Duggars caught in scandal as spiritual leader Bill Gothard’s accused of sexually harassing 34 young women

Bill Gothard - Recovering Grace - IBLP - ATI - Duggars

Bill Gothard, spiritual leader to the Duggars, the Bates and hundreds of other Christian fundamentalists, has resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) amidst claims he sexually harassed nearly three dozen young women. Still, his influence is inextricable: He founded IBLP in 1961 and homeschooling program Advanced Training Institute (ATI) in 1984.

Members of Recovering Grace, a support group for women who claim they were harassed by Gothard, say the unmarried 79-year-old religious leader has been taking advantage of women as young as 14 since the mid-1970s.

Self-identified survivors of Gothard’s harassment say his inappropriate advances tend to follow a pattern: He takes interest in a teenage girl and invites her to work at the IBLP headquarters in Illinois. The girl is then “subjected to awkward emotional advances” from Gothard, including “holding hands in an intimate way, stroking hair, gazing into their eyes, prolonged frontal hugs, whispers in the ear and playing footsie.”

At least four women claim Gothard touched them inappropriately. One of those women, Charlotte, detailed her molestation in a post on Feb. 5.

I am curvy, and he loved my breasts. He gave me cash and told me to buy bras that pushed me up more; he wanted me to always wear them when I was around him. He never wanted me to show him, though. He just liked to touch over the clothing. He would drive me home so I wouldn’t walk alone to my house in the dark. He would hold my hand and rub my leg and tell me not to tell anyone about what we did in his car.

In every case, Gothard eventually lost interest and moved on to another “favorite.”

Bill Gothard - 1980s

As one survivor wrote in April 2013, the situations were extra confusing because she “had never been told what sex was, or what sexual behavior even looked like. I had read the encyclopedia’s entry on intercourse but that was extent of my knowledge about sexuality.”

In the cases where the young women or their families brought up the inappropriate encounters with Gothard, he “retroactively minimized the physicality and emotional intensity of the relationship, casting it in purely paternal terms.”

The same seems to be happening now. In a private letter sent to ATI families last week, Gothard said he was resigning just so he could focus on listening to those who “ought against” him. He resigned from the presidency in a similar way in 1980 after it was revealed he had questionable relationships with several young secretaries — but took back his leadership role a short time later.

Bill Gothard - Duggar Daughters
^Bill Gothard with the oldest Duggar daughters in 2010.

Despite the scandal, 19 Kids and Counting‘s Duggar family remains heavily involved with both organizations: Josh Duggar’s brother-in-law is the ATI administrative director. Jim Bob Duggar, Michelle Duggar and a handful of their children have given Embassy Institute lectures.

In the newly released memoir Growing Up Duggar, the four eldest daughters even promoted ATI and IBLP programs. They specifically spoke about the Journey to the Heart retreat — which begins at the IBLP headquarters in Illinois and takes the young women to the Northwoods Conference Center in Michigan where Recovering Grace says “most of the sexual misconduct occurred.” The Duggar girls now serve as retreat leaders.

Jana Duggar - Jill Duggar - Journey to the Heart - Bill Gothard
^Jill Duggar (top right) and Jana Duggar (bottom right) during a 2012 Journey to the Heart retreat.

According to sources, Josiah Duggar is currently at International ALERT Academy (IAA), which is a bootcamp-type training camp designed by Gothard.

United Bates of America‘s Bates family is even more involved as patriarch Gil Bates is on the IBLP Board of Directors. The Bates family also took time to celebrate Gothard’s birthday during daughter Erin Bates’ wedding last year.

Erin Bates Wedding - Gothard Birthday Cake

The Duggars’ and Bates’ steadfast loyalty to IBLP and ATI programs had caused some to question whether the organizations are cults — as defined as programs that brainwash followers. Former follower Micah J. Murray said in a Feb. 28 blog post that yes, he believes Gothard’s groups are cults…

During my two years working at the Cult center after highschool, I saw a system of absolute authoritarianism – designed to protect “leaders” and silence “rebellion”. I saw an organization built on the “special insights” and the idiosyncratic whims of an old man with way too much money and power.

