Back in my High School days, I attended a church-run private school. Every year, Bill Gothard would roll into town with his Basic Youth Conflicts seminar. Every year most of my classmates would attend. The school felt that Gothard’s teaching was so important; you were excused from all homework assignments if you attended.
Gothard trained millions of Fundagelical youth in his basic and advanced courses. He created an empire that raked in millions teaching what he labeled Biblical principles. He also laid a foundation that allows authoritarian churches and leaders to abuse their followers and never question the authority.
How do we grow in wisdom and character? How are we protected from temptation? How does God give us direction for our lives? If you attended a Gothard Basic Youth Conflicts seminar, you know the answer: by staying under authority. The authority principle is one of the seven biblical principles Gothard drilled into the heads of his attendees. The authority principle is that inward peace results when people respect and honor the authorities (parents, government, etc.) that God has put into their lives. It is based on the idea that God gives direction, protection, and provision through human authorities. (Basic Seminar Workbook. Institute in Basic Life Principles. 1993. p. 16.) Welcome to being under the umbrella of authority. God spoke to rebellious teenagers through their parents, pastor, and government, but teenagers opened themselves up to destruction by leaving the protection of that umbrella and making GASP! their own decisions.
That’s right, you can’t trust your own decisions, you must consult the book of Bill. Where’s my red notebook?
Based on the authority principle, Gothard spells out how families should be run. It should be noted that Gothard never married or had children himself. So, he has exactly zero personal experience with marriage and raising children. He claims that in order to devote his life to the ministry he never married. Of course, his sexual harassment of dozens of 14-16 old girls, who he hired as private secretaries, might be the reason he never married and had children.
How is the family to be run? It’s the husband’s role to develop the long-range vision for the family and lay down broad commands to accomplish those goals. His wife then implements these commands by creating “laws” for the household. There are dire consequences for a couple who doesn’t function this way.
Gothard became the ultimate authority to his followers. To question him or his teachings was to move out from under the umbrella of protection. God would punish you, and Satan would pounce on you. It would be your own rebelliousness against Gothard’s authority and teaching that led to your destruction.
If you aren’t married and a woman, no matter how old you are, you are under your father’s umbrella. If your father is dead or absent, you need to find a husband or put yourself under the authority of your pastor.
Gothard ruled his organization with an iron hand, and anyone who questioned him was fired. Financial improprieties were rife. It wasn’t until 34 women brought a lawsuit against him that his board put him on administrative leave.
Many of my former schoolmates who attended Gothard’s basic Youth Conflicts still struggle with the authority principle. In one of my former churches, filled with Gothard graduates, after I left, the new senior pastor established himself as the authority and sold off all the church assets. After that, he dissolved the church. The Gothardites meekly allowed this because they were under the umbrella of his authority.
Gothard had programs for teens, parents, and pastors. He also had a homeschooling curriculum in the form of “Wisdom Booklets.” Entire churches and families were immersed in a twisted vision of one man.
Everything Gothard taught reinforced the patriarchy. Gothard’s Biblical principles were nothing more than a modern-day justification for continuing a Bronze Age patriarchy. Women and children were trained to be subservient and never question authority. Sorry Bill, I never attended one of your seminars. I question everything. Guess I’m more a child of the 60s than I thought. No wonder I don’t fit in with my Fundagelical cohorts.
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