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09 Mar '14

Bill Gothard and how his Basic Youth Conflicts led to Scriptural abuse and people abuse

Posted by T.J. Addington in Bill Gothard, spiritual abuse, theology
Yes I attended one of the Basic Youth Conflict seminars as a teenager, one of millions that did. In a day when the church was not talking about practical issues, he certainly did. And it drew many adherents, and many cult like followers who believed his every word. Bill Gothard has finally resigned after decades of allegations, problems and abuse of people in his organization.

The problem was how Bill Gothard used the Word. For every issue there was a several step process to resolve them. It was a mechanical approach to solving those "basic youth conflicts" and you didn't need much of the Holy Spirit to do so. Further, his proof texting approach led to some egregious theological errors including the infamous "chain of command" from God to parents to children and of course from husbands to wives to children. 

It was a theology of control that led Bill and his brother to controlling people who worked in his ministry in amazing ways. Words like manipulation, abuse, bondage, legalism, guilt, threats, manipulative God speak and sexual abuse all fit. It was legalism through and through with enough "truth" thrown in to make it sound and seem biblical. But it was far from Biblical in many respects.

One of the interesting byproducts of the black and white approach to every issue by Bill was that his disciples tended to marginalize those who disagreed with them. Churches split over Gothard theology, families were hurt, women were put down and used. When theology causes division (not over orthodox tenets of the faith) you know something is very wrong and it was a regular trait of both Gothard and his followers.

It also allowed the abuse of people using the veneer of God and the Bible. Grace was hard to find and as noted the Holy Spirit and His direction in our lives downplayed for the direction of the "spiritual authority" above us.

What is truly sad is that the bad theology and terrible treatment of people goes back to the sixties and yet he has been able to carry on largely unimpeded all these years. Until now when the weight of the years of abuse finally brought about his resignation. Many, many people have been scarred by his legalism and proof-texting. Many live with great guilt because they violated his "dress code" or "definition of Christian music." Many know they don't measure up to God because of what God "requires" (by Gothard's definition).

Some lessons from all this?

  1. We should be disciples of no man or woman but Jesus alone.
  2. If anyone has all the answers they don't have the answers.
  3. When theology divides beware.
  4. When theology is used to control people it is not from Jesus.
  5. When legalism rather than grace is the focus, it is not from Jesus.
  6. When rules not found in Scripture are propagated, it is rarely from Jesus.
  7. Check out the texts being used by yourself. Many of Gothard's proof texts do not say what he says they do.
  8. When many evangelical scholars take exception to someone's teaching, pay attention (many did).
  9. When there are hints of immorality and money misuse or poor board oversight of a ministry - stay away (there were).
  10. When there is a mechanistic answer to every problem, forget it. It is not how God works. 
  11. When a ministry's workplace is toxic something is very, very wrong.