IBLP sued for its handling of alleged abuse and harassment
Religion | Five women turn to the courts to have former ministry leader Bill Gothard, who maintains his innocence, confess his sins
by William McCleery
Posted 10/27/15, 11:59 am
With reconciliation attempts apparently unsuccessful (see “IBLP: Gothard was inappropriate, not criminal” and “Bill Gothard defends himself on new website”), five women last week brought a lawsuit against the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), an international ministry and Christian homeschooling organization. Meanwhile, former IBLP head Bill Gothard continues to insist he never sexually harassed or abused anyone.
The lawsuit claims IBLP covered up Gothard’s inappropriate words and actions, failed to train staffers to spot or prevent sexual abuse or harassment, failed to report known allegations of abuse and harassment to proper legal authorities, and failed to conduct credible internal investigations into reports of alleged abuse and harassment.
Gothard, 80, resigned from his IBLP leadership post last year amid a growing number of allegations that for many years he behaved wrongly toward young women during private counseling sessions and car trips. While denying he committed any wrongdoing that was sexual in nature, Gothard conceded he “gave special attention to some and neglected others.”
The women bringing the lawsuit—Charis Barker, Rachel Frost, Rachel Lees, Gretchen Wilkinson, and “Jane Doe”—want Gothard to confess his sins, said David Gibbs III, their attorney. The lawsuit also seeks “a sum in excess of $50,000” for each woman plus legal costs. In addition, it asks a judge to put a hold on any disposition of IBLP financial holdings and properties until the women’s lawsuit is resolved.
The organization has begun efforts to sell off some of its properties, Gibbs said, including a Nashville property worth between $7 million and $8 million. IBLP’s Chicago-area campus alone is worth more than $100 million, he added.
According to Kari Underwood, founder of the Recovering Grace website, more than 30 women identified by name have recounted troubling interactions with Gothard that add up to a pattern of sexual harassment and abuse. None has suggested that sexual intercourse occurred during any of the encounters.
In a written statement, Gothard said he had lacked “agape love,” which he defined as “giving equal love to every person with no expectation of personal benefits in return.” He added, “The allegations are exaggerated, distorted or false. However, I believe they were motivated by my lack of agape love toward them.” Yesterday Gothard reiterated to me that allegations he sexually harassed or abused anyone are “very, very false.”
Last year, IBLP had David Gibbs Jr. investigate Gothard’s actions, and that investigation concluded Gothard did not commit any criminal wrongdoing, but showed “a lack of discretion and failure to follow Christ’s example of being blameless and above reproach.” David Gibbs III characterized that investigation—by his father—as a sham, and Recovering Grace said IBLP was “choosing self-preservation, ignoring the abuse and broken lives left by a predatory leader.”
IBLP President Tim Levendusky declined to comment on the lawsuit, but one of IBLP’s six directors, John Stancil, said he does not believe “any wrongdoing has been done by Mr. Gothard. There was some bad judgments sometimes, maybe, but no sin committed—no adultery, no kissing, none of that.” Stancil would like Gothard “returned to his ministry to continue going forward.”
The legal case is based on specific allegations, but Gibbs III also complained of “a spirit of arrogance” that led to “extreme legalism,” with “sub-rules like it’s disloyal to question the leaders and disloyal to ask questions. You end up with people who are trapped in a system and they have no place to turn.”
Some of those people have turned to the Recovering Grace website, which states, “We all have attended Bill Gothard’s seminars, and most of us served within the IBLP organization in some form or fashion.”
Website founder Underwood said Gothard emphasizes human achievement and conduct over saving grace. “Our good works cannot save us,” she said, “so in trying there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, a lot of pressure [over a goal] that we cannot fulfill. That’s my biggest issue with his teachings.”
Asked about this doctrinal criticism, Gothard said he believes that “God produces the fruit in us. It’s not us doing it in our own energy.” He said nearly 3 million people have gone through his seminars for more than 50 years, and “that has never been a claim of any significance by any of the alumni.”