Bill Gothard: Who knew what and when? A question of accountability

by on February 20th, 2014

Harroll Ingram, Computer Engineer for the Federal Government, begins his article on leadership Honest, Open, and Ethical Leadership Nurtures Organizational Morale :

Leadership is the art of motivating people to achieve a common goal. Effective leadership requires honesty (truthfulness) which fosters trust. Past research supports the idea that people want to follow honest leaders. Several studies listed numerous leadership traits and asked over 75,000 respondents to select the traits they mostly admired in their leaders. More than half of the respondents (50% – 80%) in each study listed honesty as one of the most important leader traits. Organizational unity increases with honest leadership. Leaders set good moral examples by conducting their affairs honestly and transparently. Leaders should be a model for honesty, openness, and ethical behavior.

This isn’t a religious article but written by an employee of the government to explain what healthy leadership looks like. It is something he calls “Open Leadership.” We would refer to this as accountability. Are leaders honest? Do they lives their lives with the knowledge that others are watching? Are they confrontable and correctable when they begin going in the wrong direction?

We have been firm that the biblical model shows the higher one ascends into leadership the more accountable they are to a larger number of people. Leaders live in glass houses and everyone around them has Windex®. James puts it this way (James 3:1):

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

By virtue of their position there is a higher standard of behavior and accountability for leaders. This is especially true in the church. In many cases, leaders become the voice of God to those who follow them. I am reminded of this constantly as I deal with or counsel individuals or families who have someone in the hospital near the throes of death or has passed from this life. What words of comfort will I offer? Or, helping a family who has lost a son, daughter or spouse to a cult or false religious group—what guidance will I give them? We deal with people’s lives in ways that most will never experience. It is at times a fearful responsibility for me, as it should be. People watch what I do, how I live and what I say more carefully than I am comfortable with but that is probably a good thing. It helps me stay circumspect as the words of James echo in my mind, “…know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

All of this was brought to the fore in my thinking the past few days since Libby Anne and the Patheos Blog posted, Bill Gothard: When People Know . . . and Do Nothing.

We decidedly see the world differently and Libby Anne is not shy in describing our positions to be “virulent anti-secularism and extreme political conservatism.” I have to admit my snarky streak began to surface. In general I don’t mind others calling me names or using what might be deemed as derogatory labels. “Virulent” is really a great and very descriptive word the Bing dictionary defines as:

1.very poisonous: extremely poisonous, infectious, or damaging to organisms
2.malicious: showing great bitterness, malice, or hostility
3.irritating: extremely obnoxious or harsh

I am not certain why our positions are malicious, bitter, hostile, extremely obnoxious or harsh unless those with opposing views simply do not like their views to be challenged but perhaps we are all of those things. In fact, it might be worse. I may be short and fat in addition! It is true I am conservative. In fact, I often tell folks I am so conservative that I have trouble making a left turn when I am driving. Being that Joy and I are over-the-road truckers to support ourselves and the ministry, that is a bit inconvenient. :D

In some ways I understand Libby Anne’s perspective better than some may expect. My father was an atheist and I pretty much held his views. As a result I didn’t understand the church very well and I have to confess, since becoming a Christian my understanding hasn’t improved a whole lot. Christianity seemed to be a weird club that required you confess you were a sinner to join and then spend the rest of your life pretending you are not. I don’t get that. It also impacts the issue of honesty and accountability in leadership.

In Bill Gothard: When People Know . . . and Do Nothing Libby Anne writes:

In that book Veinot said nothing about concerns regarding Bill Gothard’s behavior toward the young girls sent to work at headquarters. Instead, Veinot focused only on Gothard’s theology. In the wake of Recovering Grace’s new revelations regarding Bill Gothard’s sexual molestation of young employees, Veinot has published a new article on the Midwest Christian Outreach website—and it turns out that he knew and intentionally chose to say nothing.

She quoted a section of last week’s blog, Bill Gothard and the 1 Timothy Project :

We also knew we had information about his behavior and sexual proclivities which we did not use or comment overly much about in the book. We knew, for example, that he is far too, shall I say, familiar with the young females he selects as his personal assistants. The reason we did not go into that too much was that we had spoken with the families of some of the former IBLP women and/or their families and realized that Bill had done so much damage, we did not want to subject them abuse to additional shame or possible embarrassment by making it more public. We decided that we could make our case that he is unqualified for leadership in a Christian ministry without having to describe his more prurient behavior toward those under his authority.

She then asserts:

Veinot knew of the horrific damage Bill Gothard had done to the young women he made his personal assistants, and yet he chose to hide that information.

and

He knew—he knew—and did nothing.

Hmmm… I had to stop and think about that one a bit. Libby Anne was obviously very exercised about this. Should I respond, I wondered? Certainly I needed to make sure I was being honest and accountable. Had I engaged in covering up child molestation? This is not only a serious sexual sin but also illegal. Had I participated in helping another leader escape honesty and accountability and perhaps even prison? In other words had I been dishonest and unaccountable myself? If so Libby Anne should call me to task! As I thought about this, a quote from Abraham Lincoln came to my attention which I think frames the issue a bit. Speaking about an attorney he knew, Lincoln said:

‘He can compress the most into the smallest ideas better than any man I have ever met.’

