By Bob Allen
A disgraced evangelical family expert accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing or harassing 10 women was an early proponent of ideas now part and parcel of the Baptist Faith and Message.
A second amended complaint filed Jan. 6 in DuPage County, Ill., charged Bill Gothard and his ministry, Institute in Basic Life Principles, of sexual abuse, harassment and cover-up, with one woman claiming she was raped by Gothard and one of the ministry’s “biblical counselors.”
Today largely forgotten except for a recent brief mention that reality TV star Josh Duggar got counseling from a facility owned and operated by the Institute in Basic Life Principles after he sexually abused five minor girls as a teenager, Gothard once packed out 10,000-seat venues for his Basic Youth Conflicts Seminar, a conservative Christian counter to the hippie movement. It was characterized by a red notebook containing teachings that disciples were instructed not to share with anyone who had not attended a seminar.
One of his cornerstone beliefs, that God appoints husbands in an “umbrella of authority” over their wives, who are mandated by God to obey their husbands completely, is similar to later teachings in documents like the Danvers Statement, a collection of core values of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and a 1998 amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message, the official SBC confession of faith, stating: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
While more popular with independent Baptists and particularly Christian homeschoolers, Gothard gained the respect of key leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention in the era of the “conservative resurgence” launched against moderates and liberals in 1979.
“I am not talking about the Gospel according to Gothard, but I do believe God has raised him up to provide us with some workable tools,” said a speaker at the annual state evangelism conference of Illinois Baptists in 1977.
“If there’s no love in a home, it’s because the husband is not showing love,” Paul Burleson, pastor of Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, quoted Gothard on the husband/wife relationship. “Woman is the responder, and God made her that way. Man is the initiator, and if he knows how to demonstrate love in a marriage, the woman will respond.”
In 1992 Gothard was invited to speak at a trustee meeting of the Foreign Mission Board, forerunner to today’s International Mission Board, about his opportunities to lead seminars and teach biblical principles in Russian schools following collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The purpose of Gothard speaking to trustees was not to develop a co-partnership with his ministry but to expose trustees to his principle of ministering as a servant through government channels,” trustee chairman John Jackson explained in Baptist Press.
In 1998 Gothard joined Southern Baptist leaders Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Jimmy Draper and Ed Young in a letter to pastors comparing the views of presidential candidates George Bush and Michael Dukakis that the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty warned could jeopardize the convention’s tax-exempt status.
In his famous “holy war” convocation address in 1984, Southern Seminary President Roy Honeycutt, warned against “a Bill Gothard-style ‘chain of command’ which places males second only to God, while relegating women and children to the same essential role as families of the patriarchs.”
The new lawsuit claims Gothard and other agents of IBLP sexually abused, harassed and inappropriately touched girls and women receiving counseling as part of the ministry’s program.
Gothard denied the allegation that he raped one woman in an interview with the Washington Post before he had seen the lawsuit.
“Oh no. Never, never. Oh! That’s horrible,” he said. “Never in my life have I touched a girl sexually. I’m shocked to even hear that.”