“An Impostor Jesus” – The Introduction

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I wish I looked this cool when I write!

Last week, I gave you the first paragraph of my book. In honor of the fact that I am going to The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in less than a week, I have decided to give you more. 🙂 Pray for my journey! Pray that I will listen to the Holy Spirit, that I will be humble and available, that I will be bold and courageous, and that most of all God’s will is accomplished!

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***

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought tugged at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawned and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.

Mrs. W droned on and on about cliques, and friendship, and I felt myself drifting off. Then she said it, the real reason this meeting had been called.

“It just grieved my heart, to look out the window today and see you all playing in the snow. I couldn’t tell who the boys were and who the girls were since you were all wearing snow pants.” Her voice dripped of judgmental disappointment.

Yes, at this winter youth retreat, we were all wearing snow pants to play in the snow. Shock! Horror! What?

In previous years, most of us, at least the “godly” ones, had worn skirts or culottes over our snow pants.

How do I explain culottes? They are kind of like gauchos only much, much uglier. The first ones I wore as a young teen were homemade and looked like an intensely gathered skirt with a waistband. However, unlike a skirt, if you grabbed the voluminous sides and pulled, voila, there were two sections of fabric, one for each leg. Over the years, our culottes eventually shrank down to a slightly larger version of the more familiar gaucho. We wore them when a skirt was a health hazard, such as swimming, horseback riding, or downhill skiing. However, it should be noted that downhill skiing in culottes, even skinnier ones, feels a bit like skiing with two flags attached to your legs flapping wildly in the wind.

The ridiculousness of it all began to sink in. We had been dragged from our warm beds in the middle of the night to be lectured about modesty and femininity because we had failed to put another layer of clothing over top of our already poofy snow pants.

I rested my head on the shoulder of the girl next to me and stared skeptically at the woman lecturing us. An increasingly familiar feeling of rebellion crept over me. I had always been a “good girl”, one of the “godly” ones, but that was about to change. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t rock music, or blue jeans, or college that was turning me into a rebel (like we’d been warned about). It was Jesus.

If you are at all familiar with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” show and have seen the Duggar family, then you have an idea of how I grew up. Only, don’t think of the “stylish” Duggars we all know now. Do me a favor and Google the 2004 version of the Duggar family. Yup, that was me: long hair, awkward bangs, homemade jumpers and all.

My siblings and I were homeschooled before homeschooling was a thing. We were educated at home back in the day when kids like us were afraid of the yellow school bus (there were occasional conflicts with a local school district). Back when grocery store clerks had to scrape their chins off the floor when we told them why we weren’t in school. “Is that even legal?” was a commonly heard question.

Obviously, not all homeschoolers are Duggar-ish. How did I end up at a youth retreat getting lectured about snow pants at midnight? The short answer is that my parents joined a cult…

I’m skipping this section because you can read it on my blog. Just follow the link above.

“Once I “got out” I chose to close the door on my past. After being chased through Cedar Point by a former friend so that they could yell at me about my new cartilage piercing, I just needed to be done. We were no longer attending the cultic church, so I moved on and started college. (I might have still worn homemade jumpers and had waist-length hair my first year, but hey, it was a step in the right direction.) I told new friends that I had been homeschooled in a conservative Christian home and that was all. My husband didn’t even learn the truth about my past until we had been married for over five years.

A few years ago, I started to get connected with former ATI students and people who had been influenced by Bill Gothard’s teachings. Many of them were no longer Christians. Having been burned by the version of Christianity they experienced, they wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus, or church. I didn’t blame them, but it made me wonder. Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away? I started to go back and process for the first time in over a decade. As I worked my way through memories and former ways of thinking, I came to a simple conclusion. I met Jesus. He became so real to me, even while I was in the cult, that I couldn’t leave Him behind. I left the legalism and lies, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. After all, He was the one who showed me I’d been brainwashed.

One afternoon, after an online interaction with some of my former “cult-mates”, I found myself in my basement doing laundry and talking to Jesus. It broke my heart to hear from people who had such misconceptions of God and who didn’t want to give Jesus another chance. I got it, but I hurt for them. Sitting on my basement floor, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I whispered “I just want to represent You well.” And the Holy Spirit whispered back to my heart, “Write. Tell your story.” So, here I am.

