How My Parents Joined a Cult

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Every time I tell my story, people ask the same questions. “What about your parents? How did they get involved? What do they think about Bill Gothard and IBLP now? How do they feel about you writing publically about all of this?” Well, here are some answers! I have talked with each of my parents separately and together to get these answers, and they have approved this blog post.

An Introduction to Bill Gothard:

64804_458336314496_4891626_nMy parents were first-generation Christians. They began their relationship with Jesus in college and got involved in a wonderful Christian campus ministry. The campus minister was instrumental in their spiritual growth. Unfortunately, He was also a supporter of Bill Gothard and took students to Gothard’s Basic Seminar every year. The community of Christians at college was alive and vibrant. Students were serious about growing in Christ and my parents absolutely loved it!

After they graduated and left the campus ministry, my parents struggled to find a church with the same passion for Jesus. In every church they went to, the people seemed fake, like church was just something they did on Sunday, but their relationship with God didn’t really matter.

Homeschooling with Bill Gothard:

Some of their closest friends from college, a couple who was a few years ahead of them in marriage and children, decided to homeschool. This was back in the 80s when No One was homeschooling! It appealed to my parents and they decided to homeschool as well. Their friends started to use Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI). Gothard promised that ATI was an exceptional homeschooling program that would automatically make your family and children succeed. You also had to be approved to join the program, have your life in order, commit to various standards, pay a yearly fee, and promise not to share, or even show, any of the curriculum to anyone who was not “ATI”.

If you ask my parents now, they will tell you that they wish they’d paid more attention to the red flags. But, their trusted friends believed Gothard, so they thought it must be okay. Plus, my parents were pretty new Christians and they didn’t have the Biblical background to see through the lies and out-of-context Scripture. They thought they could weed out the bad and keep the good.

We joined ATI when I was twelve. Before ATI we were just an average homeschooling family. My mother liked to garden, and sew, and make bread. My siblings and I devoured books, played outside, did chores, and went to homeschool group outings. We went to a regular church in town and looked relatively normal (for the 1980s and early 90s). After joining ATI, things began to quickly change.

Joining the Cultic-Church:

IMG_3984Our Family, Christmas 1998

When I was fourteen, we left our regular church and started driving an hour and a half twice a week to a new church. It was made up of conservative, homeschooling, Gothard following, mostly large families. At the heyday, we had families coming from as far as two hours away, even some from Canada. The church promoted a safe environment for teens, protection from the world, like-minded fellowship, and deep spiritual teachings. Sundays were an entire day of church with a lunch and fellowship time in-between two two-plus hour services. There was no Sunday School, Children’s Church, or nursery. There was lots of singing, testimonies, prayer, and long sermons. My parents saw people who were actually “living out” their Christianity for the first time since college and were excited. Once again, they thought they could weed out the bad and just enjoy the good.

Unfortunately, even more than the ATI program, this cultic church was damaging for my brother and me. Adults have an easier time picking and choosing what they believe. As teens, we bought it all, hook, line, and sinker. It didn’t help that we went to special teen events where we were “indoctrinated” even further. There were red flags at this church as well, especially as my dad got involved in leadership. It took us seven years to leave.

More About My Family:

My family was never “Gothardites” like some people I knew. They always saw Bill Gothard as just a man and didn’t agree with everything he said, especially my dad. My parents both had genuine relationships with Jesus before Gothard and ATI, and continued those relationships while we were in the program (cult). We were a “fringe” family. We didn’t make the yearly pilgrimage to Knoxville, TN (a huge mega conference just for ATI families); I think we went twice. My parents didn’t send us to training centers (where most of the abuse happened) or let us go overseas with groups of ATI students. My dad was a public school teacher for crying out loud, so he was almost considered a traitor. In fact, I credit my father and his skepticism with protecting me from getting further involved than I did.

My parents are wonderful people! They were just deceived by a manipulative con artist with amazing promises of success. Unfortunately, Gothard’s program and teachings seemed to appeal to mentally unstable, abusive type people, and many former ATI students experienced horrible abuse in the name of Gothard. This was not my family! We were just a nice, homeschooling family who lived a sheltered, old-fashioned life.

What My Parents Think Now:

Regret. This is the word I hear most often when we talk about Gothard, ATI, and the “crazy church”. My parents regret their choices. They regret not noticing or listening to the red flags they saw along the way. They are sorry for the damage that was done to their children. They regret not listening to cautions from others and from their own hearts.

How They “Got Out”:

Since we were always a fringe family, getting away from Gothard’s teachings just kind of slowly happened for my parents over the past ten or twelve years. Then when everything started coming out two years ago, first girls and women accusing Gothard of sexual harassment and abuse, and then learning about all the misconduct in the 1970s, it just solidified everything for them. They realized that all the cautions and hesitations they had had in the past were validated.

How They Feel About My Blog:

My blog and the book I am writing reminds my parents of the choices they made and makes them feel regret, and that is hard. However, they assure me that they are supportive of what I am doing. They are glad that I can use this venue to work out the damage I experienced and help others in the process.

