Sunday, March 13, 2011

thriving outside of a religious noose PART #1

My Stand Against IBLP
A Religious Cult.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my parents who sowed seeds in me to dig deep, question life, and dare to go against the flow when it counts. I LOVE YOU, Mom and Dad.


When I was a child, our family became involved in the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC) which was later changed to the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). In 1986, we joined its Advanced Training Institute (ATI) and the lifestyle that came with it (homeschooling, social separation, etcetera). Beginning at the age of 16, I spent time at a variety of seminars as well as the Institute Headquarters. At 18 and 19, I was in Russia with the ATI program. And then in 1993 I moved to the Indianapolis Training Center until the summer of 1996 when I reached an impasse in the road, ending my days with IBLP. The older I grew and the more “inside dynamics” I witnessed with the Institute, the more unsettled I became. Instead of looking to God’s Word for the answer to life’s questions, I saw more and more that the answer became “whatever is opposite to the rest of the world or society.” And then Scripture was used to “back it up”. For the most part, I overlooked the issues. They really seemed small at the time. And back then, I even considered that my own reasoning might be off-balance. However, throughout the past 15 years as I’ve grown older and began a family of my own, some of those “little issues”, as well as a few glaring ones, have driven me to go back to square one, so to speak. And during this process, I’ve come to realize that even the aforementioned “little issues” are actually symptoms of the misuse of Scripture.


Before you read any further, I do want to clarify my belief that a majority of the families involved in the IBLP and ATI movement were/are well-meaning, God-desiring families simply looking for answers. Bill Gothard was at the right place at the right time… “IN THE MIDDLE OF ALL THE UPHEAVAL AND RAPID CHANGE THAT CHARACTERIZED THE 60’S AND EARLY 70’S, FEARFUL PARENTS JUST TRYING TO RAISE DECENT AND SUCCESSFUL CHILDREN WERE DESPERATE FOR DIRECTION. RIGHT ON TIME A MAN WITH A PLAN CAME ALONG. THERE GOTHARD STOOD –CONFIDENTLY HOLDING OUT ONE SIMPLE WORD AS THE CENTER OF HIS WORLD VIEW: AUTHORITY… TO THE CHURCH-GOING, GOD-FEARING, AND TERRIFIED PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS OF THE 60’S AND 70’S, HE APPEARED TO BE A GODSEND ARMED WITH OVERHEADS AND THREE-RING BINDERS.” (-statement by Don Veinot) In many people’s minds, Dr. Spock’s philosophies on child-rearing (i.e. permissive parenting, anti-spanking,…) were blamed for a pendulum swing bringing up a whole generation of spoiled, narcissistic brats. (And, yes, I tend to agree.) This caused many parents to seek out a new kind of “expert”: Bill Gothard. Gothard presented himself and his material as the answer to the problem of youth conflicts. So, even though I will strongly point out Gothard’s principles and definitions as extra-Biblical, heretical, and even cultic, I do believe that many of his followers were/are well-meaning Christians who set out to properly protect and spiritually instruct their children. My prayer is that as you read the following, you will not sense ugly resentment in my tone, but merely a desire to point out the lies taught by Bill Gothard and IBLP.



Bill Gothard has created a “fence” of unnecessary, extra biblical laws around Biblical laws. I call this legalism. Legalism has been described as being like paralysis which deadens spiritual nerve endings and softens spiritual muscle. As seen in many IBLP churches in ATI families, they ended up doing less and less out of love for others and requiring more and more from them. Bill has recently stated that accusing IBLP of legalism is illegitimate because the word can’t be found in the Bible. Ha, ha… If we only used words from the Bible, we would all be speaking Hebrew and Greek! (If you remember, he once taught against “legalism” in his “Instructions for Our Most Important Battle” although he will not recognize it in himself. Crazy.) Matthew 23:4 “For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (“They” = the Pharisees) The idea of “the more laws you set up for yourself, the easier it is to keep from sinning” causes hypocritical compliance crushed under the strain of so many do’s and don’ts. (Unfortunately, I can attest to this.)

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that the red notebooks are referred to by some as a kind of “Evangelical Talmud”. The Talmud is the thousands of pages of rules set up by Jewish legalists to keep people safe from sinning. (I’d forgotten about this myself, so I had to look it up.) Matthew 11:28-30. I am grateful to be no longer be crushed by this system. I’ve find peace in my freedom in Jesus Christ!

