Sunday, February 09, 2014

From One Preacher to Another: An Open Letter to Bill Gothard

Dear Bill,

I write this letter feeling very strange.  In light of the prescribed discipleship method of Titus 2, this younger man who could theoretically be your son feels a bit weird.  Nevertheless, after having read about the accusations of sexual harassment by multiple women who have worked under your authority, I feel compelled to express what I'm feeling right now to an older man who is supposed to model what it means to follow Jesus.

For many years (I've been in ministry for more than 22 years now) I've followed your work from a distance.  During that time I've heard you take bold stands and say some things I thought were very helpful to the church, and I continue to be thankful for those timely exhortations.  From the standpoint of general theology, you and I are basically the same.  You have advocated a few views over the years that, frankly, I thought were narrow, exegetically flawed and a bit goofy, but we both hold a high view of Scripture and an exclusive view of Jesus as God incarnate, who died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, rose bodily from the dead and is one day returning.  But honestly, I never got any closer to your ministry, and my reticence is overwhelmingly due to the strange way you seem to have been revered by your own followers--a way I discerned to be very, very unhealthy, but which you apparently demanded.  Now, it appears my reluctance was warranted.  I recognize that a single accusation does not, and should not automatically constitute guilt.  But the multiple women now coming forward more than warrants pulling the trigger on 1 Timothy 5:19-20.  Regardless of your intent, the net effect of your actions toward these women did not empower and equip them as followers of Jesus.  Instead, they departed from their service with you uncomfortable, afraid, and ashamed.  Such is never the result of a healthy, Biblically sound, God-honoring ministry.

Since hearing about this situation from one of the pastors in the network of churches I serve, many emotions have flooded my soul that I want to share with you, and with the world that is now watching to see not only your ultimate fate, but your reaction to these revelations.

First, you need to know that I am angry with you.  In the next couple of paragraphs, I'm going to be very rough on you.  I hope you will not stop reading, and that by the end of the letter you will know of my love for you as a brother, but you need to hear the following words. I am angry as a fellow pastor/minister. Your behavior has placed yet another black eye on our common profession and calling.  Occasionally, a situation arises in which I need to provide counsel to a young woman, and circumstances like this make her parents understandably concerned. You are now to the rest of us who serve as pastors what the 9/11 hijackers were to Muslims--someone who causes the rest of us to be viewed with high suspicion simply because we are pastors.  By your behavior, you haven't just broken trust with your own followers.  You have also contributed to the growing distrust that the public now has of those of us in ministry.  The Gospel--which is what people need the most for healing, meaning and purpose--is kept from many because actions like yours have broken the trust between them and those of us who are the stewards of that story. To be honest Bill,  the most repulsive thing about what you did isn't just the inappropriate behavior with young women, but that this behavior occurred in the context of an uneven working relationship.  You abused the power and trust of your office to satisfy yourself rather than serve your people.  And as the one with the power in the relationship, the blame for everything that has transpired rests squarely on your shoulders.

I am also angry as a father.  I have two sons whom I love more than my own life.  And yet if I ever discover that they have behaved as you have and taken advantage of a woman, they will experience a level of wrath from their father that they have never seen before.  Taking from a woman to satisfy yourself is what little boys do, and I want my sons to be men.  Real men don't do what you did.  But my anger reaches its peak when I think, not of my sons, but my daughter.  I have to tell you Bill, if one of the young women you abused had been my Gracie, then it is highly likely I would be writing this letter from a prison cell, and you would be reading it through deeply bruised, bloodshot eyes from the confines of a hospital bed.  Yes, I recognize it would be wrong for me to react in that way, but maybe if you understand how incredibly angry I am--how unspeakably angry a LOT of fathers are at you--then perhaps you will also sense how the heavenly Father of these young women feel.  These young ladies--as followers of Jesus--are daughters of the most high God.  They are princesses who were placed in your care and pastoral stewardship, and you abused your authority to your own sick benefit.  Their Creator and yours is also very angry with you.  Public embarrassment and the potential loss of a life-long ministry should be the least of your worries right now.  If I were you, I'd be very, very afraid!

