids. The guilt was driving me to be so sick, mentally and physically because I thought I was sinning and would never be able to change. It was not only Goatherd, but my upbringing, even though my parents were wonderful parents, my mom who did not know how to deal with an artistic, horse crazy kid and all she could do was scream and hollar in frustration at how wrong/bad/a failure I was at everything I did. So ATI principles, the church elders, those growing families where someone was always pregnant, just added to the burden of “I AM somehow WRONG!!!” It all came to a head when I told God to kill or cure me. I spent 3 days reading scripture without water or food (heck, God’s fast is just that, I really did not want nor need any intake) when I finally reached God, He said “okaaaay, tell me your sin” I said, “I am an artist, I love horses and I do not have any children.” God said, “No, I asked you to tell me your sins.” I repeated “I am an artist, I love horses and I do not have any children.”
    God said, no, no, those aren’t sins. Let me tell you what your sins are…Even if you were a missionary in deepest darkest Africa, and had children, never rode another horse or drew another picture, you still would not be pleasing to me because you have NO FAITH.” He continued, “I GAVE you your art talent, your love of horses and made you the way your are, even all your faults and shortcomings, I made those in you for MY purposes! I will use you to reach people that others cannot. You have to live by faith for your likes, dislikes, your personality, even your faults are to be lived by faith.” WOW WOW OH WOW Wow! What a load came off my shoulders that day. My life was to be lived by faith in Him, led by Him, not man, and what HE told me, not what others said was right or wrong for my life. No, I never had kids, I still paint and draw and teach art, have 3 horses, many cats and dogs and have been married for 33 yrs.

    God does not make “cookie cutter Christians”, meaning each Christian has to follow the individual path God has laid out for them….It is a personal relationship and we do not always follow closely, sometimes not at all. The problem is that sometimes we think that what God wants in our life is what He wants for every other christian, then we mistakenly try to put those ways of living on others as being the only way. Remember, there was only one Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt, one Noah, one flood, only one David who slew Goliath, and one Mary who was visited by the Holy Spirit to become pregnant with Jesus. And God has made only one YOU!

  39. Thank you for all these writings – everyone. I went to Basic Youth Conflicts twice as a teen. My entire family changed after that, and not for the better. I am convinced after being enlightened about Bill Gothard, that his teachings are IN FACT a cult. Several counselors over the years have told me my parents were very cult like – but I couldn’t put two and two together until now.

    I remember being yelled at for my independent spirit, them casting out demons in my presence, and when I questioned something, I was told I was being rebellious. When they tried giving me spankings (aka beatings) at 16 and I ran away, I was told I was defiant. Any kind of pop music was bad.

    At 17, they tried hooking me up with one of their friends as a potential husband. My sister overheard their plans for me to marry him and warned me. I was sickened by this. They told me they had to approve anyone I married.

    I made my move to go to Christian college – if anything to prove to them the truth of the scriptures. I learned much and challenge them (oopsi) – but they didn’t approve of my “college ideals”, so cut off my support.

    This was the work of my mother and step father if the father is truly the spiritual head – why wasn’t my natural father involved in any of it? Because he would have denounced it as a cult and taken me out of that home – that’s why!

    I have been trying to make my parent’s mental state make sense for years. Their supreme control of me and insistence that I submit to any abuse they gave me. Any challenge to mental or physical abuse, was countered with yelling or threats to “spank” me.

    They have shunned me off and on over the years – during my divorce from an abusive man, when my 16 year old daughter got pregnant – they said I didn’t raise her right and haven’t spoken to me in four years.

    My friend told me about book you all wrote and I ordered it last night online. I am already amazed at how much sense my teen years are making to me now. And I haven’t even read the book yet.

    Thank you. You have already freed me from so much spiritual contamination. My friends who are grace-oriented Christians are helping me see that my parents are broken people and misused the bible. I am finally starting to heal a deep festering wound that has haunted me for almost 30 years.

