Bettina ZabelJune 7, 2015

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Bettina, I am 36, have been married to my husband Adam, for 8 years, am a stay at home mother of 3, whom I homeschool, and a stepmother to an 11 year old.  I currently am not involved in any part of IBLP’s ministries and haven’t been for over 15 years, however, during a period of my teen years, Bill Gothard was my legal guardian. I wanted to write this letter in response to the accusations made toward Bill Gothard.

Over the last couple years, I have reconnected with some people that I once knew during my time with the ministry and one of the first questions I am asked is if I am one of the individuals whom anonymously accused Bill Gothard, via the Recovering Grace website, of which I am not, but this caused me to look farther into the matter. After much reading and a couple conversations with friends I had during my time at the ministry, I decided to call Mr. Gothard to discuss the accusations, because though we had spoken several times during the process, he had never mentioned them. During that conversation he asked me if I had ever felt that he had been sexually inappropriate with me, to which I said then and say now, not in any way, and I realized during that call, that I would be doing a great injustice by not sharing my perspective, because as Mr. Gothard said to me on the phone, “Over the years, Bettina, I have probably spent more alone time and one on one time with you than any other young woman, you would know” and I feel he is right, I would know now, and would have known then, if he were a sexual predator at worst or at best sexually inappropriate.

I am not intending to call anyone a “liar”, we all have our own stories, perceptions and perspectives, and I can only tell what I know and my own perspective. I can also honestly say that the relationship (and I use that word in appropriate context) between Bill Gothard and myself is complicated, at best, and I am sure that this letter will be sprinkled with examples of just that. He was my legal guardian, one of 3 people that I was able to turn to for fatherly advice and if I had a dollar for every time he has told me that I was the daughter God blessed him with despite making the choice to not marry or have a family, I wouldn’t be rich but I could buy a very nice luxury car, however, that same man sent me away so IBLP could save face, disapproved of my choice of husband, as Adam had a child out of wedlock, and probably couldn’t tell you my children’s names. I say these things so the reader knows that I gain nothing for writing this and that I do not write this out of blind adoration for Bill Gothard, I wanted to write this because it simply is the right thing to do and as I continue this letter, I would like to give a brief background of myself and what lead me to IBLP, share some thoughts on my time with IBLP, hopefully debunk some of the accusations made against Bill Gothard and lastly, shed the smallest light at why I think he is often misunderstood and taken out of context.

I was raised in a non-ATI family by my grandmother mainly, though my mother was present, she was a young mother and not extremely attentive and my father abandoned me. At age 13 my grandmother died and my newly married mother did not want the responsibility of being a parent. I was left to fend for myself, as she did not work but also rarely left her bedroom. I took care of myself, prepared and took myself to school and made all of my own meals, with exception of when I ate lunch at school. As things became worse, she purchased a refrigerator and microwave for her bedroom which she kept stocked with soda and microwaveable foods, however, she left the main refrigerator almost bare.  We had little contact, she made no attempts to be concerned for my schooling or if I had appropriate clothes or accessories. I was declining in all areas and essentially going hungry. As I confronted her once on why she was isolated and eating what, at the time, I would have considered a feast while I was also isolated, eating rice with ketchup, she became irate. As this particular situation escalated, she became abusive and after some time, to her shock, I defended myself, to which she immediately called the police, having me arrested for assault.

After the above incident I was taken to a juvenile justice complex and given a court date, at which my mother declared she wanted little to do with me and eventually relinquished her parental rights. Judge James Payne became the judge that oversaw my situation and I believe he felt empathy for me, taking interest in my case and personal welfare. During this same time, though I was completely unaware, Bill Gothard and IBLP had recently purchased an old hotel in Indianapolis, being invited by the city to help in any way possible. One of the ways that Mr. Gothard thought would be of help to the city was to take on youth that might be in need.

