Question: "Who is Bill Gothard and what is the Institute in Basic Life Principles?"
Answer: Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), which he founded, are well known in conservative Christian circles. Beginning in the early 1960s, Gothard became a leader in the Fundamentalist movement, and Gothard’s publications are still seen by many as a bulwark of fundamentalist conservative Bible teaching. Through the 1960s and 1970s, his Basic Youth Conflicts seminars attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees. Current estimates project around 2.5 million attendees to date.
Today, the IBLP and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) are almost exclusively associated with a small segment of the homeschooling movement, providing curriculum, conferences, and “life training” to like-minded families. Those who follow the IBLP are sometimes referred to as Gothardites. They generally also ascribe to Quiverfull ideology. The Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting are adherents of Gothard’s teachings.
There is some good teaching and many good intentions in the IBLP and ATI. Proponents of Gothard’s materials desire Christians to be built up in their faith and trained in how to live the Christian life by applying God’s Word to the life decisions they make. However, the organization has legalistic tendencies, presenting its strict views on separation, discipline, family structure, and clothing as gospel truth. Any disagreement with their “basic life principles” is viewed as a sign of spiritual immaturity or rebellion against God. Some of their interpretations of Scripture certainly need more exegesis and less eisegesis. And there are problems surrounding Gothard himself.
There have always been concerns about Gothard’s authoritarian leadership style, which was at odds with a scriptural view of the Body of Christ (1 Peter 5:3). Gothard’s views and opinions were virtually never opposed within his organization. There were accusations that the IBLP Board of Directors was nothing more than a rubber stamp on Gothard’s decisions and that he was never held accountable for his actions.
Over the years, other concerns surfaced. Rumors and allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior arose against Gothard and the wider ministry. All of the allegations were dismissed and did not lead to leadership changes within the IBLP. That changed in early February 2014, when Recovering Grace, an organization “devoted to helping people whose lives have been impacted by the teachings of Bill Gothard,” revealed allegations and evidence of sexual harassment and molestation of 34 women and children over a period of decades.
In response to the overwhelming number of testimonies of women alleging abuse, the IBLP board placed Gothard on administrative leave on February 27, 2014. A week and a half later, Bill Gothard resigned from the IBLP.
As with any teaching, it is our responsibility to examine Gothard’s teachings and the IBLP in light of what Scripture actually says (Acts 17:10–12). The issue of improper biblical hermeneutics, combined with unbiblical leadership patterns, should raise serious questions about the teachings of Gothard and the IBLP. Even if the charges of sexual misconduct prove to be untrue, there are enough red flags to warrant concern.