It’s not just people raised in a Christian cult who are walking out on the church and Christianity. Many “normal” people raised in good, “normal” churches are leaving their former faith as well. Recognizing this growing trend, I started to wonder if there was a common thread. What if people across the board are leaving the religion and tradition of Christianity because they have never met Jesus? I think this common thread is what makes my rather extreme story universal.

Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear some crazy stories, you will consider lies you might be believing, and question your own view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42.”

I hope you enjoyed that sneak peak! Thank you for your prayers as I take the next scary but exciting step forward. 🙂

“The Cult Next Door” A Documentary

Does your voice sound strange to you when you hear it on a recording? Tell me I’m not the only one! I always think, “Oh gosh, do I really sound like that?” No one else seems to notice because, yes, I really sound like that and everyone is used to it. It’s even worse to watch myself on tape. Yikes!

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I’ve done two on-camera interviews over the years, and both times were…unique. The first interview was for the Bible school we went to after we got married. We were supposed to answer the questions with scripted answers put into our own words. I couldn’t get my lines right and it felt silly, so in the finished project, my husband does most of the talking and I just look like I’m about to burst into giggles at any moment.

Our second interview was a couple of years ago in Israel. We were supposed to talk about the tour we were on but had no script. We were on top of a building having lunch. I’m squinting in the sun trying to come up with something to say. Awkward!

I’m not overly comfortable on camera. So what am I doing in this picture, obviously being interviewed? 

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Photo courtesy of Youngman Films

In November, I was contacted by a gentleman, Jake Youngman, who was working on an investigative documentary focused on my old cult leader, Bill Gothard, and his organization, The Institute in Basic Life Principles.

I am more passionate about exposing the truth than I am uncomfortable being on camera. And so, Jake and I talked on the phone and then met twice to do interviews. Even though it was sometimes awkward, in the end, I’m very happy to have been a part of this project!

The documentary, “The Cult Next Door” was released online last night and I am excited to be able to share it with you.

Bill Gothard has had more influence on Evangelical Christianity in the past fifty years than we may ever know. Hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women attended his seminars and were influenced by his faulty belief system and blatant lies. Many of them never went farther into his cult, never joined his homeschool program, or believed he was a “messenger from God”. Many attendees probably never recognized how Gothard’s teachings skewed their view of God or His “principles”, and yet they carried those subtle lies into their churches, seminaries, ministries, and homes. They in turn influenced many others.

My goal in life is not to expose Bill Gothard, but to point people to the real Jesus.  It’s overwhelming to try to identify and correct all the many lies spread throughout Christianity. But, I know that if people begin to search for and find the real Jesus, He will show them the truth about who He is and who we are because of Him. I know that the real Jesus is fully capable of revealing truth and exposing lies. So, I will continue to talk about Him and point people to Him with every bit of my energy for the rest of my life. That is my passion.

The Cult Next Door (Official Short Film) from Youngman Films on Vimeo.

An Illusion of Freedom

 

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I’ve had plenty of experience with legalism and the ritual of dead religion. After all, I spent a decade in Bill Gothard’s cult. (For more info check out the category “My Story”.) Formulas abounded in my world – if you do such and such, then you are guaranteed this fabulous result, but woe to you if you don’t. Rules, standards, commitments, all these kinds of things supposedly made you a better Christian and more likely to have God’s blessing on your life. “Godly” people acted this way, dressed that way, and avoided these things, etc. Performance, outward show, controlled behavior, fear, and anxiety…I’m excessively familiar with all of this.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be in a cult to experience legalism or ritualistic religion. There is plenty of it spread throughout “mainstream” Christianity. How exciting.

Many Christians will tell you that they aren’t legalistic (even though they are following a specific code of behavior) because they aren’t trying to earn their way to heaven. However, if you ask why they do good things, you will find that they are still trying to earn something: blessings, God’s pleasure, or maybe just the image of a “Good Christian”.

I do believe the Christian community is starting to wake up. There are a good handful of us talking about legalism, exposing it, reacting to it. I love this! But, we cannot confuse rebellion against legalism and religion with actual freedom that comes through grace.

