November 17, 2018

Is Fundamentalism Losing Its Sway

“Julie was 16 years old when Bill Gothard, the founder of the fundamentalist Christian organization the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), pulled her aside at an IBLP event in 1996 in Dallas, Texas, to compliment her “bright, shining countenance.” She was 18 when Gothard, then 64 years old, invited her to work at IBLP’s sprawling headquarters near Chicago. Julie spent her days in a greeting lobby, often alone. Every time she began to connect with her on-campus roommates, Gothard moved her to a new room. Despite being a conscientious rule follower, Julie was immediately considered “rebellious” by the other staff, one of the worst labels possible within IBLP’s world of unquestioning obedience. She was called into her supervisor’s office and yelled at almost every day, despite being on her best behavior.

Julie, who asked that her last name be withheld, believes that Gothard was isolating her socially so that she would only feel safe with him. It worked. Julie, now 38 years old, remembers Gothard being the one kind face in a miserable existence. He frequently asked her to stay in his office with him until well past the 9 p.m. curfew, a shocking breach of protocol in a culture where simply talking to a member of the opposite sex could lead to a public shaming, or, worse, being sent home. One night, as Julie was transcribing Gothard’s dictation, she noticed he had gone quiet. When she looked up, she saw that Gothard was staring at her intently, his erection exposed.

Julie had been sheltered all her life and didn’t know precisely what Gothard was proposing. But she felt unnerved enough to tell Gothard that it was getting late and that she needed to leave. It was only well into her marriage that Julie realized what Gothard had done. And it was only many years later that she saw the similarities between that moment and the stories of ten plaintiffs who had accused Gothard of sexual harassment and molestation, including rubbing their breasts and genitals while clothed and placing their hands on his groin. Some of the plaintiffs were minors at the time.”

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