The Bible Is Not Your Shield

CC image courtesy of Flickr, louisebatesuk.

By Shade, HA Editorial Team.

Recently, Bill Gothard was hosted by Total Outreach for Christ Ministries in Little Rock, AR for the 2016 Overcomer’s Conference. Based on the knowledge that he is an alleged sexual predator, someone contacted the church’s bishop, Bishop Robert E. Smith, with their concerns that they were having someone like Gothard speak at their church.

The response from the bishop was telling. Referencing 1 Timothy 5:19, which is a companion to Matthew 18:15-17‘s directives to always confront privately first, and then with witnesses. But the question remains ‘Should we be confronting those who have committed crimes as though they are just sins and offenses?’.

The text reads:

Brother Brandon, I am at somewhat of a disadvantage, not knowing you personally, nor being privy to your first-hand knowledge of an Elder’s (Bill Gothard’s) sin(s). I am instructed, ‘Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses’ (1 Timothy 5:19). If you are a witness against this elder, please gather one or two others who are first hand witnesses and schedule an appointment to sit down with me, and do according to God’s word. Until such time, where I am concerned, you stand in violation both of scripture, where Brother Gothard is concerned, and having not pointed out any discrepancies in my teachings, etc. your judgement of my character, discernment, and ministry is faulty at best. I await your biblical response; no other type of correspondences are necessary. 

In Christ Jesus,  

Bishop Robert E. Smith, Sr.

The patriarchal nature of the Bill Gothard/ATI/IBLP cult is such that leaders are unassailable in their directives, their actions, their lives. There is a tendency to dismiss accusations such as these as merely ‘offenses’. This allows the leader who is being confronted to make it appear as though the accuser is mentally unstable, unable to parse the differences between good and evil. It paints the accuser as petty, overly emotional, unbelievable.

It leaves us with no recourse.

We are not believed, because we either have no witnesses, or all the witnesses in question are ‘offended’. Being offended brings into question the Umbrella of Authority, in which men are the ultimate leaders and voices for God. According to this umbrella idea, there are 3 levels of ‘protection’. The first is God’s role in our lives. He is the ultimate controlling power.

The second is the man’s role, as father/husband to the family. His authority comes directly from God. The third is that of the wife/mother’s umbrella. It is nestled completely underneath the man’s umbrella. She is to be subordinate, submissive completely to the husband. He is God’s voice to her at all times.

Underneath these umbrellas are the children. They are completely covered by both the mother’s and father’s umbrellas, and then by God. The authority of the mother is over them, but her authority is always trumped by the father’s authority. To question the father is to question God. God’s umbrella and the father’s umbrella are often seen as the same thing.

This same umbrella is applied to authority structures within the church.

Everything is a cascading layer of how God talks to one man, and that is to trickle down into complete abject obedience by those underneath. There is no freedom, no sense of self.

It is within this structure that Matthew 18:15-17, and I Timothy 5:19 come into play. With the focus being on ‘sin’ and ‘offense’, the diminishing language leaves those of us who have accusations with little ground to stand upon. Boz Tchividjian has quite a lot to say about this in his article “If your brother sins against you”….and he’s a sex offender.

In it, he delineates the difference between a sin and a crime, and says,

Such offenses are rightly under the jurisdiction of the governing authorities.  In the New Testament book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that Christ followers are to be subject to the civil authorities.  He writes, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  He even mentions that the role of government is to punish evildoers.  Child sexual abuse is an evil that has been rightly deemed to be criminal by the civil authorities.  Therefore, those who profess to follow Jesus have the responsibility to make sure that a person accused of committing such a crime is subjected to those governing authorities – which includes making a police report and cooperating throughout the criminal justice process.

Based on this, one would assume that the first step would be calling the authorities with information about a crime committed, but I think this first goes back to language.

First, they need to admit that this is a crime, not an offense, not a sin. With this revelation, more responsibility is laid upon the authority in question to listen to those accusing another member of a crime. It brings into play the mandatory reporting laws. It requires them to ‘render unto Caesar’ their trust and confidences in bringing the person accused to justice.

The verses that were used here to hide behind are not being used in their entirety. I Timothy 5:19 has companion verses that make this a complete thought. I Timothy 5: 20-21 says:

But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

The first verse (20) referenced from I Timothy 5 clearly instructs believers to make public the accusations that are being brought against an elder, so that all will know. In the case of abuse, the only way to make sure the abuse is stopped is to make it public. The more people that know, the less likely it is that it could continue. Knowledge is power. In order to burn down the systems that perpetuate abuse, it needs to be made public.

The second verse (21) makes it clear that no favoritism should be employed when dealing with an elder, or authority figure, that has abused. By invoking the Umbrella of Authority, favoritism is being used. Because to question or accuse a male authority figure is to question God Himself. This is expressly forbidden within this patriarchal structure.

Matthew 18 also contains this passage in verses 6-9:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Surely it cannot be anymore plain, that committing abuse of any kind against a child is an offense that angers the God of the Bible. Not only does it say that it is better if these people would die, it goes further to state that removal of the offending part of the body is necessary to protect the rest of the soul.

Based on these two passages, it is plain to see that there is far more responsibility on the listener to hear and believe the accused. In attempting to hide behind the Bible’s directives about confrontation, they expose their own biases.

They are not reading, nor following, their own Bible’s commands.

Their own Bible commands that no favoring of elders is to be shown, especially when being confronted with ‘sin’. And by ‘sin’ in this case, we mean crime. Abuse is a crime committed against those who are vulnerable. They are made even more so by the very authority structures put into place by things like the Umbrella of Authority.

This umbrella means it is nearly impossible for us to confront our abusers.

They enjoy impunity, complete power over our lives. In order to confront, we would need to have unquestionable sources, and the only ones who are not questionable are the ones who are in authority in the first place. And within that system, the ones who have power are greatly unwilling to be either questioned, or to have their authority in any way diminished.

They stick together, they believe each other over victims. Even though their own Bible commands that they listen to victims, that committing abuse against children especially is abhorrent. Fundamentalism such as this is unkind to victims, flaying them with the very verses that should support, protect, defend them. Fundamentalism such as this supports the authority in power, upholding, favoring, preserving it.

But in the end, their own Bible damns them.

