What the Fall of Bill Gothard Means for Conservative Evangelicalism


Bill Gothard

Check out Joshua Pease’s piece at The New Republic on fundamentalist parachurch leader Bill Gothard.  As a young evangelical, I read some of Gothard’s stuff.  My church would often send groups to his Institute in Basic Life Principles conference in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  I never attended one of his sessions, but members of my family did.  The Institute in Basic Life Principles removed Gothard from leadership in 2014 after multiple members of his organization reported his inappropriate sexual behavior.

Pease sees a link between the #metoo stories emanating from the Institute of Basic Life Principles and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with evangelical support for a POTUS who does not hold to traditional evangelical values and has had his own #metoo moments.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Gothard’s religious teachings are increasingly ignored today, even within fundamentalist churches, thanks in part to the various abuses they engendered. But the public sphere is another matter. Rather than reject misogyny, abuse, or patriarchal authoritarianism, a sizable segment of modern Christianity appears ready to tolerate these traits in its political leaders, as long as it is all in service of fighting the “enemy,” which is usually a shorthand for “liberals.”

Gothard’s legacy is not his thousands of pages of bizarre dogma, but the insight he offers into the way the Christian right once responded to the threats posed by liberal America. He was celebrated by the culture warriors for promising stability in a changing world, all while he warped the message of Jesus to build an empire for himself and prey on the vulnerable. The victims of his abuse are still waiting for justice—and watching as many of their fellow Christians show, in their actions and their politics, that they really don’t care.

Read the rest here.

2 thoughts on “What the Fall of Bill Gothard Means for Conservative Evangelicalism

  1. The piece in The New Republic (TNR) by Joshua Pease was interesting but is selective of certain facts in its focus. In other words, Pease has his agenda as do we all. To his credit the article appeared in TNR, a journal of opinion, so I cannot accuse him of promoting so-called fake news.
    I had some exposure to Bill Gothard’s ministry between 1973 and 1990. It was not overtly or even loosely political and the author, Mr. Pease, does a disservice to his readers by linking Gothard’s work to other ministries on the Christian Right. While Gothard’s teaching did indeed emphasize traditional values buttressed by a questionably scriptural legalism, his large seminars were not forums to incite political action.
    I am no expert on the inner workings at the residence facilities which were associated with the Gothard organization but I believe it is a stretch to liken them to cult training centers. Joshua Pease does not actually come out and make that statement, but it’s hard not to read the article and draw mental connections to several notoriously dangerous religious organizations——unfair tainting, in my opinion.
    Furthermore, the article makes scant mention of people whose lives were bettered owing to an association with the Gothard ministry. No Christian organization is ever going to be perfect and with great success can come corresponding downsides. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: But much increase is by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4
    Additionally, the article fails to mention that Bill Gothard’s approach to the practical application of the Bible had plenty of detractors within the evangelical and fundamentalist community long before Bill was forced to step down as its head. Many serious exegetes were uncomfortable with Gothard’s bent toward legalism at the expense of certain higher Pauline concepts of sanctification.
    In summary, I find it no surprise that Joshua Pease hopes to convey the impression that Christian fundamentalism is drawing its final breaths. The New Republic, a consistent journal of secularism, is a willing venue for this sort of writing. The bad news for Mr. Pease is that many “new and improved” evangelical Christian ministries have arisen since the demise of Bill G. (And this is not to mention the many traditionalist Roman Catholic apostolates which have developed in the past thirty years or so. These Catholic organizations often do a much better job of establishing a philosophical framework for conservatism.)


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