Bill Gothard and IBLP File Motions to Disqualify David C. Gibbs III

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

On February 5, 2016, Bill Gothard’s attorney Glenn Gaffney and the Institute for Basic Life Principles’ (IBLP) attorneys at the Collins Law Firm filed similar motions with the Circuit Court of DuPage County, Illinois. These actions relate to the court case Gretchen Wilkinson vs. Institute in Basic Life Principles, in which eighteen former employees and students are suing Gothard and IBLP for sexual harassment and assault and mishandling those crimes.

HA obtained copies of the motions and related exhibits. Both Gothard and IBLP’s motions aim to disqualify David C. Gibbs III and the Gibbs Law Firm from representing the eighteen plaintiffs. They include two exhibits: sworn affidavits (testimonies under oath) and documents that Gothard and IBLP believe prove that Gibbs violated the Illinois Rules for Professional Conduct (IRPC) in his interactions with them.

The sworn affidavits come from both Gothard as well as Roger Blair, who was present when Gibbs first approached Gothard to talk about the abuse allegations. Gothard’s affidavit includes a number of personal emails between him and Gibbs that Gothard believes amount to legal advice and/or representation. In Blair’s affidavit, he claims that he witnessed Gibbs communicate to Gothard that he would help reinstate him on the IBLP Board. Blair additionally alleges that Gibbs offered to help Gothard derail the allegations against him. Blair testifies,

Mr. Gibbs spoke as if he were connected to the individuals behind Recovering Grace and had inside knowledge that would be valuable to Bill. I recall Mr. Gibbs saying, “I know how to handle it.” He stated that Bill “was wronged” and that it was unfair that “people are trying to destroy your ministry as well as other ministries.” Mr. Gibbs stated that he read allegations on the Recovering Grace website and he knew that they were false. He said that he knew how to adequately respond to “get rid of it.”

Gothard and IBLP’s motions differ in a few regards. Gothard’s motion seeks to bar the eighteen plaintiffs from using any information (including “any statements, correspondence, emails, communications, records, reports, or other documents”) collected from Gothard by Gibbs in alleged violation of the IRPC. Gothard bases this request on the legal precedent that evidence improperly obtained can be deemed inadmissible in court.

IBLP’s motion does not seek to bar the plaintiffs from using such information. However, it does contain an additional insinuation: that Gibbs did not include Gothard as a defendant in the original lawsuit in order to obtain evidence from him through deceptive means. IBLP points to an email Gothard sent Gibbs on May 30, 2015 in which Gothard wrote, “God will honor you for your generous spirit.” IBLP believes this indicates Gibbs was providing him with “support and counsel” in order to get information from him. As Gibbs is not generally licensed to practice law in Illinois, but rather is working pro hac vice, IBLP is moving to terminate his temporary license to practice law in the state due to this alleged misconduct. IBLP’s motion also specifically requests that the eighteen plaintiffs be given “an appropriate period of time to secure new representation.”

The motions, exhibits, and other relevant documents can be viewed below:

Bill Gothard’s Motion to Disqualify and Sanction

IBLP’s Motion to Disqualify and Sanction

Exhibit A: Bill Gothard’s Affidavit

Exhibit B: Roger Blair’s Affidavit

IBLP’s press release on February 18, 2016: “Motion to Disqualify Attorney David Gibbs III”

• Second Amended Complaint in Gretchen Wilkinson vs. Institute in Basic Life Principles


It should be emphasized that these motions have neither been granted or denied by a judge or court at this time. Colorado CLE Legal Connection notes that, “Motions to disqualify are far from rare occurrences” and sometimes “are nothing more than a litigation tactic, forcing attorneys to scramble to protect valued client relationships.”

HA reached out to David C. Gibbs III this morning for comment. This afternoon he issued a full statement to us denouncing the latest motions as “a desperate attempt to attack the law firm that is publicly and legally holding [Gothard] accountable for years of child abuse.” You can read a summary of Gibbs’ statement and its full text here.

Bill Gothard Threatens Recovering Grace with a $1,000,000 Lawsuit

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Earlier today, Recovering Grace reported on their Facebook page that Bill Gothard is threatening the whistleblowing organization with a lawsuit. Glenn Gaffney of Gaffney & Gaffney PC, who is representing Gothard against the now-eighteen former employees and students suing him and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) for sexual harassment and assault, issued a letter to RG, declaring that, “Demand is hereby made upon any and all of your clients that have posted false and defamatory statements on the Recovering Grace website to immediately remove them.” If RG does not oblige, Gaffney threatens that “those persons can anticipate a counter-claim or cross-claim against them” for the purposes of seeking $1,000,000 or more in damages.

Recovering Grace responded to the legal threats on their Facebook page, saying, “While every story that we have ever published was with the knowledge that we might one day have to defend our decisions in a court of law, it is nonetheless disturbing to see these threats in print.”

The full texts of Recovering Grace’s post and Gaffney’s letter follow, along with a screenshot of them:

Dear friends, we wanted to share with you the following letter that was forwarded to Recovering Grace by the law firm representing the plaintiffs suing Bill Gothard and IBLP. While every story that we have ever published was with the knowledge that we might one day have to defend our decisions in a court of law, it is nonetheless disturbing to see these threats in print. Your continued prayers are appreciated.


Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.51.15 PMCounsel — It is unfortunate that Plaintiffs’ attorneys feel the need to circulate these pleadings to the press. Just remember this once the Court rules on the pending motions to disqualify.

Also, demand is hereby made upon any and all of your clients that have posted false and defamatory statements on the Recovering Grace website to immediately remove them.

Those persons can anticipate a counter-claim or cross-claim against them, in conjunction with the principals behind that website, for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress seeking actual and punitive damages in an amount in excess of $1,000,000 (with such an award after expenses be payable to an appropriate not for profit organization) along with such other injunctive and equitable relief the Court deems just.