I’ve seen it and I’ve been there. We hate legalism, we realize how stupid it is, and we reject it and embrace things that we’ve always been told were wrong. But here’s the thing, how do we know if we are really experiencing freedom? What if we are just trapped again in outward actions and missing the heart? What if we are still missing the point of Christianity?

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Rebellion and freedom often look the same outwardly. There might be changes in music, clothing, beliefs, or education choices. People get tattoos and/or piercings. Sometimes people start dating, dye their hair, grow dreads, go to college, change jobs, or make other big life decisions. I love this! I love freedom and non-conformity. But, how do we know if we are really free and not just trapped in rebellion?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the rebellion of non-conformity. Since coming out of my cult, I’ve discovered what a rebel I really am. Want a stupid example? Female speakers/writers often wear blazers, right? You will never see me in a blazer, ever. Give me a good reason to avoid conformity and I will. However, living in a constant state of rebellion is exhausting. Jesus promised us peace. If I’m not experiencing peace, then something is wrong.

When we are motivated by rebellion against legalism, ritual, and religion, I think it looks a bit like this. Anger and frustration drive our choices, and these choices are often a reaction to previous rules. If someone were to ask us why we do things, our answer would probably sound like, “Because I can, dang it! I’m free.” But we don’t feel very free. We feel stressed and tired because we are still “trying” to do something. We might be more consumed with things we can do instead of things we shouldn’t do, but our focus is still on outward actions. And, because we are still obsessed with behaviors, deep down we also struggle with believing that God actually loves us and wants a relationship with us.

If this is rebellion, then what is freedom? I believe real freedom starts with understanding that our relationship with God has nothing to do with our own efforts and everything to do with Jesus Christ. Jesus came to show and give us grace, something we could never earn and would never deserve. The point of Jesus’ death and resurrection was never to make us into moral people who followed the rules. The point was to restore our relationship with the God who created us and loves us. He forgave us so that we could know Him. God wants to know us. We are free to be friends with Jesus! Knowing Jesus changes us, but the real change starts at the core of who we are and works its way outward.

When we are free because we understand grace, our actions might look similar to someone still stuck in rebellion, but our hearts are different. We might still get a tattoo or cartilage piercing, for example, but our motive is different. The reasoning is no longer “Because I can, dang it”, but simply, “Because I want to.” We aren’t reacting to anything, we are resting in our relationship with Jesus. We are believing in the scandalous grace of God and extending that grace to others. Instead of obsessing over outward actions, our focus is inward on heart motivations. As we get closer to Jesus, we realize He is making us more like Him. His Holy Spirit is giving us things like love, joy, and peace that doesn’t make sense.  Because our heart is changing, our outward actions might change too.  But, that change is a result of God’s beautiful grace and not an angry reaction to legalism.

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Have you experienced God’s grace that sets you free? Do you believe that He loves you and wants you right where you are at? Do you realize that there is no favor to earn and no rules to rebel against? Grace says, “Your mess does not shock me or turn me off. In fact, it makes me love you even more. I want to set you free…free from your mess and free to know Me.”

The Missing Member of the Trinity

I had an epiphany a couple of weeks ago and it’s been rocking my world!

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For some reason, I do some of my best thinking while driving and showering. Does that sound familiar? My mind was ticking along something like this…

What happened to the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Christianity? He definitely gets less than His fair share of attention. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is an equal member of the Trinity, but unless you attend a Charismatic or Pentecostal church, He is pretty much ignored.

Sure, we tell people that they will receive the Holy Spirit when they trust in Jesus to be their Savior. We might mention that He is called the Comforter or Helper (John 14:15-26) or that He is the guarantee of our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). But, most of us don’t talk about Him much, and we don’t usually pray to Him. Is it because we don’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit? Maybe we’re afraid of Him or unsure about Him; so, we just ignore Him. We talk about “God” and “Jesus” and leave it at that.

I sat there thinking, wishing I knew more about the Holy Spirit, feeling like I was missing something, when it hit me. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit is the One I know the best!

What? And that’s when my mind started getting blown! I love it when God does this!

The Bible tells us that God the Father is in Heaven; Jesus is in Heaven sitting at God’s right hand; but the Holy Spirit… The Holy Spirit is the One here with me!!

