By Marty Butz
Suffering, including medical and health hardships, affects Christians and non-Christians alike. Not only are physical infirmities tough to deal with, but mental anguish can be at least as disturbing when the question “Why me, Lord?” goes unanswered. Like Job, we may never come to know the reason or purpose for any specific event causing our own medical hardships, if indeed there is a special reason at all as in Job’s case. The Bible tells us that the rain falls upon the righteous and the wicked, and while living in a fallen world we should not be surprised that we also receive its hard knocks. Scripture also gives us confidence that God’s grace is available and sufficient to sustain us in whatever hardship we find ourselves.
Understanding this, it is unnecessary for anyone to be a glutton for punishment and to remain resigned to endure his or her suffering. When Jesus’ followers were persecuted and suffering for their faith, He exhorted His followers to flee to another city. Paul, when he was about to be flogged by a Roman centurion, claimed the privileges of Roman citizenship in order to avoid the painful ordeal (Acts 22:25). Timothy was exhorted by the Apostle Paul to “use a little wine” for his “frequent” stomach ailments, recognizing the value of some of its medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). Slaves were exhorted by Paul to obtain their freedom if it was offered (1 Cor. 7:21). James exhorts those who are suffering to call for the church elders to pray for them (James 5:14). Sometimes we are able to avoid suffering and improve our lot in life.
Towards that end, Bill Gothard has plainly revealed his desire to alleviate the suffering of those who are burdened with medical difficulties, as well as to provide health care advice. He has produced some 20 “Basic CARE” booklets/bulletins,1 demonstrating these commendable goals. These booklets contain information and advice on a variety of medical topics, demonstrating what seems to be his sincere desire to help others with their medical difficulties.
Unfortunately, in addition to much of what might be construed as practical, educational, and informative medical advice, Mr. Gothard also presents diagnoses and cures for medical problems which, in some cases, could possibly cause serious harm. Indeed, it seems possible that Mr. Gothard’s prescription for how to respond to serious medical conditions could lead to costly or even life-threatening consequences.
A practical illustration of the potential danger of Bill Gothard’s approach can be drawn from his materials discussing an apparently difficult medical choice: “What should a woman do if her doctor tells her that another pregnancy will create serious or even life-threatening complications? What should a man do if he is warned, ‘If you get your wife pregnant, you will be responsible for her death!’?” 2
Certainly that is a dangerous scenario presented by Mr. Gothard. In answer to the questions he raises, Gothard lays down six factors which he believes must be carefully evaluated in approaching such a serious issue.
First, he states “If God wants to give a child to a couple, He is also able [to] give the level of health in the mother and the child that will bring the greatest glory to Him.” 3 Second, he says that “God has not given us a spirit of fear. Therefore, fear is from Satan and not from God. If we make medical decisions based on the fear of what a doctor has predicted, we are in danger of overlooking the clear counsel of God and allowing the deceiver to gain a dangerous foothold.” 4 Third, Mr. Gothard states that all births inevitably require various expressions of sacrificial love on the part of the parents. Sometimes this might require even the unexpected and ultimate sacrifice of one’s life, as with Rachel in the Old Testament. However, Gothard states that no one should make rash and “unwise” decisions which “unnecessarily endanger the life of the mother,” and that the “health care of the wife and mother must become the number one priority of the husband and the family.” 5 Fourth, he quotes the Scripture which proclaims “in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” 6 Fifth, Gothard states that “God has made special provision for the wife,” according to the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. According to Bill Gothard, such provision guides couples with regard to the “timing and spacing of their children,” and also allows for couples to discern God’s will in these matters through prayer and fasting. 7 Sixth, he states that “many [doctor’s] predictions do not come true” regarding “serious complications” and mental or physical deformities. He also declares that, “Wise parents will not look at these circumstances from their point of view, but from God’s bigger picture. If it is God’s will for the couple to have a child, He will give grace to them for any unusual circumstances. He can also bring about supernatural healing or the understanding of medical causes and treatments that will alleviate or even prevent the feared condition.” 8
Finally, after listing the factors which he teaches are worthy of consideration, Mr. Gothard provides a personal testimony from a woman, which is just one of a “multitude of testimonies [which] confirm the inaccuracy of doctor’s predictions.” 9 Both the introduction to her testimony and the woman’s testimony itself characterize the doctor, rather than the woman with diabetes, as “Highrisk.” She reports how she delivered a healthy child, even though she was warned about the chances of having an unhealthy or stillborn child.