Leave: Shade’s story

Editorial note: Shade Ardent blogs at The Unspared Rod. This story is reprinted with permission.

my car isn’t even full, it didn’t take that much time to pack my clothes. river stares from the window upstairs. she didn’t want to say goodbye. everyone else is busy with their lives.

no one looks up as i walk by.

‘Hurry up, Shade’.

i turn to go.

she is mouth thinned, eyes scraped against the sun. no more air escapes her, my chance to leave is now or never. her hands are tapping against car’s door.

it’s time.

road unfolds in front of me, she is letting me drive.

‘You want to go to college so badly, then you can drive there yourself.’

i’m not sure why she came.


i find the speed limit, and hold its edge in my mind. i want nothing to stop me from leaving.

‘I can’t believe you are really leaving us. How could you do this to us?’

out of the corner of my eye, she is grim. hands move while she thinks of more words to say.

i keep watch on her ring, it glints in the light. i know its curve, its sharp edge. i hope that driving means she won’t do anything.

road keeps curling away.

sun splits away trees’ branches, stained glass splintered hopes, my dreams grow.

‘thank you for visiting [state]. please come again.’

each mile feels like points, adding up the amount of leaving i am doing. i count and count, they sift their tens and hundreds into skin’s knowing.

am i leaving-leaving-leaving?

‘You’re so selfish, Shade, to be leaving. Think of all the work I will have to do now that you’re not there to help me. Who will help me?’

words are stuck behind my tongue. its grasping for shape, for sound, but words never come.

i am selfish, i want to leave.

‘You’ve always been a difficult person, Shade. You will have no one to blame but yourself, when you have no friends.’

sun has splayed colors across horizon’s edge. we are westing into the coming night.

‘No one will ever love you like we love you, Shade. How can you leave us?’

sky is tattooed with stars.

i know it’s late, but i don’t want to stop. if we stop, she might find a way to take me back.

so i keep driving, leaving-leaving-leaving.

headlights slice up night’s darkness.

city from city, we flow on by. highway carries us past their normal lives. maybe i can have normal too. maybe college is where normal starts, and the great yawning darkness is forever killed.

i stop for gas, i stop for food, but not for sleep. the miles keep counting up and up.

she sleeps next to me, so i keep driving.

‘welcome to [state]’

she stirs.

‘You know he won’t arrange a courtship for you now. You’ve removed yourself from his umbrella of authority. You have only yourself to blame when you get hurt.’

i have sinned, i have disobeyed.

i don’t care, i am leaving-leaving-leaving.

words still pile up behind my teeth. they scatter into the growing light. sun’s promises echo from behind, east is gone, west is new.

dawn’s moon laces up between the branches, sky’s replete with hope.

‘You’re so proud, if you think you’re smart enough to go to college. Don’t come crying to us when you fail.’

we are side by side, still. little car, bigger mountains. it climbs and climbs. each mile, each peak, each pass, her anger grows.

air is stifled between us, she seems to have run out of words. they still hover in my mouth, bitter, broken shards of dreams.

will she be happy for me now? will she give me advice?

all the books i’ve read say that moms do this, they fuss and then they love. was she going to love me now, pat my hand and give me silly advice?

but she is silent.

we are here.


A Homeschooled Son’s Letter to His Father: Ethan’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kevin Dooley.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ethan” is a pseudonym.

I grew up in a homeschooled Christian family, oldest of eight children. For the past several years, conversations with my mother indicated her weariness of homeschool education and a belief that public education was no longer the great evil she once considered it to be. Despite her view, her expression of this exhaustion to my father was limited to periodic bouts of frustration that were dismissed by my father as ‘evidence that Satan doesn’t want our family to keep homeschooling’. I was, to exaggerate by understatement, mildly angered by his cavalier dismissal. Given my financial dependence on my father throughout college, though, I wasn’t in a position to risk his anger by addressing the strain homeschooling was placing on Mom. Now that I am in my last semester with a six-figure job lined up after graduation, I elected to voice my thoughts (in a much cooler voice than would have been likely in person) to my father in an e-mail, included below.


This is a long e-mail that was supposed to be a conversation in person, but I didn’t realize y’all were leaving for the wedding and timing just kind of didn’t work out.

I want to preface this with two notes. First, please understand that this is not written from some resentful / I-hate-my-childhood perspective, because it’s not. Second, I beg you to realize that my opinions are not automatically invalid because I haven’t procreated and raised offspring myself.

Section 1: On The Theory of Homeschooling
Homeschooling has highly variable outcomes – some families end up on prime-time news for abuse and incest, some families send all their children to Harvard / Princeton / Yale. I have no problem with homeschooling per se.

To the contrary, growing up in that community gives me a unique view on its pros and cons.

To the extent that Christian parents have a duty to guide the moral development of their children, parents may (ought, even) elect to control the influences, environments, and material available to a young child. Homeschooling in the religious right originated because of a belief that public schools were dangerous, anti-moral institutions that threatened the development of Christian beliefs, and that belief is not unfounded. Public schools are not religious, and are often anti-religious.

It’s important to understand, though, that any child will inevitably be exposed to these ‘great evils’. Homeschooling does not allow a child to enjoy life sans secular influences. In some cases, it delays exposure to said influences. In some cases, those secular influences reach a homeschooled child through different channels. In many cases, though, homeschooling simply creates a unique set of ‘secular’ problems.

Homeschooling doesn’t solve the sin nature – as ideal as that would be.

In a homeschooled environment, some sins will bubble to the surface. In a public school environment, some of the same sins will arise, but it’s likely a different set will be primary concerns. The point here is that homeschooling does not eliminate the need to address human failure, it just changes the topics being addressed.

In economics, there’s a concept of diminishing marginal returns (DMR). DMR basically says that doing something for a certain amount of time has high value for each incremental action, but beyond a certain threshold, very little value is added. I think this is models the homeschool environment quite well. In early years, there is immense value from a Christian environment to build a foundation for moral thinking and behavior, but as the age timeline and the ability for self-reasoning progresses, you [generic you] reap very little incremental value from environmental restrictions.

[As an aside, I always found the quiver and arrows argument about shooting children out into the world very interesting. It was used to justify homeschooling and protecting children from the outside world until adulthood, but the process of making arrows is very different. Arrows are made from greenwood, then allowed to “season” / “mature” in an outdoor environment (while still under care of the archer) until they are ready to be shot out. Protection is not always good].

With one exception, all my Christian friends at [university name] were public schooled from day 1, and it’s arguable that their faith is more sincere than mine. This is perhaps a criticism of my focus on things of God in recent months, but is stronger evidence that the method of education is not the determinant of faith. Morals, godliness, and Christian belief stem from a God-given desire to follow those things.

As a summary: homeschooling has value, but it is not an intrinsic good. Beyond a certain point, it may be detrimental to the rigor of one’s faith and one’s ability to thrive in the outside world.

Section 2: On Finances
This is a somewhat short section, but merely exists because I think it’s important to recall one thing: the thousands of dollars the family pays in taxes every year fund, in part, a school system recognized as one of the best in the nation. From a financial stewardship perspective, electing to not utilize public resources is an unmitigated waste of those dollars. Given that family finances are increasingly stressed, prudent management of available dollars seems important.

Section 3: On Patriarchy
I am attempting to word this section very carefully to avoid giving offense. I apologize in advance if I fail to achieve this goal.

Fathers are recognized generally as ‘head of household’ within Christian tradition. Unfortunately, this tradition systematically has taught that fathers are the only heads of the household, that their decisions are final, and they are endowed with a ‘divine right’ to teach and train members of their family as they see fit.

At a very basic level, this is extra-biblical at best and abusive at worst.

It is especially pernicious because Mothers have been taught to accept the aforementioned patriarchal role without question.

[As an aside, mom knows nothing about this e-mail and i have not solicited her feedback in composing it. Any anger you have should be directed at me, not at her]

Over the years, the concept of ‘[Family Surname] Team’ and ‘family vision’ [quotes are not used ironically, merely to indicate specific phrasing used] have come to be despised by at least [second born sibling], [third born sibling], and myself because they didn’t represent a family vision – they represented your vision, which was to be accepted without question or argument, unless we wanted to face the consequences. While this is as much the fault of our immaturity as any other factor, I think it’s problematically indicative of a family trend – anything that happens must have your seal of approval, regardless of how trivial it is. And any choices that ’the family’ makes are, ultimately, just choices that you have made for us.

You have made some stellar decisions, please don’t get me wrong. This is not a blanket critique of everything that has ever happened. But the family is driven by a centralized power, and it’s abundantly evident whenever a unit of the family attempts to make an autonomous decision that you will brook no autonomy.

The ATI ‘umbrella of authority’ is transformed all too often into a suffocating blanket of my-way-or-the-highway.

Why am I talking about this? In all fairness, it’s often true that attempts at autonomous decisions by children are misguided and in need of parental ‘editing’, but the same should not, and in the case of our family, cannot be said of Motherly autonomous decisions.

I’ve seen the quality of your marriage deteriorate meaningfully for the past few years, and while that may be due to other factors, I’m convinced the largest contributor is the choke-hold you have on Mom’s ability to say, do, allow, or think anything related to the family. [second born] / [third born] and I often comment on the legitimate fear we see in her eyes whenever she allows a younger child to do anything without running it by you first – frightened anticipation of your anger at her for not fulfilling your vision for how the family ought to be.

Any marriage will have differences of opinions, that’s life. But communication, grace, and willingness to not always get your way are how marriages survive. I may not be married, but it’s not rocket science to figure that much out.

Where am I going with all this? Homeschooling is your vision for the children. I may be wrong, but I’m confident Mom no longer has a desire to homeschool. She continues her days in the car, her nights up to 2am managing different children’s classes, her constant fights with children over turning in homework and proctoring exams, in some desperate attempt to fulfill a vision that you have required her to implement. This is not healthy.

As a summary: The power dynamic in the family is driven by your fear, fear that you will lose control. If you made a genuine effort to give Mom freedom to be an independent entity, I think you would discover your vision for family education is sub-optimal.

Section 4: On College, aka, Finances (Again), Choice, and Resources
This is about college. College is expensive, as we’ve all found out.

And homeschooling can [it doesn’t have to] severely limit leadership opportunities / transcript development relative to a public school.

This has a direct financial impact on scholarships, college acceptances [different colleges have very different aid packages], and, consequently, the affordability of higher education. Presuming that blue-collar work is not the optimal adult life track for all the children, doing all that is possible to minimize college tuition is important.

Every child is different. Homeschooling through high school was great for me and I’m sure if I went to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today. But that doesn’t mean homeschooling is optimal for everyone. At the very least, children should be given the option of going to public school for high school, so that they can best position themselves for college applications.

Additionally, public schools have offices designed to educate students on college options, administer standardized tests, prepare transcripts, guide students through the application process, etc. These are professionals, people we’re already paying [via tax dollars], in the richest county in America, to send students to optimal colleges for each family.

Section 5: Action Items and Everything That Didn’t Fit in Earlier Sections
Will public schools open up a new set of problems? Probably. Will continued homeschooling kill Mom? Probably.

Will continued homeschooling eliminate the conflicts that current exist at home? Probably not. Will continued homeschooling ensure that all children love Jesus forever and ever? Probably not. [That was a bit snarkily phrased, I apologize].

Maybe no one wants to go to public school. That’s entirely possible.

But I suspect there is an interest, and I more strongly believe that certain children would massively benefit from it.

[fourth born child], [fifth born child], and [sixth born child] are all IMMENSELY intelligent, and young enough that they have years ahead to shape their high school and college opportunities. If other children went to public school, that would likely allow finances for them to play travel soccer and develop advanced skills there. [fifth born] is fascinated by computer science – if that can be fostered, he would love [elite science / tech high school nearby] as an intense scientific high school. There’s immense potential here.

I 100% support continued homeschooling up to middle school, maybe even through middle school, or perhaps through high school [again depending on individual children’s preferences].

But please, have the humility and intellectual honesty to engage with Mom in a genuine conversation about what she wants, and then implement what she wants.

The world will not end and we will not all become heathens if public schools are opened up as an option.

Who knows, maybe the reduced financial stress and replacement of “mom & dad” with “professor x” as academic task-masters will improve family relations.

Above all, this is about creating a truly family driven vision and contributing to a healthy, high functioning, family unit.


