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The cult of Gothard

The Duggar daughters with Bill Gothard

Part 2

In the last article, we explored Anna Duggar’s faithfulness in standing by her husband, convicted child sex offender Josh Duggar. As you would have gathered, her stance is not an isolated incident. The subservience of women is a core aspect of the Duggar’s interpretation of Christianity. Said interpretation is one heavily influenced by Bill Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a non-for-profit organisation founded in 1961 that was ‘established for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ’.

According to the organisation’s website, Gothard founded IBLP after noticing his high school peers were making ‘unwise decisions’. This encouraged him to memorise biblical scripture and develop the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, which was taught in some colleges in the United States of America. In 1989, the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts because the Institute of Basic Life Principles.

Bill Gothard’s teachings include some standard conservative Christian teachings, think strict gender roles, abstinence as sex education and forbidding same sex relationships, gender diversity and abortion. However, even among these standard teachings, there are interesting nuances in his belief system that have set Gothard apart from the circles of mainstream right-leaning Christianity.

For example, IBLP forbids any music ‘with a beat’, including most forms of Christian music. Parents are required to home-school their children using their Advanced Training Institute (ATI) curriculum, adoption is forbidden as children inherit the sins of their ancestors and that women must adhere to strict codes of modesty and even a hint of lace could lead her to ‘tempt’ a man. Women were also forbidden from showing a hint of a negative emotion. As ‘helpmeets’ and subject to their father or husband’s authority, women were to be meek, sweet and shamefaced. Also central is IBLP’s strong encouragement for wives to have as many children as possible, regardless of medical or financial reasons.

The Duggars have long expressed support for IBLP. Their 2008 book ‘The Duggars: 20 and Counting!’ cite Gothard and IBLP multiple times for guidance in finances, parenting and ‘training’ children. Looking at older pictures of the Duggar daughters, you will see them smiling in prairie dresses or denim skirts. You may even see them with hair in scrunchy perms, which allegedly was an aesthetic preference of Bill Gothard.

So yes, IBLP is a bit quirky and over the top, but is it a bit harsh to link them to Josh Duggar?

No, not too harsh. Especially when Gothard himself has been linked to sexual misconduct against over 30 women. And despite this, the Duggars continued to stand by Gothard and his principles. While some of their married children have stated that they do not adhere to IBLP, Michelle, Jim Bob, Josh, Anna and many of the other Duggar children continue to attend IBLP conferences, training seminars and espouse its values.

When it was revealed to the public that Josh Duggar molested five of his (at the time) pre-pubescent sisters, media interest in IBLP and all its affiliates peaked. Research into their teachings were disturbing. IBLP believes that women or girls sexually assaulted are just as guilty if they do not ‘call out’. Yes, this includes infant females. Men and boys (including brothers and fathers) are not to change diapers or see an infant female

naked due to ‘insatiable desires’. An ATI pamphlet on counselling sexual abuse stated that God ‘allowed’ this sexual abuse due to immodest dress, indecent exposure or being away from one’s parents.

One of Bill Gothard’s victims recalled telling Gothard her experiences with sexual assault, and Gothard had blamed her immodestly dressing and failing to ‘cry out’. At the same time, Gothard had groomed her as a teenager, and for three years she was the recipient of unwanted physical affection, from ‘holding hands, stroking hair, to playing footsies’. Several other women who spoke out recall similar experiences – a hand on their thigh, feet touching, touching breasts and other parts of the body. Core to Gothard’s teaching is keeping sweet, for women to smile and remain sweet no matter the situation. So, victims of Gothard would endure this because to not endure it, was to go against ‘keeping sweet’. The girls who told their parents were shushed, stating that Gothard merely expressed ‘fatherly’ affection towards them.

Josh Duggar’s sisters were told to forgive him for his actions. One of the victims who had spoken out, Jill Dillard was said to have been the one who told her parents about Josh’s actions. Note as you watch 19 Kids and Counting, Josh Duggar pokes fun at Jill, calling her the ‘tattler’ of the family. Even though Gothard encouraged women to ‘cry out’ against sexual misconduct, this teaching runs contrary to the teaching that women must keep sweet and remain subservient to male authority.

Under this environment, abuse of power comes as no surprise. It should be noted that Bill Gothard cannot simply be responsible for Josh Duggar. Jim Bob Duggar and his ever-so-compliant wife are just as complicit in covering up for their son, for the Duggar patriarch has dollar-signs in his eyes, a Bible in one hand, and a (metaphorical, we hope) whip in the other.


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