Second, I am brokenhearted.  You and I don't agree on a few things, but one of the things I always appreciated about your ministry is that you were consistently clear when it came to Jesus.  But just as your words in the past demonstrated your strong affinity with Jesus and His church, your reprehensible behavior has tarnished both our Lord and His people.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 3 that it is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is made known.  As the stories of your harassment of young women and abuse of power begin to spread, they will, in the eyes of the world, grant legitimacy to the charges of misogyny and chauvinism that are so often leveled at us all.  This is what people will think of when they think of the church and her earthly leaders--the exact opposite of the truth, which is that Jesus gave of Himself to give us freedom.  I am profoundly saddened when I think of the way the Gospel will be misunderstood and the church will be held in suspicion because of this.

Finally, I am hopeful.  I've read your doctrinal statement, and assuming that these words didn't just come from your mouth, but also represent your head and your heart, that makes you my brother in Christ.  That means that we are both fallen men who have been redeemed.  From where I sit Bill, it appears that you have enjoyed a level of unchecked, cult-like authority for many decades.  If I had had that same level of unilateral control--if there were not other men in my life, both on my governing board and in my circle of friends, to get in my face, hold me accountable and give me a good swift kick when needed--I would be just as prone as you to abusing my authority in some way.  In other words, I write this letter fully acknowledging that at heart, I'm no better than you, and I'm incredibly thankful for other godly men He has put into my life to keep me on the right path.  We all still struggle with our own sense of self-importance, and are prone to make our ministries about ourselves rather than Jesus.

So as this situation continues to unfold, I hope you will see it as an opportunity to truly repent, and begin a process of restoration that includes full submission to others who oversee your counseling, accountability, and support.  The women you abused need healing, but so do you, because sin leaves all of us scarred, even those who committed it against others.  The great news of the Gospel is that God isn't just a righteous judge who will one day settle all accounts and leave no injustice unpunished.  He is also a loving Father--YOUR loving Father, and He is able to heal even your own self-inflicted wounds.

I hope you see the deadly seriousness of what you have done, and I pray that it drives you headlong toward the Jesus you worked hard to preach over the years.  It is unlikely that you will ever again have the level of power and influence you once enjoyed, and given the gravity of your actions, I'd say that is appropriate.  But the hope of the Gospel means that you can still be used in powerful ways, primarily through a potent testimony of restoration, should you decide to take that long journey under the loving discipline of God't people.  As angry as I am with you right now, I pray this for you nonetheless.

From one preacher to another,


Anonymous said...

I hope you forward this to Doug Phillips also.

Bless you.

George said...

oWow - 'we all struggle with our own sense of self importance': indeed. What is the purpose of this 'letter'? To teach BG something? Like he doesn't know this, that there is anger, disappointment and yet hope.
Your letter is simply a self-important pulpit rattling self-advertisement. I am actually impressed that you kept your use of 'I' to under 50. But Joel, you are God's voice. We need to know what YOU think.
'You need to know that I am angry with you'. I will call bullcrap on that one. He does not need to know that another wordsmith feeding on the trough of less eloquent Christians is angry at him.
Maybe you should give tentmaking a try, just like Doug Phillips and James MacDonald should. But won't.
And I also call bullcrap on your wrath on your boys. 'Take advantage' of a woman?? You better follow them along when they *ohmy* engage in recreational sex or contribute to the pornography industry by supplying eyeballs.
Just a critical perspective. James MacDonald and I bet you a dollar you won't print this on your blog.

. said...

Good morning George. I always find it amazing when someone who doesnt know me ascribes intent and assumes the worst in their critique of my writing without so much as a syllable of interaction with the actual substance of what I say. If you are more upset about the intent with which I wrote this post than you are the sexual sin driven by the abuse of power that occurs in too many pulpits and thus casts suspicion on the majority of wonderful pastors and leaves a huge wake of victims behind, then Im not sure there is anything I can say in response except that I wish you well in the upper Midwest.

