A particularly damaging account of alleged Bill improprieties in the 1970s surfaced publicly in the past 10 years called “The Cabin Story”. This account was actually included at one point in the official Bill Gothard Wiki until being removed for lack of foundation; the Wiki was subsequently placed in “protected status” by the Wiki organization to avoid irresponsibly submitted accounts.
As the account goes, well known author and speaker Gary Smalley, who was at one time on Bill’s staff, affirmed in an email to Tony Guhr that he personally surprised Bill late at night in a remote location with a secretary on his lap in her “sheer nightgown” some time in the 1970s. The story relayed in the Wiki identified the location as Bill’s remote private cabin in the Northwoods of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.
The account was naturally revived by the Recovering Grace organization and given top billing, showing aerial shots of the cabin to highlight its remoteness. Additionally, Tony told us that this account is a primary reason he attested that Bill “fondled” staff women, a claim that was published by the LA Times in 1980; that this woman on his lap in that remote location with mere millimeters of clothing separating their private areas constituted “fondling” in his mind. So it was and remains quite significant in the overall force of charges laid against Bill.
We contacted Gary in 2014 to seek clarification. Gary graciously interacted with us, and the information provided was stunning. His comment was as follows:
We asked for clarification on the winter coat vs. “sheer nightgown”, but he subsequently backed away from those statements, stating several times – emphatically – that he has no recollection of what she was wearing.
Ruth lived in a residence, a building separate from Bill’s office – the notion of any woman, especially Ruth, known for meticulous adherence to dress decorum, being out in the open in a nightgown at night would be unheard of on campus.
It remains possible that Gary was confusing another account involving the cabin, as some have suggested. If so, this would have been second hand or worse since simple fact checking would have revealed that the Northwoods cabin was not even built before Gary left the ministry. Those relaying the account should have known that. He told Bill sometime in the last two years before the Lord took him home that at the time Tony Guhr recorded the “Cabin Story” from him, he – Gary – was extremely angry, and this may explain some of the confusion of what was written down. Regardless of the reason, the account as promoted through several venues is false.
With respect to the woman in the account – “Ruth” of “Ruth’s Story” on RG – we understood that she had every expectation that her relationship with Bill would lead to marriage. Bill told Gary and others that he was “dating” her; he told us that she spontaneously jumped in his lap.
Those familiar with his teachings would see a glaring inconsistency with what he taught, notably the physical closeness without being engaged or having spoken to her parents. This was a primary reason for his confession of “defrauding” to the Board prior to resigning in 1980, a term he formally defines as “Raising expectations in others that I cannot righteously satisfy”, and which he overtly applies to typical “flirting” or dating behavior. Regardless it was not anything resembling the unexplainable account that is even today published. We have pleaded with Recovering Grace for years to correct the published tale, but they have steadfastly refused to alter it in any way.
Here is a signed affidavit that Gary prepared back in 2008 as a summary of his perspectives on Bill’s behavior toward staff women during the 1970’s and 80’s with which he was familiar. Given that Gary was closely involved in all aspects of the ministry and especially in the tragedy of the sexual scandal with his brother, his willingness to testify in this way is significant. And Ruth was one of the secretaries he interviewed in detail:
Another story that has made it into national newspapers is that in the 1970s Bill would make it a habit of giving good night hugs to secretaries in their nightgowns. This too is a peculiar notion, of secretaries out and about in their nightgowns in an environment known to meticulously police modesty to an extreme degree. In August of 2014 we had a lengthy phone interview with Mrs. Linda Sergeena-Evangelista, an IBLP secretary that was hired in the early 1970s and worked closely with Bill and the other secretaries, actually living across the hall from Ruth. When asked about this rumor she became quite animated and said that this was completely not true – “A lie from the pit of hell”, were her exact words. She clearly remembered Bill’s brother, Steve – who sexually compromised a number of secretaries including herself and Ruth – knocking late at night to see the girls after they were in bed. It was her strong opinion that those rumors came from those instances. She gave us permission to publish her recollections.