  40. As a young adult, I willingly attended the “Bill Gothard seminar” for several years. I found it hopeful and encouraging and convicting to know that there were basic principles built into the universe just like gravity. I never took offence to this “non-optional” teaching because I could see that God was the ultimate authority who had ther right to make the rules. Yet there were times that I felt overwhelmed and even had a headache over the amount of material covered and my inability to live up to it. After all, Bill was a deep student of the word and spent much of his time in it. His evangelistic style was friendlier and more real than what I had been taught in fundamental circles, and to me it made more sense.

    I suppose that my experinces were different because I had a love for scripture from an early age that was dampened by some early teenage failures. My battle with suicide preceded my attending the seminar and it was there that I came to clearly understood why I had suffered it and how to conquer it. Still, though, I battled depression during and for many years after attending the seminar as I failed to take responsibity for my own joy in the Lord.

    I am now 50 and my life has been anything but perfect. But I can look back and see how God used the Bill Gothard seminar to meet real needs in my life and to help me to have the strength to change.

    Of course, there are things that I have come to disagree with Bill on. But these were minor compared to the help i received from the seminar.

    By the way, though my comments are not in agreement with many others inthis post, I really like this websight and and plan on referring to it often.

  41. I would like to make a couple of comments regarding the lumping of the homeschooled being influenced by Bill Gothard together. While I do understand that there are many who fall prey into this kind of legalism; not all homeschooled families even remotely resemble this model. I for one did homeschool my children. My reasons were due to bullying in school and since the school didn’t think it prudent to acknowledge it was happening and aside from all the new age and several other influences in the school, I discovered my children weren’t learning anything. With both of those ideas in mind, I pullled my children out. With all of that said. I did notice that homeschooling parents were so legalistic and protective that their children could not play with anyone outside of their realm. Something I avoided at all costs. I would say that while everyone has their view on homeschooling, for or against, that to paint them all with one brush is not helpful.

    Ultimately, I concur, that the Bill Gothard ministries can be very damaging. In fact seems to place the believer back under the law; modern day Galatianism. I doubt this yoke of bondage was what Jesus had in mind where Jesus said in Matthew 11: “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

  42. I just read “A Matter Of Basic Principles” because a friend, (who is a doctor), told me “There is no umbrella of protection in the Bible.” She also said that many women experience harm because of the IBLP/ATI teachings. She said that men who are secure do not have a problem encouraging women or helping them to grow.
    My experience with the Oak Brook ministry was 10 years of going to seminars and one advanced seminar. My husband was saved at a “chalk talk” back in the 1960’s. I took my brother to seminars and took friends. Many of my friends spent years being part of IBLP/ATI .
    I am deeply grieved to hear from “insiders” the abuses they experienced, because we, the church, are one body. If one member hurts, we all hurt.
    Legalism hurts everyone involved-those applying heavy loads, and those who are made to carry those loads. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. I Peter 1:22 says, “See to it that you love one another from a pure heart, fervently.”
    There is no such thing as a “spirit of rock music”, cabbage patch dolls are harmless toys. I want to say that “A Matter Of Basic Principles” is a very good book,I love the people at IBLP and I love the body of Christ, and I hope that we can all work together to love this world God made and bring MANY to salvation.

  43. As a public official I saw lots of kids from government schools, private schools, and home schools. The facts on the ground are these: The home schooled children were top of the line in character, morals, ethics, and manners. The government school children were, with few exceptions, a train wreck. Of the home schooled children, the ATI graduates stood out as being some of the best. What I sense here is the following:

    1. Offended “Christian Feminism”.
    2. Offended “Christian” anti-nomianism.
    3. Offended moral relativism.
    4. People enmeshed in immorality.

    I have not seen anything in any article or post that tells me Bill Gothard and those who appeal to his training materials is any threat to society, liberty, or human dignity. This attempt to blame Bill Gotheard for the 2007 shooting makes no more sense than blaming the NRA and those who oppose gun control.

  44. “Snitch,” how interesting.

    In your book, then, is it even theoretically possible for anyone to object to Bill Gothard for any reasons that aren’t based on any of those four true motives that you “sensed”? In other words, is it possible to reject “Christian feminism,” “anti-nomianism,” “moral relativism,” and being “enmeshed in immorality,” and yet also reject Gothard’s beliefs? If you don’t believe this is possible, then your point is completely null; there is nothing anyone can say to persuade you of the contrary. But if it is possible, then I say to you: stop spreading a “bad report” about Christian believers. No one who wrote this article, neither I myself, have any implse to defend all these bad things any more than we have impulse to defend, thoughtlessly, the anti-Biblical beliefs of Gothard based on outward appearances.