Every day those postings remain in the public domain undoubtedly will enhance the damages recovery.

Glenn Gaffney
Gaffney & Gaffney PC
1771 Bloomingdale Rd.
Glendale Heights, Il 60139

Bill Gothard Unveils “New Statement” Then Promptly Deletes It

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Yesterday Bill Gothard, the disgraced former leader of IBLP and ATI, unveiled a revamped website with some new additions. And then promptly deleted them.

The new editions to this website were notable: First, a page of “blocked” testimonials appeared. These testimonials from former IBLP/ATI alumni were allegedly “blocked” from a unnamed website (which is obviously Recovering Grace) because they portrayed Gothard in a positive light. Second, Gothard published a “New Statement” about the sexual abuse and harassment allegations against him. An image of the “New Statement” as shared on Facebook is as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 12.21.22 AM

Gothard had previously released a statement in on April 17, 2014 (archived as a PDF here), about the allegations where he agreed that his “actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong.” But in yesterday’s new statement, Gothard dismissed the allegations entirely as “false” and chalked them up to jealousy on the part of victimized girls.

Unfortunately, as quickly as the new website and its additions went up, they disappeared. Fortunately, we preserved a screenshot of his “blocked” testimonials link:

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 12.39.08 AM


Text is:


Helen was involved with the Institute from 1992 to 2002. When she saw the anonymous testimonies of other young ladies that had been at the Headquarters she was eager to post her story. However it was blocked by those who were in charge of the web site. Hundreds of other testimonials like Helen’s have been received over the years. A sampling are now being posted.

We also preserved the text of his “new statement,” which follows below:

After 15 months of seeking God’s wisdom, listening to many individuals, and earnestly praying for God’s understanding, Important factors have come into focus.

About two years ago certain former staff members began posting stories about being offended while they were at the headquarters. The initial reports were anonymous and what had happened took place over 20 years ago. I knew that the basic allegations were false. I even had letters of gratefulness from some of those who posted their stories, yet they had been offended. What was the root cause of my offense toward them?

A Cause for Which to Live and Die

It recently came to light that part of the problem actually began as a result of a decision I made as a teenager. I had just read Fox’s Book of Martyrs. It had a deep impact on me as I read the accounts of those who had died for their faith. Suddenly, I sensed God was asking me, “Bill, will you also die for me?” I considered what this would mean and then said, “Lord, right now I purpose to live and die for you.”

A Race Against Time

Something happened within me when I made that commitment. I experienced a new sense of energy, freedom and motivation. I pictured myself in a race against time. My concern was, “how much can I get done for the Lord before I die?” In the years that followed, I initiated many programs to reach young people.

Soon my “normal day” began at 4 am and went until 11 pm. When I continued this schedule with the Institute staff, it became a cause of offense to several who worked closely with me. At times they felt overworked and that they could not fulfill the expectations I had of them. In retrospect I was insensitive to their personal needs and their desire for a normal schedule. One young man said, “When you gave me a beginning time for work but no cutoff time for the day, I got discouraged, apathetic and weary.”

Meanwhile, I would be energized by my counseling sessions. Each young person at the Headquarters was there because either their parents had asked me to work with them, or I saw special potential in them to be effective for the Lord. When I would counsel a young lady I would need to find out what her problems were, but I avoided specific details of her actual wrongdoing. In affirming these young ladies a bond was established,that in some cases was different than I had intended.

Many of these young ladies told me that I was their “spiritual father.” I accepted this position with joy and delight. Even today, many remind me of this status with them. However, when I felt that a young lady was spiritually strong I began to work with another one. The first one would feel neglected and in some cases rejected. This was hurtful to them.

A Cause of Offenses

Several other problems also developed for which I am fully responsible and deeply repentant. Not only did I cause some ladies to feel rejected, but other fellows and ladies who did not receive that attention saw it as favoritism and felt that they could never measure up. This was very wrong on my part. Others saw it as a double standard.

When people would talk to me about my actions, I would quickly evaluate their concerns and if I determined that they were not important, I dismissed them. This was also very wrong because Scripture states, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Many times when someone talked to me I was easily distracted or tired. Other times I would put writing materials or working for the Lord before my relationship with the staff. People are more important than projects.

A few years ago, I was accused of having selfish motives for inviting young ladies to the Headquarters. I knew this was not true. However, those who believed these reports relived their Headquarters experience through these false presuppositions and were deeply offended. As a result many inacurate statements have been made that are not true. God is my witness that I have never kissed a girl, nor touched any young lady in a sensual way. I have acknowledged my faults and have asked forgiveness for them.

Ongoing Reconciliation

I do understand in a much deeper way how these young ladies feel and how my insensitivity caused them to feel the way they do. I have deeply repented before the Lord for offending some of the very ones that I have dedicated my life to serve. I do want to continue pursuing reconciliation in a Biblical way.

This means that when I remember somebody whom I have offended, I will contact them directly and ask for their forgiveness. On the other hand, I am praying that those whom I have offended and I am not aware of, will contact me and allow me to confess my faults and ask for their forgiveness. I do humbly and sincerely ask each one of you whom I have offended and caused to be disillusioned to forgive me. My email adress is:

The original url of the “New Statement” was

Update, June 3, 2015, 11:55 am Pacific time: Recovering Grace has responded to Gothard’s attack regarding the allegedly “blocked” testimonial by Helen. Their response is as follows:

One thing that we would like to briefly address is the accusation posted that we “blocked” a story of someone who wished to support Bill Gothard. Our policy from day one has been to never block a dissenting viewpoint unless it is abusive, profane, or consistently unkind. In the case of Helen, her story came in the form of a comment on one of our articles. This comment was approved and remains on our site until this day. It can be viewed here.