[Oldest Child]

Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part Three

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

< Part Two

Much of what I have discussed is about my childhood and teenage years, but there were three incidents after my marriage that proved my parents were still trapped in ATI Parent Mode.

I assumed, because my parents actually said on multiple occasion, that after I was married I would be treated differently — more independently. I knew to expect this because it’s just the way people who are into courtship think.  However, my parents have continually chosen to put their fundamentalism in front of our relationship, despite me now being the “Spiritual Leader of my Household” (in their mind, not mine — you could best describe my marriage as an egalitarian party, looking at you Doug Wilson). They know that I do not agree with them, so most parents would just back off with the religious judgment and prioritize their relationship. But not my parents!

Over a steak dinner celebrating my graduation from my MA program in 18 months with a 4.0, my father half-joked, half-claimed that he lost faith in the university institution because I grew up to disagree with them politically. For my older sister, who converted to Christianity after college, it worked. But my education “failed” me. It failed me because I did not turn out conservatives like them. To his credit, he apologized after I blew up at him (and openly talked about the event on Facebook). I’m a forgiving person, so I let it go.

I thought, maybe this is the last time, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

When I was visiting the next day, I had one of my most triggering conversations I’ve ever had with them. They claimed that the black people of New Orleans are “culturally more violent because they have a long history of accepting government benefits.” I tried to keep my cool, but our argument quickly brought me into a blind rage. This wasn’t the first time I was triggered by a conversation like this and my parents had been trying harder to not argue about politics with me. It might seem strange that I, someone who debated competitively for eight years, would have such an uncontrollable, visceral reaction to a political argument.

I called them racists and, to say the least, they got pissed. The conversation continued deteriorating and I couldn’t take it any longer. I stormed out of their hotel room and said they could just leave. They had brought me crawfish, my favorite food, but when my mom called in tears telling me I had forgotten it in the room, I told them to just throw it away — I couldn’t see them again. Later that day, my oldest sister talked me down. But this incident drove a big wedge my parents’ and my relationship. I sent them a series of emails that led to me calling them Victorian, sexist, racist cultists.

Political arguments with my parents trigger me because the conversations always include a level of personal judgment.

Debate rounds take place outside the realm of personal judgments — I can advocate a position and my opponents don’t take it personally or judge me.  In fact, some of my biggest rivals in college debate became my closest friends.  When I started attending college and developing concise counter-arguments to my parents’ zealous Reaganism, conservatism, and… well, how do you describe someone who thinks giving the women the right to vote ruined America? My challenges to their political beliefs are what gave me the courage to question many of the cultic philosophies deeply ingrained in me.

Even though I remained a devoted Christian who attended church and bible study for the first two years of college, my parents reacted to my transforming political beliefs as if I was as rejecting the Gospel. One of their biggest mistakes was telling me I was only “in a phase,” and would believe like they did when I joined the “real world and started paying taxes.” (I have had a full-time job since the age of 16, even paying the dreaded self-employment tax, so I’m not unaware of taxation).

My father took my political beliefs incredibly personally.

We had lots of arguments about rich people paying more taxes, namely by repealing the Bush Tax Cuts. My parents helped me a little bit through my four years of undergrad, they bought my books and paid my $50/month car insurance. I still worked a part-time job throughout college and debated one or two weekends a month around the US for a scholarship. Occasionally, I had to ask my parents for a few hundred dollars, but I always paid them back quickly. I hated feeling dependent on them and financial independence gave me. After I graduated, my father informed me that he resented the help he gave me, and couldn’t stomach giving me more, because of how I felt about taxes. Even though I only argued the richest people should pay more taxes, he internalized that as an attack on him.

After the incident in the hotel room, I didn’t talk to my parents much on the phone. I stuck to email because I could control my triggers and reactions much better. Over a year after my marriage, and nine months after the hotel incident, my mother called to have a chat on the phone.  During my childhood, we always got along well and she was my confidante. As long as she doesn’t get judgmental, I enjoy her company. I remember it being one of the better conversations we had in quite awhile when she decided to bring up the state of my virginity on my wedding day.

To be clear, I told my mother I was moving in with my girlfriend (now wife) nine months before my wedding (two years prior to this phone call). One would think this would have given her ample time to discuss the consequences of my sinful lifestyle, but she chose to bring it up a year after my marriage.

After finding out I was “impure,” she said that, later in my marriage, I would “face consequences” for my sins. When I told her that I didn’t think it was a sin to live with the woman I was going to marry (we had been engaged over six months at that point) she said that she was “sorry” I believed that and obviously I had bigger problems. Eventually, she said that the root of all of our conflict was my sinful lifestyle — not, of course, their raising me in a homeschooling cult, still clinging desperately to those beliefs, and refusing to accept my personal development/evolution. I pushed back and then my mom started crying.

It’s not like I enjoy making my mother cry, but I now refuse to be manipulated, guilted, and shamed.

And what came next proved the depths of my mother’s spiritual and emotional manipulation. She reminded me of the purity pledge I made to her at 14 years old. That was it, I told her the conversation was over.  She apologized and said she didn’t want our great conversation to end this way. I curtly replied that if she wanted to have a good time, she could just not judge my spiritual condition. My father sent me an email after, as he always does now after my mom and I fight. In it, he took on a self-righteous air about how my rebelliousness (against them and God) was the cause of our conflict and that Jesus was right when he said the righteous man would cause strife among his family.

I guess he forgot the one about a father provoking his child to wrath — but that’s my parents! Apply verses selectively to shame, guilt, and manipulate. I replied that I spent the last six years forming my own beliefs and I knew they were wrong ethically, morally, spiritually, and politically.

Even now, I am still on my father’s insurance (because of a crazy accident that left me with a fractured L5 pars and then an ordeal that left me with dying femur heads and a hip replacement) and this has made me feel like I cannot publicly speak against them.  When I first became a frequent public critic of my parents and their beliefs, they would email me or call me and plead with me to essentially just let it be.  I told them that I believed my cohort of homeschooled peers had been subjected to systemic problems within the Christian homeschool movement and I intended to get to the bottom of it.  I moved from Louisiana to Oregon so I could be surrounded by fewer fundamentalists and more free thinkers who will judge me less for my progressive politics.  I also moved to get more distance from my parents so I could freely pursue my advocacy, which would include my personal testimony (it feels funny using that word, but it’s applicable here).

