Basic Life Failures: Fundamentalist Ministry Faces Sex-Abuse Lawsuit

The lawsuit goes on to allege that IBLP, which often seeks to train government officials in matters related to “character,” deliberately concealed sexual assault and harassment complaints from the authorities, conducted a “sham investigation” into the allegations and failed to properly train staff to address sexual harassment.

A Christian ministry with significant ties to the Religious Right is now subject to a lawsuit over an alleged sex scandal. The suit, filed by attorney David Gibbs III on behalf of five women, says the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) covered up sexual harassment and assault committed by its founder, Bill Gothard. The suit names each member of IBLP’s board as a defendant.

“Each of the individual plaintiffs were the victim of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and inappropriate/unauthorized touching, many times while they were minors, at the hand of the IBLP, by and through its agents and employees, and suffered as a result thereof,” it states.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that IBLP, which often seeks to train government officials in matters related to “character,” deliberately concealed sexual assault and harassment complaints from the authorities, conducted a “sham investigation” into the allegations and failed to properly train staff to address sexual harassment. And according to Gibbs, the group’s already trying to escape penance for its sins.

“Defendant IBLP has now announced plans to sell off its significant holdings in the state of Illinois, where the majority of the sexual abuse, sexual harassment and inappropriate/unauthorized touching occurred and where the negligent and willful and wanton acts and omissions, including the cover-up thereof, occurred,” the suit asserts. “Defendant IBLP has now also announced its intentions to relocate its headquarters to the state of Texas, in an attempt to flee the jurisdiction (State of Illinois) where this wrongful conduct occurred.”

This is Gibbs’ second high profile suit involving sexual abuse in a fundamentalist Christian ministry. He also represents Lourdes Torres Manteufel, who is suing former Vision Forum leader Doug Phillips for alleged sexual abuse.

IBLP has not yet responded publicly to the suit, nor has it clarified why it intends to sell its assets and relocate to Texas.

The allegations aren’t new. As I reported previously on this blog, Gothard resigned last year after 34 women came forward to accuse him of impropriety. In a previous report, IBLP claimed its internal investigation of Gothard revealed no criminal action. It then accepted his resignation.

The event likely would have passed without public notice if it weren’t for the Duggar family. The Duggars have been active IBLP participants for decades, and have regularly promoted its homeschool curriculum and training programs for youth via their significant public platform. That platform, of course, shrunk when news of Josh Duggar’s past child abuse and current infidelity went viral.

But there’s another reason to pay attention to Gibbs’ suit. As Sarah Posner reported last month, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) has been deeply involved with IBLP since the mid-1980s. Webster is currently a long-shot candidate for Speaker of the House.

“In a 2003 speech at an IBLP conference, ‘Discover the True Qualities of Leadership,’ Webster boasted of how he diligently conducts both his private and public life according to the ‘commitments’ he made to the principles he learned at IBLP seminars,” Posner wrote.

Webster has repeatedly credited his political success to Gothard’s teachings and uses IBLP’s homeschool curriculum to instruct his six children. That’s his right, of course, but IBLP is an extreme organization. It opposes public education, contraception of all kinds and even Cabbage Patch dolls. (Gothard recommended burning them.) Adherents are encouraged to pray with church elders before seeking medical treatment for illness, and there have been reports of abuse at IBLP’s youth training centers.

Webster also has a personal connection to the IBLP suit. His son, John, is married to Alyssa Bates; the suit names her father as a defendant.

Those are troubling ties, and Webster should explain his commitment to IBLP. Gothard’s acolytes are free to burn Cabbage Patch dolls at will, but this extremist ministry should have no influence whatsoever on secular lawmaking.