I have had to remind my parents multiple times, especially my mom, that I am not mad at them. I am not upset. I don’t blame them for the choices they made. I have come to the place where I embrace my life. There were a lot of wonderful moments, friendships, and memories within the craziness of it all. Besides, without my past, I wouldn’t have a story to tell, or a blog to write, and I wouldn’t have the passion behind my search for truth instead of tradition.

24 thoughts on “How My Parents Joined a Cult

  1. That article was very honoring of your parents. As parents, you always do what you think is best for your children. Sometimes we simply are not aware of how our choices are affecting our children or family. God graciously reveals himself to us a little at a time and as we grow in our walk with the Lord, we also grow in wisdom. Unfortunately, EVERY parent has things they have done and regretted. I have had a lot of sadness over our family’s journey, but when I step back, I see God’s hand in it all. Since He uses our brokenness for His glory, why wouldn’t he allow us to experience brokenness? Your writing is gracious and easy to read. God has given you a gift and I am praying that you will be able to have several days when you are in the moment with your book and that God is pouring out his words through you. Love you Christy and look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

    On Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 8:10 AM, Let Me Be Foolish wrote:

    > Letmebefoolish posted: “Every time I tell my story, people ask the same > questions. “What about your parents? How did they get involved? What do > they think about Bill Gothard and IBLP now? How do they feel about you > writing publically about all of this?” Well, here are some answe” >

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  4. This is a great piece for several reasons, not the least of which is that you have managed to put all that bad stuff in its place and come out of it a) without bitterness, b) with growth, and c) without overly dissing the movement you were once part of. That takes real guts.

    The other thing is that I do believe that even when under faulty ministry, a person’s heart is what determines the outcome. This is why your parents still have their faith intact and indeed will have grown through their experience. And actually both they and you have come out of that movement with some gold nuggets – of knowledge of God, and also of wsdom – that you wou’dn’t have had you not gone through that process. Time spent with God is never wasted.

    There’s an article on my blog which has some ideas which may be helpful in this field, if I may presume, and it’s here:

  5. You are really blessed to have family who is out. Things with my parents haven’t gone nearly as smoothly. When I wrote my series on legalism, we became estranged for a while. Now things are better. There’s been some healing. But still so hard.

    • I know! My brother and sister-in-law were the last to find grace a few years ago. We are incredibly grateful for the freedom Jesus has given us!!

      I’m sorry about your family. It must be so hard!

    • That’s interesting, Aprille; when first I read and recommended your series, (back in September 2015 would you believe), I didn’t realise that you too had come out of the Gothard group. At least I’m assuming that’s what you mean from your comment here.

      • No, not quite. We started out non-denom BJU affiliated (my parents met at BJ). But after church hopping to one abusive church after another (3 churches from the time I was born Til age 14), my parents refused to go to another BJ church. We were going to an IFB school at the time and ended up in an IFB church (not where we went to school). This was a small church that, when we started, was fairly autonomous. But over the 4 years we were there, this church moved to being more and more legalistic. Our pastor attended the Holiness Conference every year (not sure if you’ve heard of this…it’s associated with Baptist College of Ministry run by the Van Gelderens?) but also passed around the congregation were tapes from SM Davis and Jonathan Lindvall who I believe were Gothard disciples. Also a lot of stuff from Vision Forum. Over the 4 years we were there (I was ages 14-18 and quite impressionable), the church moved closer and closer to Gothard-like doctrines. (Excessive modesty, dissolving all youth programs to be replaced by “family oriented” everything, teachings on discipline and daughters staying home under the authority of their fathers, quiverfull doctrine -our pastor with grown/teen daughters has a vas reversal and several men in the church followed suit including my dad). So even though we weren’t IN the ATI cult, our church was heavily influenced by it and ended up being a weird mix of more traditional IFB legalism and Gothardism. My parents left that church when I was 18 because my dad took a job out of state. They can really see now the Gothard crazy, but still attend mainstream IFB churches (they’ve hopped around a few times, I think they’ve settled on their 4th church in 10 years).

      • Here are some links: (I guess they are no longer calling it the “Holiness Conference”)

        I think that one of the things that makes my personal story so unique (and challenging at times) is my exposure to soooo many different “flavors” of legalism.

        I had a brother who went to Bob Jones, another brother at PCC – who is about to graduate with his masters from Bob Jones. My husband and I met at Ambassador Baptist College but after my issues there first semester freshman year, I went to Maranatha Baptist Bible College for a semester. My 2nd year was at a new school called New England Baptist College which was founded by some of the same people who founded Crown College. All that to say, I’ve gotten AROUND and been exposed to pretty much every “camp” of fundamentalism that is out there.

  6. Wow Aprille that’s quite a ride you’ve had, and thank you for explaining it. But you have come through it with maturity, as has Christy, and I have too (my own branch of legalism!) My background is nowhere near as abusive as yours though (both of you).

    My link to your series is here:

    I posted it because I saw so much in your story that I could identify with.

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