The final straw in my attempt to repair our relationship came just a few weeks ago after I underwent my hip replacement.

When I first learned that I would need a hip replacement, my parents made it very clear that they were too busy moving to be expected to come up to Oregon to help me after the surgery. This was fine with me since their presence usually just triggers me. At the same time, I wished that I did want their help because that’s what parents are for, right? And I knew my usual lines of emotional defense would be compromised by my weak physical state. You probably think this is incredibly heartless of me, but the only consistency in my relationship with my parents is that they will somehow judge me with their self-righteousness and ruin whatever good times may have occurred.

The day of my surgery, my mother was bugging me to talk to her. She said “a mother worries when her favorite son is having a major surgery thousands of miles away” and said “glad to know you are alive.” Despite my wife calling her before and after my procedure. After that, I told her to stop trying to guilt me into talking to her more. That wasn’t the way to make me want to talk to her. Later that day, she became infuriated because I updated my Facebook, but didn’t send her a text. So she didn’t get the update until four hours after my status update. I eventually texted her back later that night and gave her an update, but she didn’t reply, so we tried calling her phone only to discover it was off. I believe right around the time she got pissy, my spinal block wore off and I experienced the worst pain of my life. I cried for thirty straight minutes and couldn’t even think. Luckily they doped me up, but I was still a wreck.

A few hours later, my mother posted one of the most passive aggressive Facebook statuses I have ever seen.

You see, although I didn’t have time to text a bunch of people, I did have time to update by Facebook status to let a few hundred people who were concerned about me know what was up. She proclaimed to the Facebook World that she was “breaking up” with it because it found out about me before she did. (Although my wife tried to call her and the phone signal was just bad in the hospital.). The way the status was worded, I could tell she was incensed.

As I finally got a nurse to enter the long distance code on the hotel landline, I tried to call her. I texted my dad saying I didn’t know what was up and I was trying to get in touch with mom. As I lay in the hospital bed — a wreck physically and emotionally — my father responded with this text message:

“Moms phone is off. You hurt her terribly. I’m very disappointed in you. I’m also upset at how you treat her. She is concerned about you. And you blew her off.”

I was just blown away. My mother turned off her phone, the night after my hip replacement, because her feelings were hurt. It’s hard to believe she was truly concerned about me since she turned her phone off.

At this point, the only indication I had that my mom was upset was the passive aggressive Facebook status and my dad’s text message. Because exactly what I wanted to deal with then was my parents’ bullshit.

This was the moment my parents needed to just show sincere compassion, selflessness, and love.

Sure, maybe I was mean, but I was just out of surgery, doped up with insane amounts of oral and intravenous opioids, my brain polluted by lingering anesthesia, and unable to move my right side without immense pain, which was swollen to twice its normal size. On top of that, my wife got food poisoning that night!

With all the energy I could muster, I slowly composed and recomposed a message about ten times. I met with a therapist earlier in the month to prepare for this very moment because I knew I would be vulnerable and my parents would try to manipulate me. It seems completely irrational to expect such behavior, but my instincts proved right. I told my parents that their reactions were completely unacceptable and that I needed space and time. I didn’t mince my words and I told them their attempts to guilt and manipulate me lost them the privilege of getting constant updates.  Everyone else in my life gave me nothing but positivity in my moment of need, but my parents put on an entire dramatic performance because I posted to Facebook a few hours before texting them directly.

It seems like I have gone on quite a tangent since my days in ATI, but all three of these instances occurred because of the way they allowed Gothardism to take over their lives. To them, I may always be the son who chose to live, and thrive, outside their Umbrella of Authority. Despite having almost ten years to indoctrinate and brainwash me into their version of cultic Christianity, they continue to try and enforce their perceived God-given right to judge me (or “show me the light”) into adulthood. I now refuse to allow them to treat me as their subordinate. I demand respect and I try to avoid controversial topics.

Unfortunately, nearly every topic is corrupted by their Gothardist fundamentalism.

Only in an ATI home could you get into an argument on Christmas morning about how women should never have gotten the right to vote or divorce. They conceptualize my mental illnesses (anxiety and triggers) as spiritual weakness because Gothard told them that’s how it is. The morning before I left to go to Afghanistan to teach debate for a month, I had terrible anxiety, and my dad just chuckled and said “well you wanted to go there.”

My dad likes to chuckle when I’m in a really awful situation. 

I talked to a lot of my ATI friends about all these events that I’ve described and most of them have patched their relationships up with their parents. Most of those friends’ parents have liberalized a lot, but not my parents. My friends are constantly baffled by the way my parents treat me. Because my parents still conceptualize our relationship as that of a parent-child, when I assert myself, it creates conflict. They seem to believe this conflict is the result of my sinful lifestyle. As long as they cannot even understand why what they do is so hurtful, they have no positive impact on my life. Every positive encounter with them becomes overshadowed by an intensely painful experience.

There are only so many times you want to open yourself up when you know what the result will be.

That’s my story. For the ATI kids out there: Did your relationship with your parents improve as they moved away from Gothardism? Does my observation hold true in your life?

Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part Two

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

< Part One

You’re just “spiritually sensitive,” they told me at six years old, my young mind racing with anxiety. As my parents entered further into the labyrinthian maze of fundamentalism, they took my mind with them.  My parents were convinced that Gothardism held the solution to my issues. If religious options and doctrines were a grocery store, my parents plopped down on the Gothard Aisle and expected me to also enjoy their strict diet of Gothardism.  Instead, the doctrines on spiritual warfare, the Umbrella of Authority, and Strongholds increased my anxieties – sending me into a state of hyper-vigilance at night as I waited for the demons.

For years, I confused invasive thoughts, which everyone has, with a Satanic assault on my mind.

I began conceptualizing my mental illness as spiritual warfare very early on, probably by the time I was 7 or 8. Recently converted, it was the only paradigm my parents accepted so they explained things to me through that lens. When I had nightmares night after night, my parents told me it was the rock music I could hear through the walls that my sister listened to – certainly not our rapidly changing family dynamic as my parents tried to apply fundamentalism to my older sisters when they had already begun high school.

