By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator
It is time for Homeschoolers Anonymous to talk about Bill Gothard.
It is time to speak up about Gothard, the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), and Gothard’s homeschooling cult, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI).
IBLP was founded in 1961 and it grew consistently over the next two decades as hundreds of thousands were exposed to Gothardism. At first, the seminar was called Basic Youth Conflicts and Gothard focused on the causes of, and solutions to, teenage rebellion. He expanded with the Institute of Basic Life Principles (often called the Basic Seminar), which covered more general life advice and expanded on themes of forgiveness, the wrath of God, and other ways to apply fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture to your life. Gothard told stories about wooden “African masks” screaming when families to burned them (to release the demons). Bill Gothard built a vast multi-million dollar ministry with many facilities and programs across the United States, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
IBLP is the parent organization, headquartered in Illinois on a vast campus. IBLP has a plethora of different organizations within it. I will explain some of the terminology that you will see in this series. IBLP refers to Bill Gothard’s seminar series — usually given in churches or in home for those who cannot access a conference.
Gothard founded a series of training centers, youth “retreats,” and international orphanages (in Russia, the Philippines, Romania, Ukraine – usually on property gifted to him by devoted followers, and thousands of young people in ATI spent months – sometimes years – volunteering or serving at these “ministries.”
ATI was Gothard’s homeschooling cult, founded in 1984, sold Wisdom Booklets as the primary curriculum. Wisdom Booklets were a set of 54 booklets with sections on science, math, history, English, and course, ancient Greek. ATI describes the Wisdom Booklets like this on their website:
In most educational systems today, the curriculum divides learning into academic subjects that are studied independently of one another. In some schools, the Bible is added as merely another subject to be studied. The ATI curriculum however, begins with Scripture and then combines valuable information with character training and life principles.
Each of the fifty-four Wisdom Booklets was based on a verse from Matthew chapters five through seven. The Wisdom Booklets were divided into linguistics, history, science, law, and medicine sections, the subjects were not taught in any sort of order. Rather, the subject or issue being covered was related back to the Bible verse. Jeri Lofland wrote a fantastic article about Gothard’s philosophy on education, available here.
Jim Logan, one of Gothard’s closest friends and ideological allies, told stories (at all sorts of IBLP events and programs) of exorcisms and demonic possessions, which bolstered Gothard’s message about spiritual warfare. If you want to see the sort of thing he teaches, watch this sermon about the “Manifestations of Demons.”
One of the most troubling IBLP affiliations is Joel’s Army, which uses a disturbingly militaristic tone (there are two good investigative features here and here).
But not all of Gothard’s non-profits organizations are strictly focused on promoting Gothard’s brand of fundamentalism. In fact, he has made a concerted effort to gain influence in secular circles domestically and internationally (especially in Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine).
The Character First! program, which I helped lead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, taught character qualities to public school children gathered in an auditorium. The sessions were never overtly religious.
Through the Character City program Gothard succeeded in bringing his message to a wider audience – municipal employees. For more information you can check out this training manual for “How to Build a Character City.”
Jeri Lofland published another great article on the political reach and influence of Bill Gothard available here. Mike Huckabee is one of the most prominent politicians adhering to Gothardism.
The Umbrella of Authority
Central to Gothardism is the “Umbrella of Authority,” which explains how God reveals his will and why people can be exposed to evil.
Gothard believed the nuclear family unit to be the central unit in proper Christian living and all divine inspiration flowed through the male head of household – typically the father. All members of the household should subordinate themselves to the male head, or risk attack from Satan. Because if you stray outside the Umbrella of Authority, God allows Satan to have his way with you. If it was God’s will for you to, say go and be a missionary, your father would agree with you. His disagreement would be a sign that it was not God’s will. Gothard also preached that music with a “backbeat” was literally opening up young people’s minds to Satan and causing rebellion, which he justified with some creative racism.
Through the IBLP video seminar, the Advanced Seminar, the preaching of Bill Gothard and his disciples, hundreds of thousands were exposed to his teachings. In the early-1980s, Parents who wished to apply Gothardism in a more radical manner to their lives could enroll in the Advanced Training Institute. There was a yearly conference in Knoxville, which eventually spread to half a dozen satellite locations across the US, and all the youth were required to wear navy and white. Once a year the people of Knoxville would joke about the cult that descended on the University of Tennessee campus
My family joined ATI in the mid-1990s and we quickly became eager devotees to the teachings of Bill Gothard. My parents were first exposed to Gothard’s teachings at an IBLP seminar, which consisted of Bill Gothard covering all the things you needed to know to live happy and healthy. Nuggets of wisdom like most mental health problems were caused by Satan building strongholds in your mind, that Rock and Roll music especially opened up young people to Satanic influence because the African-Americans brought their demon-worshipping beats from Africa, or that spiritual authority in a house flowed through the father, then to other members of the family.
