My family never attended one of Bill Gothard’s seminars, and we didn’t use Gothard’s curriculum. We children were, instead, raised on the outskirts of Gothardism. We knew people who were followers of Bill Gothard, and we imbibed a few of his teachings (umbrella of authority, anyone?), but that was the extent of it. As things began to snowball over the past months and Gothard was exposed as a sexual predator and ultimately relieved of his leadership position, I wanted to learn more about what Gothard actually taught, in his own words. So I purchased Gothard’s “Advanced Seminar Textbook,” which was published in 1986 and can be found used on Amazon. I’m not going to blog through it page by page, but I do plan to write some posts on various sections. Today I offer my first of these posts.
In his textbook, Gothard covers his rules for periodic abstinence during marriage, which centers on a woman’s menstrual cycle (pages 175—185). Of all of Gothard’s teachings, this may be the one I’m most unfamiliar with, as it is foreign to anything taught in the evangelical church my family attended. In this post, I will cover the first pages of this section and then finish with a letter Gothard received from a follower.
To start out, here are the rules Gothard lays out as “God’s laws on abstinence”:
What Are God’s Guidelines for Times of Abstinence?
- During the menstrual cycle—Ezekiel 18:5-6
- Seven days after the menstrual cycle—Leviticus 15:28
- 40 days after the birth of a son—Leviticus 12:2-4
- 80 days after the birth of a daughter—Leviticus 12:5
Gothard’s critics tend to do two things: they call him a “legalist” and argue that his teachings in this area come from the Old Testament and are therefore invalid, as the Old Testament is superseded by the New Testament. Here, on the first page of this section, Gothard directly counters both of these arguments.
First, Gothard urges his readers to “distinguish between legalism and godly living” and states that: “(1) Legalism is trying to earn salvation; (2) Legalism is trying to live the Christian life with the energy of the soul; and (3) Legalism is following ‘the letter,’ not ‘the spirit.’” Gothard uses Bible verses to back all of this up, focusing especially on II Corinthians 3:6. Gothard argues that he is not teaching legalism but rather godly living.
Second, Gothard pulls up each time the New Testament references “uncleanness” and uses that to claim that the Old Testament teachings regarding a woman’s menstrual uncleanness is still valid. This is a fascinating attempt, but it does not actually work, as it’s pretty clear he’s proof texting and he comes across as being unaware that the New Testament was written in a different language from the Old Testament. Still, that he at least tried is fascinating.
Now I want to turn to the first of the “Benefits of Abstinence” Gothard lays out.
1. It builds self-control.
When sex drives are misused, they become self-consuming and can never be satisfied. Burned-out lusts call for new forms of perversion, which become even greater tyrants of unfulfillment.
Okay, so here’s the thing. If I’m overeating and I know I’m overeating, and it’s making me feel unhealthy, I can fix that by moderating what I eat. I don’t need to spend time fasting to do that. In fact, fasting in order to lose weight can easily lead to binge eating when the fast is over. I guess what I’m saying is that there are better ways to foster a healthy and balanced sex life than abstaining and then (presumably) binging.
But what’s actually going on here becomes more clear with the letter Gothard prints from one of his followers, and it’s not pretty.
How a Commitment to Abstinence Transformed a Marriage
I am writing to report what has happened in our marriage since our decision to follow God’s guidelines for abstinence. To be honest, I was waiting to see if the changes in our lives were short-lived or permanent. Now after a third of a year and five menstrual cycles, I am encouraged that our decision was correct, Biblically-based, and that the Lord is blessing our marriage more than ever before.
Let me start at the beginning. Our dating relationship was based on the physical, not on the spiritual. It ended in pregnancy and then marriage. She was sixteen, I was twenty.
Depending on the state, this might not have been legal.
After we married, our sex life became a shambles. My physical drives were impossible for her to satisfy, and even with a daily physical relationship, I became involved in pornography and other impure habits.
If you’re having sex daily and yet you’re not sexually satisfying, it’s probably worth seeing a doctor or a therapist.
After ten years of marriage we attended our first Basic Youth Seminar. When you went over the consequences of defrauding in dating, I suddenly realized my problem and our marriage problem.
And exactly how do we explain all of the couples who had sex before marriage and are currently in healthy, sexually fulfilling relationships?
I asked God to forgive me for defrauding her before marriage, and for the first time in my life, I began exercising self-control.
Also for the first time in ten years of married life, we began to experience true sexual intimacy. Our relationship continued to improve, but my wife still felt forced to submit to me, and she worried daily about whether or not she would have to ‘make love’ that night.
Wait. Wait wait wait. So the whole time this guy was having sex daily, his wife was only participating because she believed her role, as his wife, was to submit to him and be sexually available. You know, the fact that she felt she had to have sex with him whether she wanted to or not might just play some part in why their sexual relationship wasn’t fully satisfying him.
I began having difficulty exercising self-control.
I really want to know what this means. Was he raping her?
Then we attended your Corporate Leaders Seminar and learned about abstinence during the menstrual period and for seven days after the period. I knew immediately that this is what God wanted me to commit to, and it scared me to death! I couldn’t picture myself being committed to anything like that!
However, God gave me the strength and encouragement to talk to my wife. We discussed it and that day, with her permission, I made a commitment to follow that principle.
Now he’s concerned about getting his wife’s permission?
The relief within my wife was almost visible. The “fear” is gone from our marriage.
Well of course her relief was almost visible! His poor wife knew she would have have two weeks of blessed relief from her husband’s constant (and unreciprocated) sexual demands!
We now have a freedom we never experienced before. We are blessed to the point that we almost feel guilty when we are around our Christian friends who are completely loaded down with problems. Our lives have been transformed by applying this and other principles from God’s Word.
You replaced consent with biblically-mandated periodic abstinence, you asshole.
A Confirming Report from the Wife
I cannot tell you how much the material on abstinence has meant to me and our marriage. I have never experienced what has been happening in our marriage since we began following the principle of abstinence.
It is indeed a miracle!!!! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, my husband has exercised real self-control in the area of our sex life. I feel so loved, cherished, and protected! I have been able to respond to him as seldom before. The difference in our relationship is difficult to describe, but very wonderful to experience. Thank you again for motivating us to choose God’s best.
Someone tell this poor wife about consent and marital rape.
I didn’t expect to be this frustrated when I opened the volume to these pages, but I am. I am really, really frustrated. It appears that Gothard is using abstinence during the period and for seven days after the period as a replacement for consent within marriage. With these teachings, women who find themselves forced to submit to sex they do not want—forced by their believe that that is the wife’s biblical role—can find relief in two solid weeks of freedom from those demands.
This is sick.