How I Survived Homeschooling in Bill Gothard’s Program

With much encouragement from my husband I’m sharing my experiences with Bill Gothard and the ugly influence of Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and Advanced Training Institute (ATI – his homeschool program) teachings on my life. After reading many of the experiences of others I felt that my story would just be redundant, since we all seem to share similarities. My husband assures me that what I learned and how I dealt with Gothard would help someone –  and so I hope.

The beginnings of what I think of as my personal “Dark Ages” started in my 13th year (Aug. 1988), a year after being pulled out of public school to home educate. There’s nothing like being told the day 7th grade started, and after taking all the trouble to get ready that morning – clothes on, check; hair done, check; makeup, check; pep talk, check – to “never mind going to school, you’ll be doing that at home from now on.” With my foot out the door and my bag over my shoulder, I thought it was a joke. When I realized they were serious and asked why, I was told that I was “out of control and rebellious, so to bring you into line you’re being taught at home.” That inspires cooperation!

From what I could tell, being rebellious meant that I wasn’t open to them, sharing my every thought, dream, etc., I was physically pulling away from them, not wanting to hug my dad frequently, spending time by myself, asking questions (which evidently meant I didn’t agree with them). Basically, I wanted privacy and for my dad to stop paying attention to me (attention that made me uncomfortable), and they wanted to control everything about me. They had already tried Josh McDowall’s stuff with me the previous year, which I thought was a little overboard, since more rules and guilt trips don’t help anyone. I’m sure that I was a little sullen and mouthy, since by my understanding all my crying out for help to my mom, and sometimes my dad, didn’t get any results. My dad continued to sit too close, tickle my knees or ribs at will, make me hug him frequently, sit alone with me and pry into my deepest thoughts, humiliate me in front of my peers and adults by sharing my personal habits or spiritual revelations I had, make jokes about me, twist and turn my words (manipulate) back onto me when I would sit down and express my concerns about them – I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you. In addition to asking my mom to talk with dad about giving me some space, I asked  my youth pastor to just come sit with me during a talk with my parents and help me make sure that my point got across to them. Nothing, of course, came of that. I tried several times at many “family devotions” during and after dinner, to confront my dad (like I had been taught to do-Matt.18) about this strangeness I felt between us. I was always “wrong (i.e. don’t know what you’re talking about), confused, misguided, so you should spend more time searching your heart and the Bible to see what Jesus wants you to work on.” I tried this approach from the age of 11 to about 15, then gave up since everything I said was always turned back on me (it still is to this day).

After my “rebellious” first year home schooling, my parents decided that I needed Character Building. I guess I wasn’t enough of a character already! So after talking to a friend who knew a friend who had a similar “problem”, my parents were introduced to Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles(IBLP)- or Basic Training – through the Character Sketches. (These character sketch books were full of character words, their meanings, stories taken from the Bible and an animal assigned per character word to teach the how to demonstrate the particular character, i.e. faithfullness.) I remember the first time I looked through that book, thinking “Seriously?! I’m supposed to learn how my parents want me to behave by reading how animals behave? We’re going to spiritualize animal behavior?” It seemed really kookie to me but I wanted to keep the peace, so I cooperated. Boy was I in for a treat at the IBLP seminar we went to that spring (1989)!

At that first Basic seminar (I was 12), my dad made sure we all met Gothard. It was very brief, but I didn’t like him and thought it strange how like my dad he was – same first name, hair and eye color, body build, voice tones, manner of speaking and hand gestures. The most unnerving trait they shared, which became apparent about 2 years later when I met him again, was the sexual undercurrent. I recognized that particular type of tension because I dodged that sitting-too-close, inappropriate-tickling, alone-at-night-deep-probing-questions, forcing-affection and being-called-girlfriend tension from my father my whole life.

Another thing that seemed strange, yet obvious, to me was how odd it was for people who are married, and probably have kids, to listen and take to heart a man’s interpretation of the Bible, who has never left home or married, let alone courted anyone (to my knowledge at 13) and had no experience whatsoever of raising kids. Wow! Really?! The rules he was spouting seemed endless and silly, focusing on only physical things that we should do, never the true Grace and Peace that Jesus brought us all after the cross.

So after attending Basic and learning all the things we must do to receive God’s favor ( Wait a minute! I thought that was un-merited because of Jesus!), and, apparently, to fit in with this club, life became a burden. It was already rocky enough, what with being the only child who was blessed with her father’s laser beam of religiosity, demanding my every thought, confession, loyalty, but never my questions or concerns about anything to do with my parent’s authority. I call that blind loyalty, and ironically my parents taught me, no required me, to be a deep thinker and self-analyzer, to always question things, especially establishments and authority.

Did anyone else’s parents require complete transparency (even if nothing was there), daily Bible study at the ungodly hour of 6am (okay, I’m so Not a morning person!), regular self-analysis to see where you’re wrong and how you can be more like Christ? Or the room raids and confiscations when you’re gone, public humiliations by talking about your private struggles or personal habits? Or have the limits on youth group involvement and the focus on staying pure, pointing out that I’m inherently a sinner, so I have to keep myself pure and modest so I don’t tempt anyone and become a stumbling block? The way my dad talked, he had me believing that every guy over the age of 12 had one thing on their mind most of the time, so it was my job not to encourage them. Later I would wonder how to turn him off! After witnessing my father come home from work one day (when I was about 14) and thank us for praying for him that day, because he’d been tempted by a beautiful red haired woman in a suit, I knew for sure that my dad was one of those males he’d been warning me about. It took years of being married to my wonderful, non-ATIA, Godly husband before I released my prejudice against most men.

