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Confessions of a Former Bill Gothard Adherent

reflecting at table rockYesterday night, I posted a Facebook status that read:

The cause of this Duggar family fiasco is one reason why I no longer buy into the traditional, conservative, “Christian”, homeschooling deal. It also doesn’t surprise me to read that Bill Gothard, the man I always heard of being referred to as “godly” when I was growing up, has also been accused by more than 30 women and teenagers of sexual harassment. Funny how the people who always judge and condemn others over immoral behavior are the very ones having skeletons in the closet regarding the same matter.

The discussion that ensued made me think and brought up old wounds I had suppressed over and over again.

When I was almost school-age, my parents learned about this wonderful homeschooling thing called the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). Created by Bill Gothard and his Institute of Basic Life Principles, it advocated godly living. There is a heavy emphasis on moral purity, courtship, modesty, etc. Many of these principles were justified using Scripture. I was homeschooled using this curriculum for a couple years before switching to other curriculum, but the Gothard nightmare didn’t end there.

For years afterwards, we went to the ATI conferences, had Character Sketches lessons read to me and my sisters, and was pretty much taught that if I ever did something immoral or “wrong,” I was on the road to hell. Wearing skirts higher than knee level was frowned upon, clothes shouldn’t be too fitting or they’ll reveal my body shape and cause other men to sin, listening to rock music would help fuel my rebelliousness because of the satanic beat, dating is not an option because physical and emotional purity are so important, drinking alcohol and dancing leads to grave consequences, etc. I was always preached repentance, and that if I did not change, hell would be my destination. It didn’t help that I was never a rule-follower. Therefore, instead of helping my faith grow, all these legalism, judgment, and condemnation made me question.

When I left home on August 2013, I saw it as my chance to finally break free. Now, I listen to rock music on a regular basis, own a bikini and wear it on occasion, frequently go on dates, dance with my friends and strangers, drink alcoholic beverages, and do many other things that according to the old “rulebook,” would mean my soul is lost. I still believe that God exists, but I’m also attempting to reconcile what I’ve been taught about His “expectations” of me, the man-made standards that were imposed based on His Word, and the whole deal about grace and love. Most days, it is a struggle about leaving behind the old legalism I was taught during childhood and adolescence, trying to find my own way in the world, and learning what really is right and wrong.

I don’t blame my parents for following the teachings of Gothard. I honestly believe that all of us were swindled by his cult, and just like all the other cults, it is so easy to be brainwashed and be tricked into believing the wrong. But then, there are many consequences that is the result, and I’m still suffering these ramifications that stems from teachings propagated as God’s Words and supported by a twisting of Scripture. In trying to escape from these teachings, I have swung to the opposite end of the pendulum. Still, it is hard to escape the former mentality of “if you don’t follow this rule, you’re a sinner destined for hell.”

Why am I writing this post? Partly as a cathartic form of recovery because writing always helps me process my thoughts and feelings. Also, partly as a warning against legalism for those practicing it. Now that I’m living in the Bible belt here in the US, I see legalism everywhere – at church, in school, and among many Christians. I have respect for people trying to be godly and do what is right. But the danger lies in interpreting Scripture to suit your purposes and beliefs, and then teaching it to others as justification for the principles. Living in a legalistic environment doesn’t resolve any problem, it only suppresses it for awhile.

I don’t want to point fingers and judge the Duggar family, but I also do know the pain that is a result of living in legalism. It makes me wonder if any of the Duggar girls are feeling the same way I felt as a consequence of going through a Gothard-influenced upbringing. One thing I do know is that I’m not alone in this journey where almost everyday is a struggle and a heartache. There are many others like me who are still trying to make sense of what we were taught, and how to reconcile those years with real life and the truth. At the end of the day, I regret how our gullibility and desire to do what is right has led to serious repercussions down the road.