A persistent complaint against Bill Gothard over the span of his entire ministry is the extra attention and honor he provides to “beautiful people”, especially young women. Many have noted that, out of a group he will invariably single out the most attractive and focus considerable time and effort on them. In our modern day that is anathema – after all, the beauty of our inward person is to be considered far more important than the external.
And, truth be told, Bill has actively preached the message of valuing the importance of the apparently ordinary, or even deficient, as “marks” that God places on us to move us in directions He wills for us. Joni Eareckson (Tada) is a name that would be long forgotten had it not been a freak diving accident that broke her neck and rendered her a quadriplegic. She found purpose in life as she accepted her disability as her personal “mark” from the Lord to be used as a platform for a new ministry. She became a well-known painter, then national speaker, then author, even vocalist, featured by Billy Graham. Her life became a major motion picture. She remains today a force in Christian and public ministry, advocating for and serving the needs of handicapped individuals the world over. I heard her relate at an ATI conference back in the early 2000’s that it was Bill, in a chance impromptu counseling session in between sessions at a Basic Seminar so many years ago, that planted that seed in her heart that grew into the fruitful ministry she has had for many years.
So how do we understand this dichotomy? If this is true, why does Bill spend so much extra time on attractive individuals, and is he right in doing so?
Dress For Success
Those that know Bill know that he is a student of all of life and is constantly finding analogies in the design of “how things are” that relate to Scripture and its principles. They also would know that as part of this he has been much influenced by John Molloy’s book, “Dress For Success”, originally published in the 1970s. John’s work was distinct from other “how to dress” offerings in that it was based entirely on the scientific method. Let’s say you wanted to settle the age old question of whether white shirts are a better attire for a businessman than colored ones. What Molloy did was extensive testing to come to a provable answer. He would take a picture of a model wearing a white shirt and another wearing a colored shirt and show them to his subjects. Then he would ask, “Who is more trustworthy?”, “Who is more successful?” “Who is more reliable?” Then the models would switch shirts and other subjects would be engaged. In the end he could say with certainty that, at least in that day, the white shirts of the IBM sales force gave them a definitive leg up over the competition – the white shirts consistently resulted in better perceptions of trustworthiness. He applied these tests to all aspects of the wardrobe. Being short, I was impressed with his one finding for short men: Never, ever, under any circumstances carry an umbrella. Good to know.
Bill believes that external factors, such as dress, affect us far more deeply than we realize. As a result he is most particular about carpet colors and light fixtures, hair styles and accessories such as earrings, sashes and so forth. When he bought a building there would be significant renovation done, say to add a steeple, redo the shrubbery, special drapes. When formal pictures were taken he would sometimes have them photoshopped, say to add more trees, for a certain effect. It is well-known that he colors his hair and is never seen outside a suit with a white shirt, focusing on aspects that he believes are objectively able to make what he does and teaches much better received.
The Lord, Fashion and Interior Designer
Does the Lord care about such things? As we look at the patterns and precepts in the law of the Old Testament, we find that, yes, He apparently does, very much. The tabernacle and then the temple were intricate creations, every detail prescribed including exact colors and materials, as well as their placement one against the other. Even the smells were dictated – perfumes and incense made with precise ingredients in prescribed proportions.
No more was this true than in the meticulous details given for the priest’s garments, from the turban on his head through the several robes and tunics, on to a number of detailed accessories, even down to his underwear. Ordinary Jews were given instructions as well, including blue tassels that were to decorate the corners of a robe, and hair styles.
How does this focus on the exterior then jibe with the statement that we often quote, that “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh upon the heart”? (1 Samuel 16:7) That would bring the current question into sharp focus. In particular, how much DOES the Lord care about outward appearances? Does it really make a difference?
That verse in 1st Samuel comes with an interesting context. The Lord said this while He was rebuking Samuel for getting excited about the oldest of Jessie’s sons, Eliab, standing before him, assuming that he was the right choice for king based on his good looks. The Lord told him that HE could see into Eliab’s heart, and he was not good enough for the job. Along came a parade of other good looking sons. When none of them got chosen, Samuel was a little concerned until he realized that the youngest had been left out, presumed to be of no consequence, the sheep herder, David. Samuel demanded his presence and, when he showed up, the Lord immediately identified him as the one that would be king. God saw into his heart that he was “a man after God’s heart” (Acts 13:22). We often imagine a gangling youth, not all that attractive, given that he is contrasted to his handsome yet unfit older brother. Yet Scripture says something else:
“And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him: for this is he.’” (1 Samuel 16:12)
So we discover that he too was good looking, kingly in appearance. Apparently the Lord likes both on the front lines. Is it possible that the beauty that God gives outwardly is in fact given as a token, a sign, a gift that this one is chosen for something special in God’s public affairs?
