A week after the theologically conservative Institute in Basic Life Principles placed its leader Bill Gothard on administrative leave, the influential leader in the Quiverfull and Christian homeschooling movements has resigned from the organization. Gothard, 79, faces accusations of sexual abuse from dozens of women associated with his organization. The IBLP promotes a "chain of command" family hierarchy that Gothard claims is based on Biblical principles. In seminars, the institute has described the structure with the image of a father as the "hammer" of the family, the wife as the "chisel," and the children as "gems" in the rough.
This is the third organization associated with an umbrella of group sometimes referred to as the "Biblical patriarchy" movement to face a major sex scandal in recent months. In October, the Vision Forum ministry shut down after its leader Doug Phillips confessed to having a romantic affair outside of marriage. And just weeks ago, The New Republic published an investigation into sexual assault at Patrick Henry College, an evangelical university with big homeschooling support. The accusations against Gothard are quite serious. According to a whistle-blowing organization called Recovering Grace, at least 34 women have accused Gothard of unwanted sexual advances, and four of those women say the leader molested them. One of those four women is underage.
Religion News Service's Sarah Pulliam Bailey has been covering the scandal as it unfolded; she spoke to some of the women accusing Gothard of sexual misconduct. According to them, Gothard used his position of authority and as a counselor to those adapting his approach to Christianity in order to "create an emotional bond" with them. Rachel Frost worked at the organization's headquarters as a teenager, and is one of the women who shared her story with Recovering Grace. Here's what she told RNS:
“There was a very common grooming pattern of creating emotional bonds and physical affirmations, the footsie, the leg rubs, the stroking of the hair, the constant comments on physical appearance."
Last week, based on the accusations collected by Recovering Grace, Gothard went on leave pending a review by his organization, which he founded in 1965. The board, a statement at the time said, "will respond at an appropriate time, and in a biblical manner" after finishing their investigation. The scandal, however, isn't the only problem facing the organization: In recent years, the $95 million-a-year nonprofit has seen its finances dwindle, as RNS noted. Gothard's empire had its biggest reach in the 1970s and '80s, when his organization's seminars would fill 20,000-seat stadiums. And his approach spread out into conservative American takes on popular culture: when you think of conservative Christians condemning rock music during that time, you're probably thinking of someone who was influenced by Gothard. He sells his teachings like they're self-help guides: some of his books have titles like Why Did God Let It Happen?, Men's Manual, and The Amazing Way.
Nevertheless, it and Gothard in particular remain influential: Gov. Rick Perry has spoken at an IBLP conference, Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas sat on the organization's board, Congressman Daniel Webster's ties to Gothard's organizations became a campaign issue for him in 2011, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was photographed with Gothard at a fundraiser for his 2008 presidential campaign. And arguably the world's biggest advocates for the conservative Quiverfull and homeschooling movements — the reality TV family the Duggars — are devotees of Gothard's Advanced Training Institute seminars. Until recently, the Duggars' official website called Gothard's Embassy Institute (which he also founded) their "#1 recommended resource" for families (that page now displays as blank).
It's not clear at this point whether the consequences of the accusations against Gothard will include criminal investigations. Some of the cases date back at least to the early 1990s, meaning the statute of limitations may have passed.