To summarize Gothard’s view on music, when the Africans were brought to America as slaves, they brought with them their music. The African music was built around complex beats and rhythms, which Gothard claimed were used in their Satanic rituals. The African-American slaves continued their tradition of “rhythmic demon worship,” but it slowly morphed into what we know as the blues. Gothard argued that early blues musicians literally “sold their soul to the devil” to expertly play the guitar. Gothard traced these Demon Beats through their development into Elvis’ rock and roll. He made it very clear that the Africans corrupted “white music” with their Demon Beats.
In my discussion with alumni of Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute and reading through stories of alumni, I have discovered a number of troubling patterns and trends in parent-child relationships. I believe that ATIs doctrines and ideology promote spiritual abuse and dysfunctional families.
HA’s Current Stories on Gothard and ATI
HA has featured some stories about ATI and the impact on families of involvement in Gothardism. Ralph discussed his experience with ALERT, the quasi-paramilitary force trained in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Big Sandy, TX. One of our most shocking stories of physical and sexual abuse, Mary’s “Home is Where the Hurt Is,” occurred in a well-known ATI family.
Two of our anonymous posters, “Cain” and “Thomas” (friends during their time in ATI), wrote about some of their spiritual and emotional abuse as a members of ATI, which included book burnings. Cain recalled an instance of when a specific rock and roll song stopped him from considering suicide, despite the depression and desperation imposed by ATI’s ideolgies. “Esperanza” wrote about how the forced veneer of being a “perfect ATI girl” led her to self-injury. “George,” raised in ATI, tells of his journey to homosexuality and freedom. “Susannah” wrote about her complex PTSD and how ATI’s toxic teachings on mental health impacted her life.
Jeri Lofland discussed the impacts on her life of ATI’s teachings on her life. Adam O’Connor published two poems about ATI’s encouraged book burning and their miseducation through the Wisdom Booklets (“Bonfire Chorus,” and “homeskooled )q.e.d.)” Lana Hope wrote about ATI’s arcane doctrines on sexuality and why she rejected them.
Submit Your Story!
You might think, “Wow! HA already has a lot of stories about ATI, why have more?” Trust me — we have only scratched the surface. I have been blown away by the response to my initial discussion among our alumni community. People are excited to tell their ATI stories. If you want to contribute, but don’t know what to write, simply read through these stories and let the memories come back to you. Try to capture the memories, and your more mature perspective now, in writing. Not all of your memories may be negative, so feel free to submit positive stories. We do not want to present a one-sided story, just the truth.
The deadline for submission is Sunday, December 8, 2013.
As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.
If you interested in participating in this, please email us at email@example.com.
“If it was God’s will for you to, say go and be a missionary, your father would agree with you. His disagreement would be a sign that it was not God’s will.”
If this isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what is. Such teachings essentially make fathers into mini-gods, which is not only sexist, but dangerous.
“The African music was built around complex beats and rhythms, which Gothard claimed were used in their Satanic rituals.”
I didn’t realize Gothard was this racist. I’m wondering if his views on blues shaped those of other fundamentalist homeschool advocates, such as the Botkins.
Thank you for doing a series on Gothard and ATI. His unpleasant legacy needs to be known.
You know, I actually remember watching a series of VHS tapes where someone other than Gothard was preaching about the blues, syncopated beats, and this strange racism. The Bible Believer’s denomination was also KJV-only and anti-“backbeats.” I think those may be fairly common in the fundamentalist baptist sorts of churches. I know this message is still preached because I came across a detailed outline one time when I was home from a Wednesday or Sunday night bible study my parents attended. That was in 2009, I think.
I got some anti-rock lectures in Sunday School as a kid, I always assumed it was just a Baptist thing.
Wasn’t that said about previous generations of “N****r Music” like Ragtime, Jazz, Swing, R&B, and first-generation Rock & Roll? Frenzied Jungle Bunnies, “Where da White Wimmen At?” and all? (Even though Ragtime and first-generation Rock were white-ified versions of the originals.)
And it’s that “whitification” that brought the Devil into mainstream music!
They said exactly the same thing about D&D miniatures during the Satanic Panic back in the early Eighties.
Who is “they”? Are you talking about Gothard/IBLP/ATI?