What, then, can one deduce from the application of these considerations to the original question, phrased more personally, “What should you do if your doctor told you that another pregnancy will create serious or even life-threatening complications?” “What should you do if you are warned by a doctor that, ‘If you get your wife pregnant, you will be responsible for her death!’?” Unfortunately, it seems that some very risky and unwise choices can be made based on Bill Gothard’s unclear and conflicting guidance in these matters.
For example, under his third point, he apparently offers some sound advice that “couples should not make rash and unwise decisions – unnecessarily endangering the life of the mother, . . .” However, it is not clear what he actually means when he writes “unwise decisions.” It is already clear that Gothard devalues the opinion of the doctors, who are best trained and experienced to evaluate these risky circumstances. And it is equally clear that by devaluing doctors opinions in these matters, Mr. Gothard removes the possibility of individuals making “wise” choices based on the most objective information available which has been provided by the doctors. Gothard declares, “Wise parents will not look at these circumstances [from their point of view” i.e. doctors warning of possible serious complications, mental and physical deformities], but will look instead “from God’s bigger picture.” 10 How “God’s bigger picture” becomes grasped by wise parents is not revealed here, nor was it revealed in his illustration of the testimony of the woman he offered. Many cult members have sacrificed their children and even their own lives on such subjective and presumptuous claims of having special knowledge of God’s will. Tragically, these are the kinds of lessons in life from which you cannot become wise through experience. You only die once.
Gothard’s other points are also unsettling. For example, under his first point, he says that God has control over health and that, “If God wants to give a child to a couple, He is also able [to] give the level of health in the mother and the child.” This is a statement which logically must be true since God, by virtue of being God, can do anything consistent with his nature. However, this truth is of little help for those individuals struggling with their own personal circumstances in answering the life or death questions posed earlier. The “If” again begs the question regarding how one gets “God’s bigger picture.”
Mr. Gothard’s second point, “God has not given us a spirit of fear” and that “fear [therefore] is from Satan and not from God,” wrongly teaches that all fear comes from Satan and that fear is always bad. There is no biblical justification here for Gothard’s thorough denigration and complete stigmatization of this common human emotion. To be sure, there is a fear (in Greek, “deilia”) which represents a spirit “not given us of God” and “is never used in a good sense,” 11 but this is not true of all words translated “fear.” After the Galatians slipped into legalistic bondage, was it a fear from Satan that Paul felt when he lovingly expressed his concern for that church, writing, “I fear for you, . . .” (Gal. 4:11)? Certainly there would be much more evil and chaos in the world today if it were not for wholesome fear of consequences for foolish actions. Can such a wholesome fear be justifiably perceived as coming from Satan? In the guidance Bill Gothard provides, he wrongly equates one kind of fear – a fear of possible serious physical consequences – with another kind of fear – “the fear of man,” a fear which is deplored in Scripture. Under this second point, Bill Gothard again begs the question as to what might be “the clear counsel of God” in this situation. In the process, he creates an even more anxious situation for the potential parents, implying that their serious attention to the objective medical facts constitutes giving “the deceiver a dangerous foothold.” Such an atmosphere cannot help, but can only hurt, any exercise of wisdom in evaluating potential risks and medical complications.
