Sunday, March 6, 2011

Peering Underneath the Umbrella: Musings on Gothardism

Image credit: Molly DG on Flickr
I've mentioned a little bit about Gothard in my post on Razing Ruth (which still surprises me with the number of hits it receives!) and my posts about courtship/dating.  I have been reading some articles shared by  Why Not Train a Child and the Hippie Housewife that talk about Gothard a bit, and it has brought back a lot of memories.  We never went hardcore into the ATI program, so we would still be considered on the outer fringes by the inner circle members.  We were actually very worldly from a Gothard point of view:  we wore pants and watched TV (although our family standards were much more conservative than most people I knew).  In later years, my sister and I listened to Christian rock, despite knowing about the demonic powers being summoned through the witchcraft-beat! GASP!  (Not only that, we also occasionally listened to worship songs written in a minor key!  Somehow, we escaped the curse of depression.)

On the plus side, though, we attended every seminar (both Basic and Advanced) every year from the time I was twelve (that was before the kid's seminars, which my brother attended).  We led their Follow-up course to the basic seminar, and the Financial Freedom seminars.  We were homeschooled (of course).   We played all their board games.  We memorized the 49 character qualities, and could quote The Pineapple Story and Character Sketches (all volumes).  We spoke the code.  We did Wisdom Searches in the mornings.  And, looking back, I realize how deeply entrenched my parents were, and understand things like why my mom continued to get pregnant, even after a staggering number of miscarriages and being told she needed a hysterectomy.

If you just casually attended the Basic seminar, you probably found it quite easy to take the good and spit out the bones.  It starts off Monday night with a pleasant introduction to the whole thing, and a teaching on self-acceptance.  He takes you through the 10 Unchangeables and explains that God is using all the things that we cannot change about ourselves to paint a beautiful masterpiece of our lives. Bill is a good speaker, and is brimming over with amazing examples of all the people who have been helped through his teaching of the "non-optional principles".   Even now, there are a lot of things that I would probably agree with, at least to an extent.  But knowing more about the core makes me nervous.

The next night's teaching on authority sneaks up on you.  He outlines a vertical chain of authority (God, father/husband directly under God, wife below, children lower still) and explains the consequences of getting out from under the umbrella of (patriarchal) authority (women have none, except what their husband delegates to them over the children).  He gives a long litany of stories of those who went against the wishes of their fathers and suffered terribly, contrasted with tales of those who submitted, against culture and common sense, and were rewarded beyond their dreams.  Those who rebel and eventually return are gravely compared to cracked diamonds--only worth a fraction of the value they could have had if they had been submissive all along.  

In a sense, all of his teachings come back to the idea that if you align yourself underneath the umbrella, perfectly submissive to all of Gothard's principles, then you will be safe.  If you dare to go out from under the umbrella by not conforming perfectly with a joyful countenance and light in your eyes, then any number of hailstorms will pound you to a bloody pulp.

It sounds a bit fanatical (and it is), but when you are there it is much more palatable.  His quiet humor, lovely chalk talks and assortment of hooks are appealing.  By the time you get through the teaching on how to conquer anger by yielding rights (Thursday), you are probably ready to overlook some of the more extreme parts of his teachings on moral purity (Friday) and any discomfort from the teachings on authority begins to blur and fade as he leads you through the examples of success through meditation on Scripture (Saturday). 

It is nicely packaged, and full of guarantees.  If you follow the principles, you will be blessed with success.  Suffering is the result of rebelling, even unknowingly, against any of the principles, but all can be made right (with a smaller diamond, of course) by simply following his steps.  I bought nearly all of it, until sliding out from under the umbrella in my relationship with Carlos.  Once I was married, I stopped attending the seminars.  Even so, it is only recently that I have been able to put together my disagreements with the underlying Gothard doctrines.

One of these is the extreme patriarchy.  Nearly everyone I knew growing up believed that the father was the head of the house.  What many people don't recognize is the difference in degrees when it comes to the application.  Many of the families that I know who believe that the wife should submit to her husband actually practice something much closer to mutual submission.   While I believe that they are very sincere, it winds up that through temperament or conscious design, the wife has the respect of her husband and freedom to participate in many decisions, and even the ability to come to some on her own.  Although there may be a theoretical agreement that the husband has the final say, in reality, decisions are reached together.

