Thursday, March 13, 2014

Faith Looks at Bill Gothard

My friend Faith Annette Sand graduated from Wheaton College in 1960 and knew Bill Gothard there.  She sent me the following commentary, which I post here to give it more visibility than it would have as an end comment.

I first encountered Bill Gothard in the fall of 1957 when I was a sophomore at Wheaton College. He had just graduated that year and was now enrolled in their graduate program. Bill was organizing college students who were willing to be Bible study leaders one evening a week under the auspices of a program working in various Chicago-area public high schools. Actually Bill was writing his master's thesis in this area so I guess we were acting as free academic assistants getting data for him on how such youth groups worked out.

     The proposed leaders were taken away for a weekend retreat to prepare us for our roles.  I remember the pressure put on me to cram one more event into an overly crowded agenda that had me up into the wee hours most nights studying to keep up with a 21-semester-hours class load (the result of really stupid "counseling" by a male peer, a couple years my senior, who had graduated from my high school.  I now realize he was jealous of the fact that I had validated first-year English among some other accolades given me that had escaped his own c.v.  He was probably hoping to help me fail at something). 

     Since service to ministry was always uppermost in my missionary family, it seemed appropriate to agree to be a Bible study leader at least for a year.  I remember Bill leading the retreat in a navy suit and tie and being rather uptight, albeit charismatic and persuasive in getting us to sign on.  I didn't sign up for a second year.

     The next I heard of Bill was in the early '70s in Brazil where I was now a missionary. Each year the Missionary Association Fellowship that helped with visas, travel and general encouragement held a pan mission conference. This year they'd invited Larry Coy to present a "Basic Youth Conflicts" seminar, which apparently was the current rage in the U.S. 

   Larry Coy had been my classmate at Wheaton and when we chatted, I told him I'd worked with Bill Gothard as a sophomore. Larry mentioned that he not only was Bill's associate but was also now writing the workbook to go with the advanced course of their program. Like Bill, Larry was a great salesperson and I took the message to heart.

     Shortly after arriving in Brazil in 1962, and two days after I turned 24, my husband and I had adopted 8 Brazilian orphans (ages almost 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 years old) when their orphanage closed. Now ten years later we had added two of our own to the family, so now the children ranged from 7 to 19 and we were facing a new reality of dealing with teenagers and school.  

     Oh, and did I mention that my (now-ex) husband had an affair with my oldest Brazilian daughter when she was 13 and 14? Besides this, he had a nasty temper which he took out on me in physical abuse for which he always apologized, quoting 1 John 1:9 for good measure, e.g. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I was firmly convinced by my fundamentalist world there was no other option than to stick it out and forgive this "cleansed" spouse and try to forget the betrayal). 

     Larry Coy's message reinforced this conviction and I returned home to the kids, convinced that if we stuck to God's immutable principles, all would be right and ours would be added to all those success stories they kept talking about in the seminar.

     We decided that from now on, my husband would be "in charge" of the four boys and I would be "in charge" of the six girls. I kept forgiving everyone around me and "rejoicing" in everything. I also remained silent when I thought he was being too harsh on the boys because he was in the direct line of God's authority. I did say things like: "Don't you think you should apologize to Graciano for losing your temper?" To which I would hear a disgusted, "No!" 

I was heartbroken but not overly surprised after one of my husband's vicious attacks on Graciano, 14, when he ran away to find his Brazilian family. I didn't see him for another 20 years so I mourned losing this bright child, our youngest son whom I'd raised from the age of 4 and who was totally fluent in English. Within a few months two of the older boys had gone off to find their fortunes after being the brunt of his nasty temper. But still I persisted in "obeying God's immutable laws" as per Gothard's interpretation.

     During the next couple years it felt like all the effort I had spent nurturing and raising these eight Brazilian children for years was coming to naught. Then a missionary friend with a seminary degree whom I had not seen for quite awhile came to visit, totally upset. As a woman, our mission world told her she needed to be "in submission" to the male authorities around her, but she had just come back from a long mission trip where, because she wasn't listened to, a young man in their group committed suicide. She knew that with her experience she could have helped him, but she was discounted and told she could have nothing to do with that young man nor could she even pray for him because she was rebelling against authority.

     Into the wee hours of the night we sat telling each other the stories of what had happened to us in the interval we had been apart. Finally about 2 am I looked at her and said, "I think, Barbara, they've sold us the Brooklyn Bridge! They keep telling us about all these wonderful success stories for those who obey the rules, but here are a couple real failure stories to add to their litany!" 

   During the time we had not seen each other, I had been silent while three of my sons left the family because of the vile temper of my husband, and she had stood obediently silent while the "male hierarchy" in her mission group had let this lovely young man commit suicide because no one would give him the help that Barbara knew he needed.

     Once you open the window, you can never erase the view from your memory bank. I had been totally flummoxed by a shocking story the last time I had seen Larry Coy.  Later I kept trying to ignore the story. In one of our times together as "old Wheaton buddies" Larry told me he had been offered a good position with Jerry Falwell.  Bill Gothard, however, was not only upset by Larry's contemplated leaving of Bill's ministry but was telling him he had no "right" to use the material Larry had developed while working with Bill.  He had just been a "paid writer." 

     When Larry took umbrage and said it was his own creative work, Bill said he would sue Larry to make him stop using his own words. (Later I heard Bill had taken Larry to court.) But I kept wondering, how could Bill go against every principle he had been espousing with such authority? Repeatedly during the seminars they had emphasized the "principle" that Christians could NEVER take another Christian to court because it was an un-Christ-like stance. Yet here Bill was willing to sue Larry. What gave?

     Then came the rumors that Bill's brother was sexually harassing women in their office. At that point I decided I was dropping all pretense at bowing to male "authority" and so, although it took a couple years to get exit velocity, I did manage to leave Brazil and get out of Dodge City by the skin of my teeth. Everyone in my mission world blamed me for not being submissive. Apparently I should have turned the other cheek and ignored his unfaithfulness, his physical abuse and his foul temper. When I didn't, I became a persona non grata to my mission community, but not to God who opened the doors and led me out of that wilderness into a new life full of adventure and travel and a new ministry.

     So recently when it looked like Bill Gothard had finally fallen on his own petard, I was not surprised. If he had listened to me 40 years ago, I could have told him his so-called immutable principles were nothing but bunk being used by a male-dominated church that was trying desperately to keep women blind and in bondage.  His harsh teachings were certainly not going to prepare anyone for heaven where there will be no more tears, nor crying, nor mourning, nor pain. 

     What were we thinking of to allow such poppycock to be stuffed down our throats?

     I guess we weren't thinking. We were brainwashed.

          --Faith Annette Sand, March 13, 2014, Pasadena, California

For more information on problems in Bill Gothard's ministry, see


No comments: