Ex-head of suburban religious organization denies sex harassment

Written By BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Religion Reporter Posted: 05/24/2014, 12:25am

The former head of a controversial Oak Brook-based religious and home-schooling organization, who resigned in March following allegations he sexually harassed teen girls, is denying any inappropriate sexual behavior.

Bill Gothard, who led the Institute in Basic Life Principles for decades — a conservative organization whose seminars have reached millions — said, “I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.”

But he confessed that his “actions of holding of hands, hugs and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. . . . I have failed to live out some of the very things that I have taught. I am committed to learning from my failures by God’s grace and mercy, and do what I can to help bring about biblical reconciliation as Jesus commands.”

The statement, released on Gothard’s personal website, was labeled as “disingenuous” Tuesday by Recovering Grace, a website that has received reports from dozens of women, who’ve alleged they were sexually harassed by Gothard with unwanted touching, including bare foot games of footsie, years ago. The behavior Gothard described fits the standard legal definition of sexual harassment, Recovering Grace said in a statement on its website.

“These unwanted behaviors are grossly inappropriate with students and subordinates, and sexually confusing to sheltered young women brought up in the strict ‘purity culture’ espoused by Gothard and his followers,” Recovering Grace stated. “… This behavior was persistent and sexual in nature, and must be acknowledged as such…[It] caused physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual trauma to dozens of young women.

“Gothard’s statement denies the truth of their stories, is disingenuous in its insinuation that his persistent actions over many years were merely misunderstood, and lacks a clear commitment to repentance.”

Gothard, 79, has not been charged with a crime.

Some of the women making allegations have said the statute of limitations has expired, which prevents legal action.

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, AK, according to media reports.

The institute has operations in seven states and 12 countries, according to its website.

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. 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.

The organization’s home education program, Advanced Training Institute International [ATI], “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.”

Gothard said his wrongs include being insensitive, showing favoritism and putting the goals of the institute ahead of people and their needs. He asked for forgiveness.

In the 1980s, another sex scandal 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 Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time. Bill Gothard was accused of knowing about the improprieties and failing to take action. At the time of the scandal, Bill Gothard resigned as president of the youth institute for three weeks, and then returned.

Recovering Grace called on the board to publicly address the latest issues and take steps to ensure that “violations against women never happen again within the ministry.”

Gibbs & Associates Law Firm, which represents the institute, did not respond to a request for comment.

Email: fknowles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @KnowlesFran

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