It’s hard to explain the emotion that exploded in my heart. It was as if I’d grown up knowing I had a missing sibling and then suddenly found out that they had been my best friend for the past ten years. If that makes any sense…

It was an “Oh, it’s You!!!” moment.

I called Him “Jesus”, but it was actually the Holy Spirit who became real to me when I was 15 years old, helped me to see the lies in Bill Gothard’s teachings, and started my questioning and rebelling against the cultic teachings of my church. The Holy Spirit is the one who brought me to Pine Ridge Bible Camp and showed me grace, freedom, and love. I’ve gotten to know Him over the years, felt His Presence over and over, talked with Him, and laughed with Him. He explains the Bible to me, and reminds me of verses I need to hear. He is the one who gives me the strength that I pray for, He gave me peace through my miscarriages, and helped me to trust when I didn’t think I could. He gives me the ability to forgive my husband and have patience with my children. I call Him “Jesus” but He is really the missing member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit! And just writing those words makes me smile. 🙂

You might be thinking that it doesn’t matter who we pray to or who we call God because they are all the same. Two weeks ago I might have agreed with you.

I don’t think it matters to God, but it matters to us. My life has been rocked by realizing that the Holy Spirit is with me. Praying to Him seemed almost “wrong” at first (which is silly because I say that I believe He is God, just like the Father and Jesus) but now I love it! It makes the literal part of my brain connect somehow with the spiritual part. Maybe it’s because I know that God and Jesus aren’t actually with me, even though I believe they can hear me…But the Holy Spirit, He is literally right here, actually with me, and when I recognize that and talk to Him…it just does something to my heart and my faith!

All of this brings up a question: Why ignore the Holy Spirit?

Why do so many Evangelical churches, especially the conservative ones, ignore this amazing member of the Trinity? Is it because the Spirit isn’t easily understandable? Explainable? Boxable? We can put God in a box, Jesus goes in a box, but how in the world do you box the Spirit? 

Bill Gothard, briefly mentioned the Holy Spirit in his teachings as the One who convicts us of sin; he then focused on God and Jesus as the giver of steps, laws, and blessings (if you followed all the rules). Completely screwing up the image of the Father and the Son, he largely ignored the Spirit. Why? Maybe because some of the Spirit’s jobs are to give us wisdom, discernment, and help, and Gothard was afraid of the Spirit exposing him for the fraud he was. Maybe because he didn’t understand (or want to understand) the Spirit. Is this the same reason so many super fundamental churches ignore the Spirit? They are afraid of Him… They don’t want Him exposing their lies…

Who is benefiting from our ignorance? Not us!! You know what? This whole thing smells like a giant, sneaky lie from the Enemy!

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Too many Christians are fixated on “improving themselves”, following lists of standards and rules, making sure that they are “fully surrendered”, attempting to make Jesus the “Lord of their life”, and zealously trying to be a disciple. All the while, they are completely ignoring the fact that the very God of the Universe in all of His power and ability is living with and in them. They are trying to accomplish God-sized feats with mere human strength. What would happen if we actually believed in the Holy Spirit, that He is God, that He is always with us, and that one of  His jobs is to be our Helper as we live our life on earth? What if we are missing something amazing?

I think  there is more to this than we realize…and I am going to keep thinking, pondering, and believing! I want everything that being a child of God gives me. I want to find out what it means to have the Holy Spirit in all of His power and fullness!

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How about you? What do you think of the Spirit? Do you think of Him? What does the Holy Spirit mean to you? What could He mean? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Is God Your Heavenly Vending Machine? (Pt 1)

 

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We say we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t? I had a mini “crisis of faith” this week that has made me reevaluate what I believe about God, His promises, and how to get what I want.

It started before I got sick. A couple we knew in Bible College lost their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two miscarriages, while on the mission field. Then a wonderful, sweet, loving woman, who was also a pastor’s wife, suddenly died. Really, God? So I was already questioning, already doubting, and then I got sick.

I hadn’t been this sick in over 20 years, not since I was a kid! It dragged on and on!! I was supposed to have a lovely day to work on my book proposal while my mother-in-law watched the kiddos. She still watched my children, but I laid on the couch while they were gone and tried not to die. I was supposed to go with my husband (a youth pastor) and the teens to an exciting conference this weekend while my parents kept the kids. They went without me. My parents still kept the kids, and I laid on the couch. I couldn’t even keep my thoughts straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. I’d prayed for healing, lots of people were praying, and I was still sick. Sick and filled with doubts.