Beauty Gives Faith
And now it gets real. Let’s consider another man of God, chosen from before birth to be arguably the greatest of all the Old Testament figures: Moses. We will not retell the story everyone knows, but instead will quote this synopsis in Hebrews 11, the “Chapter of Faith”:
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” (Hebrews 11:23)
The KJV here uses the odd word “proper” to describe the baby. This word in the Greek – ἀστεῖον – comes from the Greek word “astu”, meaning “a city”. It means “urbane, handsome, fair”. Moses parents perceived, had the faith to believe, that Moses was destined for public “in-the-city” greatness solely based on his beautiful appearance. It becomes quite clear, then, that God does give outward beauty for very specific reasons.
If one has the calling of a counselor as Bill does, and discovers this to be true, such a person begins to ask the question, “What is being done about it?” If a young fellow or girl is destined to live as a prince or princess in a monarchy, the preparation is very specific and intense. Expectations for such children and young people are much higher than for “ordinary” folk. All this is necessary for the young person to be ready to function effectively and confidently in a position of leadership which is stressful and where much is required on every side. Are we identifying the “princes” and “princesses” early enough where we can do what needs to be done so that they will be successful in their calling? Bill didn’t think so.
A Special Burden
One of Bill’s life burdens has been exactly this. He recounted to us several times an event that shaped him in a dramatic way when he was just 13 years old. At that time a Christian leader invited him to accompany him to a pastor’s conference in Kansas. One of the things that shocked Bill was to find that, among these respected men of God many wives were intensely bitter for the demands that the ministry had placed in them. These women had grown up expecting to lead a “normal” Christian life – what they received was a leadership role they were not ready for. They came into marriage without the tools necessary to support their men in the demands of ministry they faced, let alone themselves be able to lead in the ways that are expected of pastor’s wives. Unprepared for public service, unprepared . . . to be queens.
He related to us that at the moment he purposed to make that a special project, learning how to be effective in preparing those young women destined for public service so they would be ready when their time came. And that, of necessity, involved learning how to counsel the “beautiful children”.
Bill’s purposes in noticing and selecting the most “urbane” of those that came by him for special training has been for a very deliberate, godly purpose. There was a reason, and it has certainly not always been understood.
No Broken Priests in Public Service
And now we come to one of the most interesting and perplexing aspects of God’s “outward appearance” commands in the OT law. The priests from the lineage of Aaron were sanctified, made holy, to stand in the tabernacle – and later the temple – to perform the many tasks there. There were animals to kill and sacrifices to offer and a great many other procedure to perform, both publicly and privately in the most holy place on earth. Now consider the following edict:
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them. ” (Leviticus 21:16-21)
Anyone with a missing, broken or extra body part, including conditions such as dwarfism – in short any significant physical blemish – disqualified a man from standing and performing these public tasks. Such were still blessed and fed, but they could not serve. To let them serve would “profane” the temple.
It is even more interesting that the Lord assumes responsibility for all of those – to us – “unfortunate” things that “handicap” us:
“And the Lord said unto him, ‘Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11)
So the Lord allows and in fact created the blemishes. And yet He then forbids anyone with those blemishes to serve publicly in His holy temple.
So we see that, besides a godly inward heart, God also has pleasure in high outward standards for public service. Just like outward beauty is a sign of a special calling – or at least of the public aspect of it – so a blemish may be an indication that such a ministry – again public – may be limited by God’s own purpose and mark.
Now Joni Eareckson Tada is a prime example that the standards of the temple do not apply directly to Christian service, and her “blemish” is the very thing that makes her so effective. However, in a day where the concept of any objective standard of beauty and even skill is discouraged in favor of “making everyone feel good about themselves” – participation trophies and all – it appears that the Lord is still intent on a times separating us to varying purposes through the design He has placed in our bodies.
Young Ladies in Bill’s Court
Bill tapped the princes and princesses to stand in the “court” of national exposure that IBLP became, and the young women were definitely the brightest and most effective part. There definitely was an extra emphasis on attractive young ladies – many hours of counseling – and as a result many major doors of opportunity have been opened over the decades solely because world leaders were so impressed with them. He graciously wrote his thoughts out in his own words in the last few days and we since featured as the article, “Why I Dedicated My Life to Serve Youth and Their Families”
That Old Male Sex Drive
All of the above will undoubtedly result in a few yelps and shrieks; it always has. Most folks believe that the old male sex drive is completely incorrigible, not to be trusted in any circumstance, to the point that ministry of men with young women is simply inadvisable – impossible. And, truth be told, there is a sorry track record to back up that concern.
