Famous Fundies: Bill Gothard

In 1961, a fundamentalist named Bill Gothard founded the Institute in Basic Life Principles and later masterminded the Advanced Training Institute home study program. These programs have forever changed the lives of thousands of people. Some of them have since managed to piece back together some shreds of their sanity; many more have not.

Gothard is not only embraced by IFB types, he has more than his share of charismatic type followers as well, but there has been a significant part of fundyland that venerates him as a prophet — while some like David Cloud think he’s the devil. Such is the way of fundyland.

If you’ve ever been told that your children’s Cabbage Patch doll was causing them to suffer Satanic attack and mental illness (which may or may not really exist), you’ve probably met either Gothard or one of his followers. He also subscribes to many standard fundy themes such as rock music being able to damage your heart with its ‘unnatural rhythms.’

Having never been married or had children, Gothard is, of course, a self-proclaimed expert on both marriage and children — lots and lots of children. The Quiverfull movement finds strong support in Gothard circles with the celebrated Duggar family as its most visible followers. Bill’s teaching is that families should pop out as many children as physically possible without regard for health risks or economic improbability. However, it should be noted that according to Bachelor Bill sex itself should not be had during the wife’s menstrual cycle; seven days after the cycles; 40 days after the birth of a son; 80 days after the birth of a daughter; and the evening prior to worship1. Animal sacrifices after childbirth are evidently optional although one might imagine highly encouraged if coming in the form of fried chicken.

The key word to understanding Gothard is “Authority.” He has it. Your pastor has it. Your dad has it. You don’t. Sucks to be you. In the Gothard world Authority isn’t given in different spheres but is structured like military ranks. Therefore in an ideal home the dad will have the authority over his children (even if they’re 43), but the dad takes orders from the pastor who can by spirit-led fiat decide what’s best for you and yourn. It’s for your own good. No, really.

One can only imagine the years of deprogramming that it takes to free people from his teaching.

$3 bill picture found at midwestoutreach.org

62 thoughts on “Famous Fundies: Bill Gothard”

  1. Epic. Fundy. Fail.

    Duggars drive me crazy, and I deeply wish every time they are brought up that someone would take their kids away from them. They have no business raising children.

  2. It took me 30 years to regain my sanity after fundy and Bil Gothard led upbringing.

  3. Confession Time:

    After the one and only time we went to a “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts” (and my parents were furious about the rhythm method presented and the anti-liberal-arts education pushed. FURIOUS!), that little earwig about the Cabbage Patch Kids being evil demons wormed its way into our collective brain. And so my little Bertie Luna was left on our front lawn to taunt another little girl in our neighborhood.

    Good times.

    1. Cabbage Patch dolls bring back a nightmare to me. We were having serious problems with our daughter around 1992 because of our own legalism and then I read the article about how evil they were from an article a lady gave us in the church nursery which was not at all associated with Bill Gothard. We proceeded to go home and burn their dolls in our HUGE wood furnace downstairs. As if it wasn’t enough that our poor daughter was already suffering from our own form of legalism and she didn’t need this!!! By the way, we did burn both of our daughters dolls. One of our daughters knows the Lord Jesus in her heart and is on her way to Africa to be a missionary only by God’s grace and the other is 30 and going for her PhD in self awareness, new age, psychology. We are in contact with her and we have a good relationship. We let her know that we love her and that she can share anytime without us pushing her to Jesus. He will persuade and draw her through the journey that He has set for her. We have apologized profusely to them in regards to the dolls and asked for their forgiveness. One of those GREAT regrets in life. 😥 Trusting that through our inadequacies His grace will be shown for His glory. Romans 8:28

      1. I know I’m demented, but I would LOVE to have watched those little monsters burn! There’s just something so WRONG about their fat ugly faces, their stupid puffy cheeks, their never-ending smiles, that makes me want to rip them to shreds. 👿
        For a look at how bad this can get: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QPMLQGuL0c

        1. The Cabbage Patch dolls are ugly, crudely made, and have hideous expressions on their faces.

          I have to wonder about adults who like them.

  4. A young ATI woman in the midst of deprogramming:


    The comments from her father and various other relatives are eye opening. And the Gothard people have recently asked her not to use their “character traits” as the titles of her posts.