Under point four, Mr. Gothard’s reference to Proverbs 11:14, “. . . in a multitude of counselors there is safety,” 12 would seem to be a sensible avenue in providing some guidance for the prospective parents in facing the difficult medical question posed. However, this quote is introduced under the heading “Wise Decisions Require Many Counselors,” and as we have seen, we cannot be sure whose counsel can be trusted, (presumably not the doctors), and what information any wise decision-maker would take into consideration (scientific, observable data, or subjective impressions of “God’s big picture”). As defined in the Institute for Basic Life Principles Rebuilders Guide, wisdom would necessarily depend upon the latter, since wisdom is defined there as “Seeing and responding to life’s situations from God’s frame of reference,” and is contrasted with “Natural Inclinations.” 13
Another example of Bill Gothard’s questionable teaching is found in his Basic CARE Bulletin 7. In this bulletin, “How to Avoid Unnecessary Cesarean Sections,” in a section titled “Getting a Word from the Lord,” Romans 15:4 is quoted – “For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” One might well wonder how God speaks today through the Scriptures to any concerned couple to give direction about Cesarean Sections! Here in Bulletin 7, the answer is provided. “A couple who is contemplating a VBAC [Vaginal Birth After Cesarean] should ask the Lord to give them a specific portion of Scripture that they can claim for the birth. Both the father and the mother should memorize and meditate on this passage and use it to conquer any fear that may come during the pregnancy or delivery.” 14
Unfortunately, this mystical approach to “getting a word from the Lord” to determine God’s specific will, is similar to the kind of divination Scripture clearly condemns. Nowhere in the Bible is the above “tea leaves” method of reading Scripture taught as a way to discern God’s will. As John F. Balchin describes in his book, Understanding Scripture: What is the Bible and How Does it Speak, such an approach to the Bible is dangerous and subjective. He writes, “To claim that ‘God spoke to me’ is to claim that God is authorizing my decisions and actions, and we know only too well that, as human beings, we can be easily mistaken. It is desperately easy to read into a text just what we want to find there.” 15 He illustrates this point by describing how someone named Sally “was very friendly with a Christian family who had left their church in a huff. While staying at their house, she read a verse from Deuteronomy in her Daily Light, ‘You shall never return this way again.’ It seemed obvious to her that this was guidance for her to leave the church too. Quite apart from the horoscope approach to the Bible, she had simply applied this in the way she had wanted to. For instance, it never occurred to her that, if God was speaking through the verse, ‘that way’ could equally apply to the house in which she was staying!” 16 Balchin powerfully points out that this is precisely the way in which Jesus was tempted by the Devil, who selectively cited and misused Scripture for personal direction. Gothard’s mystical emphasis on “getting a word from the Lord” in this fashion is no different.
Under point five in booklet 19, his teaching amounts to very much the same thing, except without the emphasis on finding a Scriptural basis to draw upon. Mr. Gothard teaches that God’s divine plan for family planning can be revealed as the husband and wife “abstain from physical relations for the purposes of discerning the Lord’s direction through prayer and fasting.” 17 Nowhere in the passage that Bill Gothard cites (1 Cor. 7:5ff), does the Scripture speak about God providing guidance concerning the planning of children, or of “discerning the Lord’s direction.” Individuals who rely upon such mystical methods to make decisions deceive themselves, abandon wisdom, and put their health at risk.
We can cite other examples of Mr. Gothard’s advocacy of a mystical approach towards resolving health problems. In the Basic Care Newsletter of January, 1996, it was actually reported that in two situations the existence of Cabbage Patch and troll dolls in the home effectively prevented the mothers from giving birth! Once the offending toys were removed from the homes, the women were able to successfully give birth. The “cleansing of the home from evil influences,” was credited to attending midwives committed to Gothard’s teaching. 18
One might well wonder if some day an attending midwife, committed to Gothard’s teaching in this area (identified as God’s principles in the article), may end up being indicted for negligence in the death of an infant. In both cases cited in the article, there was a measure of difficulty in the deliveries. In one case, “the mom had been in labor for two or three days,” and in the other, the “mom had not been dilating well.” It is scary to think that a midwife’s first inclination might be to “cleanse” a home of perceived evil influences, rather than call 911 in the midst of a challenging delivery. Rather than accepting Bill Gothard’s claim that “God is establishing a ‘core’ of Godly midwives who are committed to following His principles,” I can’t help but believe that Gothard is unintentionally encouraging a sincere, but sincerely deceived, core of midwives who are committed to Gothard’s principles.
In surveying the Basic Care Bulletins, it is obvious that a great deal of work went into their creation and development. Undoubtedly, they were produced out of a sincere desire to provide helpful information to God’s people. Nevertheless, too much of the medical advice offered prescribes a distinctively mystical approach to diagnosing and solving medical problems. The expression “medical training,” under which banner these bulletins are published, is a misnomer. Such mystical advice cannot truly be deemed “medical,” since it is far removed from any scientific foundation.