A problem with Bill’s extra-Biblical principles is that what may be set up as appropriate for him has been imposed on others as non-optional. With his system, he created an “us versus them” mentality among the church. Another gospel had been created. A gospel of moralism –regulating the morals of others to cure the issues of the world. The problem with moralism is that it can be alluring and yet it is incapable of truly dealing with sin. In Romans 2:1-16, Peter points out that moralism neglects to offer a pardon for sin or an answer to the power that sin’s pull has on us. Yes, laws and morals define how we ought to live our lives. But they have no power in assisting us to fulfilling them. Biblical righteousness is motivated by our love for God –not by our tie to a law.


Gothard teaches that “In the Old Testament, those who found grace possessed qualities that MERITED God’s favor.” He uses Philippians 2:13 to explain his extra-biblical definition of grace as being “the desire and the power to do God’s will.” His teaching limited “grace” to the realm of sanctification while excluding justification. (God’s declaration of sinners being righteous in Christ.)

I will never forget the first time I heard Mr. Gothard state that “unmerited favor” is a faulty definition of grace. As a teenager, I heard a song performed by a southern gospel group: “There’s no other word for His grace, but amazing. No other explanation will do. Unmerited favor, this song that I sing! There’s no other word for His grace but amazing!” and as I heard that song, I thought, “What misguided singers! They don’t know what grace really is.” How could I have been so na├»ve to allow a man to minimize my understanding of the definition of God’s grace?

Bill Gothard’s first step in redefining grace was to look up the New Testament word “graciousness” which is abbreviated as “charis” in the Greek language. “Charis” means, in part (the part that Bill utilizes) “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude, joy, and liberty.”

He used this partial definition of graciousness to define and apply every usage of the word grace in the Bible. Romans 11:6: “And if by grace, it is not of works, otherwise grace is no more of grace.”

Gothard removes the emphasis on the unmerited gift of God and replaces it with an emphasis on one kind of gift from God and how we are to utilize this gift, earning His favor. In his “Definition of Grace”, he states that “the grace of comes by Jesus Christ is an active, dynamic, energy from God to carry out his will.”

Yes, God in His grace gives is the power to carry out His will. But this cannot limit our understanding of the definition. This power is just one aspect. (Ephesians 2:8-9) This power is freely given by God. Never earned. As with his other teachings, Bill Gothard bends “grace”, leading people back to a set of rules, thus making his followers stuck in this self-defeating cycle: Get grace to keep the law in order to earn more grace to keep law so that you can earn more grace in order to keep from sin,…

Bill Gothard will state that Salvation cannot be earned. This statement preserves his standing in the evangelical Christian community. However, his re-definition of grace, in my opinion, cancels out his understanding of free salvation and undeserved justification.

Catholicism teaches that initial grace is free –or unmerited. But after that, we accumulate “merits” to continue the grace-receiving cycle. Sound familiar? In page 3 of Bill’s “Definition of Grace”, he states “…initial grace is a free gift of God and growth in grace is a process after salvation.” Bill sneakily markets himself as evangelical although his teachings are far from evangelical.

Obviously we believers grow in grace as noted in the Bible. We grow in GRACE, though. Not the law. Not by works do we grow INTO grace. Not by graciously complying with anti-societal rules, regulations, and “principles” compiled to earn favor with God. In order to grow in grace, we apply Matthew 7:8-9. Ask seek, and find this beautiful gift. Romans 4:4-5 –forget about “earning” or “meriting” this gift. It’s free!

For those who struggle with sin, temptations, habits and addictions, instead of depending on lists of man made rules and regulations that will find you, reminding you of your weakness let’s rest our hopes on simple prayer and the promises of God’s Word. We have a generous Heavenly Father Who longs to throw His grace at us –free of charge. And this grace, unmerited and unearned, continued to grow in us, changing us, transforming our lives. This is the cycle of grace. Unaltered, undefined, UNMERITED, unearned, free grace! =)

In his redefining of grace, Bill has laid a foundation (on the basis that it’s earned) which leads to a cycle of never-ending bondage to performance. He’s laid a foundation portraying merited grace ending with the teaching that Christians can’t handle freedom. The common thread throughout his ministry is that God is our harsh judge. I spent many years under this understanding. I neglected to see God as a loving Father because I was too consumed with wondering if I’d failed God. My heart was heavy, weary and rule-burdened under the weight of pleasing Him. Only in recent years has it occurred to me that God is not the kind of Father who lays down a list of moral demands. This changed me from feeling like a slave of the law, fearing the wrath of a ruthless Judge because I may have missed a rule or two to recognizing that I’m a sanctified, free child of God.

Galatians 2:4-5 “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privately to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage; To whom we gave place by subjection, no not for an hour; that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.” The believer who enjoys liberty experiences true worship –praise from a heart toward God. The believer who lives by a list of rules will praise (and defend) the one who wrote that list. Bill Gothard followers are distracted from proper devotion to Jesus. Gothard once said (on a trip to Russia) that “Christians can’t handle freedoms”. This is why his supporters are so vehemently defensive of him. Their object of praise has been distracted.