We have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

My feverish brain had four days to wrestle with these questions in-between naps and excessive amounts of Netflix.

vendingmachine_lead1We see a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. We know our desires are possible too. How do we get God to agree? Cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? I see this happening in at least three ways.

  1. We Create Formulas.

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

  1. We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people use this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context and whether or not it’s appropriate to say it promises physical healing.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim physical healing. You know what I’m going to say: Context! The verse comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed either! Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) and others, is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons.

  1. We Take the Blame (or put it on others):

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (vs 5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us. And while it is important to have faith as we pray, what is the object of our faith? Our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or the God that made it? There are no verses that (used in context) guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith.

So, what does God actually promise us?

Stay tuned! Part 2 is coming tomorrow…

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.

An Honest Confession – I’m Afraid of Failure!

This is just an honest update about me and this book that I am supposedly writing. I’m going to give some background, be honest, tell you what happened yesterday, and ask you for prayer!

I never set out to write a book, or even have a blog for that matter. It all started about two and a half years ago with the website called Recovering Grace. Yes, I had spent ten plus years in a cult (I didn’t call it that back then), but I had tried to put it all behind me. It wasn’t something I talked about. Even my husband didn’t know most of the stories or the ways the teachings had affected me. Then Recovering Grace happened.

IMG_3567Recovering Grace is a website run by former ATI (Advanced Training Institute) students. ATI is the homeschool program created by Bill Gothard, creator of the Institute in Basic Life Principles. The Duggars use this curriculum (which if you dig deep explains a lot of their behaviors and beliefs),and so did my family. If you Google Bill Gothard right now, you will find that he, and IBLP, are being sued for sexual misconduct by 18 plaintiffs (which is the very tip of the ice berg since one of the plaintiffs was his driver for a few years and says he witnessed over 150 young ladies being harassed). You get the picture.

Two and a half years ago, Recovering Grace started publishing stories about women who were sexually harassed. Once they published these, the wheel started turning; people came forward from the 1970s and gave them hard copy information alleging financial and sexual misconduct, manipulation, intimidation, slander, etc. I started remembering, dissecting, processing.  After joiningg a Facebook community of former ATI students, I encountered many people who wanted nothing to do with Jesus or God because of the “Christianity” they experienced. It completely broke my heart! I realized that I was one of a few former ATI students who still considered themselves a Christian, who still had a relationship with Jesus.

I spent time in soul searching and introspection. As I thought about the lies we were taught about God and Jesus, I started to realize that the same lies are subtly present in much of Modern Western Christianity. Jesus found me in the middle of the legalism and lies, and showed me how to know Him. That is my desperate desire for the world…to actually KNOW God because of His Son, Jesus.

That was the beginning of this whole crazy journey. God wants me to write a book. He has made that abundantly clear over the past few years. But I don’t want to, and I have been dragging my feet. Mostly because I am afraid.

Look at what God has done!

  • As all of this went down, God confirmed that I was supposed to write, even having another woman say out of the blue, “Maybe you need to write a book”.
  • I started my blog, despite having reservations.
  • The speaker for  our spring Ladies Day at church not only confirmed my calling, but gave me the next step, the Speak Up Conference which just happened to be in Grand Rapids.
  • I won a full scholarship to the 2014 conference!
  • At the conference I shared my One Page (kind of like an introduction to your book idea) with a publisher and an agent and they were both interested. This does not happen!
  • After the conference, I freaked out and although I continued to occasionally blog, I ignored the whole book idea.
  • God did not let me get away. I continued to run into people who reminded me that He wanted me to write a book. I had plenty of excuses.
  • Over a year later, I revised my One Page and sent it to another agent (referred to me by a writer friend). She loved it and wanted to work with me. This does not happen either!
  • The Speak Up Conference this summer “just happens” to be on the only weekend that would work (since I’m working as the health officer at camp again) and they are willing to give me a significant discount.
  • I found an awesome cabin that I can get for cheap, on a lake, to go and focus on writing since I’m supposed to get my full Book Proposal done before the conference this summer.
  • BUT, I’m freaking out!! And freezing and wanting to run away…

All of this brings me to yesterday. We had a guest speaker at church. The minute he opened his mouth I realized that God was speaking to me, including a pounding heart and tingles going down my spine.

