From a Bill Gothard Survivor to Other Survivors: Free Yourselves

Bill Gothard, IBLP, ATI, Institutes in Basic Life Principles, Spiritual Abuse, Sexual Abuse


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The following was written by David Shere, who has been reading here for some time. He wanted to share his thoughts and advice as a Bill Gothard survivor.  This was written after the news that the plaintiffs had dismissed the lawsuit against Bill Gothard.  ~ja


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From a Bill Gothard Survivor to Other Survivors:

Free Yourselves

by David M. Shere

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I’m not going to discuss my background here, or my experiences with the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, or with IBLP and ATI, or even with Gothard himself. Yes, I met the man, several times in fact. I remember his dark pinstripe suits and the ever-present dusting of dandruff on his shoulders; that should be enough to verify my claim for anyone who doubts me.

I’m not going to talk about what I believe. My beliefs are irrelevant here.

I’m not going to hold myself up as a role model, because I honestly don’t care what other people think. You do you; I’m busy with my own stuff, thanks.

And most of all, I am not going to talk about God, except to say that if God exists, He will do with me as he pleases. That is the meaning of Omnipotence. If I am damned to Hell, I accept it as my fate; and no amount of begging, pleading, bargaining, or doing of good deeds from me will ever change the will of God. Believe me, I’m more than OK with it. It’s kind of nice knowing how little control anyone ever actually has over anything.

Anyway, this essay is a call out from me to all of you out there, past and present, who like me have ever known Gothard or have ever been involved with any of his programs or literature. I empathize deeply with all of you. I know that at times you feel insurmountably trapped. I know that you may even despair.

I know that many of us had hopes for the recent lawsuit, which unfortunately was simply too little and too late. I’m sure there’s nothing more frustrating than realizing decades later just how expertly you’ve been had, how deviously you’ve been played and manipulated. I’m sure Bernie Madoff’s investors had similar feelings.

Anyhow, my message is a simple one. It’s not advice, it’s not commiseration. It’s not a plan or a rule or a Beatitude or a sermon. It’s not a well-placed Bible verse. It’s not a message from God or a prophet’s exhortation. It’s simply an idea, a suggestion if you will. A recommendation.

Ready? Here it is:

Free yourselves.

Bill Gothard: Who is he? He’s nobody. He’s not a friend or a family member; he’s not a relative or an employer. He’s not the Second Coming of Jesus. He’s not your pastor or your therapist or an accredited teacher. He’s not even an acquaintance or a friend of a friend. He’s just some guy, guys.

You know what Bill Gothard is? He’s the equivalent of a salesman on one of those late night infomercials you see on cable access television, only instead of selling Thighmasters or Snuggies he’s selling “49 Non-Optional Principles” and dozens of other laughably argued, badly written, cheaply printed “theological” pamphlets. Why are we paying attention to him again?

Do you know why any of us, why any of our friends or family members or parents got sucked into Gothard’s literature in the first place? Because we were weak, that’s why. We were damaged, and we were weak. And in our moment of weakness, we turned to a man who sold us the cheap television infomercial equivalent of theology. Boy, don’t we feel dumb, right?

And you know what? THAT’S OK. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone does stupid things in moments of weakness. I still drink beer once in a while even though I know I won’t sleep as well (wine is definitely better). I still smoke cigars occasionally because they taste amazing. I still eat pizza even though it’s basically just a belly fat train wreck on a plate. We’re human, and being human means being weak and stupid occasionally.

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So what’s the solution? Free yourselves.

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You or someone with power over you bought you into Bill Gothard’s theological infomercial of ridiculous rules and outlandish promises. And only you can get yourself back out of it.

For those of you who are parents, using Gothard’s infomercial-theology on your kids: Your choice is easy. Throw the books away. Open your window blinds. Send your kids back to school, and find a less oppressive church to attend.

For those of you who are kids or young adults, squashed under the thumb of Gothard’s endless regulations: I feel your predicament. Your situation is once removed from the source so to speak, but the power is still in your hands, yours and yours alone. You know what you need to do to get loose. Only you can see the path you must take. Argue with your parents against Bill’s teachings. Insist on being sent back to a public school. Go away to college. Get a job. If you are being abused, contact the police and file a police report. Move in with friends. Stop going to church. Establish a presence on social media and find a support network.  Contact the good people here at Spiritual Sounding Board if you need resources.  Love yourself and defend yourself. Stand up for your life. Fight your circumstances. Whatever it takes.