Recovering Grace has also made available screenshots of the now-deleted new website and statement. We have copied them below. Click each image to view in full size:

gothard1 gothard2 gothard3

“Everyone is Forgiving”: Bill Gothard’s Bold-Faced Lies

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 1.20.37 PM

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 GraceGothard 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.

Sincerely, Bill



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?

Sincerely, Bill



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.

bsFor 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.

Gothard then gives examples of wrong wording:

“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.

A *Real* Investigation into IBLP

IBLP’s Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on June 22, 2014, and is reprinted with permission.


Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected

–Bill Gothard

Bill Gothard’s buddy David Gibbs, Jr. has now completed his “investigation” into allegations made against Gothard by former IBLP staff members. According to the IBLP board earlier this week,

“…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.”

But according to the team at Recovering Grace,

“…not one of the women who have shared their stories on our site were personally contacted by Gibbs Jr. or his investigative team, including Charlotte, who alleged molestation.

Perhaps Gibbs Jr. needs to brush up on his Character Qualities.

It would seem that Gibbs’ investigation focused narrowly on certain allegations of sexual impropriety (some of which Gothard has admitted to, resulting in his resignation). However, this is but the sensational tip of the iceberg and ignores the broad scope of hurtful, unethical, and even illegal activities that have damaged numerous lives associated with the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

Gothard promoted his organization as “Giving the world a new approach to life” and following God’s “non-optional principles”. A ministry that prides itself on being “under authority” should have nothing to fear from the truth. And yet, the testimonies of some former students and staff members paint a disturbing picture. Some of these stories of life under the auspices of the Institute have been published on Recovering Grace. Others have been shared more privately. Some victims are willing to have their names attached to their experiences while others prefer anonymity, or pseudonyms.

Each of the incidents outlined below could likely be explained away on its own. But taken together they suggest a pattern that I believe is worthy of deeper examination. The Board of IBLP can write, “We dedicate ourselves to help build up families and individuals,” but if these situations actually took place, the Institute’s so-called “ministry” is a farce, with or without Gothard, and IBLP should be shut down to prevent further abuse of power.

real investigation of IBLP might look into allegations of the following:

OSHA and other code violations at all locations: Indianapolis, Oak Brook, Elms Plantation, Oklahoma City, Eagle Mountain, Eagle Springs, Northwoods, Big Sandy, Flint, South Campus, Little Rock, Nashville, and others

For example:

  • Lack of permits: illegal remodeling, dredging a lake without a permit, improper electrical wiring
  • Poor fire safety: hiding fire extinguishers and fire pulls behind paintings or décor items; silencing a monitored fire alarm to avoid disrupting conferences, not reporting fires to fire department
  • Improper supervision: letting teens work on upper-story building exterior or fire escapes without safety harness
  • Injuries: electrical shocks from unsafe practices, minors injured while operating power tools, carbon monoxide poisoning of kitchen volunteers
  • Faulty elevators
  • Violations of residential occupancy limits

Prayer rooms (especially at 2820 N. Meridian, Indianapolis):

  • locking minors in solitary confinement without notifying parents
  • locking minors in solitary without access to a restroom
  • withholding food or medication
  • spanking minors without parental consent

Failure to protect children by reporting abuse:

  • failure to report sex acts with or molestation or attempted sexual molestation of minors in IBLP’s care at the ITC (Rodger Gergeni)
  • failure to report sexual abuse of minors in ATI families (Bill Gothard)
  • pressure on homeschooled victims not to report physically abusive parents
  • shaming victims of sexual assault and neglecting to counsel them to contact police
  • pressuring ATI moms not to divorce abusive husbands who posed a danger to the children

Educational neglect:

  • failure to educate “homeschooled” minors who were sent to IBLP centers by their parents
  • using A.C.E. curriculum for children sent by the courts
  • violation of child labor laws
  • children (9-10 years old) working in the kitchen or cleaning bathrooms, sometimes rising as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to work
  • unpaid teenagers working 12-18 hour days in the hotels (cooking, industrial laundry, cleaning hotel rooms and public restrooms)
  • selling teens unaccredited degrees ( without adequate explanation of their value

Forced fasting:

  • on weekends, designated prayer days, and other times when meal preparation was inconvenient
  • though some children were sent there by the state and other students paid for room and board, only two meals were served on Saturday and only supper on Sunday
  • sometimes only two meals a day were served for weeks in a row
  • requiring students to turn in care packages
  • also mandatory weight checks (Weigh Down) for staff women, involuntary diets, forced exercise
  • failure to recognize eating disorders such as anorexia (even when girls were passing out)

Medical neglect:

  • withholding or confiscating prescription medication (including antidepressants, an asthma inhaler, post-surgery pain medication)
  • refusal to get prompt medical treatment for severe burns, broken bones, concussions, pneumonia, collapsed lung, high fevers, torn ligaments, acute food poisoning–many former students trace chronic health problems to untreated conditions that arose at training centers
  • treating injuries with alternative remedies such as sugar water injections (Dr. Hemwall)
  • letting doctors or dentists with revoked licenses treat students at training centers

Campaign ethics:

  • sending youth to campaign for Indianapolis judicial and mayoral candidates
  • providing private services to a public official (Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin) in Oklahoma

Employer issues:

  • pressuring employees not to record overtime on time sheets
  • advising employees that submitted overtime hours would not be paid
  • mandatory unpaid evening work teams for employees (washing dishes, cleaning carpets, scrubbing bathrooms)
  • paying less than minimum wage, paying minimum wage minus “rent”
  • firing employees without due process or notice
  • refusal to pay workers’ compensation
  • instructing employee to lie to hospital staff to protect the “ministry”
  • praising employees who gave up their paycheck to become volunteers
  • allowing children under 16 to work more than twenty hours a week
  • sexual harassment of junior staff or students by adult staff