“If you’re on mission, just do what you’re supposed to do.”

Then he asked four questions, questions that originally came from Jesus.

  1. What are you afraid of? Failure, rejection, change, success, basically everything!
  2. What do you want God to do? This question scares the crap out of me. If I actually allow myself to dream, I’d say, I want God to use this book to push people to evaluate their Christianity, to make them question their beliefs, to see lies, and to start seeking for the real God, the God who is only more than we can ever imagine. I want people to realize that if they are feeling discontent and disillusioned with their version of Christianity, maybe they too have found an impostor and not the real Jesus. I want God to use my book to bring people to a real relationship with Him!
  3. What are your excuses? (Do you want to get well?) I have plenty! Trust me! Including not having time, being the mother of small children, not being wise enough or good enough or etc.
  4. Who do you say God is? If God is really who I say I believe He is, then I just need to shut up and get to work. It’s one thing to believe in my head and another to believe with my heart.

Ok, this brings me to the end of a very long blog post (389 words over my normal limit). Friends, I need you to pray for me! Pray that my faith will be stronger than my fear. Pray that I will stop making excuses. Pray that I will be obedient! I’m going to be starting a prayer team. If you are interested in joining me, please let me know on Facebook or by contacting me here. I’m closing with a final thought from the speaker-sent-from-God. 🙂

“God doesn’t measure success; He measures obedience.” Thank goodness!!!!!

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What the Lawsuit Against Bill Gothard and IBLP Means to Me

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Yesterday a lawsuit was refiled against IBLP (The Institute in Basic Life Principles) and now includes Bill Gothard. It was originally filed on behalf of 5 women who claimed sexual abuse. The new lawsuit includes 10 women and the charges are more severe. You can read the whole story here at the Washington Post, or google Bill Gothard and read it on a number of other news sites.

There will be Christians who use this story to cry “persecution” and there will be people who are mad at how Christians are taking other “Christians” to court. People will stand up for Bill Gothard and claim that this is all slander invented for the purpose of destroying a “man of God”.

I am someone who has a bit of an inside perspective since I was homeschooled for seven years in Gothard’s ATI program and was involved in his “ministry” until I was 22. I attended his seminars, went to a church heavily influenced by his teachings, and spent a year taking online classes from his “college” including two classes where we took apart his Basic and Advanced Seminars and found Scripture to back up his points. (Which I couldn’t do and which ended up being the beginning of my doubts about everything.) I even, regrettably, helped to teach children’s programs while their parents attended Bill’s Seminars.

I now believe that not only are Bill Gothard’s teachings twisted and dangerous, not only were they created with ulterior motives, but they have also influenced, either directly or indirectly, a huge percentage of evangelical churches and Christians. Gothard’s teachings have destroyed families, encouraged abuse, supported legalism, and created a false view of God (among other things). I would go so far as to say that Gothard made up an impostor Jesus based on his own personal goals and ideas.

With all that said, how do I feel about the lawsuit? I am NOT gleeful that all of this is being paraded in front of the world; I DON”T feel satisfied revenge for all the damage done to me and people I love. BUT…

I am very excited that both Bill and his organization are being shown for what they truly are. I hope the organization known as IBLP goes down in smoke and rubble and is completely discredited. And I hope that Bill Gothard is shown to be who he truly is and not who he has pretended to be. I long for people who are still trapped in this system of beliefs to be set free. I hope that people who have been influenced by Gothard and his teachings will have their eyes opened to the lies, twisted Scriptures, and false beliefs about God.

I want, more than anything, for people to find the real God, and the real Jesus who is not full of “49 Commands” (a Gothard teaching), but grace and love and mercy. I want them to discover the God who created us for a relationship with Himself and did whatever it took to make that relationship possible, including murdering His own Son… The God who doesn’t love us more when we follow the rules, but who knows the depths of our sin and selfishness and loves us anyway… A God who does not operate in formulas and steps, or give secret, hidden messages (like Bill claimed multiple times), but who is so amazing we can never understand Him, and so simple that a child can believe.