I remember one night, perhaps after attending the Basic Seminar a second time, my parents decided we should burn all the things in our house that possessed “demons” or a “demonic influence.”  This included books and movies and music – especially my dad’s vast collection of rock and roll from his youth.   We had to purge our home.  As time went on, I was sucked further into this idea of spiritual warfare causing mental, and even spiritual, issues.  My education in creationism only further complicated science and confused me about how my body worked.  It was not until college at a public university that I began to understand how the brain worked.  I slowly realized that many “mysterious” feelings and thoughts, which supposedly originated from God or Satan, were really my own brain simply working.

There were a number of Gothard’s doctrines that caused a great deal of fear.

One of the most problematic doctrines is the Umbrella of Authority. 

In this model of communication with God, divine inspiration and guidance flows from God, to the male parent, then to the female parent. It’s clear in this model that wives are subordinate to their husbands and ATI leaders preach that a woman’s first duty is to submit to the male leadership in her life. For wives, that means their husband. For daughters it means their fathers. In this model, the father is the only person in the family unit that has a sort of “direct connection with God.”  By this, I mean that if a child believed God was calling them in a certain direction, the child could only pursue that option if their father “confirmed” it with God. This model profoundly impacts a child’s conception of themselves.

If you disagree with your parents, you are disobeying God.

If you are outside of your parents’ Umbrella of Authority, then you are literally opening your mind to Satan and demons.

This brings me to what, in my life, was the most abusive and damaging belief. Gothard rejected the idea of mental illness and replaced it with a concept of “Strongholds” in your mind. Gothard preached that when humans disobeyed God, or their earthly authorities, they allowed Satan to “build a stronghold in your mind.”  From this Stronghold, Satan could tempt you and further lead you down the path to darkness and evil. One of the most common weaknesses for teenagers was rock music and dating, which Gothard believed was one of the fundamental reasons why teenagers rebelled and became perverse. In another giant leap of logic, Gothard argued that physical ailments could be caused by Strongholds. Literally almost every cause in your universe stemmed from your spirituality, which included everything from Christian Contemporary music, to apparently demonic Cabbage Patch dolls, and of course Disney.

So over my teenage years, I gradually developed intense anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks. I would lay awake in my bed, staring at my door waiting for demons to come and get me.  This very real fear was stoked by Jim Logan, who would tell his Real Life Ghost Stories. Logan would preach about his many exorcisms, how African masks would literally scream and cry out if lit on fire, and how children’s misdeeds attracted demons into a Christian home. Especially rock music! I prayed incessantly, sometimes screaming with eyes filled with tears, for God to take away my fear and anxiety – but nothing ever happened.

It was because the cause of my mental anguish was not demons and spiritual warfare.

In fact, the further I get away from my internalized fear of demons and possession (taught to me exclusively through ATI), the better I sleep, the less afraid I am of what’s behind the shower curtain, the more confident I am to walk through a room with the light off, and it is because my brain no longer feels like its survival is threatened by the invisible forces of evil.

In my teenage years, some of the only relief I could manage to muster came from listening to a local modern rock radio station.  First, it connected me with the outside world and gave me hope that one day I could be in that world and not the one I was trapped in.  Second, it allowed me to enter all the conversations my peers had about their favorite music. Third, it gave me something to focus on that took my mind off spiritual warfare, demons, etc.  Unfortunately, I was also taught to believe that rock music would open my mind to Satan. I struggled with the cognitive dissonance for a year or two until I decided that the peace I received from rock music was far more important than risking demonic possession (which I was starting to believe less and less).  I figured, with all my rebelling as a teenager, if I hadn’t been attacked by demons yet I was probably alright.

It’s not uncommon for precocious, smart children to develop anxiety – as I now know my “sensitivity” is really just anxiety – but my parents only worsened it by focusing on solely spiritual causes and solutions.  When we prayed, when I prayed, when we “cried out” – whatever Gothardist ritual we preformed – it never made me feel any less anxious.  As a result, I felt like I must not be a real Christian or must have some sin in my life stopping God from helping me.  I don’t know how many times I prayed the sinner’s prayer, afraid that whatever I had done before wasn’t “sticking.”   I started finding a way out of the anxiety, and sometimes intense panic attacks, by learning about my brain. Not from fundamentalists, but from scientists who studied the brain – neuroscientists.

In the back of my mind, after I left the house, was always a voice warning me that my actions would attract Satan – that he would ruin my life because I chose to live outside my father’s Umbrella, to reject the concept of Strongholds, and I listened to rock music.  For quite awhile, I struggled to find out who I was, beyond my fearful subordination to a fundamentalist God.

I now know that I have a form of complex PTSD, which is triggered by my parents and their fundamentalism, especially when they judge my “sinful lifestyle.” 

For the longest time, I didn’t know why certain things they said or did would “launch” me into an irrational, emotional state.  Sometimes it was something inanimate, like the American flag covering my old bedroom wall or the library of fundamentalist literature I was pressured to read and apply to my life.  It doesn’t affect my life much anymore, but it did quite a bit into my early-20s.  Part of the reason is because I rarely communicate with my parents anymore.  Despite my best efforts, most of our interactions end with me being triggered by their lack of acceptance or the cultic doctrines they still try to evangelize me about.  This isn’t a story that takes place wholly in my past.

The third and final part of my story discusses how (as a 25 year old) I am still impacted by my parents’ fundamentalism.

Part Three >

Jim Logan, the Stephen King of Fundamentalism: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

Jeri’s post was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland  on November 14, 2013. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations”, “Of Isolation and Community”“His Quiver Full of Them”“David Noebel, Summit Ministries, and the Evil of Rock”“The Political Reach of Bill Gothard”, and “Bill Gothard on Education”, and “Ken Ham: The Evolution of a Bully“, and “In Which the Pieces Come Together.”

Did you know that demons can be sexually transmitted? That many Vietnam veterans’ problems are caused by demons picked up from prostitutes? That a person can be “demonized” through listening to music, watching TV, or by playing Dungeons & Dragons?

Welcome to the world of Dr. James Logan, “the demon whisperer”, “the Stephen King of ATI“, pastor, adviser to missionaries, and conservative fundamentalist exorcist.