  • physical abuse, medical neglect, solitary confinement, unsafe equipment, psychological abuse
  • refusal to contact parents regarding medical emergencies
  • keeping four teens tied together by the feet for an entire day, resulting in injury
  • a unit of under-dressed teen boys standing outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures at night until one confessed to a minor infraction
  • disregard for basic safety precautions
Mistreating Russian orphans in Moscow and at Indianapolis South Campus:
  • foster families spanking children and even teens
  • children spanked for minor misdeeds
  • English-speaker spanking Russian child without an interpreter present
  • withholding meals from children for disciplinary purposes or feeding them only dry rolled oats and water
  • child labor (reports of children required to clean toilets at 5 a.m.)
  • using orphans to “encourage” financial donors

Restricted communication from training centers:

  • limited access to public phones, email, fax, or internet
  • reading students’ outgoing or incoming mail, confiscating mail or making students open mail in presence of a leader
  • censoring outgoing email
  • telling students what to tell (or not tell) their parents about situations at the training center
  • limiting who a student or employee was allowed to correspond with outside
  • restricting conversation or interaction between fellow students

Psychological abuse:

  • lengthy, repetitive, or middle-of-the-night “counseling” sessions (berating and brainwashing)
  • restricting sleep
  • piping loud music into bedrooms
  • assigning staff to night duties on consecutive nights (along with their day jobs)
  • requiring student to wash clothing by hand until she had earned “privilege” of using the laundry facilities; requiring staff to recite extensive Bible passages before breaking a fast
  • confiscating clocks
  • hours of forced labor intended to “break will” or “conquer rebellion”

Violations of privacy:

  • not permitting students to take bathroom breaks or use the restroom alone, or with the door closed
  • confiscating personal items such as clothing, music, photographs, medication, and cell phones


  • sending unreported cash through customs on staff member’s person
  • exaggerating or misrepresenting facts in newsletters
  • promotional video about ALERT describing a pilot “rescue” omitted the fact that it was ALERT’s own plane that crashed while taking aerial photos of the property)
  • personal gifts of cash or clothing from Gothard to his favorites
  • discrimination against males who appeared “too effeminate” and females who were overweight or not “feminine” enough
  • photoshopping hair, clothing, and landscaping for newsletter photos
  • selling overpriced plant kits to ATI families under fraudulent advertising
  • serving old (long-expired) donated food or insect-infested grain
  • transferring minors across state lines between “training opportunities” without parental permission or notification
  • insisting that Character First was not affiliated with Gothard

With former ATI students and IBLP staff reporting incidents like these, is it any surprise that so few choose to use Gothard’s materials with their own children?

IBLP’s Statement Is A Disgrace

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By R.L Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Earlier today, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) released a statement by their board concerning the resignation of Bill Gothard and the many allegations against him concerning sexual misconduct and abuse. You can view the statement in entirety on IBLP’s website here. We have also archived a PDF of the statement on HA here.

The statement begins, unsurprisingly, with praise for IBLP itself. The board speaks glowingly of their own ministry, saying “each of us has been positively impacted by the relationships, teachings, and opportunities available through the Institute in Basic Life Principles.” That this is how the board chose to begin a statement on such a serious matter is rather telling.

The board then discusses the results of their “investigation” into Bill Gothard’s actions. They say the following:

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.

The fact is, the “thorough review process” was not conducted by “outside legal counsel.” It was, rather, conducted by David Gibbs, Jr. — a longtime associate of Gothard’s ministry. As Jeri Lofland at Heresy in the Heartland has pointed out,

Gibbs, whose Christian Law Association has been described as “the Fixers for fundamentalism”, gave three sermons at last year’s ATI training conference in Nashville and is slated to address this year’s conferences, too.

Considering not only Gibbs’s relationship with Gothard and his own history of defending child abusers, as Jeri also detailed, I have little faith in the legitimacy of the “review process.” It is entirely unsurprising that “no criminal activity has been discovered,” and I have no reason to believe that, was it discovered, that the IBLP would actually report it. The board has been aware of sexual abuse by both Bill Gothard and his brother for decades, and their track record on reporting it has been dismal. Earlier this year, Recovering Grace told Charlotte’s story, which included disturbing details about Gothard’s “long hugs” and sexually charged questioning of a young woman. And as Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism pointed out,

The IBLP Board knew that Bill was acting in appropriately toward her when she was a 16-year-old secretary at headquarters in 1992, and yet they simply sent her home and kept things quiet.

In 1992. And nothing was done. Nor was anything done as early as 1980:

Even before this, people knew and chose to cover for Gothard. There was a sex scandal in 1980 that involved Gothard’s indiscretions (it seems he made a habit of visiting the female staff in their beds at night), and yet people were willing to ignore, overlook, cover for, and outright lie about what happened.

Now, in today’s statement, the IBLP board has sadly chosen to continue their history of whitewashing and denialism. It may be a new board, but the actions remain the same.

The most tragic part of this, to me, is that while IBLP is willing to admit wrongdoing on the part of Gothard —

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.

— there is not a single moment where the IBLP board takes the time to say what should be most obvious:

“We’re sorry.”

Not once.

If he acted in such an inappropriate manner that “the Board unanimously agrees that Mr. Gothard is not permitted to serve” in any IBLP role, could you maybe, you know, apologize?

Nope. Not once.

Not once does IBLP take a long, serious look at the devastation their ministry’s leader — and his twisted false gospel — have had on thousands of young people and families. Not once do they say, “We’re sorry about that.” Not once do they take seriously their role as stewards of a ministry that allowed a man in power to take advantage of young women under his authority — be it criminal or simply “in an inappropriate manner,” as they spin it. Not once do they say, “We’re sorry,” to those young women and their siblings and families for the broken hearts and hurting souls.