A lot of the teachings from IBLP my parents had already been teaching me for awhile. Some of the new things were the Patriarch stuff, women wearing only dresses, no make-up, long hair, stay at home, having babies(no birth control) and the courtship idea. The teaching that people are supposed to follow all these rules (most of which are made by man), which are “backed up” by Bible verses used out of context, to be “right” with and blessed by God, weren’t new to me. It was, however, something that I was finding oppressive and didn’t think was right. What I saw, through my parents and the numerous churches we attended, was those in positions of “authority” (power, really) abusing their position saying, “Jesus died for you because He loves you and wants to save you. (His blood wasn’t powerful enough? I have the power to make Jesus my Redeemer or Savior?) But He accepts you as you are. Accept Him so you won’t burn in hell (Didn’t Jesus take the judgement of the world and bring Peace between man and God?).” Then after you accept Him – really, who wants to burn in hell? – they teach all the things you have to do to continue to stay “right” with God. The backstabbing, ostracizing, cruelness comes the minute you questioned anything or didn’t agree exactly the same way. Aside from studying how Jesus behaved after the cross (as well as before!) and noticing that He certainly never acted that heartless way, it just didn’t feel right. It’s what Jesus wants from us, to be hateful towards someone who doesn’t think, act or dress like us? Really?! That shows Love?

Well, after contemplating suicide three times my 13th year, shortly after turning 14 I raised my fist to God and told Him to take this “Christianity” and shove it! If this was Him I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He was going to have to show me who He really was for me to have anything to do with Him. He, thankfully, didn’t disappoint me! About five months later He encouraged me to read Song of Solomon. He showed me His Love, He wooed me and became my best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, most especially my Hope. I know to the core of me that He was the only way I made it to 18 reasonably sane and alive.

The summer I turned 14(1989) my family joined ATIA and started using the “curriculum”. Even as a young teenager those Wisdom Booklets never made sense to me – it was just a bunch of preaching (brainwashing) with a little academia thrown in. The home and peer oppression continued while I stonily went through the motions, wondering when it would stop. I hoped I could hang on until I was of age to move out.

I learned how to not rock the boat, tell my parents what they wanted to hear (i.e. I’ve been convicted of XYZ, etc.), guard my heart and thoughts closely and try not to let myself sink into the mire of religious self-righteousness. In religion a person serves a man’s interpretation of the law. Freedom is knowing that you serve no man, ever, that Jesus paid with His blood to buy us all back from sin and death, fulfilling the law, made us a new creation in Him, no longer to be servants/slaves. That’s good news!!

At 14 and a half I took my first steps down the beautiful path of freedom. It wasn’t until after I was married at 18 that I was able to start skipping and running with joy down this soul-freeing highway! I never looked back, knowing that Jesus would weed out all the death teachings of the law and nurture the life-giving knowledge of Grace & Peace that He had instilled in me even before I was born. An excellent teacher that He brought my way has been Mike Williams of the Gospel Revolution. His book, One, has helped immeasurably towards erasing years of abusive, evil teachings. Also, Excuses Begone!, by Dr. Wayne Dyer and Think & Be Free by Grant E. Miller.

I was required to study the Bible, but was allowed to pick my topic or book in the Bible. So I did word studies (Kay Arthur) on redemption vs salvation, and tithing, to name a couple. I shared my findings with my parents and tried to cautiously share the new joy and hope that I was discovering away from religion. My parents didn’t really respond to what I was sharing, and since nothing changed, I assumed that they didn’t, or wouldn’t, hear me. So I tucked it all inside and continued to play the game, the game of survival.

That summer in 1990 on our way to the ATIA seminar, I was shocked when my parents announced that my dad would be getting a vasectomy reversal, so they could follow God’s will and have more kids. This was surprising to me because all I’d heard from my mom since I could remember at an early age was, “I can’t wait till I can do what I want when you’re gone,” or “I can’t wait till you’re out of the house.” Eighteen seemed to be the magical number. I remember thinking at the time, “What has my dad done with my mom? Brainwash her?” I wasn’t the only one to think this – my mom’s family accused him of brainwashing her, too. So after the ATIA seminar in Knoxville, Tn we traveled to the doctor’s place in Texas, who, by the way, was also in ATIA, and the surgery was performed. This was based on one man’s pressure to “go forth and multiply” to be able to receive His blessing and be in “right” standing with Him.

The following year went along much as usual, except that I started to give up on any changes happening, and, of course, I had another birthday – my fifteenth. There were the usual uncomfortable episodes with my dad – wolf calling me, standing me next to my mom and looking us up and down, laughingly calling me his girlfriend, and all the deep soul searching questioning sessions called “family time”. Two momentous events occurred in the spring of 1991: we moved across the country from Arizona to Georgia for a job and my mom conceived her first post-vasectomy reversal baby, due that Dec.

In the summer (July) of 1991 we once again packed up for another ATIA seminar. This time during the week there in Knoxville I attended one of those “special” meetings that were for us older students 16 (or soon to be) and up. I only remember that at some point info was given on the Counseling Training Seminar, which sounded interesting to me, and that Bill seemed to look at me a lot during his talk. When I first noticed his attention, I thought he was surely looking at someone else, but my dad was next to me and no one else close enough for where his eyes kept going. I looked around to be sure. It creeped me out, so I watched to see who else he looked at so intently. I didn’t notice him looking in other directions as long as he did in mine. At the end of the hour or so, my dad wanted me to go up and greet Bill. I said no, that if he wanted to greet him so much he should go by himself, which he did. I felt my stomach sink a short while later as I watched my dad and Bill turn and wave to me, motioning me to come down. I reluctantly went down and met Bill, trying not to show my distaste, when he covered my hand with both of his and held it a little too long, while looking intently into my eyes. I was wondering what my dad had told him about me. My dad seemed oblivious to this very forward and inappropriate behavior, grinning at the “special” favor that was about to be bestowed on me. Even though I was too young (not quite 16, thank God!), I was going to the Counseling event. Fortunately, it worked out that I ended up not going – Bill couldn’t get it worked out – but a few weeks later I was invited up to HQ for a couple of months.

