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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