I mean, seriously, IBLP? Was it that difficult for you? Did you not know how to say a simple, “I’m sorry”? Here, let me Google that for you.

The board needs to take full responsibility for their leader’s actions and sincerely apology for those actions, whether criminal or simply “inappropriate.” They need to make amends to every individual grieving and suffering. They need to reassess their own organizational structure and teachings and consider how to ensure that such actions never happen again, nor get swept under the rug for decades. As it stands, IBLP’s latest statement is a disgrace to the name of the God they claim to serve.

Not On Your Side, Debi: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts


Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on April 27, 214, and is reprinted with permission.

This week, embattled IBLP founder Bill Gothard received aid from an unexpected quarter–homeschool mom and popular author Debi Pearl.

In the past, self-confessed “old hillbilly” Michael Pearl has sometimes himself been critical of Bill Gothard for helping create the excesses of the homeschooling patriarchy movement–a highly ironic observation coming from the father of patriarchs! But this week, Debi came out swinging against IBLP victims who have gone public with their stories on “Recovering Grace” and other websites.

Beginning her post with the question, “Whose side are you on?” Debi attacks those who have dared to publish accounts of how Gothard lied to, molested, or otherwise mistreated them. According to Debi, these “critics” are “bitter” (that’s the ultimate pejorative in IBLP circles, remember?), they are “foolish”, and they have joined a “Satanic attack on God’s people”.

On the one hand, Debi describes Gothard as a “man who put his whole life into doing a work for God”. On the other, she denies having any connection to IBLP’s beleaguered “ministry” which, she claims, helped “set thousands of people free from bitterness”.

Gothard and the Pearls have, in fact, had a symbiotic relationship for years.

They attended a Basic Seminar in the late 1970’s. IBLP promoted and distributed the Pearls’ parenting book To Train Up a Child. The website for IBLP Australia still offers at least two of the Pearls’ numerous books. At least one of the Pearl girls worked at Gothard’s orphanage and training center (South Campus) in Indianapolis and the Pearls kept several Russian orphans at their home over the summer. Michael solicited donations for IBLP from his followers. Several of the Pearl children’s spouses were raised in Gothard’s ATI program. (I say “spouses”, but Michael Pearl made it clear years ago that his children do not need any such thing as marriage licenses. A ceremony and their parents’ blessing is apparently good enough.*)

Besides being given to racist and homophobic remarks, the Pearls are somewhat obsessed with sex. It gives Michael hope to envision homeschoolers “outbreeding” progressives. He counsels the wife of an angry man to “make love” to improve her husband’s mood. Debi often suggests that being sexually available is a wife’s primary responsibility. Michael even wrote a book on erotic pleasure for fundamentalist Christian couples.

And then there are the Pearls’ highly controversial child training methods, which have now been linked to three child deaths. There is currently a petition circulating to ask to remove To Train Up a Child from its website in the interest of protecting children from parental abuse. According to a BBC report last year, To Train Up a Child has sold over 800,000 copies and boxes of the Pearls’ books have been shipped for free to U.S. troops overseas. “No Greater Joy” pulls in over $1 million a year, with Debi functioning as “the financial brain of the company”, according to her son Gabriel.

Last year, Rachel Held Evans wrote a blunt piece about Michael and Debi Pearl and their abusive “ministry”. First, she quoted Pearl himself describing how to handle a rebellious child:

If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally.”  -Michael Pearl

And Evans added her own warning:

But it’s not just children who suffer from No Greater Joy‘s ministries.When I was conducting research for A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I read Debi Pearl’s popular book, Created to Be His Helpmeet…which I threw across the room a total of seven times.

The writing is awful, the biblical exegesis deplorable, but what troubles me the most is that the book reads like a manual for developing abused wife syndrome.

In their story “The Real Michael Pearl” a few years ago, Religious Child Maltreatment pointed out the peculiar rush Pearl appears to derive from seeing small children spanked into silence, and his sense that he has “come upon the holy grail of childrearing”.

To Pearl, and many parents who follow his teachings, the primary goal of parenting is not to support children by fulfilling their needs to feel safe and experience appropriate autonomy, but to control children.

In April 2011, Cindy Kunsman, a nurse explained the physical dangers of Pearl’s teachings in a post on the No Longer Quivering blog. Homeschoolers Anonymous reposted the piece in September of last year:

Due to the severity of the spankings with [Michael Pearl’s recommended] plumbing line, both Zariah and Lydia Schatz suffered renal failure because of rhabdomyolysis.

…[W]e may never learn the details about new cases of Pearl-related kidney disease unless it is reported by the families of the survivors.

Kunsman went into much more detail about rhabdomyolysis in another post at Under Much Grace. This article convinced me that the Pearls are not just cranks, they are dangerous.

If the children are aggressively spanked on a chronic basis, …it is possible that chronic damage could occur in children that is not bad enough to cause kidney failure but bad enough to cause damage.Unless a child undergoes blood tests at some point, “renal insufficiency” (inefficient kidney function that is lower than a normal, healthy level) could be present and no one would be the wiser. It is conceivable that at least some children have experienced some damage, but not enough to produce symptoms of kidney failure.

In October 2011 Rachel Stone wrote about Pearl in for Christianity Today. Her article included sadistic passages from To Train Up a Child and described the Pearls’ methods as “a program of calculated cruelty”:

One child suffering under this training is too many; it’s my hope that the Pearls will be widely discredited, and soon.

