Last Monday Bill Gothard went down to Texas to the 2018 annual Big Sandy ATI conference. Bill is currently estranged from IBLP, the ministry he founded, as the Board of Directors received accusations made against him four years ago by disgruntled former students in his ATI (Advanced Training Institute) The $8 million dollar, 17 plaintiff lawsuit brought against him and IBLP in the wake of that was dismissed a couple of months back as the cases fell apart for the second time. Yet, despite the sudden lack of voices raised against him, the Board has been deliberately indifferent towards him, not even willing to publicly acknowledge the incredible deliverance that God has wrought.
For four years 83 year old Bill has been living alone in the house he was raised in, using his kitchen table as a desk, supported by a mishmash of unpaid volunteers. Besides Social Security against his prior salary of $25,000 he has no income, sustained by gifts from donors and sales of the books he has written since leaving IBLP. To add insult to this situation, Bill was told years ago he was not to set foot on IBLP property or be present at any event “or else we will call the police”. In four years he was allowed back to his office once, with lawyers present, to fetch personal effects and papers important to him, that even years after the initial ban.
His greatest joy in life has been the fellowship of those that have been blessed by his 50 year ministry in venues such as these annual conferences scattered across the country. It is his energy, his strength. Bill apparently decided he had had enough of the isolation. This week he took a young man who had been helping him, climbed into his car and drove the two of them 14 hours down to Big Sandy. When they arrived he registered them as participants, paid the several hundred dollars for them to attend, and walked into the main venue. As folks recognized him they gathered around for a joyful reunion. Many came up to thank him for being the instrument of a saved marriage, saved finances, saved family, and coming to know Jesus in salvation.
Board members Dr. Tim Levendusky, Dr. Stephen Paine, and Gil Bates showed up not long thereafter and insisted they follow them into a small side room. There they demanded that he leave immediately. He explained he had driven all that way to see the people that he loved, and to deliver a message to the Board, which he expected to be allowed to discuss with them before he left. After several other threats to call the police and then a demand that he stay in the small room they were in “out of sight”, they agreed that he would be given the opportunity to meet with them at the end of the evening, let him go and left him alone for the balance of the sessions.
During each break the lines of participants wanting to speak with Bill grew longer and longer, hundreds. It was clear that both they and he were very happy. At the end of the evening Mr. Bates approached Bill and told him to go to the administration building where they would have their chat, overtly refusing much nearer venues. Others around Bill urged him not to leave the public area, cautioning him that it was a trap. Gil Bates told them, “We love Bill, we are not going to hurt him”. Bill agreed to go, as this was the chat he had been promised before leaving. He told his young man, “They finally will talk to me, what I have waited four years for”.
When they arrived Mr. Bates and Dr. Paine were there to meet him – Bill asked where Dr. Levendusky was, as he wished to address the entire board, but was just told that he was “unavailable”. Bill sat down, expecting a discussion, but they remained standing, telling him, “We are not going to talk with you – just present your papers so you can leave”. After several attempts to get them to honor the promise made earlier, he presented his papers, which included an appeal by several previous Board members to the present Board to reinstate him.
As Bill got up to leave, he was confronted by an Alert officer who made a rehearsed statement: “Did you refuse a request from my authorities to leave, Yes or No?” Bill clarified that he was promised a meeting with the Board, and that was why he had stayed. The officer repeated the question: “Please answer yes or no”. After several rounds of this Bill said the words they were looking for, something that started with “Yes, I did not leave because I was waiting for the meeting I drove all this way to have”. Immediately a policeman stepped forward who had been recording the entire staged interchange on his vest video camera. He told Bill that he was guilty of criminal trespass because this – Big Sandy – was “private property” and “these gentlemen do not want you here”. He nicely asked Bill to sign the citation he had there because it was “no big deal” and he, the officer, simply had to document that he was there and had delivered the message. Bill asked that the citation be amended to include the important point that he stayed because he was waiting for his meeting. The officer stated that could not be done, again asking him to sign. Bill refused to sign several times. At that point the officer became frustrated and asked, forcefully: “Are you refusing to sign this citation?!” Bill’s assistant, fearing further trouble, urged Bill to sign, which he reluctantly did.
The citation, as you can see, makes it clear that, should Bill ever set foot on Big Sandy property again, he will be liable for a large fine and time in prison. As part of this indignity he was forced to have someone else drive him off the property in his own car . . . The property that God had supplied to Bill’s ministry many years before in answer to prayer. And so he returned to his hotel – and a day later, drove himself and his assistant back home to Chicago.