I am glad Libby Anne is addressing the issues of Gothardism and she has the experience of living and growing up in such a system. However, I think she has packed far more into my statement than what I wrote. We are learning today far more than we knew in 2003 when we published the book, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life .

We knew Ruth’s story but were asked to not make it public. As a pastor I have an obligation to keep things to myself that are entrusted to me in confidence. At the time Ruth headed for the Institute she was a freshman in college. In other words, not under age. Gothard’s actions were clearly wrong and he should have been held accountable, but it would not qualify as child molestation. As I mentioned last week, we honored that request. It did not seem appropriate to drag Bill’s victims back for more abuse.

We had been told by the wife of an elder of a church near the Institute that she was at a local restaurant and observed as Bill and two young female staff (both over 18) were eating. She relayed that Bill had taken his shoes off and from time to time would rub his foot up and down the leg of the young lady that was seated across from him. Again, not wise but not prosecutable—likely not even provable.

We did warn the public though in chapter 2 of our book (page 54) where we wrote:

Eventually, of course, despite Gothard’s best efforts at containment, the scandal did go public – very public. The story was reported in the Los Angeles Times, and it was not just Steve’s sexual improprieties that were brought to the light of day. Russell Chandler reported in the Times that “Bill Gothard was seen by staff members patting and fondling women employees. Later, he admitted in staff meetings that these actions were ‘moral failures’ on his part.”

From our vantage point at the time, these stories were 20 years old and we had nothing more current to draw from or comment on.

I appreciate Libby Anne’s outrage, we should all be incensed. Many Christians seem to be quite involved in throwing stones at sinners outside the church but too few are willing to hold the leaders inside the church to task. When Gothard resigned after the scandal in the 1980s he should not have been reinstated unless and until he repented and demonstrated he was trustworthy to be restored to the office of being a minister. Instead, due to the lack of accountability either by his church, ministry Board of Directors, national leaders or the church at large, he was emboldened to be what Harroll Ingram describes as “Toxic Leadership”:

Toxic leadership can be defined as leadership that is poisonous, destructive, or harmful. It has been noted that many military students view toxic leaders as being focused on visible short-term mission accomplishment and preoccupied with providing superiors with impressive presentations of mission-focused activities. Many military students find toxic leaders to be arrogant, self-serving, and less concerned about subordinate or organizational morale. Toxic leadership breeds toxic followership and, subsequently, another generation of toxic leaders. Leaders need to realize they promote the standard they set and if their leadership is toxic, organizational morale will suffer.

Gothard’s impact on the church in teaching, example and behavior is toxic. I have heard more and more from those who have read our book, the increasing information at Recovering Grace and Libby Anne’s blog how much more deeply they have been affected by Gothard than they have even realized. All of this brings us back to where we began last week. James is clear that leaders will be “judged with greater strictness” or held to a higher standard. They are more accountable. In light of what we’re taught in 1 Timothy 5 on the manner and importance of confronting the sins of those who are in leadership, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc is prayerfully contemplating specific, appropriate steps involved in confronting any national evangelical leader where evidence indicates moral failure has occurred. Responsiveness to sin is not to be flippantly enacted but should be enacted, nonetheless. Whether Bill Gothard or any other leader within the church, we recognize our responsibility to the truth  and answering this call includes protecting the most vulnerable who end up in the path of destruction.

2 responses to “Bill Gothard: Who knew what and when? A question of accountability ”

  1. chris Symonds says:

    Don I fully understand your reasons for not publishing more than you did regarding Bill’s behavior.

    I took the time to read Libby Anne’s blog as well. From where i see it there will be many that will take extreme stands on opposite ends of the spectrum those who will say don’t judge or leave it to God and those who will take the sword to all and sundry for covering it up.

    I know as an ex counselor the precarious line that pastors and other counselors walk regarding duty of care and confidentiality. I think Libby fails to see that when the offense in question happened a long time ago, (referring to Bill’s victims who shared the stories on Recovering Grace) It is hard to know what to do when they request their story not be made public.

    If a minor had come to me and told me what Bill had done I would have a duty of care to report it in Australia. In Australia the statute of limitations was abolished regarding crimes towards children.

    My point is when someone tells you their story as an adult you have to make a call as to whom you might tell, if anyone. If an adult who was the victim of a sex crime chooses not to report it there is nothing anyone can do.

    It is all fine to go off tap and accuse others of covering it up however one must take into account how that may effect the victims.

    I don’t see that you did anything wrong. I can only wonder what I might have done had I been in your situation, I can only wonder how hard it was to sit on this information for so long because I would have been bursting at the seams to go public and rip strips out of Bill.

    Then I would had to have wondered how my actions might have impacted on those who shared their stories with me in confidence……

    I am pleased the word is out on Bill not because I dislike the man, simply because his teachings have done so much damage. I don’t envy you or Recovering Grace with the circumstances you have been in and I don’t envy you or them for what might come out of this or how Bill might seek to react.

    It does seem to me that there are some who are just plain angry and want to lash out no offense to Libby Anne but she is one angry person

  2. Jeanne says:

    I’m sorry that Bill Gothard never thought that marriage would have been a good option for him. It’s a similar problem that the Roman Catholic priests face…

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