Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on July 3, 2014 with the title “When Apologies Make It Worse,” and is reprinted with permission.
Since Bill Gothard had to resign from leading his Institute in Basic Life Principles amid allegations of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers, he has made few public statements. But in private, he has been far from silent.
An article published last week by Mother Jones stated:
These days, Gothard says, he is busy “contacting people I’ve offended and asking them to forgive me.” Asked how this process is going, he chirpily replies, “Wonderful. People are very grateful and everyone is forgiving.”
However, some former IBLP staff members take issue with Gothard’s version of the facts. Gothard has made efforts to contact them, they say, and “grateful” was not a word that came to mind.
One woman, who has had contact with Gothard since his resignation from IBLP, dismissed his attempted “apologies” as unethical and disingenuous. As this woman has requested anonymity, I will refer to her here as “Sally”. After her story was published on the website Recovering Grace, Gothard sought to engage Sally in an email correspondence. She has given me permission to share the content of those emails here. Gothard did not reply to the last message included below.
I was grateful for my talk with ***** and he told me of his contact with you. It would be an answer to prayer to be able to be reconciled with you and I would appreciate any direction you would have towards this goal.
Sincerely, Bill Gothard
As a starting point, I would like to know why you have resigned as president of IBLP?
Thank you, Sally, so much for your response. I resigned from the Institute because I have finally realized that relationships with the Lord and others are far more important than the work I do for Him. I have offended many individuals including you and it is my desire to be reconciled with as many as possible in the years to come.
You say that you have offended many individuals including myself.
I would like you to be specific regarding the manner in which you believe you have offended me.
I apologize for the delay in getting this message to you. For many years I have treasured the memories of the friendship that we had. I am praying that this can be restored. Some of my actions were inappropriate and offensive. Is it possible to hear your perspective on these wrong actions so that I can more precisely understand and acknowledge my fault and seek your forgiveness?
I should not have to explain to you what was “inappropriate and offensive” about your actions towards me. It is very wrong of you to ask me to recount them for you, and I do not intend to do so.
If you sincerely desire my forgiveness and you wish for reconciliation, then you need to acknowledge your offensive behavior in an honorable, fearless and truthful manner. If you are not willing to do this, then please do not contact me again.
Readers of the accounts on Recovering Grace will recall that Gothard commonly groomed his victims of sexual and/or emotional abuse by urging them to confide to him all the sexual details of previous relationships. It would appear from this series of emails that even at nearly eighty years old, he still takes a voyeuristic interest in hearing his victims describe the shame he sought to burden them with.
“He consistently asks the girl to tell him what it is she thinks he has done. Then he apologizes for ‘her perceived’ grievances. There is no ownership of his behavior. He’s putting it all back on the the victim.”
And once again, Gothard is breaking his own fundamental rules–this time for apologies. In his Basic Seminar textbook, he wrote a whole chapter on the right way to clear one’s conscience by asking forgiveness.
For example, Gothard’s text points out:
It does little good to ask forgiveness for a small offense when in reality that offense is only a fractional part of a much greater offense.
There are several ways to ask forgiveness which are guaranteed not to work–such as, “I was wrong, but you were too”; “If I was wrong, please forgive me”; “I’m sorry”, etc. There is one genuine statement which reflects true sincerity and humility: “God has convicted me of how wrong I have been in (my attitude and actions). I know I have wronged you in this, and I’ve come to ask, will you forgive me?”
Carefully choose the right wording
- Your words must identify the basic offense
- Your words must reflect full repentance and sincere humility
…One of the hardest statements for any person to make is, “I was wrong.” It is a lot easier to say, “I’m sorry about .. ” It is also much easier to say, “Please forgive me” than it is to ask, “Will you forgive me?” and wait for the answer.
“If I’ve been wrong, please forgive me.”
And right wording:
“God has convicted me of how wrong I’ve been in ______ (Basic Offense). I’ve called to ask will you forgive me?”