      1. Link/source? I’ve always wondered with leaning towards trusting that was real. I hadn’t seen that blog in a year or more, but am curious of what the real story actually is.

  5. @phil cause they keep cranking out kids w/ no regard for their well being, their upbringing, just crank the kids out & make the older ones raise the younger ones, and keep them all seperated from “the world”. They aren’t parents their incubators.

  6. @Rob I disagree. I’ve seen the show many times and believe the Duggar parents love their children very much. They haven’t given me reason to think of them as careless or abusive in the responsibilities they give the older kids. They’re not perfect by any means, but the reason they don’t use birth control is legit in their convictions. I support them.

  7. I must know how the Cabbage Patch dolls became evil. Enlighten all of us who managed to avoid Gothardism if not the Gothardites.

    Camille: A Cabbage Patch Kid as fetish? I hope you didn’t stick any pins into it. The things I missed by never going!

  8. Cabbage Patch kids became evil because the manufacturers inserted evil demons or gods into them. Hindu gods of blindness or starvation or whatever. And whatever demon had infested yours, that’s what you had problems with.

    Since I had a lot of crazies in my life at that time — I was 16 — my mom wondered if the “Luna” in my “Bertie Luna” CPK stood for lunatic.” So Mom wanted to get rid of her.

    I didn’t really care. I was 16!! But it’s still a great story, ain’t it?

  9. Must explain a lot about me. I had (and still have) two Cabbage Patch Kids that are both older than me. And my sister has one, somewhere. Bwahahaha … they must must be the offspring of “Chuckie.” Oh wait, they grew in cabbages.

    How crazy. This guy must’ve made it up.

  10. “and that’s how season 8 would have started” LOL

    Wait, I mean “uh…I have no idea what she’s talking about. Who is that girl anyway?”

  11. These programs have forever changed the lives of thousands of people. Some of them have since managed to piece back together some shreds of their sanity; many more have not.

    It’s comments like this that make me wish you would write more and embed less.

  12. It’s comments like this that make me wish you would write more and embed less.

    I write when I have something to say.

    Believe me, you don’t want me just prattling on.

  13. ““Authority.” He has it. Your pastor has it. Your dad has it. You don’t. Sucks to be you.”

    It does. ::laugh/weep::

    Thank you–this site is cathartic.

  14. I love some of these sites put up by families that are part of the “Quiverfull” or “Family-Integrated” movements. It’s usually some type of “home” product the wife is selling because they need the money because of a pot-load of kids. (I guess “prayer time” was fruitful.) Most of the time, it’s a pastor’s wife too. It’s ok though, she’s working in the home!

  15. I don’t have to “imagine” how many years it takes to deprogram from Gothardism. I have lived it! I am almost 48 and still sometimes default to the “Authority” chain of command. Gothard is a very spooky guy. I was interviewed by him for a job in his organization in Illinois back in 1985. I was a 22-year-old, single girl. The questions he asked me were unbelievable. I was offered the job, but thankfully did not take it. I don’t know where I would be today if I had taken the job.

  16. Usually your posts are funny. This one isn’t funny. It’s far too real to be funny. Though I can appriciate your humor, it just hits too close to home. The comment about how long it takes to put the pieces of our lives back together….you have no idea. 🙁 One of Gothard’s favorite teachings is about satanic “strongholds” in people hearts. I wonder if he knows that that’s what he and his teachings are to so many of his followers?

  17. My family was into all this stuff. We even went to the huge seminar in Tennessee every summer. They had fun stuff for kids but once I started getting older I began to realise how crazy it all was. I hate “step Christianity” where everything you do has to have a method, otherwise you “won’t be blesses” or “it won’t work out”. That puts God in a box. “Let me push all the right buttons and God will give out blessings like a vending machine.” That’s another thing IBLP is about. As a child, I asked one of the group leaders how Christians in other countries pleased God without the “methods” we were being taught. I was told that’s why they had missionaries. Sad.

  18. I was at a fundy church 10 minutes from Gothard HQ…scary people! A lot of them came to our church…well, not to Sunday School, or the nursery, or most functions…Bill wouldn’t allow it.

    In choir was a seemingly normal woman who during practice recounted to me the story about how Bill had saved her daughter from starvation….turns out that right before the sweet little thing died, they went to a seminar and heard about the CP dolls. The family raced home to discover the little devil doll was actually named after an african God of starvation and once they threw the doll away, their little girl began to eat and recovered! Talk about weird!