In a November 2011 post, a Chicago blogger pointed out that the popular Duggar family, who are still members of Gothard’s homeschooling cult, not only endorse but actively promote the Pearls’ materials on their own website:  Features some of the finest in family-friendly, value-based books, audios, videos, and articles on parenting, husband and wife relationships, ministry and more! Materials include, To Train Up A Child, Jumping Ship, Created To Be His Help Meet, Preparing To Be A Help Meet, Only Men, the Good and Evil graphic novel in over 20 languages and a FREE bi-monthly magazine.

Samantha at Defeating the Dragons and Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism have both written boldly about the dangerous and abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl. Author and mother of five Elizabeth Esther, whom Anderson Cooper interviewed alongside Michael Pearl late in 2011, has been both outspoken and tearful about the horrors perpetrated against children when parents follow Pearl’s advice. You can watch the interview for yourself here.

2011 New York Times article quotes Michael likening childrearing to training “stubborn mules” and explores links between child deaths and the teachings in Pearl’s book.

Dr. Frances Chalmers, a pediatrician who examined Hana’s death for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, said of the Pearl methods: “My fear is that this book, while perhaps well intended, could easily be misinterpreted and could lead to what I consider significant abuse.”

This video shows Michael and Debi Pearl in action at a child training seminar, apparently at the Cane Creek church that meets on Pearl’s property in a Tennessee hollow. Michael would much prefer to be known through his books than through these clips, but there he is on his own turf:

With his wife smiling and nodding beside him, Michael Pearl laughingly advocates cruelty against children. He encourages hitting children, even infants, with implements. He recommends luring young children with tempting objects and then swatting them to teach them obedience and self-denial. He teaches parents to instill fear in their children on purpose. Michael Pearl seems to get off on asserting his domination of a much younger, smaller human being:

” A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again.”

The Pearls have long pointed to the supposed happiness of their own trained and obedient children as evidence of the efficacy of their methods. However, Michael and Debi have not taken well to being called out by adults whose parents followed this couple’s advice. Earlier this month, Michael became defensive against vocal homeschool graduates such as those of us who post at “Homeschoolers Anonymous” and posted his response at “No Greater Joy”. But even as he blasts those who speak the truth about their experiences, Michael must admit that homeschooling is no panacea:

“Not every homeschool experience will be a great success. Some will be total failures; others will be good but not altogether good. In some cases, out of six children a family may lose one or two to the world, but they will have two or three that are exceptional human beings.”

Alas for a child who turns out to be a less-than-exceptional human being! Pearl chalks such failures up to satan at work and recommends people buy more of his books, just to be safe.

I really should not be surprised to see Debi Pearl defending Bill Gothard and his ministry against what she considers defamation. But I look at her daughters, their body language, and I wonder what stories they could tell and what they would say about their famous parents if they felt completely safe.

It speaks volumes that the Pearls feel compelled to hitch their ministry to Gothard’s falling star.


*Michael Pearl on marriage licenses:

“None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts.”


Bill Gothard: When People Know… and Do Nothing

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 13, 2014.

I’ll be honest: I’m more than a little bit upset right now.

I think it’s because I’m finally realizing the full impact of the growing Bill Gothard sexual abuse scandal. The real scandal is not that Bill Gothard sexually abused the young women placed under his authority. The real scandal is that it could go on for so many decades while leader after leader covered for him. This is the extent of the rot—that so many people knew what was going on and did nothing, including those who should have known better.

"In 2003, Midwest Christian Outreach president Don Veinot published a book called 'A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life.'"
“In 2003, Midwest Christian Outreach president Don Veinot published a book called ‘A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life.'”

I’ve had my eye on Midwest Christian Outreach for several years now. It is an evangelical organization dedicated to fighting heresy and cults. I generally find myself opposed to the group’s positions based on of their virulent anti-secularism and extreme political conservatism, but I have appreciated their longtime opposition to Bill Gothard. Back in 2003, Midwest Christian Outreach president Don Veinot published a book called A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. In it, Veinot detailed the history of Gothard’s ministry and accused Gothard of being legalistic and unscriptural.

In that book Veinot said nothing about concerns regarding Bill Gothard’s behavior toward the young girls sent to work at headquarters. Instead, Veinot focused only on Gothard’s theology. In the wake of Recovering Grace’s new revelations regarding Bill Gothard’s sexual molestation of young employees, Veinot has published a new article on the Midwest Christian Outreach website.

It turns out that he knew and intentionally chose to say nothing.

We also knew we had information about his behavior and sexual proclivities which we did not use or comment overly much about in the book. We knew, for example, that he is far too, shall I say, familiar with the young females he selects as his personal assistants. The reason we did not go into that too much was that we had spoken with the families of some of the former IBLP women and/or their families and realized that Bill had done so much damage, we did not want to subject them abuse to additional shame or possible embarrassment by making it more public. We decided that we could make our case that he is unqualified for leadership in a Christian ministry without having to describe his more prurient behavior toward those under his authority.

Veinot knew of the horrific damage Bill Gothard had done to the young women he made his personal assistants, and yet he chose to hide that information. It has been 11 years now since 2003. How many more girls have been subjected to sexual abuse at Gothard’s hands because Veinot covered for him? How could Veinot know what Gothard was doing and yet do nothing to warn the hundreds parents who so trustingly sent their daughters to work under Gothard’s authority? He knew—he knew—and did nothing.

Of course, Veinot is not the only Christian leader who has covered for Bill Gothard over the years.

According to Charlotte’s story, the IBLP Board knew that Bill was acting in appropriately toward her when she was a 16-year-old secretary at headquarters in 1992, and yet they simply sent her home and kept things quiet.

There were rumors going around about Bill and me. My brother started hearing things and asked me about it. Of course I denied everything. Bill had sworn me to silence with both guilt and fear. I was the one who was at fault because I was tempting him. If I told anyone, the future of the entire ministry could be compromised. Why would I want to hinder God’s work? He told me that this was our little secret, just between us. If I told anyone, he said he would kick my family out of ATI.

