A while back when I (Rebecca) was talking with some former ATI members (Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute), I thought about the devastation, confusion, and even anti-Christianity that has resulted from this homeschooling program. I said aloud to myself, “Bill Gothard certainly has left a tremendous amount of destruction in his wake.”
Then I added under my breath, “Many were defiled.”
I saw that he was the very root of bitterness in Hebrews 12:15 that he himself loved to talk about.
In Untwisting Scriptures I compared Scripture with Scripture to show that the “root of bitterness” in Hebrews is, not a feeling deep in an individual’s heart, but a person in the midst of the congregation. It is that person who will defile many. It’s not uncommon for that defilement, that contamination, to remain dormant for some time, even years, before it becomes evident.
For years before he was truly exposed, there were voices calling out against Gothard and his teachings. But so many had to sit under these false, grievously heavy burdens throughout their childhood and teen years. And now, the fallout is all around us. Many have been defiled.
Here is a testimony from one young woman who was “defiled” by Gothardism, who in spite of Gothard and Gothardism found Jesus Christ.
The Gothard Girl
At the age of 22, I was singled out by Bill Gothard, this modern-day apostle Paul. He was “highly impressed with me” and praised my character.
When I was 18 I had wanted to go to seminary, but because my family entered the Gothard cult, I learned that I had no rights and had to listen to and obey my authorities in all things, or I would go “under the realm of Satan’s control for his destruction on my life.”
From this teaching I had become a girl who believed I was never good enough. So I drank up Gothard’s attention like a dry sponge because I was desperate for praise and to fill that hole in my heart.
Yet I saw things that confused and horrified me. He constantly tried to hold my hand, stroke my hair, rub his foot up my leg, and give me full-on tight frontal hugs, all against my consent and desire. I would resist, and he would tell me repeatedly that I was just “a young girl laden with fears.” I still shiver at the anger and frustration ringing in his voice as he said it.
I asked the advice of other respected adults, and I was always told that feeling this way about this godly man indicated that something was wrong with me. I came to believe that all my cautions and inner voice were simply fear (which was ungodly), so I denied and repressed them.
Under Gothard’s control, I had no autonomy. He constantly pointed out my flaws, both “character” flaws and what he perceived to be physical flaws. He taught me how to meet his image of perfection. Of course, his “principles” had perfectly trained me to take all this meekly and quietly.
One day I saw Gothard flirting with some of the many young pretty girls who came and went at Headquarters, and I prayed and prayed. “God, what is going on here?”
That day I heard God speak clearly to my heart. “I’ve seen everything here, and someday I will use you in court to testify against him.”
Entering a new nightmare
By age 24, God’s voice had all but disappeared from my heart. I lay in my bed one night wondering if there even was a God, because this man and his teachings didn’t speak of God’s love to me.
But the God I knew reminded me that His presence had comforted me through some very difficult times, so I knew He was real. But I also knew then that what I was seeing wasn’t real Christianity.
At that time, a young man was pursuing me for marriage. My inner cautions screamed a resounding “NO,” but I had never been allowed to listen to my inner cautions. All I really knew anymore was to surrender to authority and “spiritual principles.”
I tried to follow all the “dating principles” I had been taught in the cult. I expressed the red flags with him and my family repeatedly. I even tried to end the relationship. But I was always told my only problem was my fears.
I remember fasting all day one day begging God, if this marriage wasn’t His will, to deliver me by telling my parents no. I didn’t know that I could just follow God despite what others said–I thought I had to have my authorities speak for me.
Even on the morning of my wedding day when I opened the Bible to Psalm 16, I heard God speak so clearly to my heart, “I want you to get out, and this psalm will be true in your life.”
But I thought it was too late now.
Three years later I was statistic of domestic violence in every form. Every caution I had was true. Every one.
I looked up “abusive marriages” online to find the power and control wheel for domestic violence, but the cult I was in taught me that all of those were areas I was supposed to be controlled, or I’d be subject to “Satan’s destruction.”
I was trapped and I wanted to die.
Beginning of recovery
I cried out to God for help and in 2011 connected with Recovering Grace. With professional counseling I began to work through the cult teachings. I began speaking out against Bill Gothard and became Jane Doe IV in a lawsuit (which was later dismissed).
I tried to fight for my marriage, only to find my husband didn’t believe he had a problem and didn’t want to give up his view of controlling and abusing me.
Finally I got myself and my daughter out of my abusive marriage.
Ten years later . . .
As I close on being 34 I have tons of joy, shock of freedom, and I am amazed at the strength God gave me this past year. It is incredibly significant to me.
