UPDATE: Bill Gothard told me by phone Thursday he’d not had opportunity to read Farris’ statement, but said he is scheduled to talk with Farris next Wednesday, which Farris confirmed.
“My major message from the very beginning has been to encourage people to meditate on God’s Word day and night,” Gothard said, adding that his teaching was meant to help people meditate on “keeping the commands of Jesus Christ … so they can hear from God, not from me.”
He added, “When I was not meditating, I offended people, made bad decisions. … I am now focused on being reconciled with as many people as I can."
OUR EARLIER REPORT (Aug. 28, 12:09 p.m.): Longtime homeschool attorney and advocate Michael P. Farris, who founded the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and founded Patrick Henry College in 2000, issued a public statement Wednesday distancing himself from “patriarchy.” Specifically, he criticized the teachings of two leaders formerly popular among homeschoolers, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, who both recently stepped down from ministries amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Phillips, an attorney himself, worked with Farris at HSLDA for six years. He went on to launch The Vision Forum Inc. and Vision Forum Ministries with his wife Beall. Last year, Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum Ministries after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a young woman. The ministry closed soon after.
Gothard was a longtime ministry leader who drew thousands of families to weeklong seminars in the 1970s and ’80s, teaching practical applications of biblical principles and warning against debt and rock music. He resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct with multiple young women. (Gothard admitted to crossing the “boundaries of discretion” with some young women but denied any “sexual intent.”)
“[W]ith these recent scandals in view, we think it is now time to speak out,” wrote Farris, currently chairman of HSLDA, on the organization’s website. “[T]heir teachings continue to threaten the freedom and integrity of the homeschooling movement. … Frankly, we should have spoken up sooner.”
Citing articles from the now-defunct website of Vision Forum Ministries, Farris said Phillips’ brand of patriarchy “offers an imbalanced and (in my personal opinion) unbiblical view of the roles of men and women.” Farris disavowed any idea that “women should not vote,” that “higher education is not important for women,” or that “unmarried adult women are subject to their fathers’ authority” or should stay home until they marry. These propositions, Farris wrote, were “not universal commands from God.”
Farris said HSLDA regretted allowing Vision Forum to buy advertising space “to promote its products and ideas. We were wrong to do so.”
The HSLDA chairman said Gothard did not specifically promote patriarchy, but Farris called Gothard’s teaching regarding family and women “unbalanced” and described it as “legalism,” although without offering specific examples. He explained, “In this sense, legalism occurs when someone elevates his personal view about wise conduct to a level where it is claimed that this person’s own opinions are God’s universal commands.”
Farris conceded families are entitled to their own opinions: “It is not sinful to hold a very conservative view of gender roles or child rearing. If people believe such ideas are wise, then our legal system should protect their choices, provided those choices do not result in abuse.”
HSLDA and Farris have faced particular pressure to repudiate Phillips and Gothard in the past year from some former homeschooled students who have claimed they were abused—physically, emotionally, or “spiritually”—by their parents. Many are represented by a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, as WORLD reported in its recent article about homeschoolers and abuse.
“What has changed our minds are the stories we are now hearing of families, children, women, and even fathers who have been harmed by these philosophies,” Farris wrote. “While these stories represent a small minority of homeschoolers, we can see a discernible pattern of harm, and it must be addressed.”
In a short article published along with the statement, Farris and HSLDA President J. Michael Smith noted their organization would continue to defend homeschool families no matter their position on the particulars of patriarchy: “We serve all homeschooling families—regardless of their religious or cultural views.”
Phillips and Gothard were not immediately available for comment.