A Conservative Christian advocate who promotes home schooling and warns against the dangers of rock music has been placed on leave following allegations he sexually harassed women who worked with him.
The allegations against Bill Gothard, longtime leader of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), came forward thanks in part to a website called "Recovering Grace." which seeks to "help people harmed by the teachings of [Gothard]." The website has compiled statements from more than 30 women, detailing incidents that go as far back as the 1970's. Via The Washington Post:
A string of allegations has been posted on the website, including one alleging Gothard molested a woman who was underage in the early 1990s. Four articles allege Gothard engaged in sexual harassment, and four articles allege his failure to report child abuse to Child Protective Services.
Gretchen Swearingen, who goes by her middle name "Charlotte," wrote on the website that Gothard requested she come work for him in 1992 at IBLP's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., when she was 16. During her time there, she said Gothard would play footsie with her and hold her hand. At one point, she said, he had coordinated a ride from the airport for them to be together. "That's when he first put his hand between my legs and felt me all the way up," she wrote.
Now 38, she said the statute of limitations has expired, leaving her unable to sue. She said she told her mother, who told her that she was lying, so Swearingen assumed there was nothing she could do.
"No one was there when the molestation was happening," she said in an interview. "I never had the guts to say anything. I thought if my mother didn't believe me, who would? You're not to bring home false witness against someone at headquarters." She said that she and her mother have reconciled since she wrote her story.
Swearingen said she reported her story to the Hinsdale (Ill.) Police Department a week ago. A police spokesman said no investigation has been opened at this time.
"It's not about revenge, not about suing him or taking him to court," she said. "It's about my healing and giving other people voices."
Rachel Frost worked at IBLP when she was 16. She told Recovering Grace Gothard would develop an "emotional bond" with women. "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," she said.
According to the IBLP's Facebook page, "The Institute in Basic Life Principles is a Biblically based, not-for-profit, nonsectarian training and service organization.The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) was established for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ, and is dedicated to giving individuals, families, churches, schools, communities, governments, and businesses clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God's principles found in Scripture," the statement reads. "These goals are accomplished primarily through seminars, educational programs, printed literature, and the operation of centers to facilitate training."
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Gothard was a huge part of those seminars that helped build the organization. For more than two decades, he routinely sold-out auditoriums where he gave seminars teaching practical applications of the Bible. His teachings included warning against the evils of rock music and encouraging followers to stay out of debt.
According to the same report in The Washington Post, Gothard's ties to prominent religious and conservative figures are far reaching:
Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles was once a popular gathering spot for thousands of Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC's "19 Kids and Counting." Gothard's Advanced Training Institute conferences were also popular among devotees of the Quiverfull movement, who promote large families and eschew birth control.
He's also rubbed shoulders with Republican luminaries. He and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were photographed at a campaign lunch together; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke at one of Gothard's conferences; and Sarah Palin, when she was a small town mayor in Alaska, attended his International Association of Character Cities conferences and declared Wasilla among Gothard's "Cities of Character."
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are featured on the IBLP website, which credits one of the seminars as providing "direction for them as a couple:"
Jim Bob attended a Basic Seminar in 1980 and Michelle in 1985. They were married soon after and found the principles of the Basic Seminar gave practical direction for them as a couple. Together they began a family that is now known around the world through the TV series 19 Kids and Counting. They have already had an amazing two hundred episodes with an average viewing audience of 1.5 million. Being in the spotlight year after year has forced them to discover the secret to making God the head of their home. They will share practical ways about how to do this.
Gothard founded the Advanced Training Institute in 1984, which serves as a homeschooling training program based around the Sermon on the Mount. The Duggars are followers of Gothard's ATI teachings; photos of the family at ATI seminars can be found on the family website here.
The allegations come at a time when IBLP is experiencing heavy financial losses as well:
In 2009, it reported a net income loss of $1 million. It lost $4.1 million in 2011, and $3.5 million in 2012, according to its most recently available tax forms. Its net assets dropped from $92 million in 2010 to $81 million in 2012. Since it started as a class at Gothard's alma mater, Wheaton College, in 1961, more than 2.5 million people have gone through his "basic seminar" training on authority, success and other issues. IBLP held 504 seminars in 2010, but that number dropped to fewer than 50 in 2012.
In a statement to the press, board chairman Billy Boring said: "After completion of the review, the board will respond at an appropriate time, and in a biblical manner...[Gothard] will not be involved in the operations of the ministry. The board of directors will be prayerfully appointing interim leadership."