“Touch not God’s anointed” is a phrase which is often sent to us and usually means something like, “If you pick on my favorite teacher, God will get you.” Followers who may have doubts about their leaders or their teachings find themselves Trapped in the Shadow of God’s Anointed (being on page 12). But, since I am writing about Bill Gothard, for many of our readers I need to back track a bit to explain how we became involved in attempting to bring this “anointed” leader to correction and repentance.
I didn’t grow up as a Christian, my father was an atheist and I essentially held his views. I came to the faith in my early 20’s after Joy and I had our son. My journey to faith is another story for another day. A few years later my wife met some Jehovah’s Witnesses who she really came to care about and we dove deeply into understanding what they believe which also educated us in what we believe and why. We, like many others with a passion for reaching JWs at that time, opened a prerecorded helpline for JWs. Soon we began receiving calls about other groups and started learning about them in order to help folks who called. In the early 1990s we people who lived in Oak Brook expressing concerns over, what they claimed, was a cult holding young girls hostage in a compound in Oak, Brook, IL. Oak Brook is expensive real estate so I was intrigued. As I spoke with the callers I discovered they were talking about Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). Having attended a seminar with my wife Joy as a fairly new Christian I suggested that he was perhaps legalistic but to my knowledge was not a cult. The calls persisted and increased in intensity as well as volume after MCOI became an officially incorporated ministry.
Due to the number of requests for information we became concerned and thought it necessary to look into their teachings to figure out if followers were misunderstanding Bill’s teaching or if indeed there were real problems. We did not really want to do that. Over the years we have found that Christians are more than willing to encourage missions to those outside the church and will wave the flag of faith when exposing false teachers and “evil doers” outside the household of faith but are less kind if one examines teachers inside the church, and Gothard was definitely inside the church. We prayed and talked and came to the conclusion that if we did not have the integrity to deal with false teaching inside the church we forfeited the right to address false teaching outside the church. This was a hard decision because we were well aware this would keep us on the periphery of much of the church. From 1995 until 2002 we spent a great deal of time reviewing IBLP’s material, contacting and even meeting with Bill and/or he and his staff on numerous occasions but found him unconfrontable. Over time has he proven himself incapable of keeping his commitments and is unwilling to give up his false teaching. He also seems to have a penchant for telling tall tales about those who call him to task. All of this resulted in our book, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. The book met with 3 basic responses. The first was usually, “Is he still around?” After the sex scandal of the early 1980s Gothard and IBLP (The IBYC standing for Institute in Basci Youth Conflicts) shifted more to the home schooling community and became less visible in the broader church.
The second response was, “It is about time someone has done something on this guy.” The third was, “How can you pick on God’s man? Be careful, God may destroy you. ” A sort of “touch not God’s anointed” response.
After the book we had more meetings with Gothard to no effect. We also knew we had information about his behavior and sexual proclivities which we did not use or comment overly much about in the book. We knew, for example, that he is far too, shall I say, familiar with the young females he selects as his personal assistants. The reason we did not go into that too much was that we had spoken with the families of some of the former IBLP women and/or their families and realized that Bill had done so much damage, we did not want to subject them to further abuse, additional undeserved shame or possible embarrassment by making it more public. We decided that we could make our case that he is unqualified for leadership in a Christian ministry without having to describe his more prurient behavior toward those under his authority. His view of grace as something we merit, his teaching that circumcision is a moral requirement, demonstrating that if his view of authority is correct than according to his teaching Jesus is a sinner. Many readers may be confused by this so in brief, he teaches in the first night of the basic seminary that getting out from under the “umbrella of protection” (making decisions different than your authority made) is rebellion and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. He later talks about the story in Luke 2 where Jesus stayed behind in the temple and His earthly parents (His umbrella of protection) discovered He was not with the caravan returning home and returned frantically looking for Him. They found Him in the temple and there, had to make the tough decision to get back under His parents “umbrella of protection.” I have pointed out to Bill several times that if Jesus had to make the tough decision to get back under the “umbrella of protection” that means He got out from under it to begin with. If getting out from under the “umbrella of protection” is rebellion and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, Jesus is a sinner. So, either Jesus is a sinner or Bill’s teaching on this is unbiblical or to put it more bluntly, false!
Ah yes, authority. The choice weapon of abusive leaders. In Gothard’s case he teaches a “chain of command” or “umbrella of protection” which has leadership as bosses or more accurately owners over those lower down the chain or under them as an umbrella. The only real problem is, this is thoroughly unbiblical. Jesus clearly pointed out that the one who would be great would be servant of all. What that means is, the higher one ascends into leadership, the more accountable they are to a greater number of people. Leaders live in glass houses and everyone around them should have Windex! And that should be a good thing. (I Cor. 11:1; I Peter 5:3)
Many are under the assumption that the sex scandal of the 1980s was about Bill’s brother Steve. In truth, Steve was but the public face, and the sacrificial sinner that Bill used to alleviate the pressure coming from so many churches who felt betrayed by the public scandal. Bill was not an innocent, unknowing injured party. Bill had been informed by staff of what Steve was doing a few years before it became public but Bill was clear to those who broached the subject with him that it was not their business and he would take care of it. He never did. There is perhaps a reason. Bill too, was being familiar with the young ladies. Ruth’s Story is a glimpse into those days. He had a regular practice of going room to room each night after the girls prepared for bed and were in the nighties, to give them a hug. He was caught on at least one occasion, by then staff, Gary Smalley, with an attractive female, in her sheer night ware sitting on Gothard’s lap, in his cabin at night. More and more of the females who worked for Bill under his authority are now becoming emboldened to speak out publicly and are doing so at Recovering Grace. Recovering Grace, MCOI and former staff have been in discussion on something we are calling the “1 Timothy Project.” The question is, are leaders to be held accountable? If their Board, whether a Board of Directors or Board of Advisors in a para church ministry or a Board of Elders, Deacons, Session in a church, shirks their responsibility or, as in the case of Gothard’s Board of Advisors, admit that they are little more than figure heads , should there be some biblical way to bring redress and perhaps remove the false teacher and/or abusive leader? In a sense, Bill Gothard is a test case on this. Matthew 18 doesn’t apply but rather 1 Timothy 5:20 is the guide in these cases. MCOI has followed a progression of meeting personally, corporately, with Bill and his staff and documented it in our Journal in order to be accountable to the body of Christ. We took the case to the Church with our book. Bill Gothard has continued to be unrepentant. We, Recovering Grace and several former staff are calling for Bill’s repentance and resignation, his board is stonewalling. We find we have to appeal to the Church at large in calling him to account. That sort of brings me back to the question which launched me on this path, if the Church does not have the integrity to bring its leaders into accountability, doesn’t it forfeit the right to try correct our culture and politicians?