More than a month after stepping down as president of the ministry he founded, Bill Gothard released a statement that attempts to respond to allegations of sexual impropriety that ultimately led to his resignation from the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP).
“God has brought me to a place of greater brokenness than at any other time in my life,” Gothard wrote in the statement released April 17. “It is a grief to realize how my pride and insensitivity have affected so many people. I have asked the Lord to reveal the underlying causes and He is doing this.”
But the statement denied some of the more serious charges leveled against Gothard by the group Recovering Grace, which earlier this year released statements from 34 women detailing incidents dating back to the 1970s. The statements accuse Gothard of sexual harassment and—in one case—sexual abuse that included fondling but not rape.
“My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong,” Gothard wrote. “They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.”
Recovering Grace issued its own statement today, saying that despite “several positive aspects” found in Gothard’s statement, it nonetheless leaves the group “troubled.” The group said it “concluded that Gothard’s statement, as it stands, is incomplete.”
The group singled out Gothard’s assertion that he did not touch a girl “immorally or with sexual intent.”
“There is a clear contradiction in this portion of Gothard’s statement, since the specific behaviors he confesses to (holding hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair) are behaviors that even our broader culture views as sexual in nature between adults,” Recovering Grace’s statement read. “These unwanted behaviors are grossly inappropriate with students and subordinates, and sexually confusing to sheltered young women brought up in the strict ‘purity culture’ espoused by Gothard and his followers.”
The group pointed out that because Gothard’s actions occurred in the workplace, they would fall under the legal definition of sexual harassment. “This behavior was persistent and sexual in nature,” the group’s statement read, “and must be acknowledged as such.”
Recovering Grace also said it feared Gothard’s statement “leaves the door open” for him to return as the leader of IBLP. “Gothard did not outline a plan for avoiding similar failures in the future,” read the group’s statement, which also asked whether he had submitted himself to the authority of a local church or sought professional counseling. “It is our firm belief that Gothard needs to take these important steps going forward, lest he find himself repeating his past mistakes. As an outward manifestation of good faith and as a valuable method of public accountability, we would hope to see Gothard outline the corrective measures he is going to implement.”
Recovering Grace’s concern that Gothard might return to leadership of IBLP is rooted in the fact that the organization’s board of directors left the door open for his return. The board appointed an interim president, Tim Levendusky, on March 14, but it has so far not indicated publicly that it is searching for a permanent replacement. The statement announcing Levendusky’s appointment instead said that a “Christ-honoring review process shall continue and a future statement will be issued once the review is complete and submitted to the Board of Directors.”
In the 1970s and ’80s, Gothard filled 20,000-seat auditoriums with evangelical Christians who came to hear his weeklong seminars on biblical principles and practical applications, which included warnings against rock music and exhortations to stay out of debt. His seminars, attended by more than 2.5 million people, were particularly popular with the rapidly growing homeschool community.