My dad was on cloud nine that I had been invited personally by Bill, but I was never asked, only told it was a great privilege. I asked not to go, that something about it wasn’t right. My parents only replied that I “didn’t know what I was talking about and this would open doors of great opportunities for me.” So shortly after I turned 16 I headed off to Chicago via a plane ticket bought by Bill or IBLP, about mid-September, for a two month visit.

It was a little nerve racking, flying in alone, not knowing what to expect when I got there. I stayed in the house directly across the street from the main building and worked in the kitchen below Bill’s and the administrative offices. In fact, as you step out the front door of the house, you’re facing Bill’s office windows. The girls seemed like most other girls I’d ever met – polite with that underlying bite that criticism and legalism breeds in people. I didn’t click with anyone there but I didn’t expect to, as my life experiences up to that point had taught me that it was better not to get too much involved with others since I wouldn’t be there long. I was shown around and introduced to my housemates, the house rules being explained to me first thing. Most of the rules were practical and made sense – pick up after yourself, do your chore rotation (dishes, bathroom, etc.), curfew. Then there were ones that I felt were silly and none of their business. Like when I was to have quiet time (Bible reading), the fact that quiet time was required, get up and do “Wisdom” Searches as a group (6am!!), what music I could listen to and when, was my wardrobe right ( I could only wear loose sweat pants in the house [but must run and hide if a male came to the door] and never jeans at any time [seriously?!], no dating (as if I even wanted to!).

After about a week and a half I put in my music from home (just church stuff), closed the bedroom door (my roommate was out) and played the music softly. After a bit the house mom, who was only about 4 years older than me, came in and told me I couldn’t listen to it, remember the house rules. I replied that yes, I knew the rules, but my parents okayed my music. Well, I was just going to have to turn it off, and she would take it from me if I did it again. I was reported to Bill and called into his office the next day. When I went in we were alone and he motioned me to sit on his couch, where he sat facing me, his knees close to mine. He told me I was called in about the music and my house mom thought I didn’t respect her and the rules. I said I respected her position and had been following the rules, but that my parents were my authority and had approved my music. He leaned toward me, his knee making contact with mine (I tried to scoot back from him), earnestly looking into my eyes, and told me that I misunderstood my position. That while at HQ my parents had put me under his authority and I was to follow the rules and his guidance. He picked up my hands, which had been resting in my lap, and went on about the evils of music that used drums and beats of any sort. I needed to search my heart and root out any sin and evil influences, so that I would see the will of God. Still holding my hands, he told me to pray, ask for forgiveness and help in searching my heart. I was also to commit to not listen to any music with a beat of any kind. Since my father taught me well most of my life the “umbrella of protection” through the “chain of command”, this was normal for me. However chastened I felt, I was also confused by feeling dirty and guilty of something I couldn’t understand or explain. So after drying my tears (he loves to make you cry-shows real repentance evidently), he stands up pulling me to my feet and hugs me front to front. ( I mention this because I never, even without my parents’ teaching, hugged a male that way- only from the side.) This made me feel uncomfortable.

Later, away from him, I was upset that he would dare to take the place of my dad and dictate what I could and couldn’t do. My parents never told me I was under Bill’s “authority”, only to be respectful and remember our family rules. I complied outwardly, but secretly continued to live as I would have at home. Towards the end of my time there, I listened to my music whenever I wanted to. My thought was, what’s the worst they can do? Send me home? Great! I wished they would!

A few days later I was called into Bill’s office. He told me I was to go on the first ever trip to Russia in October. I said I wasn’t qualified to go, nor did my family have the money for it. He called my parents to give them the “good” news. He told them that he would pay to send me to Northwoods for the Medical Seminar training I needed, that they would have to raise the money for the trip to Russia. They thanked him and then asked to speak to me. When they asked me if I wanted to go, I answered, “I guess so, maybe. I don’t know.” I was certainly feeling pressure with Bill sitting there listening to every word I said. They thought it was a good opportunity for me and that I should go. My mom did say that they wouldn’t make me and the church might not support me with the money, so in the end I might not be able to go. So I said okay. My parents went to our church asking for help, which I hoped wouldn’t be enough. It almost wasn’t – I found out from Bill the money came through three days before the trip was scheduled to leave.

In the meantime, I worked in the kitchen. One night around 8:30pm or so about two weeks after arriving, Bill called me up to his office. I used the back staircase to get there, since it let out in an area right outside his door. I went in wondering what he could want at this late hour. Once again he was alone. He asked me to make him a chocolate milkshake. So I head back down thinking, I didn’t even know there was a milkshake maker and I sure didn’t know how to make one. A couple of us kitchen staff were still there so I asked them about it. They showed me where everything was and how to use it. I told them I thought it strange that he asked me, why didn’t he ask the guy that was still there. They just shrugged their shoulders and said he’d asked for me. So I took it up. He asked what took me so long.  I answered that it was my first milkshake. After he tried it, he smiled and told me it was one of the best he’d had in awhile, I was from now on to make his milkshakes. I smiled and said okay. We chatted a little before I was dismissed. As I walked back to the kitchen all I could think was, really?!, now I’m stuck waiting on him every night! The whole thing seemed kookie to me, it was just a milkshake and anyone could make it, why me?

