Persistent sexual harassment allegations have finally ended the career of fundamentalist figurehead Bill Gothard. Gothard, 79, resigned from his post as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) yesterday. Thirty-four women had accused the preacher of harassment; four had accused him of molestation. Gothard had been placed on leave pending an investigation into the allegations, which span the last three decades. Gothard and his ministries aren’t well known outside the Religious Right, but they should be. His reach within the movement is extensive, and increasingly Gothard sought to reach government institutions with his brand of hardcore fundamentalism.
Gothard founded IBLP in 1961 to hawk his “Basic Seminar,” which purports to teach families how to solve interpersonal conflicts. IBLP quickly expanded, and now functions as an umbrella organization for a fundamentalist empire that includes prison ministries, children’s homes and a law school.An early advocate of the Christian home-school movement, Gothard also produced a fundamentalist curriculum under the banner of the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), a branch of IBLP. Gothard and his followers, as you might have noticed by now, are fond of acronyms. Most of them are meaningless to outsiders, and perhaps that’s a deliberate strategy. It does, after all, make it difficult to trace the tendrils of Gothard’s influence.That’s unfortunate, because Gothard’s reach isn’t restricted to the insular world of the Religious Right.Zack Kopplin’s recent expose of Responsive Education Solutions, a Texas-based charter school system, revealed that the ostensibly secular company lifted material directly from Gothard’s curriculum.Kopplin wrote, “Some of Responsive Ed’s lessons appear harmless at first, but their origin is troubling. Students also learn about ‘discernment,’ which is defined as ‘understanding the deeper reasons why things happen.’ In other sections, students learn other moral lessons such as ‘values’ and ‘deference.’”As Kopplin noted, the lessons provided by Responsive Ed mimic Gothard’s “Character Qualities.” Responsive Ed also relies on Character First Education, a curriculum produced by Tom Hill, a long-time follower of Gothard’s teachings.Responsive Ed, which educates approximately 12,000 students in Texas alone, received public voucher funds to push Gothard’s extremist views in classrooms.Gothard’s teachings have also found their way into prisons. IBLP trains prison chaplains and delivers Gothard’s “Basic Seminar” to inmates who voluntarily choose to attend. The program has received glowing accolades from elected officials, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Florida state Rep. Charles Van Zant. A post published on IBLP’s website says of Van Zant, “[G]od opened the door for him to be appointed as Vice Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and he has 144 prisons under his care. God laid a burden on them for the spiritual wellbeing of each of the inmates.”IBLP also runs a network of “training centers,” which advertise themselves as safe havens for troubled youth. An eyewitness investigation by WTHR 13, a local NBC affiliate, revealed that IBLP’s Indianapolis Training Center (ITC) abused its juvenile residents – with the state’s help.“Hundreds of young people from around the country come to the ITC – some sent by their parents, others by juvenile court – for a special brand of Bible-based learning and counseling,” the report read.ITC, like all IBLP training centers, answered directly to Gothard and used his religious curriculum and disciplinary methods to “educate” minors. According to WTHR, a local juvenile court judge sent over three dozen children to the center.It’s no coincidence that IBLP, under Gothard’s direction, works so closely with the government. On their website, they’re blunt about their agenda. “The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) was established for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ, and is dedicated to giving individuals, families, churches, schools, communities, governments, and businesses clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God’s principles found in Scripture,” the site reads.In other words, Gothard founded and grew IBLP to proselytize on a mass scale, and to promote his skewed perspective on everything from traditional gender roles to medicine. Gothard considers himself as something of a faith healer, and followers are strictly forbidden from using contraception. That latter rule is particularly relevant, given his strong ties to the Green family, the devout owners of Hobby Lobby. You might recognize that name from their on-going case against the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraception mandate, which will be heard at the Supreme Court later this month. A video of Steve Green, available on IBLP’s website, shows the Hobby Lobby president describing “Hobby Lobby's desire to share Christ and Disciple others.”While Gothard and his allies worked to make his Dominionist dreams reality, he allegedly abused over three dozen young women.The Greens, of course, haven’t said anything about the matter. Neither has Mike Huckabee or Charles Van Zant. And there’s no word on whether any of them will reconsider their partnerships with Gothard’s ministries.But they should. A man like Bill Gothard has no business influencing anyone, let alone elected officials. It’s time for Gothard to fade into obscurity, and for his ministries to cease their attempts to violate the wall of separation.