George said...

Hi Joel:

You're right - I don't know you and that was a little harsh. Have you lumped in with a bunch of smart, eloquent and ambitious evangelical leaders.
I haven't met you, but I have met Bill Gothard, and can't deny the wisdom of his counsel to me. I have purchased quite a bit from Vision Forum over the years, and am following that implosion with interest.
I've been very humbled with my own sons, and am striving to be nonjudgmental with them.
So after driving three hours in a snow storm to return home, I see a link to your article and threw up a little in reply to your letter. Sorry for the harshness. Criticism is not constructive if it is simply couched in put-down language.
I'm not sure if you are shepherding or instead are managing, but I encourage you to do what is obviously difficult for the leaders in my area: get out and come alongside your people. Wonderful words can give people peace and maybe even direction, but they don't help as much as being there with them.

. said...

The pastors and congregants in the 62 churches Im charged with serving will have to be the final judge on whether Im already doing what you suggest, but Im certainly trying.

The purpose of the letter was to model what confrontation should look like in a situation like this, as well as speak loudly to a very sinful trend that has been all but ignored by most. In our own churches when something like this happens, some want to simply forgive and ignore, & others want to grab a short rope and find a tall tree. My best understanding of 1 Timothy 5 tells me the answer is somewhere in between. I certainly tried to end the letter on a redemptive note, but also began with some very harsh words--words I still stand behind because those of us in ministry who are granted power and influence by those we serve should not abuse that power, let alone abuse it in a sexually perverted way that leaves behind the sort of carnage Ive witnessed in the case of Gothard. The private correspondence Ive received in response to this post from women who were the subjects of his harrassment should be enough to break any true pastors heart, & I dont know these women, & they wrote to me privately, so they have nothing to gain from lying to me.

On either end of that feedback are those such as yourself, as well as others who think I was way too soft on him. I recognize that my words are not inerrant and all of us can express ourselves better, but the balance of feedback would seem to indicate that Ive hit this one pretty close to the mark.

Again, I wish you well.

Again, I wish you Gods blessings today.

Anonymous said...

Joel, I found this letter over on the SBC website. I am grateful for the perspective you have, especially coming from a pastor. Too often we have lost the view of having "righteous rage" against those who harm the lambs in our midst. I think you are a sheepdog at heart -which is a GOOD thing in case you are not familiar with the analogy.

I think you would appreciate the article that Religion News Service just did on the IBLP Board placing BG on leave.

Blessings to you Brother.

Anonymous said...

I have two questions concerning your letter.

Have you spoken to Bill Gothard personally about this?

Have these charges been subject to a thorough investigation?

I have, through the years, seen many websites which seem to incite such things and don't know the veracity of these people involved.

I don't know if Gothard is innocent or guilty but I will not jump on the bandwagon until all the facts come out. He has indicated he wishes to work at practicing the scriptures regarding those who have something against him.

He will be in my prayers as will you.

. said...

Anonymous, No I have not spoken with BG about this, nor is there a need to. He is a public figure facing public accusation by more than two witnesses for a sin that is now very public. Matthew 18 does not apply here as BG is functioning in a pastoral leadership role. 1 Timothy 5:19-22 is the appropriate place to look to discover how to respond to this and if you examine that text you will discover that its instructions are completely in line with my actions here. When there is abuse alleged in a relationship the person with the power in that relationship is the one responsible. His reaction to this by saying "I will resign to discover what others have against me" is an eisegetical cop out and misuse of Matthew 5:23-26 . He is either guilty or not, & the fact that he is unwilling to answer, but instead seeks to avoid the question througb the misuse of Scripture doesnt bode well for establishing innocence. Leaders should act like leaders and when they dont, they should be held accountAble.

Erik Garthe said...

Joel, in case you haven't seen it, Bill Gothard posted a statent on his website some months ago: