At first he merely offered a hand to help us in or out of the van, and laid his other hand on our backs as we entered or exited. Then he would hold open a door and touch each of our backs as we walked through; this seemed fine the first time, but I wasn’t sure why it was necessary to touch both of our backs with full open hand every single time we walked through a door of any kind. If there was bench seating, his thigh was closely pressed against mine or the other girl’s. He would take and hold my or her hand as we walked to and from buildings. Without asking or announcing, he stroked my hair. If he was sitting opposite me in the van I would often look up to find him gazing at me, and then he would nudge my foot with his. I would smile nervously, pull my foot back, and look back down at my papers. If he was seated next to me in the van he would rest his hand on my forearm or reach over to hold my hand. I learned to hold my papers in whichever hand was closest to him.
Is that creepy or what? To explain, I must go back 40 years, to one of the formative experiences of my youth.
In high school, I attended Bill Gothard‘s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, since renamed the Basic Seminar. You can visit that link to learn the seven main points. Many of them are excellent, but today I want to bark about the second one, which is to get under the “umbrella of protection” that God-given authorities provide:
Under each umbrella of protection, God sets in place the leadership of His choice, just as He placed Moses in leadership under the “umbrella” over Israel. So, under each umbrella of protection, God raises up and establishes the human leadership to represent Him before the people. These leaders become our human umbrellas, accountable to God for the stewardship of their responsibilities.
I was an insecure teenager trying to get his life together, and that message was very appealing. It was hard enough to negotiate the difficult interactions with my peers; I was only too glad to relinquish to God my sometimes-difficult dealings with authority figures. God had appointed them and if I were to follow their lead, he would take care of me.
I should have seen disaster coming right about here:
[God] provided leadership through Moses. When the people murmured again Moses, they were actually murmuring against God.
Once we equate an earthly authority with God, the fallible human starts to realize they he can get away with anything. The Catholic sex-abuse scandal may come to mind, but the Catholic church is not the only authoritarian power-structure that has problems, as we will see.
It’s amazing how we can lose sight of the old truism that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Our hope is not in authority and submission, but in accountability and mutual, earned respect.
That even goes for relationships with parents, teachers, employers and the law. That’s the genius of democracy. In countries where the law is accountable to the people it governs, there is generally lower crime and better governance. Not to mention more happiness.
So what about the sexually harassed 17-year-old girl at the beginning of this post? Her story would break my heart under any circumstance, but as a former Gothard devotee I feel an extra pang as I tell you where her ordeal took place. She was an employee at Bill Gothard’s headquarters and the man to whom she refers was none other than Bill Gothard himself.
Her story is but one among many reported on a Christian Website called RecoveringGrace. Most of the stories are from people who were abused in families that tried to live by Bill Gothard’s authoritarian, patriarchal principles and often under his control. (“Control,” you ask? Gothard has a home-schooling curriculum that comes with many, many strings. For example, the husband in one family we knew was not allowed to wear a beard, as a condition of using Gothard’s curriculum.) Other stories recount inappropriate conduct by Gothard himself. The common theme is that a hierarchical, authority-oriented culture is a breeding ground for abuse.
By the way, I learned about all this when reading a blog post which also reported that the director of another Christian ministry recently committed suicide while being investigated for the sexual abuse of a 10-year-0ld girl. That ministry, Voice of the Martyrs, was important enough to me at one time that I included them in my will.
*Sigh* doesn’t begin to cover it.