We have held off publishing our account this long because we were getting conflicting reports and needed to speak to all involved. There are several things we would like to note:
- The Board members and IBLP leadership we spoke with repeatedly stressed the need for Bill to “obey” them. We would note that he has not been under their authority at any level for four years. They pushed him out with demands that he felt were Scripturally wrong and they have deliberately had nothing to do with him other than what was forced upon them by the lawsuit. Bill has repeatedly reached out for an opportunity to work things out. A Board member told us during this time: “If we give Bill things to do to reconcile, he will do them – so we will not give him anything to do.” Implication was that they simply were not interested in dealing with him, let along having him “under their authority”. At the same time they were assuring ATI families that they were working to “restore Bill”. Also worth nothing is that a majority of the Board members have openly and repeatedly acknowledged Bill as a spiritual “father” by virtue of the life changing impact he has had on them. Some of us would wonder why these men would not in some manner find themselves in a position to obey . . . him. Paul had such expectations on those that were so related to him (1 Cor. 4:14-16)
- In our discussions with IBLP leadership it was understood that they were concerned that Bill would use the esteem he is still held in by many in the ministry to foment dissent within the organization. There was a specific allegation made to us that he had distributed statements challenging the Board to staff members. One of the reasons for this delay in publishing was to understand what Bill had actually done. This was formally cleared up tonight: Bill never intended to give the papers he had to anyone other than the Board. His assistant, responding to an inquiry made by a senior staff member, gave him one of the sets of papers prepared for a Board member without Bill’s knowledge or permission.
- Bill is 83, he founded the ministry, he has been unjustly accused as evidenced by the the spectacular failure of a major lawsuit backed by 3 respected law firms to even get a single charge of “negligence” from one plaintiff through to depositions, let alone trial. Bill did not tell us what he was planning – we heard about it as others did. We think some amount of frustration bubbled over. We can’t say we are not sympathetic. One cannot help but wonder why the Board, knowing Bill and knowing all these things, could not have headed this off in a much more friendly way that didn’t involve executing their “nuclear” option, to throw him in jail. Board members have repeatedly expressed their love for Bill and appreciation for all he has down for them and for the ministry. Gil said exactly that, even as he was preparing to entrap him in his words and hand him over to the authorities to potentially fine and imprison him. This was the only way they could come up with to make sure their authority was not undermined? We have gone out of our way to not demean a group of men that we sincerely respect and believe are trying to do the right thing in the middle of very difficult circumstances. But there is incredible grief in our hearts over a action that we feel was completely unjustified and, frankly, crossed a line.
- We asked the Board for a statement that we would publish, explaining their side of what happened. They declined to provide that. Our understanding is that Bill’s presence was not even acknowledged to the seminar participants. One of Bill’s repeated statements in the Basic Seminar: “Seeds of a wounded spirit, when pushed underground, produce a crop of rebellion.” Perhaps the Board does not understand the deep grief – wounding – that so many of current IBLP supporters feel about the way Bill has been handled. Pushing that out of sight into the darkness is not wise, in our mind.
We continue to pray that the Lord may intervene and work in hearts on all sides to bring this to a godly concluion. That His name is not damaged, instead His work furthered by all involved. That fellow believers will soon once again walk together in peace, love and harmony.
May 12, 2018 Update: We did receive the media file of the interaction of Bill with the two members of the Board assembled in the admin building, and then the officer that cited him. While it is a video, it is the video of the dash cam of the squad car, with the audio piped in from the officer’s vest. So there is little to see, but lots to hear. The initial faint audio is of Bill addressing Dr. Paine and Gil Bates in what he had understood to been a meeting with the Board, yet with no Dr. Levendusky. So he is presenting his papers that make his case for reinstatement along with the threat of legal action if not. The officer comes in quietly. Once he is there, at the 8 minute mark, the Alert commander comes up and asks Bill if he had refused to leave earlier when asked to which he answers “Yes”. He is not allowed to provide the caveat that he had subsequently been promised a meeting as the condition for him leaving, but is immediately told he was to be cited for trespassing. Immediately the officer, having recorded that, moves in to execute the “Criminal Tresspass Report”, a warning that the next infraction would be followed by a hefty fine and imprisonment. Bill asks repeatedly that the record reflect the important point that the Board had agreed to the talk he had requested as the condition for him leaving, but the officer refuses to alter the comments. Judge for yourself: Here is the video. We believe we accurately reported the interaction and continue to look to the Board to explain how, after 50 years of uninterrupted service by Bill to them and to us, including the procurement of the beautiful facilities in which they all stood, they could allow themselves to entrap him in this way and come to a place where they were willing to see him in jail rather than meet with him to discuss his deeply held concerns.