I’m learning a little about this technique called “proof texting” which is commonly used by cults. Scripture is quoted and used to be a “hook” to lure in the listeners’ attention toward a point of view. An eager audience will not recognize the misuse of God’s Word but will accept it readily as valid proof.

Here is another example of proof texting: Using Matthew 6:25-28, Bill Gothard teaches about accepting our “unchangeable” features. Before listening to Mr. Gothard teach on this passage, I thought this was Jesus telling us that He will take care of us and we have nothing to worry about. Worry cannot change our situation in life, so give it to him! Now that I am out of the institute’s influence, I realize that trust IS what Jesus was teaching us! That Scripture is not telling us that it’s a sin to dye your hair or get a tan. (Which is how Bill interprets “adding one cubit to your stature”.) These things are not an act of faithlessness which might hinder my favor with God. But trust God. Trust Him to take care of the tiniest details of my life because I am so very precious to Him.


In Wisdom Booklets and in other manuscripts, Bill teaches that every choice -no matter how trite- is “good” or “evil”. He teaches that “gray areas” indicate a presence of evil because gray is a mixture of light and dark. He teaches that people who believe in “gray areas” operate on a failure to distinguish right from wrong. In the Wisdom Booklet, an example of this is the choice between wearing a clip tie and a long tie. Gothard explains that the gentleman choosing the clip tie made the correct choice that day because he ended up in a battle with a crook who could have strangled him with his tie. In all actuality, the moral decision wasn’t “hmm… what do I wear today?” It was “hmmm… should I obey dress code today and wear the standard-issue tie as mandated by my employer?”  (He was a police officer, by the way.) Obedience was the issue. Not what to wear! We often heard that even the color of the carpet was a moral issue to him. The fact that I don’t believe the choosing of a carpet color doesn’t mean that I don’t know the difference between good and evil. It means that even though I know it’s morally wrong to STEAL the carpet, I believe that the choice of color is a non-moral issue.


Hebrews 13:17 “Obey them that have rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.” Using this verse, and not unlike the Jehovah’s Witness movement, Gothard teaches that the kingdom of heaven operates like the Roman Empire. High-powered control freaks at the top force those under them to unquestioningly conform. Mr. Gothard supports the teaching that parents are placed above children with no accountability –except that of God. Therefore, they can interpret anything as being a directive of God!

Bill Gothard’s view of authority is the groundwork for many of his other teachings. (This is a BIG DEAL.) I Samuel 15:23 “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” Gothard takes this Scripture a step further and teaches that rebellion equals witchcraft. He uses this to “prove” that when we are out from under an umbrella of authority (or, umbrella of protection) we are subject to satanic attack. My old red Basic Seminar textbook states that we will be “subject to unnecessary temptations that are too strong to overcome”. In conclusion, Gothard is teaching that all rebellion is evil which equals “all submission is righteous.” Sounds good and spiritual enough, but that Scripture (like many others) has been misused. Time and time again, his talent of misusing Scripture for his purpose reminds me of a slight-of-hand act. As with his other principles, Bill grasps to prove a point. But Christian society was so ready and relieved for an answer, that parents and grandparents and youth directors overlooked the Bible’s repeated misuse. Why couldn’t we just go to Paul’s teaching on authority I Romans 13:3-4 and Genesis 9 to point out the social ramifications of rebellion? Why add to it a mystical twist?

For too long, I listened to a particular preacher rant and rave that social drinking is sinful –only to “prove this" with Bible verses that dealt specifically with the sin of drunkenness. I’ve become weary of the misuse of Scripture. Very, very weary.

Luke 2:48-2. Gothard teaches that Jesus struggled with whether to obey His parents or to “be about His Father’s business”. He decided on the latter. If you read the passage at face value, it illustrates Jesus’ recognition of His identity as the Savior, the Son of God. But Gothard twists it to display an internal conflict of whether or not to obey the parental authority of his earthly parents. This fits Bill Gothard’s system… he twisted Scripture to fit his purposes. The inner conflict was in Joseph and Mary, not Jesus! (Read it. They lost their kid!!!) Once again, slight-of-hand at work. The work of an illusionist. If Jesus was truly inwardly conflicted, He displayed rebellion by staying back in the temple, but we know Jesus was sinless. Gothard invented a meaning that opposes the passage’s point –that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. In other areas of the Bible, we are told that Jesus was completely without sin. So, you do the math. =)

Submission, proper submission, is taught in Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, I Peter 2:13, and Ephesians 5. Mr. Gothard liked to use Mark 10:42-44 “…greatest shall be servant…” which is to teach us that the more of a leader someone becomes, the more accountable they need to become. Bill Gothard applied this passage, though, by donning his primitive, navy polyester suit and having his staff girls (myself included) on their hands and knees, scrubbing carpets while international delegates walked through our lobbies.