This past year, Bill Gothard put an $18,200 judgment on me, demanding I recant everything I said or face paying the fine, losing my home, going to court, and perjury on my record. I said, basically, “I have nothing to recant, because I didn’t lie. See you in court.”
I stood before Bill Gothard in court just the way at age 22 God had spoken to my heart I would. I roared in his presence, showing I was no longer “a girl laden with fears.” I was now brave and tenacious and ready to fight for the weak and be a voice for them.
And I was validated by the judge.
This same year I filed for divorce, and was granted it.
So 34-year-old Lauren did what 24-year-old Lauren couldn’t do. She stood for herself; she followed Jesus and His promptings in her heart; she stood against abuse, manipulation and control; and she chose not to relent, regardless of the threats and loss of relationships.
Losing and finding true Christianity
I didn’t find Christianity in Bill Gothard’s cult teachings. But through my seven-year marriage I saw the reality of an earthly hell in someone who follows religion and law above a relationship with God and walking in love.
It broke me. It broke me, to bring me to healing.
I had nothing else to turn to but the God who had been made out to be an abuser by my then-husband. I chose to fight through the lies and find the real Jesus and true Christianity.
True Christianity is a surrender of the heart to God in your desperate need of Him, for salvation and to follow His leading. He leads those who yield to Him in safety and in paths of peace. He speaks to their hearts—and you don’t need an authority to speak for you.
He is for the abused, oppressed, weak, outcast, and those who are condemned by the religious people and law. When they trust in Him, He stands for them, he heals them, he fulfills and satisfies their hearts with His love and acceptance, and He gives them value and purpose. He did this for me, delivering me from my marriage and providing everything in ways that only are of Him.
Psalm 16 has become true in my life. It is a psalm of how God is our total satisfaction and how He leads us safely. Psalm 16 says, “the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, indeed I have a good heritage.”
He knew that on my wedding day I wasn’t strong enough to get out, but He knew that one day I would, and He would be there for me when I did.
He told me and knew I would one day face Bill Gothard in court, and He was there in that courtroom.
He showed me the destruction of religion and law. It brings wrath, pain, and death—my marriage was completely law and abuse justified with the Bible, and that’s what it brought.
A relationship with Jesus brings freedom, joy, love, and peace.
Jesus suffered rebuff and rejection under the hands of religious people when he broke perceived commandments/traditions/ laws to bring healing and wholeness to others. He understands my suffering when I’ve been oppressed by religious leaders, because He was too.
So today I’m grateful for what God did through my marriage to heal me and am at peace with it. I’m in the process of becoming a domestic violence advocate. I continually advocate for those who have been spiritually abused in cults.
So what does it mean to live as a Christian?
It is living in an abiding walk with God because I depend on Him. It is going to Him and pouring my heart out to Him for answers, comfort, and direction when I have none, and realigning my thoughts with His through His Word, because His thoughts are good.
It is loving others because I understand His love for me that has healed my heart, and I can love from a healed heart. True religion is to advocate for the abused, the oppressed, the vulnerable and weak. It is to strengthen them with Jesus and His truths. True Christianity gives value to a person. It acknowledges that every person has God-given rights.
We are called to suffer for doing what is right, as I have for standing against Gothard, with all the rebuff and rejection I faced from other Christians for obeying God in that action and for leaving my domestically violent marriage. There is peace in those sufferings because I know I’m doing what God told me. There is no peace in staying in abusive controlling relationships.
I look back often to that 18-year-old girl who wanted to go to seminary, and I wish I could tell her to go, but I cannot undo it. I can, however, have joy in my blessings and can be grateful for the life I have and what I learned along the way.
Now 34-year-old Lauren is applying to go to school for the major she originally wanted, psychology. I’ve learned that God is a restorer of dreams. He plants them in our hearts, the same as he did for Joseph. Gothard liked to tell the story of Joseph, who had a dream from God but instead got betrayed by his brothers and was sold into slavery. It looked like death to his dreams, but was the means for his dreams to be accomplished. When God allows evil to be done to us and it looks like Satan won and all is lost, He is still in control and working and is weaving a greater story with our dreams.
Today my heart is full of joy in true Christianity, away from legalism in the oppressive cult. Only God could have done that. The brokenness I experienced led me to healing and wholeness and an abundant life.
So I will be thankful for the scars, and I’ll look back on my 34th year with tears of joy for what was fought for and accomplished that year. More importantly, I’m thankful for finding the heart of Jesus and His love for me, so I could be healed by His stripes.