I went to Institute for Basic Life Principles, and it was nothing like what these articles (this one and the hyperbolic accusations in links) claim. Not surprisingly my family didn’t become disfunctional, and I wasn’t dragooned into a paramilitary organisation.
The main things that I took from it:
– That it was worthwhile to memorize Bible passages: something which has been extremely beneficial to me over the course of my life.
– That forgiveness brings true freedom.
– That we are responsible for our actions, to others and to God.
– That everything is ultimately a gift from God and we’re stewards of what we have for him.
There may have been others, but I remember these because they have been particularly helpful in my life.
I am not arguing that every person who goes to a Basic Seminar becomes a member of a dysfunctional family. But it also seems me like you only attended the Basic Seminar. Perhaps you can learn something from the stories of people who have struggled within Gothard’s homeschooling cult -ATI. While I have plenty of objections to the Basic, it’s essentially fundamentalism-lite and very few families that joined the cult ONLY attended the Basic. Gothard has a whole world of associations and organizations that you are apparently unaware of. I’m not making sweeping generalizations about those that have attended, but you may be surprised by the intense spiritual abuse encouraged by Gothardism.
Not only am I “unaware” of the many of accusations you and your links make, they’re not referenced to anything… which isn’t really the best when they’re so aggressive.
Where does he call human children an animal “litter”, for example?
This essay isn’t meant to convince you of anything. It is here as a “call for stories,” which means I’m trying to jog people’s memories so they will contribute their stories. I included a lot of links, so you’re going to have to be more specific with your criticism if you really find my essay so off base.
I challenge you to stick around for this series on Gothard and provide your perspective. Personally, I think Gothard’s teachings in the Basic Seminar on the Umbrella of Authority and Strongholds (which are a replacement for mental illness) are incredibly damaging. Not to mention his racist criticism of rock music and the blues. However, this site exists to provide equal voice to everyone’s experiences. I’d love for you to submit your story of how Gothard’s teachings enriched your life.
Chucky..please take a look at recovering grace(RC) It is an eye opener.
I attended the Institute for Basic Youth Conflicts twice and then went on to the next level. It was advertised at my church in the 1970s, and hundreds of us loaded buses to attend. This guy packed an entire convention center. Soon we started quoting Bill Gothard more than the Bible.
By the 1980s, our church — and obviously many others — caught on to the toxicity of Gothard and suddenly they stopped promoting his seminars. He disappeared off our radar.
I was shocked a couple of years ago to find that he had simply reappeared as a homeschool guru.
He reminds me of the Necromancer / Dark Lord in the Lord of the Rings.
I look back at IBYC and realize that Gothard created his own set of rules for how to please God. His legalism was intoxicating for a young idealistic teenager who longed to have a deeper walk with God. As a perfectionistic rule-keeper, I ate up all of his new formulas for success.
But a few years later I was struggling under mountains of Gothard-induced guilt. My parents never attended his seminars so they didn’t realize what was happening. Fortunately I attended Gothard’s college alma mater and discovered that no-one there took him seriously.
It took me years to shake off those overwhelming feelings of self-condemnation. Satan is the accuser of the saints, and Gothard plays right into his evil hands. Jesus has set us free from the prison of guilt and shame. Gothard wanted to send us there and keep us locked up.
Now, decades later, I warn my own adult children about legalistic groups that prey on youthful idealism and their wonderful God-given desire to serve the Lord. Gothard is just one of hundreds of Christian leaders who is out of balance and drives people away from the true Gospel:
“For Christ did not come in the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” —John 3:17
People will always disappoint you. Formulas don’t work. Only Christ is worthy of imitation. And he had the perfect balance of love, forgiveness, and purpose.
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s interesting to me to see how Gothard influenced things outside of the ATI sphere of influence, which was where I spent my childhood and young adult years.
I am EXTREMELY interested to see what comes of this series. I was one of the few females that was counseled personally by Jim Logan as both a child and teenager.
“To summarize Gothard’s view on music, when the Africans were brought to America as slaves, they brought with them their music. The African music was built around complex beats and rhythms, which Gothard claimed were used in their Satanic rituals. The African-American slaves continued their tradition of “rhythmic demon worship,” but it slowly morphed into what we know as the blues. Gothard argued that early blues musicians literally “sold their soul to the devil” to expertly play the guitar. Gothard traced these Demon Beats through their development into Elvis’ rock and roll. He made it very clear that the Africans corrupted “white music” with their Demon Beats.”
Have heard this beastly damnable rot and lies before. The poor black people. You’d think they’d have suffered enough.
Bangs head against wall!