Gothard's view of authority is far more extreme.  The wife must submit entirely to her husband, regardless of the rightness of his choices.  She is allowed to appeal if he wishes her to sin.  Of course, the definition of 'sin' is incredibly and inexplicably narrow in this context, especially compared to the hyper-sinfulization* of those not in the position of authority!  If her appeal is denied, she may choose to suffer for doing right, but must continue to honor her husband, and look happy to the rest of the world, since any discontent in her countenance is a public shaming of her head.  In addition to this, he teaches very strongly that the one under authority is the one responsible for change: in other words, if the husband does something wrong, it is all your fault.  If you were only more submissive, more this, more that, you would please him and he wouldn't do that.  You can patch the leaks in your umbrella by just trying harder to submit.  It is the perfect recipe for abuse.

Whatever God is speaking, he will speak to your husband/father.  It doesn't really matter what the topic is:  a daughter's future spouse, your callings and responsibilities, how you should spend your time, how you should raise your children.  Any decision is between the father/husband and God, and the father/husband will let you know when he is ready.  Your responsibility is to cheerfully go along with it.  Even if your father is not a believer (which is also your fault, of course), you still have to rely on him to be the go-between between you and God.

There are all kinds of other, minor things that have become twisted and elevated into doctrine, some that I agree with aside from the theological status conveyed upon them, others very weird indeed, but to put it all into a nutshell, the fatal flaw of Gothard's teachings is that he denies the power of Christ.  It is all about Man (and here, the male gender is most definitely implied).  Even grace becomes redefined as MAN's desire and MAN's ability to do God's will.  "Grace" rests squarely on our efforts.  (Would you make a vow to do XYZ? And if you really mean it, would you raise your hand as an outward demostration...) The work of the Cross becomes an afterthought, and all that matters is our ability to conform to the checklist.  Instead of works flowing out of faith in God, the works flow out of faith in the works themselves to provide carrots or avoid the stick.  If you can keep your facade together, and especially if you can make your man look good, then you will reap all kinds of goodies.  If your life isn't perfect, well, that is your fault for not following the steps precisely. 

The concept of mercy is ignored.  The power of Christ's sacrifice is a mere footnote to our own efforts and accomplishments.  This is incredibly dangerous, especially because it is the kind of mindset that corrupts every thing it touches.  Every relationship, every accomplishment, every action becomes tested by whether or not it follows Bill's principles.  When you hear of someone going through a difficult situation, rather than responding in compassion, you wonder which principles they violated to reap that problem.  Or, if you know them at all, you have probably already figured out which principles were violated.  Because of the unrelenting emphasis on appearances, you condition yourself to pretend all the time, until you have spun it all in your mind to the point that you aren't really sure what the truth is anymore.   You yield your rights to others (Jesus, then Others, then You, what a wonderful way to spell JOY!) and may never even realize that you also yielded any healthy, necessary boundaries.

I felt a bit smarter back before my diamond was cracked, back when I was centered under my umbrella of protection.  I could give you all the answers to any situation so that you could apply the principles and understand where you went wrong (You were cursed because you let a Cabbage Patch doll into your home/because you went to college away from home/because you didn't joyfully submit, etc.).

Now, I find that grace isn't about me; it is about the amazing love that God lavishes on us.  It isn't all about my efforts or shortcomings.  It is about His mercy and patience in helping me grow.  Instead of seeing all relationships in a vertical line of top-to-bottom hierarchy, I am seeing them as a circle of love and service.  It makes all the difference.  Instead of shaming myself and others, I am learning to joyfully proclaim that His banner over me is love.  Instead of desperately trying to patch leaks in my umbrella, I am enjoying the glorious sunshine of freedom and grace.
Image credit: Pink Sherbert Photography on Flickr

* My own word.  I am quite pleased with it.  :)


Hippie Housewife said...

What a wonderful entry! I am so glad that you were able to move away from that false doctrine to experience true freedom and grace. Thank you for sharing these truths about the dangers of Gothardism.

granny2five said...

Hmmm. Can't say I agree with all of this post, but, of course, some of it is right on. Don plans to use some of what we learned in the Basic Seminar many years ago when he speaks to the men's breakfast next Saturday.

Have a feeling you might also take great exception to the book we're now studying (with video series) by John Bevere titled "Under Cover." It's straight, and some of it has been hard to swallow, but I can't prove him Biblically incorrect.

Interesting how we all grow "up" in our relationship with God, but sometimes take different routes to get there.

Love and appreciate you.

Maria said...

A very articulate and powerful post, Dulce. Thank you for sharing. <3

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh at the music part - my parents weirdly wound up in a homechurch several years ago; they spent a great deal of time trying to convince the "pastor" that music with a beat (but only certain beats?) was not from the devil. No one ever wins that argument and thankfully, my parents eventually left that "church".