    The ATI also has “midwifery” school for the girls…one of the things that was written about on the site was a mother who was having trouble delivering her baby…labor had stalled (of course, this was at home because NO Gothardite can have their baby in a hospital)…anyway, instead of calling 911 or suggesting that they drive this poor laboring woman to a hospital for help, what did the midwife do? Search the house for the thing that was keeping this baby from arriving and sure enough, she found one of the demon cabbage patch dolls. As soon as it was removed from the home, labor resumed and the baby quickly arrived.

    It really is true when they say that life is stranger than fiction!

    1. The Cabbage Patch Evil Named doll one sounds kind of interesting; I only hope it’s true! I hate those things. 👿

  19. Mythic Tales from Fundy Mysticism… at least Jr. Asparagus knows that God is bigger than the boogie man.

    But their god is stymied by-a-toy, a child’s plaything? Oooo our god can’t defeat the power of the “patch.” Are the Christian marketing versions called: Cabbage Patch the Pirate kids? (rimshot)

    Gothard is a sad, strange little man, and he has my pity… wait, check that… nope lower, contempt….. nope lower…. disgust??? nope, lower still ummmm whale fecal matter bacterium waste product???

    That’ll do-do…. and the membership of this particular particulate club is very exclusive: Schaap, Hyles, Finney, Rolof, Jim Jones, J.R Ewing and Congress…. just to name a few.

  20. @Don, you been watching Toy Story? 😀

    (Incidentally, Toy Story 3 was amazing.)

  21. My wife and I attended the basic seminar. We bought the character series material. While closely examining it, we found scripture quotes taken out of context and distorted facts about animals. The credibility of the material dropped rather rapidly and we got rid of it all while still in fundyland.
    I look at others who have become Gothardites and thank God it did not happen to us.

  22. @ JimE: Didn’t you feel a recovery in your thinking abilities when you got rid of this Fundy demon? =D

  23. @JimE wow. SOOOO glad you caught on & bailed. I wish I could believe most people that get sucked into buying his stuff would catch on & bail.

  24. All it took for me was reading his interpretation of Abigail and Jonathan in the Bible. Talk about ignoring Biblical context in order to support your presupposed theories. Ick. Just looking at those three books on my shelf would make me annoyed!

    So my question is, do I sell them on craigslist or do I just destroy them?

    @ Lou Meland, lol!

  25. RE: Duggars: I think making your older child “raise” a child as a “buddy” from the time they are 8 or 9 months is completely wrong. You have kids, you raise them–you don’t “assign” them to your children.

    I am not AGAINST chores or kids helping out around the house, but raising your siblings is not a normal life. (and, FYI, I know the proper grammar is “rearing” children, but it just sounds funny. LOL)

  26. @Pastor’s wife, I’d gladly pay you the craiglist value of those books to destroy them.

  27. @Lou and Rob.
    There was a number of issues that my wife and I had while still in the seminar. The adult child thing where the parents still ruled the child was very weird to both my wife and I, to my parents and to her parents. The umbrella concept seemed to make some sense but even that did not seem right to me. We tried to take that good concepts from it. After examining the character documents, we discarded the Gothard materials about 1 year after buying them, knowing that we would never use them.

    I can’t say my thinking improved afterward because we never really change anything in our lives based on the seminar or materials purchased. Everything seemed superficial when examined closely. It was just another fundy attempt to preserve the culture of the 1940-1960 period. (pre-Beatle era). Everyone wore a suit and tie to work and school (only men worked). Mom dressed in the latest fashion and waited patiently at home while the family was away and prepared a full course meal for supper, after which the family did father led Bible study, sang hymns and prayed together till bed time.

  28. @JimE: I meant, did you experience a recovery in your thinking abilities AFTER you got rid of this Gothard/Fundy “demon” (like Cabbage Patch) 🙂

  29. @Lou, Holy Cabbage Patch Dolls, I see it now. Thanks Lou. 🙂 We are going to have a 3-alarm bon fire tonight. I must save my ability to think Biblically before it is too late. Everything but the Bible and Gothard must go. Seriously, if someone is so weak minded that they believe that the proximity of physical objects causes spiritual chaos, they should move or remove the objects. I just do not believe that happens to me or my family, never have. God rules. Always has and always will.

