Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has ties to a controversial Bible teacher known for authoritarian views that critics say border on spiritual abuse.
Most Americans never heard of Chicago-based teacher Bill Gothard until newspapers wrote about Colorado church shooter Matthew Murray’s 2006 Internet rant about growing up under strict homeschool teaching developed as part of Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles.
That piqued attention to a photo of Huckabee and Gothard together at a Houston fund-raiser posted to a family blog of a Gothard disciple.
The Cincinnati Beacon described Huckabee as a “long-time admirer” of Gothard. The former Arkansas governor wrote a letter used by Gothard to promote a program aimed at infiltrating city governments with core principles of the ministry stripped of overt religious references.
“As a person who has actually been through the Basic Seminar, I am confident that these are some of the best programs available for instilling character into the lives of people,” Huckabee wrote in a letter promoting Gothard’s prison ministry. Arkansas prisons had been using Gothard seminars and materials since 1996.
Huckabee also endorsed Gothard’s “Character Cities” program. Gothard described a meeting in Little Rock as laying groundwork for “the most exciting opportunity I can imagine” to merge his institute’s teachings with government programs.
Reports describe Gothard as a fringe evangelical leader, but he claims to have built a following of 2.5 million alumni of his 25-hour basic seminar designed to help enrollees “learn to view all of life from God’s perspective” since 1964.
Gothard has a strong following in the fundamentalist leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Former SBC presidents Adrian Rogers and Charles Stanley testified to Gothard’s influence on their ministries.
Gothard was featured on FamilyNet, a TV network owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, and spoke to trustees of the SBC International Mission Board in 1992.
Gothard’s popularity peaked in the 1970s, when his Basic Youth Conflicts Seminar drew crowds of 10,000 and 20,000 in venues across the United States. Attendance declined in the 1980s after allegations of sexual misconduct marred the ministry.
The group launched its homeschool program in 1984, and more recently branched out into non-traditional medical training and programs like Character First for use in public institutions like schools and work places, sometimes with public funding.
Gothard is best known for his insistence on blind obedience to a biblical “umbrella” of authority. “Everyone is under certain God-ordained authorities, such as parents, government and the church,” says one of Gothard’s seven “life principles.”
“The purpose of God-ordained authority is to provide protection, direction, instruction and provision.”
Critics say IBLP bears many marks of a spiritually abusive fellowship. Some describe the organization as cult-like. A 2002 newspaper story described a Gothard-inspired program in Indiana where misbehaving youth were locked in a “prayer closet” and forced to pray to Jesus for hours or days at a time.
Gothard strictly opposes rock music–even Christian rock–and teaches that divorce is never permissible.
He opposes dating, advocating courtship and betrothal as the biblical model.
He promotes a “full-quiver” theology–even though he has never been married–opposing all forms of contraception and encouraging couples who have undergone surgical sterilizations to have them reversed.
Gothard calls his way of living “higher standards” and tells his followers to expect to be persecuted for their beliefs.
In a Sept. 4, 2006, Internet posting under the screen name nghtmrchld26, Matthew Murray, the 24-year-old gunman who killed four people at a Youth With a Mission training center in Arvada, Colo., and New Life Church in Colorado Springs Dec. 9, wrote about “growing up in the nightmare of Bill Gothard and Charismatic Christianity.”
Gothard told the Rocky Mountain News that Murray’s killing spree was not a bad reaction to the curriculum, but the problem was that Murray rejected the curriculum. Gothard cited other postings where Murray described his love of rock music, especially Marilyn Manson.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.