Updated: Bill Gothard resigns following abuse allegations

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OAK BROOK, Ill. (RNS)—Bill Gothard, an Illinois-based advocate for home schooling and male authority in the home, resigned after allegations of sexually harassing women who worked at his ministry and failing to report child abuse cases.

bill gothard130Bill GothardGothard’s resignation from Institute in Basic Life Principle, according to a letter sent to families affiliated with the ministry he founded, followed one week after he was put on administrative leave.

Gothard told the institute’s board of directors he wanted to follow the New Testament command to listen to those who made accusations against him, according to an email sent from David Waller, administrative director of the Advanced Training Institute to families involved in the ministry.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus directs his followers to “go and be reconciled” if “your brother or sister has something against you.”

“To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard has resigned as president of the Institutes in Basic Life Principles, its board of directors and its affiliated entities,” Waller’s email said.

Waller said the two institutes will continue under interim leadership, including upcoming conferences in Nashville and Sacramento under ATI president Chris Hogan.

The Institute for Basic Life Principles once was a popular gathering spot for thousands of Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting.” Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute conferences also were popular among devotees of the Quiverfull movement, who promote large families and eschew birth control.

He’s also rubbed shoulders with conservative Republican luminaries. He and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were photographed at a campaign lunch together; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke at one of Gothard’s conferences; and Sarah Palin, when she was a small-town mayor in Alaska, attended his International Association of Character Cities conferences and declared Wasilla among Gothard’s “Cities of Character.”

Gothard is 79 and single.

Financial woes

The allegations against Gothard dovetail with financial woes. In recent years, Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles net revenue has dropped significantly, and the ministry is losing money. In 2009, it reported a net income loss of $1 million. It lost $4.1 million in 2011 and $3.5 million in 2012, according to its most recently available tax forms. Its net assets dropped from $92 million in 2010 to $81 million in 2012.

Since it started as a class at Gothard’s alma mater, Wheaton College, in 1961, more than 2.5 million people have gone through his “basic seminar” training on authority, success and other issues. The institute held 504 seminars in 2010, but that number dropped to fewer than 50 in 2012.

The financial decline came around the same time the whistle-blowing website Recovering Grace was formed in 2011. A string of allegations has been posted on the website, including one alleging Gothard molested a woman who was underage in the early 1990s. Four articles allege Gothard engaged in sexual harassment, and four articles allege his failure to report child abuse to Child Protective Services.

Sexual abuse 

gretchen swearingen190Gretchen SwearingenGretchen Swearingen, who goes by her middle name, Charlotte, wrote on the website that Gothard requested she come work for him in 1992 at the institute’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., when she was 16. During her time there, she said Gothard would play footsie with her and hold her hand. At one point, she said, he had coordinated a ride from the airport for them to be together. “That’s when he first put his hand between my legs,” she wrote.

Now 38, she said the statute of limitations has expired, leaving her unable to sue. She said she told her mother, who told her that she was lying, so Swearingen assumed there was nothing she could do.

“No one was there when the molestation was happening,” she said in an interview. “I never had the guts to say anything. I thought if my mother didn’t believe me, who would? You’re not to bring home false witness against someone at headquarters.”

She said that she and her mother have reconciled since she wrote her story.

Swearingen said she recently reported her story to the Hinsdale (Ill.) Police Department. A police spokesman said no investigation has been opened at this time.

“It’s not about revenge, not about suing him or taking him to court,” she said. “It’s about my healing and giving other people voices.”

Grooming pattern’

Gothard would create an emotional bond with several women during counseling, said Rachel Frost, who also worked at the institute’s headquarters when she was 16.

“There was a very common grooming pattern of creating emotional bonds and physical affirmations, the footsie, the leg rubs, the stroking of the hair, the constant comments on physical appearance,” she said.

She also wrote about her experience on the Recovering Grace website.

Julie Terrell, another woman who worked at the institute’s headquarters, said Gothard sexually harassed her when she worked there in 1998. But before stories were posted at Recovering Grace, she never thought to say anything.

One woman behind the Recovering Grace website, who declined to be named because she did not want to hurt the reputation of her husband who is a pastor, said 34 women told the website they had been sexually harassed; four women alleged molestation. She said she refers anyone whose story is within the statute of limitations to the police.

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