  30. @JimE: I thought the weak-minded were easily influenced by jedi mind tricks. Hmmm…

  31. One part of this article I don’t agree with – that the Pastor rules over the ATI family. Ha. Gothard rules…who cares about God’s plan for a local church? If the family doesn’t do “home church”, they don’t attend more than the AM Sunday service and criticize the church all the time (even if it’s IFB, it usually won’t follow everything Gothard teaches). Unless, of course, you go to an all-Gothard IFB church. Yep, then it all works out.

  32. I spent MANY years going to basic, advanced, pastors’, and Advanced Training Institute seminars. (I was hospitalized with meningitis at the end of the week of 16-hour training days….)
    I could write a book (actually, someone already has: A Matter of Principle-check out Midwest Christian Outreach). I’ve heard Bill say outrageous and literally dangerous (as in potentially deadly) things.
    Here is his teaching MO: State a “principle”, support it with a verse taken out of context, and support the misinterpretation with a supposedly true-life example or illustration. Re: the 2nd point, I heard a fellow pastor challenge Bill in a pastors’ meeting on taking verses out of context and misapplying them. Bill’s answer in essence was: “It’s permissible to do that if the principle is in agreement with the ‘spirit’ of the Scriptures.” Wondering how to tell if it’s in the spirit of the Scriptures? Just ask Bill!

  33. No comments about the pseudo-para-military Gothard group ALERT? That’s scary stuff for ya.

  34. @Margaret,

    I’ve heard of fundies trying to go back to the Middle Ages, but that’s mind-boggling. That story about an object in the house preventing labour from finishing is straight out of the 16th-17th century witch scares. I’ve seen identical stories from that time period about labour being delayed until someone found and destroyed the object (usually a knotted cord) that a witch had hidden in the house.

  35. I’m in contact with many women struggling with matters of faith, depression, suicidal ideation, and other issues resulting from a childhood steeped in Gothardism and patriocentric teachings. The roots are not good, and we are seeing more and more horrible fruit. Follow Jesus.

  36. I actually learned some good stuff at his seminars, more the basic one than the advanced. The advanced seminar had some pretty far-out stuff in it, like young men only doing apprenticeships instead of going to college. They didn’t say much about women learning any kind of career, obviously.

  37. I have seen Gothard-types on message boards trying to befriend and influence other women. But deep down, their philophies show a real contempt for women. All they really offer is a snare.

  38. i look back a upon my childhood and am thankful that my parents saw bill gothards true colors early enough to keep our family free of his control 👿

  39. I have always wondered why my mom randomly made me throw away/ burn the two cabbage patch dolls I had when I was 4. I remember me being upset about it, and her saying they were demonic, but I never understood why. Now I know!!!!!
    I also now understand why my children’s church pastor said rock music will damage your heart because of the rhythm. lol. yeah… 4/4 , 3/4, 6/8, etc..time isn’t going to kill anyone.

    I’ve just spent the entire evening reading up on Gothard’s teachings. It is making so many unusual memories from my past make sense now… or at least have a reason why they happened… I still don’t think any Gothard’s crap makes any sense.

  40. Your misrepresentation of Bill Gothard is just as egregious as the accusations you’ve laid against him.

    1. Mr Krautter, if you can prove that anything said here is false, by all means do so. Just what are these “misrepresentations” that are so “egregious”?

      The only thing I agree with Gothard on is that Cabbage Patch dolls are abominable, though not for the reasons he states. They’re just ugly and disgusting.

      1. Use of the word Fundy and Fundyland immediately reduces ones credibility, relying upon scoffing rather than any reasoned discourse.

        To emphatically state that Gothard has destroyed thousands of lives requires evidence from the accuser, not a defense from me.

        As far as the phrase “Gothard’s Crap” goes, Gothard himself constantly urged his audience not to quote him, or immitate him, but to study the scripture and be sensitive to God’s spirit. This admonition has been up front from his earliest literature from his earliest seminars. People are prone to pervert and misinterpret any teaching, and Gothard made every effort not to promote himself but direct attention to God’s word.

        Next the psychological issues of those who complain about Gothard may have preexisted in them, and Gothard serves as a convienent focus for their disturbance.

        The rants against Gothard resemble mob mentality more than an argument based on evidence.

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