The head of a controversial, Oak Brook-based religious and home-schooling organization that has held seminars reaching millions has resigned following allegations that he sexually harassed teen girls and women.
The resignation of Bill Gothard, founder and president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which also faced a sex scandal decades ago, comes after the board said last month he went on administrative leave as it completes a review of the allegations.
The resignation from all institute entities follows stories posted on a whistle-blowing website called Recovering Grace from women who alleged they were among Gothard’s victims years ago while working at the Christian organization’s headquarters.
Families from the institute’s Advanced Training Institute International home school program were notified of the resignation in a letter from ATI Administrative Director David Waller.
The organization has operations in seven states and 11 countries, according to its website.
“Mr. Gothard communicated to the board of directors his desire to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and listen to those who have ‘ought against’ him,” the letter states. “To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard resigned.”
The letter said the board will be appointing interim leadership.
Gothard, 79, could not be reached for comment. Waller and other institute leaders did not return calls for comment.
Kari Underwood, co-founder of the site, said they have received submissions from dozens of women with stories of alleged sexual misconduct by Gothard. He has not been charged with any crime.
Gothard, well known in conservative circles, has been photographed with former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Sarah Palin attended one of his seminars while serving as mayor of Wasilla, Ala., according to media reports.
Gothard and the institute have taught that God’s divine authority is passed onto children through their parents and to parents through their church leaders, employers and other authorities. The doctrine essentially places church leaders above parents, said former ATI student Underwood.
Gothard also has taught that Christian and secular rock music are “the antithesis of what God desires in the life of a Christian” and that all unmarried children should live with their parents and obey them.
His ATI home education program “uses the teachings of Jesus Christ, given in the Sermon on the Mount, as the primary source for teaching linguistics, law, history, science, and medicine,” the institute’s website states. “This approach makes ATI unique as it builds education on the foundation of faith in Christ and understanding his ways. This equips fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to view every aspect of life from a Biblical perspective.”
The institute faced a major sex scandal in the 1980s, which forced Gothard’s brother, Steve Gothard, to resign as administrative director of what was then called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, since renamed. Steve Gothard was accused of having affairs with several secretaries of the institute, the Sun-Times reported at the time.
Gothard was accused of knowing about the improprieties and failing to take action. At the time of the scandal, he resigned as president for three weeks, but came back.
Underwood called the latest resignation “a good first step,” adding an outside investigation is needed.
Seth Kraus, of Gibbs & Associates Law Firm in Ohio, said the firm is conducting a review of the allegations. That review is at the request of its client, the Christian Law Association, which was asked by the institute’s board to do an outside review, Kraus said.