There you go, my thoughts on the lawsuit. What do you think?

 

Here are some more links if you want more information:

For truth about all things IBLP/ATI/Gothard check out Recovering Grace. They have some great Facebook support/recovery groups for ATI Students, ATI Parents, and a new one that was just started for anyone influenced by IBLP.

If you want to read the whole lawsuit, you can find it at Homeschoolers Anonymous. Just a warning though, it is graphic.

 

 

The Duggars, Bill Gothard, and Me

TLC’s favorite super-sized, conservative, homeschooling family, lately receiving less than positive attention. The founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, who stepped down in 2014 amid allegations of sexual harassment stemming back into the 1970s. And me, a pastor’s wife, mother of two, and blogger just trying to live a “normal” life. What could we possibly have in common? Actually, more than I want to admit.

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This is me hiking (yes, hiking!) in 2001. Look familiar at all? The Duggar girls are actually more stylish than we ever were. 😛

And here I am, also in 2001, wearing my navy and white (a requirement) while working at one of Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminars.

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The Duggars are avid followers of Bill Gothard, although they have tried to distance themselves a little bit since the allegations came out in 2014. They use his homeschool curriculum (if you can call it that), and so did my family.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you will know that I began to question a lot of Gothard’s teachings as I grew in a relationship with the real Jesus of the real Bible. (Who you will find, if you read it in context without someone twisting everything to meet their own agenda.)

The Duggar’s first appeared on TV in 2004. I was only two years “out” at this point and their original photographs (which you can find here) practically gave me a panic attack. (Okay, honestly, they still do.) I identified with this kind of family. We went to the “crazy church” with them. I had a friend who was still stuck being Cinderella in her large family with parents who wouldn’t let her leave. It was all too familiar, including the “facade of perfection” while dysfunction reigned underneath. I couldn’t talk about the Duggars for years without getting angry and emotional. So, mostly I just ignored their existence as much as possible.

I also didn’t talk much about Bill Gothard and his cultic organization until about two years ago. I would tell people that I was raised in a conservative Christian home. In reality there was tons more to the sub-culture I lived in, but it was incredibly hard to explain without sounding insane. So, I just tried to leave it all behind.

Everything changed for me two years ago when Recovering Grace (a website run by former students of Gothard’s “curriculum”) began to expose not only an incredible number of women who accused Bill Gothard of sexually harassing them, but also began to publish information and testimonies from people back in the 1970s and 80s that showed corruption in his organization and personal life. Suddenly all my doubts and questions and hesitations seemed vindicated. I’d known for years that something was off in his teachings, but Recovering Grace put words to my feelings.

I joined a support group Recovering Grace runs for those recovering from Bill Gothard’s teachings and tried to reach out to confused and damaged people, tried to share the real Jesus and real gospel of grace that I had found. My blog happened soon after; I became passionate about sharing truth as I noticed the ways Gothard’s lies have infiltrated “normal” Christian people and churches.

So, why am blogging about my connection to the Duggars and Bill Gothard right now? Because, believe it or not, Gothard is trying to start a new “ministry”, “seminar”, whatever. It’s the same old garbage, with a new name. You can find a link to his page here. The same vague wording with grandiose promises if you follow his secret steps. He posted on Facebook about it yesterday. (Or one of his minions did; I doubt Gothard himself is on Facebook.) And a bunch of us from my support group began to ask questions and post comments. They were quickly deleted by the “moderator” of the page. Anything that was questioning or negative was deleted and only the positive, encouraging comments were left up. Here is a screen shot of my comment, which had over 10 likes in a matter of five minutes before it was taken down.

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There is something screwy when a “Christian” organization can’t deal with criticism that their teachings don’t line up with the gospel!

So, why am I writing this post? For the same reason I write this blog. I am passionate about the truth! The truth that I believe is found solely in Jesus Christ. I’m writing in the hopes that someone who is looking for truth will find this post. I’m hoping they will read some other posts I’ve written and start to question themselves. I’m hoping to point people to Recovering Grace because they have a ton of resources showing the problems with Gothard and his teachings. But most of all, I’m writing because I am obsessed with Jesus and His grace, love, and forgiveness that He freely gives to all who believe. John 3:16-18