They say that he groomed young women, selected the vulnerable and the hurting, told them it was God’s will for them to come work for him. They say that he made them feel special. That say he took advantage of their naivety — naivety instilled through the teachings and culture he created.

The true fallout from Gothard’s resignation remains to be seen. He hasn’t been charged with any crimes, but the Chicago Sun Times reported the Christian Law Association requested a review of the allegations. For now, Gothard’s affiliated organizations are moving forward with scheduled conferences and events.

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  • Brittany

    How shocking! Just kidding.

  • afvcxfsd

    Cults always have these types in them.

    • LexiconD1

      And, they are almost ALWAYS the person who started them….Jim Jones, David Koresh, Bill Gothard, are just a few examples.

  • Sara

    What’s sad is that if any of the Duggar girls or Bates girls came forward their families probably wouldn’t believe them anyway. These girls live under such control it is truly sad!!

    • Cz

      I know, it’s extremely sad. especially since the victims were raised to practically worship Gothard so it’s probably particularly traumatizing. Not to mention all the pressure put, especially on the girls, to remain “pure” for your husband, lessons they have drilled into their heads at Gothard own camps, just for him to turn around and make them feel “impure”. It’s why many of the girls that came forward no longer speak to their families, either because they choose not to (because their families are still involved with the cult) or because they were basically cast of of the family. Typically once the victim makes the claim they’re either considered to be lying, crazy or to have “sin in their heart” and need reprograming until they take the accusation back. I’ve also heard stories of victims being told that even if they were abused/raped THEY must have done someone to cause it by making their abuser sin and causing his “lust” which is up to them to prevent. Which is why the Duggar girls having to warn their brothers and grown father to look away from an “inappropriately dressed women” always grossed me out. Jim Bob in particular, he’s a grown man, why can’t he handle his own “lusting and sinful thoughts”? What would be not be able to handle himself if his daughters weren’t there to shield him? It’s creepy.

    • Annette

      Those girls will do anything to have their father’s approval, even if it means constantly striving to live up to impossible standards. They’re taught that they’re the property of their father until a suitable husband claims them, and they’re expected to be “modest” to such an extreme that they’re ashamed of their own bodies. In their world, their entire existence relies on the way a man views them. Let’s hope that at least one of those daughters has the courage to be her own person.

    • herewegokids

      Even more sad…the girls themselves probably wouldn’t recognize/admit any impropriety even if they had felt uncomfortable.

  • Joseph

    Little by little, the truth comes out.

  • anjealka

    It is sad it took 30 years to get him to resign, if someone had listened to the girls in the 1980’s, it sure would have saved a lot of girls from his abuse.

  • Emily

    I don’t appreciate how they labeled it duggars caught in scandal… this is not about them. it is about bill gothard… ugh.. keep their names out of it .. they just follow the program .. they were not part of the scandal going on with him

    • Cz

      What? Did you even read this article? The Duggars have *many* connections to Gothard and his creepy reprogramming schools and programs. They have given speeches and publicly talked about their support for Gothard for years, along with the Bates family. They are very much caught up in this scandal, especially considering it wasn’t exactly a secret that was very well kept, if people outside the community knew about the abuse claims, I find it hard to belief the church elders and someone like Jim Bob had no idea about them. They chose to ignore the countless claims of abuse for decades against this creep and use their fame from their TV show to promote his “beliefs”. Not to mention allowed their daughters to be alone with him. Not that their brainwashed daughters would dare to ever tell their parents that their precious leader was an abusive creep, they’d probably be disowned. It’s about time someone called Gothard out for being a sexual predator and Jim Bob and Michelle out of giving his cult publicity. If they want money from TLC and to be public figures, they should have thought twice about who they were aligning themselves with.

    • anjealka

      The Duggars call their tv show a ministry. They openly promote Gothard homeschool programs, camps, and seminars. It surprises me but fans of the show are almost viewing an infomercial and yes some fans go and sign up for these programs based on the Duggars recommendation. This morning the Duggars gave 2 tv interviews endorsing Gothard programs and beliefs. You would think once he resigned they might at least back away and stop the public endorsements of Gothard but they have not.

      • suki

        The fact that the Duggars are obviously still promoting and supportive towards that perp is disturbing! Anyone that doesn’t see that is concerning.

    • Renee L

      This is what happens when 13 year olds are allowed on the internet to stick up for their favorite show. These people buy into the shit TLC edits it as. P.S. Capitals and periods are great to use in paragraphs.

      • LexiconD1

        When my son was 13, he knew BASIC grammar.

        Emily must have been taught at the school of the dinning room table.

        • LLM

          “dinning” room?

  • KKKawKayzhun8

    typical cult stuff

  • Graydon

    Another disgrace. So many more to expose. I never look at these people that market themselves and Christianity. They always have secrets behind that perfect performance they put on. They are out to rip you off, or take advantage of you if you are insecure to stand your ground.

  • Stephanie

    Never thought that the reality curse would hit this family. Evil man that will go directly to hell, don’t pass go, don’t get your $200

    • LexiconD1

      Please this families cultist repression of their children is ripe for scandal. I think that’s why TLC picked them to showcase.

  • Ryan Sapp

    Yes the Duggars are part of a cult.

  • greg

    The FBI NEEDS TO BE INVOLVED in this! Enuff is enuff,,,

  • Anna

    Isn’t there something in the Bible and in Christianity about false prophets and false gods? The abuse suffered by the women is the important issue here, but as someone who was raised in the Christian religion, I find all this exaltation of Bill Gothard unsettling. Seems like a cult or at minimum, deviating from some of the basic tenets of Christianity.
    I hope the women get their day in court.

    • Karen Adams

      You are entirely correct. As Christians we are to watch for false p prophets! I remember him from the 70’s I have no problem with people following Christian principles, but I was not aware that he was the leader of this people who I consider extreme. I am just curious as to why Bob Got hard does not follow his own preaching. Where is his mega family. I personally believe that the Bible teaches that a Pastor is to be a married man. This is a little weird to me.

  • msAnna4040

    Ur headline is deceiving. The Duggars werent caught in scandal. Nice try though. There are good and bad people in every walk of life, every profession. We are to keep our eyes on God, not man. Man will let us down every time. Im sure this wont affect the Duggars faith at all since their faith isnt in anyone but the Lord.

    • starcasmnet

      They are absolutely promoting Bill Gothard’s teaching, as recently as interviews done yesterday. Plus, they are likely the best-known faces of IBLP/ATI. So, yes, we feel comfortable writing they are caught in the scandal — which is different than saying they are involved in the actual wrongdoing.

    • Renee L

      “Im sure this wont affect the Duggars faith at all since their faith isnt in anyone but the Lord.” Where did you hear that? The Duggars worship this jerk.
      “We are to keep our eyes on God, not man.” Tell that to Jim Boob, Mullet and their 19 J’s.

    • Dewi South

      The Duggar has nothing to offer but respecting each other. Have you seen a better modeled husband / a better modeled wife comparatively to Gill Bates/ Jim Duggar/Michelle Duggar ? The kids behave mighty well too.

      The Duggars has no debt and take care of the kids very well and so does the Bates, What the heck does it got to do with Bill Gothard scandal? You expect them to behave like Kardashians? Or Kardashians behavior are more acceptable to your liking? You people makes me laugh!

      • LexiconD1

        You are ‘mighty’ clueless on all accounts.

        There is a lot out there that makes this brand of ‘religion’, and the Duggar/Bates/Gothard in particularly, reprehensible. Start at Googling ‘Blanket Training and Recovering Grace’, and go from there.