  45. “Were these terrible acts the direct result of the teachings of Michael Woroniecki, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or Gwen Shamblin? I don’t think we can make a credible case that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the teachings of the various groups and the actions of the individuals. But that doesn’t mean there is no connection.

    As a matter of fact, when we first heard the news about Andrea Yates our first question was, are they Gothard followers? As it turns out they weren’t but the teachings are similar enough that her actions made sense to us. She was well aware that her children were not living the “godly lives” that her “God given spiritual authorities” demanded, she was attempting to save them from the impending wrath of God and the possibility that they will be in heaven. So, although there was no direct teaching that led her to kill her children the teachings and expectations were contributing factors.

    Woroniecki mocked anti-abortion ranting “hypocritical” Christians on an audio teaching tape he sent to the Yates family (confirmed by Rusty) by offering that the act of abortion could prevent the offspring of wicked parents from growing up, reaching the age of accountability, eventually dying and going to hell because then God would intercept the child in its innocent state, instruct it in righteousness and save it.

    After 9 years of MW condemning the diligent to do all she could to raise her 5 children in Christ, he still said she was going to hell.

    Not only that, but Andrea’s lifestyle as a Christian “hypocrite”, he taught, (husband goes to work, wife just exists) would be directly responsible for her children stumbling and perish in the fires of hell.

    He added Jesus said a parent should commit suicide for causing their children to go to hell. Turns out Andrea tried to do that twice because she thought it would help her children. The third time appears to be suicide by 911 confession, then the state would ensure she died this time through execution.

    MW also taught on the infamous “Devil Mask” video, the one where he masquerades as Satan taunting people into hell, that the only way a parent can effectively train up a child in the Lord is for the husband to quit his job and live a prophetic life preaching on the streets as MW does. Seeing this lifestyle in their impressionable years would ensure they learn it and live it, too. Rusty would not quit his job at NASA, ergo it was impossible for her to save her children.

    In fact, MW continues to this day to teach on his website that he has never met another person he believes is an actual saved Christian. He offers they might be out there, he just hasn’t met them yet.

    MW has been preaching on the streets to millions of people since 1980. You do the math.

    He has also brandished a preaching banner with the message “You are ALL headed for HELL.” That leaves little room for doubt about what I think he actually believes. There is no question he believed Yates was going to hell, and he repeated asserted that belief in the media after the killings.

    The condemnation Andrea felt under MW’s continual rebuke, the fear she felt for her children and the wrath MW said she would face as a parent for causing her children to “stumble” into hell and the impossibility she faced for saving her children became emotionally scripted into her multiple pregnancy induced psychotic-depressed mind. She took the one escape route that all Mike’s teachings made available to her and she acted. She killed her children in their innocent years in hope that God would take them, train them and save them Himself.

    These are the teachings Chris Cuomo of ABC was holding in mind when he said “Her delusions were fueled by the extreme religious beliefs of a bizarre, itinerant street preacher named Michael Woroniecki.” Chris Cuomo, ABC Prime Time, Insanity Verdict, July 27, 2006.

    MW may not have “directly” told Yates to kill her children, (his detractors never accused him of doing this) but all of what I believe to be psychological abuse and warped biblical teachings directed at manipulating people into carrying out his vindictive “prophetic” ranting against the churches that rejected him as a minister (Author Suzanne O’Malley’s opinion from her book Are You There Alone? was that MW was driven by bitter rejection against churches) fed into Yates’ mind and resulted in the children’s deaths. Even the MW teaching and expectation that a Christian woman was to have “as many children as nature allowed” resulted in the reckless decision by Rusty to continue to have children in the face of the threatening possibility Andrea could one again become psychotically ill and become a danger to herself or her children.

    Reconsider the statement in light of these documented revelations: “So, although there was no direct teaching that led her to kill her children the teachings and expectations were contributing factors. “

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