There was enough of a stir about how much time I was spending alone with Bill that my brother went to a higher-up in January and had him try to get Bill to send me home. As I understand it, the IBLP Board called Bill on the carpet for spending so much time alone with a young girl, and I was sent home in January. I believe my brother saved me.

When Bill knew I was being sent home, he called me into his office. He took me in his arms and ran his fingers through my hair. Hugging me tight, he told me never to cut my hair, that I was his inspiration. He then kissed me deeply on the lips and told me never to forget him. Then I was picked up and put on a plane, and I have never heard from him since.

And even before this, people knew and chose to cover for Gothard. There was a sex scandal in 1980 that involved Gothard’s indiscretions (it seems he made a habit of visiting the female staff in their beds at night), and yet people were willing to ignore, overlook, cover for, and outright lie about what happened.

Meanwhile, our team continued to receive emails and collect information that confirmed to us that these problems were not limited to the ATI era (1984–present) of Bill Gothard’s ministry. We learned that this type of behavior [toward young women] was commonplace in the early years of the Institute ministry, culminating in a public “scandal” that led to Bill Gothard’s forced resignation from the ministry in 1980, only to see him forcefully return to power shortly thereafter, decimating the financial and spiritual lives of dozens of Institute staff members in the process. The ministry nearly came to an end at that point, but Bill was able to revive it with a new group of leaders who were willing to overlook what had taken place. A few short years later, in 1984, the Advanced Training Institute of America homeschool program was created, and with it came a new generation of willing laborers … and young victims.

Bill Gothard’s behavior should never have been allowed to continue this long. It has only been allowed to continue for this long because people have covered for it. What’s really bizarre is the huge range of people willing to cover for Gothard, willing to overlook or ignore or not mention his indiscretions with the young women under his authority. Gothard’s board is most guilty of this, yes, but even Veinot writing against Gothard’s theology in 2003 chose to leave out what he knew.

How could so very many people know, and yet say nothing, do nothing, while it continued occurring?

This is why I can’t stand it when I hear Christians respond to this scandal with “What a good reminder that everyone is a sinner” or “More evidence that we live in a fallen world.” This is not just about one man. This is an entire system that collapsed on the heads of young girls it was supposed to protect as everyone else collectively turned their backs and looked the other way. This is about people conveniently not mentioning what they know, and for what? To protect a child molester?

The entire system is rotten, and I am angry.

Grace is For Gothard Only

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Guess what? There’s a new Facebook page for defending Bill Gothard against “persecution.”

Here’s the page’s Description:

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(Because complaining about cold fajitas is totally comparable to “complaining” about being molested by a religious leader?)

The page is run by people who think calling Bill Gothard out for a history of sexual harassment and molestation is pretty much the equivalent of stoning Stephen or persecuting Jesus himself.  But don’t worry your pretty little head about whether or not that’s legitimate theology. Just get back under your umbrella of protection.

There’s also a public Facebook group for “friends” of Bill Gothard. It’s been around for a while, existing to “appreciate the wit and wisdom that Mr. Bill Gothard has shared over the years from his practical study of God’s Word and heartfelt desire to help young people find success in life.” But it has recently been revitalized to defend Gothard against everyone who is mad about the many disturbing allegations concerning him sexually harassing and abusing young women under his “umbrella.”

Full disclosure: I refuse to link to the Facebook page and group and thereby give them increased attention.

But I am happy to share screenshots from the public group.


First of all, you should know there might be a “huge backlash” from IBLP directors and ATI parents who are “mad” and “repulsed” by Recovering Grace, the evilest of organizations dedicated to furthering the work of Satan by “helping people harmed by the teachings of Bill Gothard, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI).” There might even be a “rebuttal website” soon against Recovering Grace. This is according to Robert Norvell, who was the Director of Gothard’s Eagle Mountain Training Center:

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Norvell is “glad there are some standing” with Bill Gothard because, basically, for every one girl Bill Gothard allegedly molested, there’s at least a hundred girls he didn’t molest. So that’s something, right? Especially since Recovering Grace is so “liberal.”

People are pretty mad at Recovering Grace for standing up for abuse victims. Abuse survivors and allies are like “children” who “mock the prophet Elijah.” Abuse survivors and allies are also like people who stoned Stephen:

So thank God for people who stand with abusers. These brave people are voices “crying in the wilderness”:

…and it’s a wilderness for IBLP indeed. A wilderness of $84,000,000 in assets and an annual income of $12,000,000. It’s a rough life.

What’s particularly weird is that the same people who accuse Gothard of being “cultish” also accuse his defenders of being “cultish,” too. But people in cults never defend their cult leaders, right? So that makes no sense. And really, everyone who is mad that Gothard might have sexually harassed and molested kids just want “to continue on in their sinful lifestyle.” After all, “it’s why they persecuted the Messiah too.” So if you think about, Gothard is pretty much like Jesus.

So come on, everyone. Let’s not try to “destroy” people by bringing abusers to justice. And let’s not focus on “who is right or wrong.” “Right and wrong” is doublespeak from the pit of Hell. People should just “move on.”

It’s all “under the blood” anyways. We might as well ignore abuse victims at this point.

It’s a free country. So let Gothard have the freedom to keep abusing and let the victims have the freedom to shut up.

Someone also posted this photo of young women who experience “brokenness” and “full surrender.” Not that that’s at all creepy in this context.

In conclusion: This last comment was probably prophetic, in light of all the screenshots I took.

On Feeling Betrayed, Validated, and Brave: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

An IBLP seminar in Atlanta.
An IBLP seminar in Atlanta.

Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on January 30, 214, and is reprinted with permission.