Soon it was time to head up to Northwoods for the “training” week I needed to qualify to go to Russia. I was surprised to find myself riding with Bill’s entourage, and dismayed to be seated next to him on the bench seat behind the driver. He made small talk with me – was I enjoying my time at HQ, working in the kitchen, had I made any friends, etc. I answered politely and what I thought he wanted to hear. In general, I felt slightly uncomfortable and was annoyed that I had to ride with him. Why did I have to sit next to him? It reminded me of how I would feel sitting next to my dad – I kept expecting Bill to put his hand on my knee at any moment. At some point Bill took off his shoes and encouraged me to do the same. I gladly took them off, since I’m used to not wearing shoes whenever I can. Shortly after, I felt his foot on my ankle. I quickly pulled my feet away and to the side, looking over at him. He was smiling at me. I said “Pardon me”, and tried to put distance between us. Yuck was the word running through my head and I couldn’t wait to get out of the van. A part of me wondered if I’d misunderstood – maybe his foot accidentally hit me. Even so, I made sure to keep my body as much to myself as possible. I was enormously relieved when we arrived.

I don’t remember very much about what was taught that week, except that it was more of the same stuff in the “Wisdom” Booklets. I learned how to play the bells, which I enjoyed. Occasionally Bill had me sit across or next to him when we gathered to eat. I learned quickly to sit with my feet tucked securely away from him and my chair moved away as far as possible. He would also sometimes stop me when we were passing and chat with me, doing the usual hand holding and looking into my eyes.

There was one incident that stands out to me particularly. At some point towards the end of the week, we had an afternoon session where we were instructed to examine ourselves and find any sin that would hinder us from helping others. We were told this sin could be unkind thoughts, lust of the eyes, too much “worldly” influence (i.e. music with a beat, wrong clothes, spending time with the wrong people-anyone outside the group or who lived life differently and wouldn’t accept “God’s truths” as taught by IBLP/ATIA), stepping outside of your father’s authority, etc. So after the soul searching time, I wrote down a few “sins” I thought qualified. I felt very repentant about them and talked with God about it.

Later that night, around 8pm or so, I was surprised to be summoned by Bill to his suite. He invited me to sit by him, which I did but kept some space between us. He asked how my day went, how did my time searching for hidden sins/distractions go, was I ready to confess, that he wanted to help me come clean. I shared a few of the “sins” (which I can’t even remember now) but he kept pushing for more. Finally I reluctantly shared a “sin” that I thought would stay between God and me. I didn’t think it was any of his business, but I had been well trained to submit to “authority”. After dragging as many details as he could get from me, he told me that he was going to call my parents so I could confess to them and ask forgiveness. So he calls them and sits there listening, as I embarrass and humiliate myself even more. My parents didn’t seem to find it strange, wrong, or humiliating that Bill was talking about this with me. They acted as though I was making “progress”. I just felt guilty, ashamed, humiliated and somewhat violated over something that I felt was between God and me, and didn’t hurt or involve anyone else.  I was made to feel dirty and sinful over something that I later found out in counseling (with a woman) was very common and nothing to be ashamed or feel dirty about – masturbation.

So my parents “forgive” me and, under Bill’s direction, I commit to staying clean. Really, I’m amazed that I emerged with any healthy, normal outlook on sexuality! After the call, I dried my tears and stood up to go. Bill hugs me, telling me I’ve done the right thing and I’ll be blessed for it. It felt awful, was what I thought. I wanted to go home and curl up into a ball and never show my face again. I felt hurt, confused, exhausted, etc. and wanted it all to go away. Shortly after, we headed back to HQ and this time I made sure to sit in the back of the van!

The milkshake times continued to happen a few times per week until it was time for the Russia trip. On the planes I generally had a seat in the back, which suited me fine. At some point on the Russian plane (we called it Aroflop, it rattled so bad) Bill’s male assistant came to me and said Bill wanted me to come see him. Thinking “what is it this time?”, I walk up to where he was seated, smiled and said, “Sir, you wanted to see me for something?” He patted the empty seat next to him and said he wanted to check on me. I sat down and answered his questions – how was I doing, was I looking forward to ministering in Russia, etc.  I stayed as shortly as I could, giving an excuse to go back to my seat. Frankly I was bored and didn’t appreciate being singled out. I couldn’t understand how any young lady could be jealous of a 56(+) year old’s attention. I don’t remember much else happening outside of the usual with him. I tried to draw as little attention as possible to myself.

After the trip to Russia I was excited to finally go home. My first sister was soon to be born and Thanksgiving was almost upon us. Once home I thought my HQ days were behind me. I told my parents and a few ATI parents we knew about some of my experiences (good and bad). When asked by these parents if I thought it a good idea for their daughters to go to HQ, I emphatically said NO. Between the silly rules and legalism, which have nothing to do with a relationship with Jesus, and the strange, uncomfortable manner of Bill, I thought it unsafe and not worth it. I again expressed my wonder at people following a man who had never left home, married or had children. As a parent now, I can see where my comments would seem arrogant and offensive, so it’s probably no wonder no one really listened to me. At the time I truly, genuinely wanted to know what all these parents saw in the program – I didn’t get it. My parents didn’t have much to say to all this, at least in front of me. I’ve often wondered what they said to these parents when I wasn’t around, since I saw no action or talk against Bill or the organization. I do know that the children (mostly around my age) of these parents started to treat me a little bit coldly after this.

Life seemed to move forward and settle back into what was normal for me – the almost daily “family time”, soul searching/self analysis, guarding my heart and mind as well as my body from my dad. In December of 1991 two important events happened for me. The first was meeting my future husband, Chris, who was in medical school and occasionally helping in the youth group at the time. When I first saw him across the church parking lot, my spirit leapt inside of me, literally stopping me in my tracks. My mind thought it strange, but let it go for awhile. The second event was my sister being born – what an adjustment for us all! But wonderful all the same. She was the first of six more living siblings over the next ten or so years. I think having a large family is wonderful when the parents are doing so because they just want and love to have a passel of kids. I think it sad and unnecessarily stressful on the parents when they do so because they think that God requires it of them. Any rule or law is now unnecessary because Jesus fulfilled the law and brought Grace and Peace to all men.

