Sunday, April 6, 2014

Eavesdropping on Bill Gothard

File:Blaas Eugen von The Eavesdropper.jpg
The Eavesdropper, Eugene de Blaas. source.

Dear Friend,

In my last post I told you I would share a bit about my personal encounter with Bill Gothard, the founder of both the Institute in Basic Life Principles and the Advanced Training Institute.

Recently Gothard's name has made headlines  since thirty-five women have alleged that he harassed and abused them. Four women have alleged molestation. These testimonies have been published by Recovering Grace, a website "founded and operated by adults who were raised as children in Bill Gothard's Advanced Training Institute."

In the Spring of 1993 I was in Moscow serving as a volunteer with ATI. For two months our home was a ship on the Moskva River. Bill Gothard's room was located directly across the narrow hall from my room.

Upon arrival I received a list of guidelines. Here's one:
Rule #6: Ladies and fellows will have their own designated floors.
This should have been my first red flag about Mr. Gothard. His room was located on the young women's floor. Perhaps he reasoned he was there to guard the "ladies"?

Here's another one of the guidelines:
Rule #12 Blue and white is the ministry uniform for all school visits, official meetings, seminars, and ministry opportunities. "  . . . For man looketh on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart . . ." I Sam 16:7. Because man looks on the outward appearance we can uphold God's standard of dress by staying as close as possible to blue and white. (No distracting prints, stripes, or different colors.)
+  + + + +

One afternoon while nearly all the other students were in the dining room, I slipped up to my room to retrieve something --breaking Rule #8 to do so.

Rule #8: Be punctual for all meals, and remain until announcements are made.

As I neared my door I overheard Mr. Gothard shaming two young women. 
I couldn't make out what he was saying at first, but I understood his tone: condescending and reproachful. A duo of young women replied in a higher pitch; they sounded penitent.

I quickly gathered up whatever it was I had come after and left my room. I paused for a moment to lock my door and to eavesdrop.

They were nearing his doorway now, because I could hear the conversation more clearly.

He said they should smile more and wear their hair longer -- in gentle curls. He also said they both were a bit overweight and should focus on losing those extra pounds. "Man looketh on the outward appearance," he said. "Russian dignitaries are observing our every move. We must show that we have the joy of the Lord! We must be energy givers!"

As the door began to open, I moved briskly down the hall toward the dining room, pausing once to look back over my shoulder. I saw the girls emerge from his room in an attitude of repentance. They stood at his doorway for a moment, receiving the last of his reproach with wide, tear-filled eyes. Then they walked away together, wiping their faces.

"Now there is an energy giver!" he called out.
My heart began to pound. No one else was in the hallway. He was talking about me.
"Who is that person walking ahead of me?" Mr. Gothard said.
 I turned to him and introduced myself. He extended his hand to shake mine.
"Are you Russian?" he asked. 
I thought this was funny. Did I sound Russian? 
"No," I smiled, feeling self-conscious suddenly. I was being inspected. 
"You radiate such joy!" He said at last.
I felt more relieved than flattered by this compliment. I certainly didn't want to be the recipient of the lecture I had just overheard.
He went on as we walked side-by-side -- "The Russian people are wonderful -- don't you agree?" 
"Oh, yes," I nodded. "I've enjoyed spending time in their homes. They are very generous and kind to us."

Our conversation ended as we entered the dining room, where a hundred smiling navy and white clad students awaited his usual mealtime exhortations.

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I'll post more memories of ATI experiences as they come to me. Much has been shoved to the corner of my mind! I was content to think of Mr. Gothard as a kindly grandfather until the collective memory of hundreds of former ATI students brought the reality of the situation to light.

I see now that while I was feeling guilty over the fact that I occasionally listened to soft-rock music on my Walkman, Bill Gothard was scarring young women with his words. While I was feeling dirty for sometimes imagining what it would feel like to one day be touched by my husband, Mr. Gothard was playing footsie with 17 year old girls in his sock feet.

+  + + + +

My heart goes out to all young people who are trapped in oppressive systems such as ATI!