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13 comments on “From a Bill Gothard Survivor to Other Survivors: Free Yourselves

  1. Exactly what I said on another post, David. You’re a smart, sensible fellow. Good on you!! Now on with your life. All the very best to you!

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  2. Just to clarify, I’m not the same “David” who commented on another recent Gothard post. Apparently there are many Davids floating around. Anyway blessings on all of you and I hope my words are helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope there a others out there who are wonderfully experiencing freedom from this system. Thank you for your words, David. I would gladly share a moment of weakness over beer and pizza with you!

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  4. I appreciate this, David — very to the point. The heart of the matter is freedom & maybe if some hear it put so bluntly it will give them courage. For myself I wish I hadn’t lived the first half of the prime of my life, before disability took over what remains, still laboring under a deep-seated fear of taking a wrong step or being on the wrong path. Oh, I tried for freedom but I still had the fear of possibly losing “God’s blessing” (since I couldn’t stay under the umbrella & keep my sanity too) stealing invisibly from me so much of the way. Grateful to be freer now but wish I’d removed the shackles entirely a lot sooner. Life is way too short and way too hard as it is w/out adding completely crap rules. Hindsight’s 20/20 though. Consider sharing on FB?

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  5. This is a wonderful letter and I agree, those who have been harmed need to free themselves. Get free, you deserve it! Christ in fact, came to set the captives free.

    “And most of all, I am not going to talk about God, except to say that if God exists, He will do with me as he pleases.”

    I appreciate your letter for another reason however, it helped to solidify something else in my own mind. I don’t want this to sound like criticism or anything, but it’s words like the ones above that cry out to me,words that make me keenly aware something precious has been stolen, and words that make it so clear to me I can’t let go. I won’t let go because these false prophets don’t just betray people’s trust, they separate people from a healthy relationship with their heavenly Father.

    Every time I read words from some precious child of God who doubts His existence, who fears He’s going to send them to hell, who does not know how immensely loved they are, I am just seething in rage over what has been taken away from them, what has been stolen.

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  6. insanitybytes: I agree with you and you aren’t wrong.

    There is a purpose to my words, however, and I think you’ll see it if you consider my next statement carefully: “My enemy cannot steal what I don’t possess.” False teachers rely on damning to Hell any who dare oppose them. Well, damn away then- I can only go to Hell once.

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  7. David,

    Thank-you! Your thoughts in writing are brilliant, AND, you are giving wise counsel here to those who are entrapped in a CULT. You dared to say in the most simplistic of terms, what needs to be preached in every church assembly, for these types of self appointed, self anointed authoritarians use and abuse the Name of Jesus for their own personal gain……fame, money, and human glory.

    Many of us have relationships with families who worship Gothard and his moralistic teachings as they ooze into our homes and poison our healthy relationships with family members. These brainwashed families become “god’s police force” in forcing Gothardism upon the rest of us in becoming lords over our faith, our families, and our business and it stinks to high heaven.

    David, my heart goes out to you and am celebrating your freedom, your liberty, and your peace and contentment outside of the cult of Gothardism. Enjoy your life!

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  8. It’s incredibly dangerous to underestimate the power of culture, and well said to David for pointing out the culture that is ATI and Gothard. Gothard’s ideas seem to sneak in all kinds of places you’d never expect. Sometimes it’s undercover Gothardites, and sometimes it’s well-meaning people who have simply gotten an idea from who knows where, and they repeat it. So without a single Gothard seminar being attended by anyone, a whole church can be infected.

    It’s also instructive to note what happens when a cultural idea gets challenged Biblically. Too often, the response is not a capitulation, but is rather a strategic retreat. A picture; when confronted with the 2nd chapter of John, alcohol abstinence advocates retreat first to “well, it’s better and holier for a Christian not to drink”, and when you point out that they’ve just accused Jesus of being less than holy, then it goes to “well, if you’re having just one drink”.

    There is a point where one must be fairly persistent and insist on the principle. Otherwise cultural expressions will eat you for lunch.

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