Fast forward to early March of 1992. I had spent a small amount of time with Chris when the youth group got together (and I was allowed to go), but he never paid any special attention to me or anyone else. He basically helped out when we had events and he could get off from his studies. I liked what I knew and saw of him but knew to keep it to myself. Evidently I was giving off signals since the youth pastor’s wife called me one day to tell me that Chris was engaged to marry someone, that she didn’t want me to get hurt. I thanked her for her warning, but I determined that I would ask him myself. So I called him to ask if it was true. (I had his number because I had recently injured my wrist working with my dad, and asked his help with it.) He said it was true, but that he was having doubts about it. We talked some more of it and other things, then we hung up. As soon as the phone hit the cradle, I heard an audible voice tell me that I was going to marry him. I looked around and saw that no one else was in the room – my mom and sister were taking a nap. “Well,” I said to God, “You’ll have to work it out and I’ll have to be patient.” Later I told my mom, who took the news calmly. Then I did a stupid thing and told my dad. I guess I was too excited to keep quiet about it. My dad flipped out and forbade me to ever see, talk or have anything to do with Chris. He talked about Chris being untrustworthy, like a snake in the grass, stealing me away. I thought he was way over-reacting and treating me like I had been caught doing a bad thing, like sneaking out to see him and whatever else his imagination came up with. I had only ever seen Chris at church functions or with my family.

I later realized that my dad thinks everyone else thinks and reacts like he does. I understood early in life that doing things or being different from my parents was bad, almost akin to evil. Which was why I usually kept quiet  and told my parents what they wanted to hear. At sixteen and a half my facade/charade was beginning to crack – I was speaking out more often. I was tired of being oppressed and treated like a sinful slave.

Unbeknownst to me, my dad quickly contacted Gothard about me. Next thing I know we’re heading up to HQ for a job interview. We were there for a couple of days and I don’t remember much of it, only the last few hours before we left for home. Bill, my parents and I were all in his office. Bill looked at me very gravely and began to quietly berate me for breaking my vow to my parents in regards to courtship. I felt sick and confused, plus very betrayed by my parents. Bill proceeded to say untruths about a man he’d never met – Chris was wrong to have met with me in private (which never happened), to encourage a young girl to disobey her parents (which also never happened), he was a danger to me, etc. In conclusion, I was commanded to renounce Chris, renew my vow to courtship and commit myself to following my dad’s authority. My parents watched all this in approval – they never said a word – as I was made to prostrate myself by getting on my knees at the Couch and repeating all that blasphemy. I was left hurt, shaken, shattered, betrayed in my trust, love, respect, anything towards my father, and I could only wonder at the lies they had spread about Chris and me. My last shred of attachment to my dad broke that morning in Gothard’s office. And my dad wondered why I wouldn’t talk or look at him the rest of that long 12 hour day. But I was the dutiful daughter that they seemed to want.

At home my parents asked me what I thought about moving to HQ, so I told them one last time, “No, it didn’t seem right.”  I never understood why they ever bothered to ask me anything since they never heard a word I said. They certainly never took the time to get to know me as myself and, after I was married, claimed that Chris had changed me. They have always failed to understand that Chris gave me the love and freedom to be myself.

Within a few weeks (April 1992) we had sold what wasn’t necessary and moved to Oakbrook, IL. We weren’t expected. No one knew we were coming and Bill was away at a conference our first week there. My parents and sister were put in a boys house and I went back to the house I first stayed in, working in the kitchen again. It was a strange week, but it was about to get very harassed.

As soon as Bill came back my parents told him that we needed to be together. That took a few days to get settled, but we ended up living in a house off campus owned by the Institute, which, thankfully, also came with furniture.

Meanwhile, after his first day back, Bill tracked me down and told me he wanted me to work as his personal secretary. I said I didn’t have experience in that, but he pushed, telling me to consider it. The next day I wasn’t quick enough and he cornered me again about working with him. Again I put him off, saying I wasn’t sure that was a good thing to do, I would need to talk with my parents. I did tell my parents that he’d asked me and  my responses. They didn’t really comment on it that I remember. At work I made sure to listen for his voice and look down hallways first, so I could avoid him. Unfortunately a couple of days later (Thur. I think it was) I rounded a corner and almost ran into him, literally. He escorted me back to his empty office and once again asked me to work with him. I said a point blank “No” this time. He asked me why not, so I answered, “You are a manipulator and I don’t want to work with you.” His answer – “I don’t think you know what that word means.” He said much more, which I mostly tuned  out – he had just proved my statement, what more needed to be said? – but was surprised when he said he would have to let us go. I waited until he was done and dismissed me, making sure to leave through his sister, Laura’s, office. As I passed her I told her I would never work for her brother. If looks could kill, I would’ve been dead. Laura disapproved of every female, though, so I didn’t take it personally. That night I told my parents what happened – again not much of a response.