Gothard teaches that obedience to leaders must happen without question. Conformity is key. Uniformity is mistaken for unity. Legalism nixes any chance for individuality and independent thinking. In such an environment, when Bill Gothard goes off on one of his crazy ideals, and you’re tempted to laugh at the preposterous nature (example: cabbage patch dolls prevent pregnancy) you look around and see the hundreds of serious nodding heads, you begin to question your own lack of rational is the kind of conditioning you receive under a totalistic IBLP. I have a friend who was employed by IBLP for several years. One day he and his wife were told by Bill Gothard that he was impressed by God that he will live until he’s about 120 years old. My friend laughed at the suggestion and was fired immediately.

I’ve heard a label for Bill’s gripping influence on people: the “power of persona”. Mr. Gothard presents himself really well. He appears sincere, humble, gracious, wise, and compassionate. His presentation and the atmosphere that follows him makes it very difficult to identify and point out the heresy.


In continuation with Bill Gothard’s step-by-step systematic way to live, there’s the subject of courtship. The term “courtship” comes from the days of old when a man “courted” a woman instead of “dating” her or “going out” with her. Mere terminology. In recent years, “courtship” refers to more of a potentially supervised relationship in preparation for marriage. Bill Gothard’s brand of courtship is intricately linked to his teaching of authoritarian parenting and systematic, mechanistic prescriptions for life. According to Mr. G, each area of life is governed by a military-like chain of command. Therefore, why should dating/courtship be any different? Marriage would surely be under attack if not gone into via Mr. G’s design.

Mr. Gothard is so caught up in his “umbrella of protection” concept that he can’t see reality. He has no idea how REAL families operate. Not Beaver Cleaver families. Not Stepford families. But REAL families. He claims that “Satan cannot get through to some sons and daughters unless there is a leak in the father’s umbrella”. He teaches a philosophy that as long as sons and daughters abide by the demands of the father, their lives will be successful. In his seminars, Bill teaches that if a father/husband’s authority is not properly recognized, then all else will fall apart. If the wife fails to submit to her husband, her children will be rebellious. The success and failure of the family hinges on how everyone in the line of command responds to the father. It really gripes me that Bill refuses to see the countless families under his influence who were falling apart due to power hungry, authoritarian parents and not because of rebellious children. Will he ever wake up and see that the huge generation of parents who were drawn to ATIA were attracted to it because it fed their hunger for self-centered control in the name of religiosity? And so now with his “courtship” development, he’s giving parents continued propaganda about the biblical standard for leading their children to marriage. Every control-obsessed parent’s dream!!!

Genesis 6:5: God saw that “very intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Gothard teaches that these thoughts were cultivated by dating which was common in that society. Again, extra-biblical teaching. Twisting God’s Word to fit his own agenda. Heresy. Bill uses Solomon, David, and Samson as object lessons as to why it is wrong to choose our own life partner. He neglects to point out that because they chose WRONG, they were wrong. Instead, he lead his followers to believe that it is wrong to choose. Period. Again, let’s strike the free will God gave us.

Proverbs 6:20-21: “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother; Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.” Gothard says this passage doesn’t mention ungodly or abusive parents, so there is no exception allowed. Bill ignores that this passage is referring to the commands and laws of Moses and claims that it refers clearly to submitting fully to the wishes of the parents in every area of life at every age of until the day of the marriage. Bill is so stuck on creating mechanical outlines for every area of life that he continues, even here, to twist Scripture for his purpose. This is actually a very simple task for him due to the fact that arranged marriages were common among the Jewish culture, thus lending lots of “Biblical examples”. Newsflash, Mr. Gothard: a Jewish story in the Bible does not equal a Biblical mandate!
Back to the pendulum swing again: scared parents. Perverse society. Huge divorce rate. Then a hero emerges on the scene and provides promising answers.


I began my relationship with God while under Bill Gothard’s teaching. And like I stated earlier, for a time, I ignored the small little seemingly “non-issues” that I found disagreement with. My thinking was "awe, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater." But Bill Gothard is someone who condones authoritarian parenting, replacing God with self, child abuse, creating choices as non-optional principles by twisting Scripture, and redefines grace erroneously. Therefore, I have been compelled to take a step back and rethink: “This bathwater is so dirtied by extraBiblical teaching that the baby needs to be found elsewhere.”

So, is IBLP/ATI a cult? What do you think?:

another great read: