The last few weeks have witnessed changes in Bill Gothard’s titles and positions at his various ministries. A few weeks ago when the news hit the Internet, Oak Brook College of Law Distances Itself from Bill Gothard and IBLP many were caught off guard. Within days new headlines read Bill Gothard placed on leave by his board after abuse allegations. This past week Bill Gothard Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Investigation and at least 2 Board members have resigned. The story made the Chicago Sun-Times as well as national media. Many have contacted us to see what we think. I have to admit, I have reservations. Some are surprised initially when I say this. Wasn’t our book A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life written to bring him down? The answer is, no. I am aware that Gothard loyalists are convinced that we have some personal animus against Gothard. We don’t and never did. We were concerned about this teachings which also led to his behavior. The book was written to correct both. Our work included numerous meetings and attempts at correction as well as placing ourselves under review and scrutiny of a number of nationally known leaders, many of whom wrote endorsements for the book. Others, such a Dr. Norman Geisler, acted as a moderator in some of our written material and meetings with Bill Gothard and leaders in IBLP. The message of the Christian faith is about repentance and restoration. The first part of which is obviously, repentance. Including the events surrounding the 1980s sex scandal until today repentance has been absent from Bill Gothard. The women who have come forward are in many ways standing in the place of the Prophet Nathan as they tell their stories. Unlike David who, when Samuel pointed out his sin said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”(2 Samuel 12:13) Gothard has ignored all previous attempts at correction and now claims to want to listen to those who have “ought against him.” As we pointed out in our book, after a very long session with the Board of Directors 12 or 13 hours) over the events in the early 1980s, Bill resigned. That lasted for all of a week or two and he returned. How do we measure the honesty of his claims to want to listen to his accusers? The old cliché, “what you are doing speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying,” comes to mind. He hasn’t listened for over 30 years. I find no compelling reason to think that at 79 years old this will change. So unfortunately, I think this is far from over.
Some have asked how to help those who are thrown into confusion due to the resignations from and plight of IBLP? It is not an easy question to answer. IBLP tends to attract those who are inclined toward legalism. Often the path to legalism stems from a good intention, to live a holy life. Frankly, being a legalist feels safe. Living a life of holiness is important and is an underlying attraction of Gothard’s organization. Having lists to follow, and Gothard provides many of them, gives the impression of being holy by checking marking each rule, step or principle that was diligently followed today. I am reading an interesting book a pastor just sent me for review. Robots or Rebels: The Dangers of Growing Up a Legalist, and Biblical Motivations for True Holiness by Robert P. Pruitt. I haven’t read the whole book yet but in the Preface he writes:
“That this book is intended to warn of legalism that is abounding both in fundamental and evangelical realms will not allow for the specificity that many might like. Some readers might like a list of ministries that I deem to be legalistic. However, is that kind of specificity not one of the problems that accompanies legalism? Legalists want everything listed for them so they do not have to think, but this book is intended to encourage the hard work of thinking, and hopefully of thinking biblically. The legalist naturally loathes ambiguity. Everything must be in black and white, there is never any room for anything gray. Where the Bible is silent the legalist is not satisfied, and is therefore tempted and often falls to the temptation, to add to the Scriptures. The Pharisees, who were so opposed to Jesus, were dissatisfied that exactly what entailed work was not carefully delineated; and so many took it upon themselves to define anything and everything they could think of that might be considered work, so that they would not err on the Sabbath Day. They loved their lists, even those that caused them to break the actual law of God (Mark 7:11-13)
He is correct. In our effort to help those who have been hurt and/or deceived by Gothard, there is a temptation on our part to provide another list to counter or replace the one they have but in the end it is just another list. Having said that in my opinion a few things would help.
First MCOI has addressed the questions of what grace is and is not, what legalism is and given direction toward having an actual relationship with God and the body of believers in our book A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. This needs to be taught clearly and regularly. However, communicating sound doctrine is the easy part. Accepting and living it will be difficult because it takes away the list of do’s and don’ts which, as Paul said of the Law, is against us. What we need to do is explain and model what having a relationship with God and others is like. The problem is, that is messy. Life is messy. People are messy. Relationships are messy.
Joy and I have been married now over 43 years. If someone gave me a list of 10, 12, 50 things to do for a happy marriage I could easily do them, check off each one on the list and never have an actual relationship with Joy. Odd, isn’t it? The list would be safe for me and I could even proudly point to how well I am doing at keeping the list but it would actually prevent me from what I really want and need. A relationship with her. It is messy because she sometimes wants things I may be unwilling to give and vice-versa. At times she changes her mind. On occasion I hear things she didn’t say and don’t hear things she did say. She does things I don’t understand and it irritates me. She is different than I am and that sometimes makes me uncomfortable. But boy do I love her and oh, did I mention that the relationship is messy?
I would say a conference might be considered which should include both sound teaching correcting the essential issues of bad doctrine, (Grace, “Umbrella of Protection,” circumcision, etc) testimonies of former Gothardites who have been able realize that although God and Gothard both begin with “Go” and end in “d” they are not the same and have transitioned into having a relationship with God instead of having a relationship with a set of rules.
Perhaps the biggest question is, how will Chris Hogan (the current leader while IBLP searches for a new president) and the IBLP board react? The problems begin with a false teaching on a so called “Chain of authority” or “Umbrella of Protection.” As Dr. Earl Radmacher said in his 1983 letter ( The letter is posted in its entirety after the transcript):
I have watched the development of the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts from its inception. From the very beginning, I have expressed in my classes grave concerns over the unbiblical nature of the concept of “chain of command”(similar to those expressed to those expressed by Dr. Sam Schultz expressed to the Board of IBYC upon his resignation after 15 years of service). I have shared repeatedly with Bill Gothard that this concept is utterly foreign to the Scripture and exactly the opposite of that which is presented by Jesus Christ in a passage such as Matthew 20:28-30. The concept may fit the “Gentiles” and the military but not Christ’s Church. Early in the history of IBYC, I warned that the “Chain of Command” way of thinking would lead to disaster, which disaster was exposed in 1980.
Chris Hogan and the IBLP Board need to hold Bill accountable to public repentance for his behavior. They work with sound theologians and apologists to correct the bad core teachings and lead those who are committed to IBLP to a true relationship with God instead of with a set of rules, steps and principles. But will they or will they continue the traditions of Bill? Time will tell.