When my dad went into work the next morning (Publications Dept. in the printing and binding area, which is where I shortly joined him), there was a pink slip on his desk. He went to Bill’s office demanding to know why. Bill said we weren’t a fit and we needed to leave as soon as possible. My dad told him we had nowhere to go and no money to do it with. Bill pressed harder and my dad told him that before he had been offered a job, he had received an offer to work in S. Korea teaching English. (My dad had been stationed in Korea for a little over a year with the Air Force from 1985-86.) So Bill said he’d pay for us to go there. My parents talked it over and told him we were going to stay and in a year we would move. (My mom was pregnant again, so I think she didn’t want to move right then.) When my parents confronted him about his timing in firing my dad, Bill said I misunderstood him and his intentions. So we stayed for a year to the day, leaving in April of 1993. (I recently told my dad about Bill sexually harassing me. His response: “That’s why young girls should be taught to go to their dads, tell the man to ask their dad, so things like that don’t happen.” So it was my fault. NOT!)

A month or so after all this happened, Mr. Jim Sammons came to our house to talk with me. Jim was on Gothard’s Board of Directors. He asked me if Bill had been inappropriate with me, and if so, how. I told him about the times of being alone with me, holding my hands, hugging me, asking too personal questions, tracking me down to ask me to work directly in his office; basically everything I could think of. I did tell him that Bill had never touched me in private places, that I wouldn’t have allowed him to. Jim said that there were problems with girls in Bill’s office and that the Board was working on getting all the girls out. I find it interesting that Jim quit not too long after this and the McKims later disappeared as well. (The McKims were a favored ATI family that set the bar high, much like the Duggars today.)

I had not been in touch with Chris since my family moved to HQ, until out of the blue one day in October he called asking for my dad. We talked for a bit, long enough for me to find out he wasn’t getting married after all. Yay! With my parents’ approval, we began to correspond (our letters were read by my parents) and talk over the phone (for only an hour a week). Before we left HQ we decided to get our families together.  So after my parents and I left HQ in April, I met my future in-laws in July (Independence holiday, to be exact!), became engaged at the end of August (after I turned 18) and was married three months later in December, 1993. I’ve made it sound like it was a smooth process, but it was like a living hell, as my father fought not to lose control of me (even though he gave his “approval”). God proved Himself faithful to me by helping me to mentally hang on, providing me with a champion and the tools to overcome the beginnings of schizophrenia, the double-mindedness that the law/religion gives you and the terrible, long-lasting mental control that my father had exerted over me.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have been more forceful about it when talking with Mr. Sammons and unequivocally stated that it’s Gothard’s false teachings, especially the “authority” one, that were/are wrong and the foundation by which he and his family set out to systematically set up people for abuse, emotionally and physically, and to get to their pocketbooks. These false teachings enable abusers, give them the power over their victim(s), er, family and produce generations of mentally and emotionally (and in some cases physically) hurt, confused, bound people. This whole scenario is, unfortunately, not new in the world, but it happened to me and thousands of other innocent people, and I know it can not only be stopped, but people’s minds, emotions, soul can be restored through the love, mercy, grace, peace, compassion, all of Jesus. My internal healing began as I listened to Him inside me, knowing that because my spirit is one with Him I can never be spiritually abused, that He came, not to judge the world, but to set it Free!

I appreciate you taking the time to read all of this. I wrote so much family background because I wanted to show how the teachings are wrong, and how they not only facilitate and cause abuse, but also twist even more the thinking of the abuser. My father walked a fine line with me, not quite physically going over it (molestation), but definitely going over it in the mind – I felt mentally, emotionally molested. My parents continued to pressure Chris and me to go to an IBLP seminar for a few years after being married. We, of course, would have nothing to do with it. Even though they didn’t continue in ATIA, they definitely kept up the teachings to their six children. I almost walked away from them entirely after seven months of marriage, when my dad proceeded to try to undermine my marriage by telling me that my husband wasn’t a good leader, wasn’t even a Christian (because he wouldn’t make us do devotions), we wouldn’t be blessed since we weren’t having children right away, etc. The only reason I kept in touch with them was for my siblings. I had to be there for them as they grew up, to help balance the craziness, hopefully.

I’ve recently had it pointed it out to me by a family who have been in ATI for the past 7 years, that her children are safe from abuse since her husband isn’t an abuser and she’s sure that things have changed since I was in it. Her response shows me that the cult atmosphere is still going strong and that parents are still not asking the right questions and finding the truth for themselves. The way for this to stop is for the truth to be spread far and wide, and people to stop funding the cult that is IBLP/ATI – quit buying anything from the organization!

I was deeply saddened and surprised when I read everyone’s experiences, since I didn’t know that Gothard had been systematically abusing young ladies since the late 60’s. I recognized both Meg and Charlotte from my time at HQ. I remember seeing Charlotte working out on the grounds and being jealous, as I would rather have been outside. I wish with all my heart that I had known her so that I could have helped in some way (take her to the police!)-that was the first time that I felt physically violent towards Bill, after reading her article. The only reason I’ve written now is with the hope that I may help someone, somewhere.

My patient, loving husband, as well as his parents and my best friend Stacy, have been my greatest help by unconditionally loving me, allowing me to explore myself, talk it all out, and come to know who I am in Jesus. Chris and I have walked this together, individually coming to a greater understanding of the Gospel of Grace & Peace, which allows us to flow as one. I’m thankful every day that he decided to fight for me! Jesus pulled us out of the quicksand of religion and we haven’t looked back, loving being able to teach our four children from the beginning of their life here that they are free in Him, that there’s nothing they can, or have to, do to be right with God. Jesus did it for all of us!


27 thoughts on “How I Survived Homeschooling in Bill Gothard’s Program

  1. Thank your for this testimony. I stumbled across this by accident and thank you for being the voice to let so many women know they are not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome! I think it’s important to share so others can try to understand victims and for victims to know they’re not alone, as you said. Thank you for your encouraging words!


