The IBLP Board has released a statement signaling the end of the investigation into the myriad claims brought against Bill Gothard in the last few years:
In response to allegations against Bill Gothard, the Board sought the facts through a confidential and thorough review process conducted by outside legal counsel. Many people were interviewed, including former Board members, current and past staff members, current and past administrators, parents, and family members.
At this point, based upon those willing to be interviewed, no criminal activity has been discovered. If it had been, it would have been reported to the proper authorities immediately, as it will be in the future if any such activity is revealed.
However, the review showed that Mr. Gothard has acted in an inappropriate manner, and the Board realizes the seriousness of his lack of discretion and failure to follow Christ’s example of being blameless and above reproach. As a Christian leader, he is to avoid the appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22), and he must have a good reputation, even with those outside the Church (I Timothy 3:7).
Frankly, this is as good as I’d hoped.
First, the Board are all true believers. This is made abundantly clear both at the very beginning of the statement, which starts:
We are grateful for your prayers and patience as we have all walked through these difficult months. As Board members, each of us has been positively impacted by the relationships, teachings, and opportunities available through the Institute in Basic Life Principles. It is because of our appreciation for this ministry that we agreed to serve on the Board of Directors.
This same true believer mentality shows up again later in the statement:
The Board does not believe that Mr. Gothard’s shortcomings discredit the truths of God’s Word that were taught through him. All of us are reminded of our need to look to Jesus and to His Word “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
Second, the “outside legal counsel” was not really outside, but was a lawyer frequently seen defending leaders and organizations in the Christian Patriarchy movement, as well as a regular speaker at the ATI annual conferences, David Gibbs Jr. The fact that his findings went this far is, frankly, surprising, and indicates, to me at least, that the real and verified facts are probably much closer to the claims made and published on sites such as Recovering Grace than not.
Third, this was an investigation into the acts of Bill Gothard, not his teachings. Though we are right to assume a connection between the two, and the recent spate of sexual and moral failures by leaders in conservative evangelicalism becoming public speaks to some common thread connecting them, their teachings, and their failings. Being true believers, the Board will be loath to recognize this connection though. I don’t doubt their sincere desire to follow God and do the best for His kingdom. The mote in their own eyes, though, is the conflation, from long association with a manipulative master, of his kingdom with God’s. The statements quoted earlier confirm that they have, in their own minds, refused to see the connection between the teachings and the acts.
The most worrying things about this statement, to me, are the carefully worded phrase ” At this time the Board unanimously agrees that Mr. Gothard is not permitted to serve in any counseling, leadership, or Board role within the IBLP ministry”, and what precisely is meant by the less carefully worded “We also know that the Word of God teaches that believers should have a good conscience toward God and men (Acts 24:16). We want to encourage reconciliation within families and are very supportive of efforts toward reconciliation with Mr. Gothard or with IBLP.”
In the first concerning statement, the key phrase is “At this time”. Coupled with the Board’s continued support of Mr. Gothard’s teaching and their belief that “God still desires to use Bill Gothard for His work in the Kingdom of God”, it seems to me they envision a time when Bill is once again allowed to counsel and provide leadership within the ministry.
This hinges upon the Christian idea of restoration. In the Bible, restoration of a sinful brother or sister always refers to their restoration within the local Church, their resumption of fellowship. Based on the words of the Board, it would not surprise me to see them attempt to restore him to a position of counsel and leadership, both of which he has forfeit through his sinful acts and lack of contrition over the long decades of corruption and deception.
In the second concerning statement, the onus, it seems to me, is upon those who have been offended by Mr. Gothard to do the reconciling. The wording certainly seems to indicate that, though it could simply be an uncareful use of phrase. Based on other teachings of IBLP and Gothard, though, I think the meaning is not imprecise, and that, in order to restore their place within IBLP and ATI, families whose children have “aught against” Bill should be the ones coming to him, when, in fact, as the offense was committed by Bill and he is just one equal brother at the feet of Christ, he should be, in abject grief and uncompromising repentance, going to each and every person he has offended, manipulated, and damaged, seeking to do anything to acquire their forgiveness.
The wrongs are substantial, the process to correct will be torturous.
My thoughts: The best thing that can happen to Bill Gothard, the Board of IBLP, the families still involved, the alumni, and the Church catholic, is for IBLP and ATI to fold completely and utterly, to wash away with the sands of time and into the past, to be remembered as a player in a brief part of Christian history as a cautionary tale of teachings and teachers to be avoided.
This will prevent Mr. Gothard from regaining control or position in any organization to further his manipulations and abuse, and it will minimize the ill effects of the teachings as they will exist only in smaller and smaller corners of true believers.
As I am not one who has been wronged in a criminal sense, I do not feel able to speak clearly on whether or not Mr. Gothard should face legal action for what he’s done, I can only encourage those who feel they have been offended to that extent to stand up and challenge him, but to do so carefully and circumspection. To challenge without proof and basis could end up worsening the situation, rather than bettering it. If the offense does indeed rise to that level and can be verified sufficiently to withstand legal challenged, though, the you have the responsibility to do so. As the organization and the surrounding church failed to police its own and allowed their own to be abused and damaged by the words and actions of Mr. Gothard, it falls to those outside the church to render judgment, and a convicted Gothard will be even less able to regain control of any organization, and he’ll be brought face to face, even more utterly than now, with the enormity of his own sin.
A friend with more current connections to IBLP HQ says the board was more explicit in their statement to HQ staff that Bill would not ever be allowed to return to positions of responsibility in the organization.
However, even the Chicago Sun-Times found the wording questionable: Ex-head of religious group acted inappropriately, not criminally: investigation
The board said based on a review conducted by outside legal counsel, it unanimously agreed that “at this time” Gothard “is not permitted to serve in any counseling, leadership or board role within the IBLP ministry.”
That leaves open the question of whether the 79-year-old Gothard may be allowed to return one day as he did after resigning following another sexual scandal years earlier.
I’d suggest that the Board feels right now that they don’t believe he’ll ever be allowed to return, and they’re probably crossing their fingers hoping he’ll give up and go away, but they recognize that he still could make a persuasive argument and be brought back, and so have left the printed statement vague in this respect.
Further down in the Sun-Times article, a short interview with Mr. Gothard is published that raises even more questions:
Gothard said in a Sun-Times interview: “I respect and honor the board, and my number one goal right now . . . is to go back to the ones that I have offended and ask their forgiveness.”
Asked if he engaged in sexual harassment, Gothard said, “Sexual harassment is to a large extent intent, and my intent was never to harass them.” As for whether he has any interest in returning to the institute in a ministerial or leadership capacity, he said, “That’s not my goal or desire right now. I just have a desire to work with and encourage the young people that I have served in the past and I want to continue that on a personal basis.”
The intent displayed in that last sentence ought to be entirely and completely out of the question, given the situation and his now proven history.