As a result of Bill Gothard’s misuse and misapplication of the Scripture, it cannot be accurately maintained that the Bulletins’ foundation is the Bible. Though it can probably be accurately asserted that there is much practical information in the Bulletins, the mixture of truth and error contained therein disqualifies them as reliable guides. One cannot be sure that the medical information offered is any more trustworthy than the misapplied Scriptures used to support Mr. Gothard’s prescriptions for health care and medical guidance. There is, for example, no supporting documentation or specific citation offered in the bulletins/booklets to support Bill Gothard’s claim that, “Christian women who are committed to Godly standards often have greater difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth than other women.” 19 Nor is there any support for his assertion that, “uncircumcised men have, as a group, been more promiscuous than circumcised men.” 20
Anyone who checks out the advice of the Basic Care Bulletins on medical issues would be wise to follow the well-known medical directive – get a second opinion!
Note: The Bulletins frequently intermingle testimonials which serve to illustrate or prove the wisdom of following the medical advice being offered. At the end of Basic Care Bulletin 7, written testimony (presumably positive) is solicited from those who have followed the advice from that bulletin. It is stated that such information will add to the body of research available, providing benefit to others. We at Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., make a similar request here for testimony to add to the body of research available. If any of you reading this article or others you know of who have had detrimental medical consequences as a result of following a Basic Care Bulletin’s advice, we would appreciate hearing from you. We believe that such alternative, negative testimonies can also be instructive in examining the fruit of the Basic Care Bulletins. Our ultimate aim, like Bill Gothard’s, is to provide beneficial information to others.
A number of years ago, Marty Butz was involved in an aberrational Christian church called “The Fellowship”. This church became increasingly mystical in its approach to life and eventually came to ruin after a sick child with undiagnosed diabetes went untreated and died. Marty is also well-acquainted with aberrant church practices through his former work–seven years answering the national hot-line for the Cult Awareness Network. His two Masters degrees are from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Marty now works as an independent consultant and researcher.
- There are variations in the ways that Mr. Gothard’s original bulletins/ booklets/newsletters are named or spelled. In the formal designations to these publications, “Bulletin” is sometimes used, while at other times, “Booklet” is used. Also, there are other variations. For example, with regard to the word “care”, the bulletins/booklets are self-described as “Basic Care Booklet”, “Basic Care Bulletin”, “Basic CARE Bulletin,”, and “Basic CARE Booklet”. “BASIC CARE NEWSLETTER” and “Basic CARE Newsletter” which are examples of observable, variant spellings of one of Mr. Gothard’s publications. While these distinctions are of no importance to the argument of this article, we wish the reader to understand that differences here in the spelling of Mr. Gothard’s publications are not a matter of oversight on our part, but reflect the observable, variant spellings of these referenced publications. ↩
- Basic CARE Bulletin 19, “Infertility and Birth Control,” 41. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 41-42. ↩
- Ibid., 42. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid.,43. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1981), Vol. 2, 85. ↩
- Basic CARE Bulletin 19, Infertility and Birth Control,” 43. ↩
- Rebuilders Guide (Institute in Basic Life Principles, 1991), 175. ↩
- Basic CARE Bulletin 7, “How to Avoid Unnecessary Cesarean Sections,” 35. ↩
- John F. Balchin, Understanding Scripture: What is the Bible and How Does it Speak (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 81. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Basic CARE Bulletin 19, “Infertility and Birth Control,” 43. ↩
- “How the Exit of Trolls and Dolls Was Followed by the Entrance of Babies,” Basic Care Newsletter, January 1996, 3. ↩
- The fuller context of this quote reads under the heading, Why may Christians have greater difficulty with morning sickness?, describing how “A group of doctors and midwives who have assisted in the delivery of over five thousand babies agreed on one common characteristic. In their experience, Christian women who are committed to Godly standards often have greater difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth than other women” (Basic Care Bulletin 8, “How to Understand and Treat Morning Sickness,” 5). No citation is offered allowing us to know who these doctors or midwives are or what constituted “Godly standards” in the minds of these health care practitioners. ↩
- Basic Care Bulletin 11, “How to Make a Wise Decision on Circumcision,” 2. ↩