  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so sorry that you had to endure all of those experiences. Praise God that he delivered you from this cult and all the lies they push. Praise Gid you are able to embrace the freedom in Christ we have through Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross! Jesus came to set the prisoners free! You are right that it’s not what we do to earn God’s approval, but what Jesus has already done! You are very courageous to share your story. I pray God uses it to help many people! I was drawn to your blog because of a young man that fell in love with my daughter. He came to us and asked permission to court her with it culminating in marriage. But while we were taking some time to think and pray about it,it became concerning to us that he was being taught that Gen 2:24 was being taken out of context. You see my daughter had move out a few months previously to live with a couple of other girls she has known since birth. The young man and my daughter fell in love while serving together in worship and youth ministry. They called each other their best friend, but because she wasn’t living at home he said he couldn’t continue to date or court her, even though he says he isn’t morally opposed to a girl living on her own, because he was taught to leave your father and mother you have to be living in their home. When questioned if he’d researched if that was what the Bible was truly saying, sadly his response was the people who have been christians longer than he have always taught him this and he doesn’t need to do any further study. This is his conviction. Though he secretly(not to us) dated my daughter for 6 months while he was aware she didn’t live at home. He said his parents approval was important to him and that they didn’t approve. My daughter also has a small nose ring the hated. She is a sweet, caring godly young woman seeks God for her future and loves people deeply. Everyone who takes the time to know her all love her. His parents never took that time and prejudged her as guilty until proven innocent. I had become friends with his mom and we talked a lot about relationships. I am not trying to get the boy and my daughter back together necessarily, but I am very burdened for them because of the deception they are under. The crushing weight of extreme Gothard legalism and lies! Do you have any advice you could give me on how to counter some of the brainwashing and get them questioning what they were taught against God’s Word to see if it stands up?(which we know it won’t!) They currently attend our grace filled church, but are leaving in a few weeks even though his mom says she loves it, and the people and everything is very nice! I think they are so unaccustomed to grace and freedom in Christ that they don’t know how to handle it and are uncomfortable. Any insight you could give would be greatly appreciated! May God bless you and your family!💕


    1. Hi Diana! First of all, let me apologize for not answering you months ago! I haven’t been on in quite a while; life has been very hectic this past year. I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. You’re right to be concerned for this young man and his family – the fundamentalist/patriarchal teachings undermine Jesus’ sacrifice and gift to all mankind, freedom from law and sin through love’s ultimate sacrifice. It sounds like they’re already questioning, if only in their secret heart. I have found that when I let love guide me in relationships with legalistic, closed-minded people, truth comes through. It may time for them, and much struggling, but usually love wins. Being kind, loving, sympathetic, non-judgemental, encouraging in all your dealings with them is you pouring water on the seeds of grace and peace. Only when they hit rock bottom, turn to Jesus in themselves, will change occur. The mind has to come to an understanding of what the heart already knows – we are all redeemed through Jesus and made perfect in Him. Jesus did all the work so we can love each other and enjoy the time/experience we have here. It’s sad that they felt compelled to leave the warmth, love and peace that your fellowship offered, because they could see the discrepancies and it scared them. The box they live in (the devil you know) is more comfortable than change. Sometimes I like to use hypothesis to ask people to think outside their box. Similar to asking someone to suspend their belief for a brief time to consider Sasquatch or space aliens. For instance, I asked my cousin to read Leviticus in the Bible from the perspective that, as Jesus said in John, it’s ALL about Him, not about us humans. I wanted to get him thinking outside the fundamentalist view point that the Bible was written as an instruction manual for humans – when it was written to tell HIS story, His story about His love for His creation. Jesus said, “It is finished.” I believe Him.
      As for countering the brainwashing, they need professional help. As laypeople, we can show truth by example and be ready to answer questions, and encourage them to get counseling. Cults use manipulation and head games constantly to keep folks distrustful of themselves. They are constantly reminded that the heart of man is evil and can’t be trusted. The antidote to that teaching is that it was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross, and when He said the Word of God is now written on the heart of man, are we now to believe the Word of God is evil? When verses are taken out of context, they are easily twisted to suit whichever direction any leader wants people to go in. I don’t follow a man, but Jesus in me. I can’t even create my own faith – He gave it to me (so that no man could boast of good works)!
      Take or leave what I’ve said, but by you pouring out love and peace on them, you are challenging them. I’m sorry for your daughter’s heart – maybe the timing isn’t right for him. It sounds like he needs to have adult time away from Mommy and Daddy, so he’s immature compared to the adulting your daughter is doing. If they are meant to be, then all will work out well. Hopefully she’s doing well! Thank you for writing me!