And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

 Say what you want to say
And let the words fall out
I want to see you be brave
Show me how big your brave is
~ Sara Bareilles, “Brave”


Watching the Grammys was a last-minute decision. We’d kissed the kids goodnight but knew our congested sinuses wouldn’t let us sleep yet. So we turned on the TV and I’m so glad we did!

I had never heard of Sara Bareilles–no, I really don’t keep up with popular music–but I recognized Carole King right away. I sat absolutely enthralled with their amazing duet performance, only to be surpassed by their comments of mutual admiration afterward. Somehow the three minutes of interaction between those women affected me deeply. I have watched the segment again and again and replayed it in my head countless times.

Carole King’s words, her music, the emotions she shared with Sara and all of us in the audience, along with Sara’s passion and her song, felt like a gift with miraculous powers to repair some damage done to my heart long ago. I feel like a more complete person than I was before hearing them sing. The rest of the show was fun and amazing in its own way, but that one piece represented to me the magic of Art: sharing a gift with enriching powers of its own.

Perhaps “Brave” struck me the way it did because the last week has been so emotionally turbulent. Not in a bad way, but still…

Last week a shocking new series of revelations appeared on the Internet, exposing Bill Gothard, our cult leader of days long past, for the pathological fraud he was (and is). Reading the story as it dribbles out in serial form has been surreal. With each installment, I can picture my bedroom in Oak Brook, picture window facing Gothard’s office across the driveway.

I learned while working on Gothard’s staff that he was not what he appeared to be.

Not what many of his followers took him for. Not who my parents thought he was. While we his brainwashed army of second-generation devotees mentally flogged ourselves for every potential breach of the cult protocol, Gothard did not adhere to his own “non-optional, universal life principles”.

My husband and I each slipped away from IBLP quietly. I was sent away by Gothard in the summer of ’99, Chris left on his own six months later. From that point, we set about freeing ourselves from the legalism and reprogramming our poisoned minds. We weren’t aware of the poison at first, though. We were still nostalgic about our years at the Institute. It was where our relationship began, after all. We’d go back to visit friends occasionally, or just drive around the grounds reliving the good memories. Over time the locations lost their pull on us. We had dreams–sometimes nightmares–about going back to work there.

Judging Gothard’s teaching by its “fruit”, we concluded that many of his ideas were downright toxic. It was hard to speak out, though. So many of our friends, family members, and even new acquaintances were Gothard supporters, or had been exposed to his seminars in their youth and didn’t see anything dangerous in them. We just sounded “bitter”, the strongest pejorative in Gothardom.

When we felt safe we could sometimes talk about how “inconsistent” Gothard was in practice. Even this made some uncomfortable. People feel defensive when you question the authenticity of someone they trust, or trusted once upon a time. The more distance we put between ourselves and the past, the more clearly we could see that Gothard was just another manipulative cult leader.

Sadly for us, he was a slick fellow who convinced our parents he had the answers.

I started my blog partly as a safe place to question the Gothard narrative and to recount my experiences and the “bad fruit” it produced. I tried to maintain an even, journalistic tone, even as I personally came to regard William Gothard as a fucking asshole, a sham and a predator hiding under a guise of exceptional holiness.

Reading the firsthand account of Gothard’s former secretary over the last week, and watching others come out to corroborate her story, has been tremendously validating to me. While her tale might not seem all that offensive on the surface, it is damning when read in light of Gothard’s own teaching and strict standards for others. He made generous allowances for himself, while tolerating nothing less than perfection and submission from his subordinates. He patently violated his own rules, which he marketed as the very wisdom of God. Nothing I have ever said about my former employer was as harsh as he deserves.

As satisfying as it feels to be validated and to watch Gothard’s house of cards collapse, it is exquisitely painful at the same time. I rejoice to see his empire fall, much as a former prisoner would applaud the demolition of the walls of his captivity. And yet, that empire was built of my blood, sweat, and tears. Thousands of us can point to pieces of our selves that we sacrificed to advance that sick man’s vision. We lost much of irreplaceable value.

And that is why tears rolled down my face this week as I stood in my kitchen spreading cheese on lasagna noodles, listening to “Brave” and the rest of Sara Bareilles’ album The Blessed Unrest. They were tears to memorialize the things I was encouraged to “yield” in favor of Gothard’s ideal, for God’s sake. These things died before drawing breath, miscarriages I never knew in an adolescence I never had: my first date, holding hands, a boyfriend, my first curious kiss in a quiet corner, even talking to male peers without feeling queasy, pulling on an old pair of jeans, experimenting with makeup, realizing I was a free adult in the eyes of the law, choosing a college major, getting a degree, a high school graduation for that matter, a prom dress, high school pictures, a wedding dance with my dad, my favorite artists in concert, feeling sexy as I became a woman, feeling the sun on my legs, getting tan lines before stretch marks, years when I could have been earning money or college credits…

And the pain of steeling myself to believe in “God’s will”!

Against my emotions. Against what my body was sensing. Of giving myself fortifying speeches in the corner every time I felt my heart would come out of my chest, reminding myself that my heart was deceitful and wicked and not to be trusted. The times I cried myself to sleep, or pounded out my frustration on the piano in the dining room because the rest of Christendom wouldn’t see “the truth”.

My friends and I made these sacrifices and others to serve our God by working for his “servant” Bill Gothard. Now, I want Gothard’s empire to collapse, for the good of humanity. I am more than willing to help bring it down. At the same time, I recognize that each brick I tear out represents a child’s education, a man’s career, an abused child, a couple’s budding relationship, all burned on the IBLP altar in the belief that God would be pleased.

But Bill was a fraud and his empire was built on lies.

And we are all breaking the silence.

So after I cried over my lasagna, I danced in my kitchen. Because bravery is a beautiful thing.