Logan told one audience that he gets calls about house hauntings every day: “We dedicate the ground. Many people miss the ground.” He tells about a missionary in Vienna, Austria who had to leave Europe because his “fourteen-year-old son got full of demons from listening to rock music”. Logan claims parents in Missouri are teaching fourth and fifth graders to call up demons in the mirror and he believes government officials have demons assigned to them to influence them to oppose Christianity.

Jim Logan.
Jim Logan.

I would not know Jim Logan’s name were it not for Bill Gothard. Gothard’s signature teaching on the “Umbrella of Authority” taught followers that obedience and submission to the will of “authorities” (husbands, parents, employers, pastors, law enforcement officers, and government officials) would protect them from the attacks of Satan, which could not penetrate the “umbrella”. Thinking for one’s self or acting against the wishes of authorities was venturing beyond the safety of the umbrella and would expose one to the invisible danger of demonic influences.

But the Umbrella of Authority teaching would have had no teeth if we had not been convinced that demons were real, and scary. And that‘s where Jim Logan comes in.

Jim grew up in an “ungodly” home; years later his stomach still knotted at the sight of his father. Logan was drafted during the Korean War; he converted to Christianity when he was 19, through the ministry of Dawson Trotman and the Navigators. He attended Biola University, and then Biola’s seminary, Talbot School of Theology. But he received his training in “deliverance” straight from Fred Dickason at Moody Bible Institute. Dickason, a professor and theologian, authored Angels: Elect and Evil and other books on demonology and “warfare”.

Jim Logan spent over seven years with Child Evangelism Fellowship in Warrenton, Missouri where he served as a vice president. He also pastored at least two churches.

In 1987, Dr. Mark Bubeck founded the International Center for Biblical Counseling (ICBC International) in Sioux City, Iowa. (Read more about Bubeck’s belief in demons here.) Jim Logan joined the ICBC staff in 1989 and stayed for sixteen years. Eventually, new centers were started in Indiana, Colorado, and Texas, becoming independent over time. (ICBC International has since merged with Deeper Walk Ministries to become Deeper Walk International.) Logan started his own Biblical Restoration Ministries in Sioux City in 2005. According to Logan’s website, none of the counseling staff or their associates are “professional or licensed counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, medical or psychological practitioners.” Logan has carried his “expertise” to numerous countries counseling missionaries, working especially with CEF, Navigators, and J.A.A.R.S.

Somewhere along the way, Logan became pals with Bill Gothard. Gothard was stuffy compared to the irrepressible Logan. Logan liked to tell how he was the last member of his family to give up television, watching his favorite shows alone in the garage after his wife and kids refused to have anything to do with it anymore. Logan like to joke and tease (behavior that would earn IBLP staff a rebuke for “folly”), and he would frequently interrupt himself with loud laughter, releasing the tension in an auditorium made anxious by tales of noises in shadowy rooms and men’s voices coming out of small children.

The two men had at least one thing in common: a love of stories. Gothard soon invited Logan to speak at numerous Institute in Basic Life Principles seminars around the country, addressing homeschooling parents and pastors. Logan and Gothard frequently told each other’s stories and recommended each other’s teachings and materials. Logan helped Gothard write an IBLP publication (Life Purpose Journal Vol. III) that is no longer available. More recently, Logan helped lead IMI, an IBLP program developed to train young men to be pastors.

Gothard and Logan shared similar views of “iniquity”, “warfare”, and “ancestral spirits”.

A fetus conceived out of wedlock, for example, had to be prayed over to break the ancestral demons passed on by his/her conception. The brightness of the eyes were supposed to reveal an individual’s spiritual state: “The eyes show me if Satan’s clouding your mind” (Logan). While Gothard tended to avoid talking about demons directly, he had a lexicon of coded terminology hewas comfortable with: carnality, evil, spirit of rebellion, heaviness, darkness, principalities, ground, hedge, attacks, tormentors, protection, and deception. Logan didn’t beat around the bush; he was matter-of-fact about strange voices coming out Christian missionaries who had been invaded by demons.

Logan became a fixture at Gothard’s ATI conferences. After listening to his tales of hallucinations, seizures, and demons being let loose in homes because of Cabbage Patch Kids or evil art objects received as white elephant gifts, or even “twin beds gotten from homosexuals”, families would go home frightened. Some parents burned their children’s toys, even putting dolls on barbecue grills while the kids watched in anguished terror. Parents like mine cleansed our home of Winnie-the-Pooh and all other “talking animals”. Others banished Cabbage Patch dolls, My Little Ponies, clowns, superheroes. We knew our parents were dead-serious about our welfare: they were willing to make burnt offerings to keep us safe.

Notes from a lecture by Gothard, 1992
Notes from a lecture by Gothard, 1992

Despite having no credentials, Logan was frequently sought out by ATI parents at a loss to “fix” their rebellious or depressed sons and daughters, who must be affected by demonic influences. But he could be contradictory. Despite recommending Gothard’s book against Christian rock music, calling it “awesome“, Logan still found some Christian artists acceptable. He told one family that he listened to Amy Grant, and recommended Michael Card’s “Sleep Sound in Jesus” album of lullabies at an ICBC conference, saying that the songs would keep children from having nightmares. Far more disturbing is the allegation that he failed to report claims of sexual abuse made by those he “counseled”.

Gothard had been teaching his “Umbrella of Authority” for decades, when he had a new breakthrough. In 1992, Gothard introduced his Strongholds concept. He soon developed it into a fancy new package complete with diagram illustrations explaining how any sin or disobedience or “bitterness” could “give ground” to Satan in a person’s soul. And if Satan had enough “ground” on this imaginary chessboard in the mind/heart, the victim would be plagued by temptations and troubles.

For years, Logan says, he helped people gain freedom from demons using the “direct confrontational method”: he would speak to the evil spirits and command them to speak back. With the discovery of Strongholds, he could switch to a “less invasive” approach, helping people pinpoint the acts of disobedience whereby “the enemy” had been given permission to invade their inner being. By confessing and renouncing these “sins”, a Christian could be “freed” from cross-dressing, anorexia, depression, “bondage” to masturbation, or any number of “torments”.

In 1995, Moody Press released a book by Jim Logan entitled Reclaiming Surrendered GroundThough written by a ghostwriter (provided by Moody), it was based on Logan’s messages, with a foreword by Baptist preacher Charles Stanley. The book, along with some of Neil Anderson‘s writings, is still a standard resource recommended by Gothard for those who want to conquer “lust”. It also received endorsements from Erwin Lutzer and Warren Wiersbe.