This request, spoken in the right attitude, is certain to be well-accepted by the one to whom it is directed. This approach must include correction of any attitudes or actions which caused the offense and also restitution for any personal loss which was suffered by the one offended.
Oh, yes, restitution. Did you see that mentioned in the emails to Sally? No, I didn’t, either.
But let us go on. The seminar manual taught that one should not go into too much detail, and emphasized the principle with a verse from the New Testament:
In Scripture we are warned that, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) This warning definitely applies when asking for forgiveness. It is neither important nor appropriate to review impure details of an offense. This only tends to stir up the mind of the hearer to the past.
And yet Gothard needs more details so he can “more precisely understand and acknowledge” his fault? Hmmmm.
Of course Gothard wrote the seminar text long before email, but he recommends making apologies only by phone or in person, not by correspondence. I have highlighted some relevant points in Gothard’s explanation:
Please don’t write a letter. Most people are tempted to use this method because it is so easy and the least painful to their pride. But it is not effective for many reasons. First, it documents your past offenses and your purpose is to erase them. Second, a letter can be misused by the one receiving it. This only complicates the problem. Third, it often embarrasses the one receiving it, and they may never reply to it. Fourth, a letter doesn’t allow you to gain their verbal assurance of forgiveness. That is a very important factor for you and for the one you have offended. A verbal forgiveness allows him to become free of his bitterness.
Oh, yes, bitterness! So we ask forgiveness in order to help our victim “become free of his bitterness”? No wonder these women are frustrated!
Let me give you a tip, Bill. Forgiveness alone is not enough to erase your many offenses. And the women you used for your own sexual or emotional gratification are wiser and more self-protective now. This is not about restoring a friendship, it is about your manipulative abuse of your position.
“I am not trying to reconcile – I am trying to bring to attention a problem that has been ongoing for forty years. I forgive him, but I have no wish to reconcile with him.”
Perhaps most interesting of all, though Gothard’s attorney friend-turned-investigator failed to contact any of the women who spoke out on the Recovering Grace website, Gothard himself is contacting them. He is even contacting other women who have not publicly spoken about their IBLP experiences but who were indeed mistreated by him. Would he possibly be working from memory here? And if his memory is that sharp, why would he need to ask for more details?
This is, after all, a man who taught millions exactly how to ask forgiveness for the offense of “Behaving improperly on a date“:
Wrong Confession: “I realize that I was wrong in necking with you on our date. Will you forgive me?”
Right Confession: “I realize that I have been wrong in my selfish actions and attitudes toward you when we were dating. It would mean a great deal to me if you would forgive me. Would you forgive me?”
…be as brief and as clear as possible…. Talking too much will not only “sidetrack” the whole purpose of your coming, but may give the impression that you are trying to justify or explain your offenses in order to minimize them.
You don’t say, Bill? You don’t say.
Best commentary on Bill Gothard, from Steve Taylor:
Does your soul crave center stage?
Have you heard about the latest rage?
Read your Bible by lightning flash
Get ordained at the thunder crash
Build a Kingdom with a cattle prod
Tell the masses, it’s a message from God
Where the innocent congregate,
Take your notebooks, turn with me
To the chapter on authority
Do you top the chain of command
Rule your family with an iron hand?
I dispense little pills of power
From my hideaway ivory tower
From the cover of Heaven’s gate,
Now it’s time to fill in the space
Where we talk about the woman’s place
Do you want to build a happy home?
Have you sacrificed a mind of your own?
‘Cause a good wife learns to cower
Underneath the umbrella of power
From the cover of Heaven’s gate,
Yes, I know that parable
That’s the story of the Prodigal
If you question what I’m teaching you
You rebel against the Father too
If He loved Him, why’d He let Him go?
Well, I guess, I don’t really know
But I see it’s getting late…
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/steve-taylor/i-manipulate-lyrics/#3xvU7WRGCechQszD.99