  3. Alexa,

    I was a home schooled child and my parents joined ATI like yours. My parents were VERY involved with Mr. Gothard and IBLP and followed his teachings also. I am the first born of 6 children. I was the rebel of my family and caused the most issues in my house. I also worked in Indianapolis training center. I had many issues as a teenager and young adult.
    This lead to my then secret girlfriend becoming pregnant. We did not know what to do because her family was also involved with IBLP. We ended up eloping because we thought our parents would split us up due to our sin. (We later found out this would not have been the case.) Needless to say both of our parents were more than shocked once we told them. Over the next several years the relationship with my family and wife was extremely strained. This was also due to the fact that I was not ready to be a husband and support my wife.
    All this being said, my wife and I have been married for almost 19 years. We have three Godly children and also have home schooled all three of them. We have done some of the things that our parents did in raising our children. We have also changed some things. I also look back on my parents and the “radical things” that were taught at IBLP. My parents only had one opportunity to be parents just like yours. They saw something that was completely outside of the norm and decided to follow those principles. I do believe that people followed Mr. Gothard and propped him up as someone that was the “greatest man.”
    I am not involved with IBLP nor have I been since we were married. So my next statement in no wise excuses anything that was done. This is something that I had to do in my own life and has been a great benefit to my family and has allowed me to have a closer relationship with my family.
    Maybe I am reading this wrong but it sounds like that you are still angry with you parents and especially your father. I am not by any means justifying the way you were possibly treated as a young woman or are possibly being treated still today. I do know that the Word of God says that we are to honor our parents and by writing the words that you wrote you did not honor them. This is one of the Ten Commandments. It also states that fathers are to not provoke their children to wrath which again based on your words clearly happened.
    I would encourage YOU to first do whatever it takes to renew your relationship with your family if you have not done so. Family is the MOST important relationship that we have outside of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
    I would also encourage you to forgive Mr. Gothard. I know many stories like yours and AM NOT and WILL NOT defend any of the things that you have written about Mr. Gothard. You were obviously hurt by the actions that were done to you and that is wrong for anyone to do to someone.
    This is also not condemning Mr. Gothard. Even based on your own words, he did not do or say things that would be considered wrong by the worlds standards. He is however NOT held to the worlds standards and is held to the standards of our Lord Jesus Christ. He should have never been alone with ANY woman. EVER!! He was in a position of authority and one thing that I learned from my father, Do not ever be alone with a woman so that it will not even be thought of. Also, even if Mr. Gothard was “counseling you.” He is a man and should NOT counsel ladies. Especially without another lady in the room.
    Based on your words, I went through and was at all of the meetings that you were at. Based on when you were 18 you are just a year or less older than I am. It sounds like you have a fine husband. I will pray for you and your family that if you have not already, you will be able to forgive. That you will forgive for YOU. The Lord says that we are to forgive just like he forgave us. I don’t know about you but the Lord needs to forgive me ALOT.
    I actually just stumbled onto your post. I NEVER post anything. I am not on social media. I hope this encourages you Alexa. Remember, the past is something that we are not able to change. The future is only known by the Lord. Your life and the way that you live it is right now.
    May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and your family.


    1. Thank you, David, for your heartfelt comments. I am a passionate, outspoken person, so sometimes I get misunderstood. That’s okay, I’m used to it. 😉 I’ve forgiven my parents numerous times since I was taught to forgive others as a child, and, unfortunately, they continue with their antics today, so I deal with forgiveness like it’s my best friend. I also forgave Gothard years ago. Just because I forgave them, doesn’t mean I can’t talk/write about what I went through. I hope my writings encourage others who’ve gone through similar things, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, I agree, forgiveness is for me, so I can walk my life in love. Since writing this post, and through much research, I have discovered that my dad is a die hard narcissist and my mother enables him, covering his tracks by helping him to blame everyone around him. I have had to separate myself and my family for our safety. Forgiveness is wonderful and I’ve grown a lot through forgiving, even when the people don’t deserve it or even want it. Thank you for your kind thoughts! God bless.


  4. Alexa, i knew very little about your history other than what your siblings could tell me years ago which generally wasnt much and was always pained as though you were the rebelious troubled child. Reading this has been inspirational, enlightening and a blessing to me, to see how God has delivered you from so much. God bless you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Elijah, Thanks for writing! I figured that I was being painted that way, especially after my mom told me once how difficult I was as a child. To them being rebellious meant that I asked questions (ie. why do you say this, but do that) of them, didn’t want to share my every thought, emotion or dream with them, wanted privacy (both mental and physical), and had thoughts and ideas outside of theirs. There was more to it than that, but you get the picture. So, yes, in that sense, I was a rebellious troubled child. I’m glad my words have touched you – that is the whole reason I’m writing! God bless you too!


  5. Alexa, I had no idea!
    I’m so sorry for what you went through.
    I once wrote masturbation on a repentance paper at Northwoods. (I bet a few hundred other people did too.) Fortunately, I wasn’t Bill’s type, so I didn’t have to chat with him about it.
    I’m glad you are doing so well now and that you are speaking up.


    1. Thanks, Jeff for the encouraging words! I’m taking heat from my family for speaking out, but it’s the right thing to do.(I now have 6 siblings.) I hope the law suit against IBLP/Gothard shuts it down, or at the very least makes parents sit up, take notice and quit buying their stuff. 🙂


      1. It is the right thing to do. I like what Anne Lamott said: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


  6. Reading this is have chills, I can relate so much. I am one of the lucky ones that got out young so I never was sent to HQ alone but I was sent with my mom because I was not fitting into the Gothard mold. I remember talking with him but at least my mom had the mind set to be by my side, even though it was because she was afraid I’d run away. I was at the conferences you were at but younger. I remeber being lectured for looking at the boys side.This organization must be stopped , he is destroying peoples relationaship with God. It scares me to think how many of his “found” soul were/are truly “lost” souls and it’s too late for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for responding, Leslie! I’m glad you were spared most of Gothard’s crap. I hope your relationship with your parents is good. 🙂 Mine is…not worth the hassle right now. I’ve had to set boundaries for my and my family’s sanity sake.


  7. Wow this is so weird, I didn’t read through all of this (my adhd skips a lot lol) but I just commented on another post out there today about spiritual abuse with someone who posted about someone telling her she wasn’t Gods child although she yearned and prayed and had a relationship with him. And part of the post I found online about spiritual abuse mentioned Gothard and cults. Faith and relationships is very hard after spiritual abuse and triggers ptsd. My partner also came through very bad traumatic experiences with a devastating cult. But truth is truth and yes it is by grace, not by us. We both follow Taking Off The Mask so I saw your repost. The post I responded to earlier (I dont know if she will post my comment because I did mention spiritual abuse by the way her post sounded that triggered what I felt in relation to my own experiences) but it is here. Maybe you could encourage her.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So glad you were able to get out and to build a new life with such a good man. You are strong and brave and your story is a reflection of both those things on so many levels.


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