While I was at the juvenile justice complex, I initially met with a couple whom worked at the Indianapolis Training Center, and then later with Bill Gothard himself, where he explained how he wanted to help me and how he wanted to become my legal guardian. I was one of the first of what would later be called, Leaders in Training, to arrive at the Indianapolis Training Center, in fact several times, I was told I was the guinea pig for the whole program. During my time at ITC I grew quite close to the couple that ran the facility, but also to Mr. Gothard and though he spent a significant amount of time in Oakbrook, he called me regularly and blocked out time to visit with me when he was in Indianapolis. Sadly, my mother was not happy with my new situation, claiming she would have never relinquished her parental rights had she known that they would be given to a religious organization, even taking matters to the newspaper in town. At this time the board became involved and I was sent away, something that Mr. Gothard later asked my forgiveness for, and though I was initially sent away, I chose to be involved with the ministry for several years, though not consecutively.

During the ages of 13 and 19, I spent big blocks of time at ITC, spent a year at Headquarters, traveled to Moscow, spent several months in the North woods and it was during these times, I spent much time with Mr. Gothard. The time we spent together differed, sometimes it was ministry related others were not. There were times where I was simply sad and he would send others out so we could talk. There were times when we would be talking or I would be helping him open mail and we both would decide that we wanted pie or frozen yogurt and then make a trip to Baker’s Square or TCBY.  There were times, at headquarters, when I could not sleep, would see Mr. Gothard’s office light on and make my way over in sweatpants, t-shirt and ponytail only to have him grab me a soda and candy, while we chatted. I have sat next to him on planes, traveled with him in his van, I have fallen asleep on the couch in his office and spent time with him while visiting his mother. I have spent holidays with him in Moscow, the North woods, Indianapolis and headquarters, with minimal staff and usually together until he had to make announcements or give direction to others that were there, and since leaving the ministry, I have gone back to visit just him on some Easters and Thanksgivings.

Some of these times we were accompanied by a male assistant, of which I saw Bill Gothard have fun and enjoy time with as well, like the time the 3 of us were traveling in the van and they decided to watch a VCR tape of bull riding, all the while trying to convince me how it didn’t hurt the animal, something I still disagree with. Other times, the time that Mr. Gothard and I spent together was alone. We talked about the ministry, my family, his family, the future, the past, one time on a plane while I was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”, he asked me to explain it to him.

There was never a time, not once, where I felt that Mr. Gothard was being inappropriate in any way toward me. He may have told me his preference for girls to have soft curls in their hair, something I almost never had, but I also heard him tell men of his preference for certain tie and suit colors, and I always took it as his preference, not a demand or in any way inappropriate. He told me many times that my eyes were beautiful and that they were windows to my soul, but I took that as a very kind compliment and I heard Mr. Gothard also tell a gentlemen that he had kind eyes and how he could gather much from that. I have had some very trying times with my mother over the years, twice Mr. Gothard hugged me, and it was the 2 most uncomfortable hugs that I have ever had in my life, not in the way that they were sexual or inappropriate, but in the way that it was foreign for him to hug anyone.

I cared and valued, still do, Bill Gothard as the person, not the man that started and ran the Institute of Basic Life Principles, it seems to me that others valued him because he was the head of a ministry that they or their parents held dear. There were people that would line up at seminars to get his autograph as if he were their city’s quarterback and I think many people put him on a pedestal putting too much weight on his opinions, which was not something he sought out. I think many people don’t understand that he just doesn’t live in this world, he sees right through it and has made this life a preface to the next and in doing so has made himself very vulnerable of being taken out of context or seen inappropriately. I can see how a young woman, away from home, being around a man whom her parents probably hold dear and in a certain circle is/was as “famous” as Jay Cutler, could hear or take a comment about her hair or dress or eyes inappropriately or how that same girl could misunderstand why they might be on Mr. Gothard’s radar, but what they didn’t understand is that men were on his radar too. Many of the young men and women he asked to see on a regular basis were those that he saw potential in and I remember him telling me on several occasions about so and so and why he thought they had potential. It wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t about anything other than helping them achieve their best so in return they could help the Lord’s kingdom.