        I loath the Duggar ‘parents’ (and I’m not too crazy about Josh, either), but I especially loath the lies, and cover ups, perpetrated by TLC about this family.

        People like you, who refuse to see, or learn, for yourself, how despicable this group of people don’t make me laugh, at all. Just the opposite.

        English is your second language…?(hopefully).

        • Dewi South

          I did read the recovering grace and frankly its a very respectable site. Which is a far cry from your obvious character!

          Recovering grace is a Christian site. Which obviously, you sir, are not!

          • LexiconD1

            I’m not a ‘sir’, at all.

            You’re not only clueless. You’re a name calling, lying, moron (hey, if your not above it, why should I be?)

            Good luck in life, YOU will surly need it.

            • Dewi South

              I do have a great life! Thanks for the well wishes!

              • LexiconD1

                As a lying liar who lies?

                Sure you do, again good luck 😉

      • Renee L

        “The Duggars has no debt and take care of the kids very well and so does the Bates, What the heck does it got to do with Bill Gothard scandal?” It has to do with Bill Gothard because they are parenting based on his principals. They aren’t raising the children how the children should be raised, they’re raising them how Gothard tells them to raise them. Advice on parenting is to be taken as a guideline. Not a how-to.

  • Prescott

    I went to my first basic seminar in the mid-1970’s and it changed my whole way of thinking. Practicing the principles I learned there, I made something of my life, married an ideal wife, and during our preparation for a life of ministry, God gave us four great children. All of them were home-schooled through ATI, and have been great role models and community leaders. One is currently a college professor (physics). The two that have married so far are in solid, loving marriages.

    There may be some problems and some scandals — there always are in any organization of any size — but the teaching and the truth I learned there are biblical and solid.

    My life is better for the 40 years I have been involved with IBLP, ATI, and other groups.

    If everything said about Mr. Gothard is true, and I reserve judgment on that — it does nothing to undermine the scriptural truths that saved my life and gave me the wonderful life I have known for four decades and counting.

    Just needed to give a little balance here.

    • Karen Adams

      You don’t get it. He is the leader and founder of this group. I am a Christian, and follow the principles of the Bible. I am not against the Duggars. I watch the leaders I follow carefully.because they are human, The problem as I see it is there are people who follow the man,

    • Mary Young Robinson

      I also went to Seminar twice and some of his teaching helped me, but I never understood why an un-married man knew so much about marriage and other issues, it was confusing to me. Also, the sooner I got out of legalistic churches and began to learn for myself, how liberated I was in the Lord, He loves me and is NOT a dictator, a Holy God, yes, but He does not make me love Him. The Holy Spririt draws me to love Him. I think Gothard got all mixed up just like some priests do that are unmarried and hid his sexual sin. He is not the first and will not be the last. I don’t know why people clung to him. We should never put any pastor or teacher on a pedastal lest they fall as a sinner just like us! Please, Please, people we are all sinners and while pointing out the truth, we need to be careful lest we fall in sin and hurt others in the future. (does not mean some do not need punishment by law or other)

  • eg

    This Gothard group is as crazy as Scientoligists.
    There are Evangelical groups that attack other religions for being cults, yet Gothards group and others like it get a free pass to continue abusing, from infancy through adulthood. Sad.

  • eg

    Concerned people need to bombard TLC and get their show pulled off the air. The Duggars were flat broke until they got lucky and were cast for another garbage reality show. The Duggars do not have to worry about money anymore, but what about other families who are in their cult and can not support all the kids they are supposed to have.

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  • Jennifer

    If the definition of a cult is a program that brainwashes followers, then literally every religion is a cult.

  • Karen Adams

    Anytime a man is lifted higher than God, you have a problem. The number 1 sign of a problem for me. I go directly to God, not poo cutting trust in a man!

  • stacie1

    and now, Josh Duggar admits to molesting his own sisters…. nice.
    These girls / women had better wake up!