In 1995, Moody Press released a book by Jim Logan entitled Reclaiming Surrendered Ground.
In 1995, Moody Press released a book by Jim Logan entitled Reclaiming Surrendered Ground.

That same year, Dr. Kenneth Copley joined Jim Logan and Mark Bubeck to open an ICBC branch in Carmel, Indiana. In 2001, Moody published Copley’s book on spiritual warfare, The Great Deceiver. Jim Logan himself wrote the foreword. Besides offering “counsel” in spiritual warfare, Copley was an instructor for teenagers in Gothard’s EQUIP program at the Indianapolis Training Center. The ITC worked closely with Judge James Payne of the Marion County Juvenile Court, who sent young offenders to the ITC to be mentored by graduates of the EQUIP training.*

In one talk available on YouTube, Logan addresses a group of young people at an unspecified IBLP Training Center. Uninhibited as usual, he rambles about “helping” counselees with anorexia, who can never have “victory” as long as they have pride in their life, because God resists the proud. “If God himself is resisting you, you’re doomed.” Likewise with rebellion: “When I push away authorities, God will push me away,” says Logan. However, Logan then turns to complaining about the food served at the training center, seeking support from his listeners who dare not express their  “rebellion” for fear of unpleasant consequences.

“If I’m nasty, it’s for fun. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t be nasty… I’ve earned it,” Logan bluntly reassures his nervous audience. 

One minute he is claiming that he came upon an altar where human sacrifices had been made in the woods on on the JAARS campus (“human bones, that used to have meat on them”), and minutes later he is mocking the modesty of Islamic women.

Logan seems to find Hell particularly amusing. At one point he chuckles, “Look at all the brilliant people going to hell”. At another conference he breaks out in a loud belly laugh describing a small child being threatened with eternal torment in flames. Could it be that, deep down, this “good news of the Gospel” is just a joke?

The people who come to Logan may be suicidal, homicidal, depressed, or mentally ill. His office provides a data sheet where they are instructed to mark if they have hostility toward those in “deliverance work”, if they gossip, if they have practiced any martial arts, and if they have desires for bestiality or premarital or lesbian sex.

While he may not come across as especially bright, Logan captivates audiences with his rambling yet spellbinding yarns of what he describes as encounters with demons.  And far from being politically correct, Logan can sound downright racist, warning against the “animism” inherent in native American, African, and Filipino culture. He has a story of demons “throwing dishes out of cupboards” because a house was built over an Indian burial ground and another of an African musical instrument causing a child to threaten a sibling with a butcher knife. The sister of the Ambassador from Togo asked Logan to come pray for her children and bless their new home. Logan says his interpreter saw Chinese spirits in the house, which had formerly housed a family from China.

Sometimes, Logan progresses from simply rambling to incoherent, weaving yarns that don’t even make sense. For example:

In Indiana, they wrap an egg with yarn and put the egg in fire but the yarn doesn’t burn and they bury it; “…and that group of people has the highest suicide rate of teenagers in America”.

“The same spirits that stalked the Philippines walk in the Caribbean and terrorize the people on the island of Maui.”

Logan claims one of his CEF missionaries, Larry, was a “self-styled Satanist” before converting and going to Indonesia. To break ties with his old life, Larry got rid of a glass pendulum he had used in Satanism, throwing it into a city dump near Seattle–but it beat him home, sitting back in its box at his house when he returned. So Larry and his family took it back in the dump and prayed that God would keep it there and this time it stayed. According to Logan, Larry still has “spooky eyes” from his previous occult involvement even though he is “clean”.

These stories, and many others like them, are what I grew up on.

When I ask myself how I could ever have accepted some of Gothard’s most egregious “principles”, I think of Logan. That’s how. Because Logan claimed to have evidence that the spirit world existed, that Satan wanted to kill me, that there were real unseen dangers I needed to be kept safe from, that obeying my parents would keep strange voices from coming out of my mouth, or books from flying off my shelves. That the name of Jesus was my talisman against evil (unless God wanted me to learn a larger lesson from suffering).

My parents believed it, too. To them, Logan was just another Christian voice telling the truth, like Hal Lindsey (author of Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) and Mel Tari (author of Like a Mighty Wind). That’s why we turned the placemats upside down when we ate at a Chinese restaurant (don’t read the zodiac!) and asked the waiter for almond cookies instead of fortune cookies. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary that I’ve owned since I was twelve, the chart of zodiac signs is scribbled out in black marker. We never took a newspaper because it would be too easy for someone to read a horoscope.

Mom chose to give birth without assistance rather than trust midwives who might be into “Eastern religions”. We left church services when demonic music was played under the guise of worship. We did not acknowledge Halloween.We said a prayer for safety before each and every road trip, even we were only headed to the post office.  And Mom refused to consider using the Saxon math curriculum (popular with other homeschoolers) because she had seen “ghouls” in a word problem.

So it was huge for me to reconsider the nature of Satan. Ultimately, my faith in God required a cosmic enemy–an evil being trying to snatch my soul and longing to drag me into hell. My theism rested on a belief in a “personal” devil, and when I lost my fear of the demonic, my fear of god went tumbling after! My husband, who sat under Ken Copley’s instruction for an entire week in the EQUIP program, lost a lifelong fear of the dark after finally reaching the conclusion that the “spirit world” is nothing more than a fantasy of human imagination.

Jim Logan has spent his life alternately frightening people of, and presuming to rescue people from, a phantom menace.

Despite his lack of credentials, many badly hurting individuals have unfortunately been led to believe that Jim Logan’s teaching could provide the help they sorely needed, and many more children and teens were further scarred in the process.


*Last year Dr. Copley’s adopted daughter came forward, accusing him of sexually abusing her even while the family lived at the Training Center. Another victim has come forward accusing Copley of sexually abusing her while she was seeing him for counseling at ICBC. By the time Copley’s daughter decided to seek legal action, Indiana’s Department of Child Services was being run by Judge James Payne himself. Dr. Copley is currently a pastor at The Cross in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A Call for Stories for HA’s Upcoming Series on Gothardism and ATI

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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.

Some Terminology

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