Bill Gothard is many things but sexually inappropriate is not one of them and beyond the copious amounts of time I spent with him, I value and trust fanatically the 3 male assistants that Mr. Gothard had, while I was involved in the ministry, and know with certainty that they would not have seen impropriety happen and that they were in fact with Mr. Gothard too much to not themselves have stepped forward now.

Bill Gothard is fallible, as we all are, he has personally hurt me and being a Christian or the head of a ministry does not absolve him from the imperfection we all suffer. Being as close as he and I were once and knowing my family situations, it hurt a great deal when I decided to leave headquarters, that I almost became, out of sight, out of mind, and I say almost because we did keep in touch a few times a year, sometimes visiting on holidays but it was as if he knew I could take care of myself and let me go. Coming back to the idea that he doesn’t see this world, he only sees the implications of this world on the next, relationships just aren’t to him what they are to most. I often think of the example C.S Lewis gives in The Four Loves, about how, while in heaven, we will be so caught up in the perfect love that God has for us, that our dearest loved ones on earth will merely be a face in a crowd, that is how Bill Gothard sees this world and the relationships in it, in my opinion. That is not a view that sits well with this world view but it is the view of a man whose goal is to get as many into God’s kingdom as possible.

I know that Mr. Gothard’s legalistic views are often brought up in conjunction with these matters and I have to leave that argument for those that are far wiser than me but I do know that many of the things that he was and is judged for are decisions that weren’t even made by him, for instance the idea of the young women wearing skirts, which was in fact a board decision, and it seems to me that many of the individuals that are complaining about their time with the ministry seem to hold bitterness toward their parents and Bill Gothard for something they feel they missed out on in their adolescence or for feeling the pressure of not meeting Mr. Gothard’s expectations, when in fact, many of the “expectations” weren’t coming from him at all.

I completely agree that there was some pressure to fit a certain “bill” within the ministry but I believe much of the pressure was falsely put upon the young men and women by senior staff members, who were trying to make Mr. Gothard happy based on a perceived or vocalized preference, not an actual demand. Most individuals would concur that Mr. Gothard prefers the look of women to include long curls and though he had preferences toward men’s looks as well, as the question is about his inappropriate behavior with women, let’s focus there. I believe it was a look he preferred and as that, became part of the uniform that he wanted his ministry to show to the world, much in the way Regan wanted the United States to be the shining city for the world, I believe Mr. Gothard wanted the ministry to be that shining beacon to the world and that included the bright eyes, flowing hair, crisp pressed suits and so on. Once during my time at headquarters, to be defiant, I chopped my hair off to ear length and when Mr. Gothard saw it, he only chuckled, asked if everything was alright and I never heard another thing about it, however, I was harshly judged by my peers and senior staff members.

I decided to leave headquarters not because of any impropriety on Mr. Gothard’s part and not because I did not value the ministry, because I can say that many of my days with IBLP are some of my most cherished, I chose to leave because of the immense stress and judgement I felt from my peers, even those slightly younger than myself. Being from a non-ATI family, I was made fun of, not included in activities and told, that parents told their children to “watch” out for me simply because I was not brought up in the same fashion that they were, these were not judgements of Bill Gothard, they were the judgements of teens whom felt entitled in this ministry, however, looking back I realize the experience held many parallels with high school and hold no bitterness.

The beneficial impacts of the ministry, in my life, have been overall positive and that includes my knowing Mr. Gothard. I was a child in need, with no parents to give any reports to and yet, I was not exploited or sexually damaged by Mr. Gothard and I firmly believe that if any inappropriateness or impropriety were to take place, I would have been the prime candidate as I had no parents, family or individual outside of the ministry checking on my welfare, and though we haven’t always seen eye to eye on certain things, I can say that he has always wanted the best for me, for those whom were entrusted to him, those whom chose to serve with IBLP and those he wanted to serve. I don’t begin to know what impact this letter will make but I do hope that when all is done, more light is shed on such a dark issue.