It has been an interesting few weeks for the survivors of spiritual abuse and those who have suffered the “extra special” kind of spiritual abuse that comes with sexual advances made by clergy.
After years of suffering in silence and scorn, many have cause for hope. Bob Jones University reinstated the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment Group to complete their investigation of unreported assaults. And... Bill Gothard was placed on administrative leave by the board of his parachurch organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles. These matters have even caught the attention of the secular press including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
It has been said of critics that people like me are dancing with glee over these new developments with Gothard in particular, as somehow it means that there will be no consequences for sinful activities. (I can't connect any of those dots at all!) I wish to see the abusers come to justice so that restitution can be made to the survivors. And in many ways, that is impossible. It would be nice, however, if places like Sovereign Grace would at least pay for therapy to help their victims can recover. It would be something. It is a starting place. – But it makes me anything but happy. Part of me cringes, half anticipating that all of these efforts will result in no change at all, despite all of the work and the public scrutiny that the victims have suffered in the process. Or it may be change that no one will see tangibly in quite a long time. That's often how these things work.
Back to matters concerning Brother Bill...
Recovering Grace (RG) is an online organization that helps people work through the challenges that they face after their involvement with Bill Gothard's teachings. To date, thirty four women have come to them with reports of Bill Gothard's sexual misconduct, and this is in addition to his previous history and similar reports. At the end of this post, I will post the chart that RG created to trace his modus operandi with just a few of these young women, some of whom were still minors when he pursued them. There is something chilling about seeing this comparison, and I'm grateful to RG for allowing me to repost it here. For more information about all of this, visit “The Gothard Files” tab at the top of the RG website to find more information. The drop-down menu makes it easy to sort through the history and categories to particular information. I was excited to notice a special section (“Silencing the Lambs”) that speaks to the false doctrines that Gothard uses to suppress criticism. Some of these teachings are miserable and difficult, mingled with just enough truth and delivered in such a way as to seduce a person into accepting them.
Recovery from Gothard
I only had a short brush with Gothard's material, and I was blessed to have very good basic doctrinal training prior to my exposure to it. I had access to mentors in the faith who could help broaden my perspective. I knew about spiritual life outside of a heavily controlled system of conformity. Yet despite all of this, the teachings proved to be quite toxic for me. It took several years before I was able to sort through the many skewed ideas that Gothard taught and the church I'd left still followed. I'd like to think that seventeen years after leaving that church and the Gothard mentality that I am free of it all, but it would not surprise me to find some new issue that triggers the automatic and rehearsed response that was part of this indoctrination. My church wove his ideas into everything, and I lived it as much as I could for four years while trying to make it work.
I identify with the people who grew up in Gothard's system however. If you've read here for very long, you likely know that I experienced many of the same issues as a child. What the legalistic homeschooling families required of their children for religious reasons, my parents often required of me for their own personal reasons, with the exception of corporal punishment. You learn to bury your own feelings, you follow your authorities, and you do what your parents want. In the middle of it, you become a universe ofshame and self doubt in a nutshell. I suffered sexual abuse, too, outside of a religious context, so I can relate to that experience as well.
In all of the talk about this new sanction placed on Gothard until his Board decides what to do, I came across a very well written blog post about recovery. I identified with it and still struggle with answering some of the questions the author poses and the challenges that one faces when you are taught to live in a system of self negation and shame. It was honest and lovely and painful and sweet and melancholy.
Micah Murray's blog post at Redemption Pictures talks about how hard it is to make sense out of something so pervasive in addition to discussing the accusations and why he finds them absolutely believable. When your normal is abnormal, you have no standard of comparison. All you know is deeply flawed. He starts out early in the post, noting that people often say, “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.” You're supposed to rescue the good and leave the bad behind in the rubble as you move on, but no one tells you how to do this. It's almost like people to tell you to “just get over it.” I don't even know what that means. If all of your experience is grounded in trauma, you don't know how to get over anything. You only know how to exist in the system that hurt you.
No one tells you how to pick up the pieces of your life. You have no idea where to begin and how to begin. It is this sense that I felt when I wrote about how difficult it is to study the Bible after someone has used it to beat you up. There is such a mix of emotions and good and bad, and all you want is an easy, black and white way to make things feel good to you again. Then you realize that there is no black or white, or that those instances are more rare than common. Unique people make for much grey.
I loved how Micah phrased this as well about being raised in Gothard's system which he calls a cult. I once likened it to the “splinter in your mind” from The Matrix film. You know something's wrong, but you don't have the words or the perspective to define it.
You know it somewhere in your mind before your mouth will admit it.
We talked about how it was a cult, joking at first. Outsiders could point and accuse and question, but we knew that it wasn’t what it looked like.
His article is well worth reading. The pictures are quite telling, too.
Gothard's Advice Regarding Sexual Abuse
Another enlightening feature of Micah's post focuses on what Gothard had to say about how to counsel sexual abuse victims. It's basically a guide of how not to approach a victim. He says of it that it is “The very sort of thing you’d expect, in retrospect, from an alleged sexual predator.”
In hindsight, he expresses how terribly hard it is to consider that, at the time, he didn't realize how terrible this advice really was. I wrote recently about this and recalled how I felt when I froze several different times when walking through the different moments of realization I had when my friend had been locked in the basement. It never occurred to me that it could be happening at the time that I took this woman's call or when the pastor downplayed it as trivial. And I froze, not knowing what to say when I learned that she was calling from her confinement. What on earth was wrong with me? Like Micah, I was brainwashed, too. You don't know what to do. You freeze. You play along. You survive the pressure of the moment. But thank God that other moments come when you realize that you have a choice. You don't have to remain frozen indefinitely.
I agree with him that brainwashing is “a real thing.” It happened to him. It happened to me. It happens to the young and the old, the best and the brightest, the simple and the meek. We believe the promises that are made to us if we can only follow the plan. As Micah puts it, we end up floundering in a sea of lies, wondering if there is even any baby or bathwater.
And here is the promised chart that Recovering Grace put together. Please visit there and read more. These processes are predictable, just like patterns of spiritual abuse and brainwashing are predictable. It still amazes me.
As Micah notes, “Pray for us.” And let us hope that more will be done than repentance for “defrauding,” loaded code language for enticing someone sexually without ability or intent to follow through on satisfying that desire. Recovering Grace has a post about that, too. Pray that all of the wounded find healing and that justice can be established. Mercy comes later.