I also thought your take on the submission aspect of Gothard was interesting. I can't say I disagree with his philosophy as you described it (as far as the husband being the head, submitting in everything, having a good attitude when he makes what I think is a bad decision), BUT I do have a marriage where my husband is very considerate and respectful of my opinions, which is also what you pointed out.

As a former homeschooler, I, of course, grew up knowing about Gothard, but I'm kind of surprised to learn about all this off-the-wall stuff. Very interesting.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! I appreciate hearing your perspectives and encouragement. <3

rae said...

I grew up in ATI and you have clearly described so many of the issues that are inherent in the doctrines they teach. I agreed with everything you said and am so happy that you can see the issues now and communicate them so well. Thank you for sharing this!!

Sarah said...

Man oh man, I didn't grow up with anything resembling ATI, and my parents have never even heard of Gothard... but I've been reading Razing Ruth, and ... there was a time when I figured vaguely that "the man should be the natural leader in a marriage" ...

But that's just not even Scriptural!

I'm glad for your passionate speakings out on things that matter. I feel like if patriarchy was a bigger issue in my life (thankful that it's not, though, I'm not gonna lie hehe), I would be so encouraged by this.

Hopewell said...

Simply the best thing I've ever read on Gothardism. I wish the viewers of "19 Kids and Counting"--many truly good and faithful Christians, could read this and learn the truth.

I have linked to this @

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much. <3. Hopewell, I think you are absolutely right about the sincerity and good motivations of people who see the picture perfect facade of the Gothard families. It is easy to miss what is deeply buried in the program. :(

Lauren Wayne said...

This was really interesting (and disheartening) to read. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I grew up in a relatively conservative Christian home, but I'm glad my parents modeled mutual respect.

dulce de leche said...

Thanks, Lauren! I am glad to hear of other Christian families that *didn't* grow up with these views, and model respect for all. :)

Christie M said...

Wow! I didn't know you were involved in a Gothard family!
I was introduced to the basic seminary when I was 12. A LONG time ago. It was a large red book.
Some of what he said made sense. I still remember the umbrella explanation...
My family was not a Gothard family, just a harsh family. :/

However I DO remember all the talk about evil drum beats, and some guy that is on the radio now... can't recall his name, came to our church with an electric guitar and strummed it REALLY loud and said, "can you feel that in your groin?" LOL Ummm. no, but I can hear it in my ears!
Then they burned albums in the parking lot.
I'm glad that saga never made it too far into our home.

Kristine said...

Just had a cousin direct me to your page - thanks so much for speaking truth. I too was raised in ATIA and appreciate your frank but gentle approach is sharing the truth about what's on the inside Gothards program.

Faye Bryant said...

I only just heard of Gothardism, though apparently I've been a recipient of some of the teachings. I really appreciate this post. You seem to be at a place of understanding and receiving God's grace and healing.

I am unsure about @Sarah's words about the husband being the head being unscriptural and would like to hear more.

I believe there is a sort of umbrella, but not quite like you say you were taught!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much for the comments! Faye, you might be interested in the series of posts on wifely submission. :)

Anonymous said...

Obviously there was no birth control until modern times, so quiverfull was a way of life.

But in the mid 20th century, many dedicated American missionaries chose to have only one or a few children and often left them behind for others to raise as they went into sometimes dangerous mission fields. That was considered truly following God to give up your children to follow God into the mission field. How did those missionaries, truly intent on following the will of God, miss out on quiverful teachings?

Why did a famous preacher called Peter Marshall have only one child? How did such a holy man of God miss preaching quiverfull instead choosing to preach following God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

How did the Yates family miss the promised quiverfull blessings of God to provide for all the children? Andrea and Rusty chose to obey quiverfull teachings instead of the doctor who told her to stop having kids until the hormones and other problems from having kids so close togher could heal. Now her children are dead, she is in prison for life, her husband divorced and remarried with a new baby.

Perhaps the answer to all those samples above is God does not make cookie cutter christians. God has a different plan for every one. It is a mistake to try to follow God's plan for others.

There was only one Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt and witnessed the one and only parting of the Red Sea, only one Noah who rode out the flood with all the animals on the one and only ark, only one Abraham who by faith believed God's promise to make him a nation (and he had how many children?) one David who using only one stone, brought down a giant. And one Mary who was visited by the one Holy Spirit to become pregnant with the one and only Jesus who proclaims that he is the only One by whom salvation can be had. None of them attended any Gothard seminars or heard a Billy Graham speak and quiverfull was their only way of life because there was no birth-control. Nor were there cars nor electric lights back then but we use them now without feeling sinful. And God has made only one YOU and one incredible distinct personality found lost and wandering that He will paint and frame into one masterpiece! And that masterpiece will look like no other.