However, Paul makes a strong point that there are those who are able to function in ministry without being married, called “eunuchs” by Jesus, ministering unmarried as He did:
“Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin[virginity, some translations], doeth well.” (1 Cor. 7:37)
Jesus remains our example in all things. Women traveled with him, served him and his disciples on a daily, even hourly basis. He counseled women, including some with unsavory pasts. One of these was the “Woman at the Well” in John 4 – he was there, alone with her, speaking to her heart. When His disciples returned they were amazed that He was speaking to a woman. No explanation was given – it was His time to deal with a troubled woman in a private chat.
If Bill is anything, he is furiously disciplined. And to him this has been a challenge, to keep himself pure even while maintaining an effective ministry with young women. Part of that was his vows. He told me the first time he spoke to me when I was investigating some allegations of sexual misconduct in the early 2000s (which ultimately were shown to have come from the now debunked “Cabin Story”): “I have never seen nor touched the private parts of a woman”. It is a vow, and one from all we can tell through years of investigations with friend and foe alike, he has meticulously kept.
I recall an instance where on this blog, or maybe even on RG, we were challenged to ask him, point blank: “Bill, ARE you a virgin?” This was rather embarrassing to me, despite feeling a relative boldness in such things, but I took the challenge, went to his house, looked him in the eye, and asked the question. I still recall the look of joy and peace that came over him as he said, “Yes, I am!” He spoke of the joy that he felt, being able to give that answer truthfully.
So, with these things as his purpose and vows and guiding principles, Bill has gone places that others, like Billy Graham, feared to go. Billy told him, once, “Bill, you have a very special ability with counseling. I could never do what you do.” As part of that Bill had to find ways to engage, counsel, encourage young women, some extremely troubled as well, that were respectful and responsible. He told me more than once, “I always looked for expressions of encouragement and sincere affection that were safe”. So, to him, tapping a young lady’s foot with his was a safe way to express affirmation, or to get their attention during a working session, same as when he did so with a young man. To hold a young woman’s hand in both of his as he spoke to her heart, sitting next to her, was every bit of a father coming out of him, seeking to bless her and let her know she was important.
A day gone by would have looked much more kindly and in an understanding way upon such things. Bill has never been much a part of the world and its perspectives, and a lot of that he missed, especially as he deliberately kept himself from TV and later the internet. The rapidly corrupting world with its social media suddenly ran over him 5-6 years ago. In the wake of all that has happened he, as an 83 year old, has learned some things he never knew before, including how to use the Internet, and how to read and answer emails. And to take the “whisperers” on social media much more seriously. We are most proud of him. He is an even wiser man because of all of this, and for that we all give the Lord thanks.
With few exceptions the young ladies that came in and out of Bill’s orbit took his attention in exactly the way he intended as he was interacting with him. Then, in fits of what we can only call “mid-life crisis”, all such innocent things began to be second guessed and reinterpreted in a harsh sexual light 20 years after the fact. And such reinterpretation even, God forbid, in some cases primarily for purpose of securing large piles of cash. When we took tests in school we were often reminded of this time-honored principle: The first answer you come to is almost always better than whatever you later change it to. A calamitous lawsuit featuring a respected law firm getting kicked off for malfeasance and eventually all 17 plaintiffs dropping all claims partway through is a poignant proof of that.
One of the saddest verses in the Bible is this:
“Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” (Titus 1:15)
To the innocent heart, all is pure and all is joy. When sin enters it corrupts that purity with awful things from defiled consciences.
And our defiled world has also lost any sense of a holy purpose for beauty and natural grace. In the mad rush to find maximum self-fulfillment and worldly gain, let alone the satisfying of fleshly desires, all such advantages are quickly pressed into service in the pursuit of “Winner: Me”. God’s gifts, given to bless others, turn only to curses when re-purposed toward selfish ends. And become an open invitation for the devil to seek to enslave all such and their gifts for his evil purposes.
So perhaps we can get past surface concerns and seriously consider some of the reasons why a ministry such as Bill has had to beautiful people, especially the lovely young women, is not a joke but a vital, consequential and largely neglected purpose in the church in these last days.