With Love,


I wanted to write about "courtship vs dating," but I've deleted several drafts and the topic is wearing me out. The truth is I'm scared to death of both! Maybe once all five of my kids leave the nest I'll have an opinion. I imagine I'll have five stories to share that won't look a bit alike. But if you are interested in what it was like to come face to face with a handsome young man after having made a commitment to courtship, I can paint the picture for you sometime! ;-)


  1. Oh luv, I'm with you. So many memories are flooding back, things I suppressed, things I didn't even realize were wrong or terrible until I could look back on them with new eyes. I'm so glad we're free. I'm so horrified by his behavior and hypocrisy. Those poor girls. :-(

    1. You can't spot the counterfeit until you've spent time with the real deal. (Ironically, Mr. Gothard, the counterfeit, used to say something like that!) I guess we had to grow up to see it the whole system for what it was. I'm grateful the internet has made it possible for so many of us to reconnect and help each other along. Love you so much, Krista! ♥

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Adriana. It's so interesting. I felt so, well, creeped-out and very sad reading it, thinking of all the young, idealistic, impressionable people involved, and how terrible it is when those with power and influence misuse that. My next post focuses on people who influenced my life and I think how heartbroken I would be if those people proved to be unworthy of that trust. Not that anyone's perfect of course!! -- but when someone is influencing young people it is so important to have integrity.

    1. It is creepy and sad, Jeannie. I also feel sad for the people of my parents' generation who first fell for Gothard. Many of them came out of the turbulent 1960s and 1970s feeling clueless about how a "godly" Christian family should function. Gothard showed up in his neat blue suit and calmly offered to be their guide. Churches weren't really hitting on issues relevant to families during those days (so I'm told). Gothard exploited that shortage by offering his many "principles for success." Everything seemed to have a Bible verse to back it up. I can understand how new Christians were sucked in. Gothard inspired them to be part of a "new generation who would raise a godly standard." I can remember the zeal among my parents and their church friends. In the early 1980s everyone was bashing in their TVs and burning secular books and records. My parents have long since moved on to a more balanced life! But the feeling of betrayal is still poignant for those who were part of the first wave.

      Another side note: Many homeschoolers are not aware that Gothard helped ignite the modern Christian Patriarchy movement which is a branch of complementarianism.

  3. I agree with Rambling Tart and Jeannie: this is one horrifying and creepy story, Adriana. I am so glad my daughter's mission trips were never like this.

    I'd love to read your take on the courtship vs. dating issue, too. (Did you see my take on patriarchy and courtship last month?)


    1. I'm glad for your daughter, as well, Tim! I love the updates you give us from time to time. What a blessing that she has the freedom to serve others without hauling around the heavy weight of legalism.

      I will say, don't view my entire trip as a negative experience. I made lasting friendships with American/Canadian students and Russian translators. None of them, as far as I know, is living Gothard's lifestyle today. Our hearts were pure and I believe the Russian people sensed that. (I doubt they cared a wit about whether or not we were overweight or wearing navy and white at all times.) When I close my eyes and think of Russia I see the faces of hard working people who were good to me -- a flock of grandmothers on the street who buttoned up my coat and wrapped my scarf over my head, orphans who gave me handmade gifts which I still treasure, members of the unregistered churches who took turns praying for an hour each Sunday morning, the poor widow who served me tea from an old samovar. Then there was just the sheer magnificence of the Kremlin. You get the idea, Tim. I could go on and on.

      I developed a broader worldview, which ultimately, has aided me in shedding, not just the teachings of Gothard, but Fundamentalism altogether.

      (The trip to Russia gave Rambling Tart a taste for world travel, now she's a travel/food writer based in Australia.)

      As for "courtship vs dating" -- I've read your post twice and I'm chewing on it. I think there is a difference between modern patriarchy style courtship and courtship in the way our grandparents experienced it.

      Maybe I'll write a post in the style of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof:

      ("They gave each other a pledge? Unthinkable! . . . On the other hand . . .")

  4. Hello,
    My name is Jake Youngman and I am a filmmaker based out of Chicago. I am currently working with several people through the Recovering Grace Website to create a documentary film about Bill Gothard and IBLP. If you would be interested in discussing the project and possibly assisting, I would appreciate if you could reach out to me at


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