My apologies to those who received an announcement of this article in May 2015. It is from 2010.
“In today’s society, the father has not assumed his role of spiritual leadership. Thus, his discipline is without scriptural foundation; the mother has become dominant . . .” —Basic Youth Conflicts Syllabus [Notes on female submission from the program that provided corrective counseling for Josh Duggar after his sexual boundary violations.]
When congressman Alan Grayson launched an admittedly disingenuous Taliban Dan ad against Religious Right rival Dan Webster, Webster’s wife pooh-poohed the idea that her husband expects submission from her. As a dutiful wife, Sandy Webster can’t acknowledge that her husband is deeply ensconced in one of the most proudly authoritarian organizations in the country, where women are taught to be obedient and virtuous and to submit to the “servant leadership” of their husbands in an arrangement called “complementarianism.”
Webster is a thirty year student, teacher, and emissary for the Bill Gothard Institute of Basic Life Principles. He is quoted as saying “I respect (Gothard) as much as anybody.” When Webster made the remarks that Grayson quoted, he was addressing a group of men in a training aimed at establishing biblical hierarchy in the home: men submit to God; wives submit to God and men; children submit to all three. Besides wifely submission, these trainings promote the idea that women shouldn’t work outside the home and they should have as many children as possible. Children are subjected to strict authoritarianism including biblically sanctioned corporal punishment. Webster homeschooled his six children according to Gothard’s curriculum, and the Patriarchy movement’s best known family, the Duggars of TLC’s 14 Kids and Counting have similarly praised and used Gothard’s work.
Since the 1970’s, the Institute of Basic Life Principles (formerly Basic Youth Conflicts) has been running a highly successful program of training seminars that teach Gothard’s commandments for biblical living. (There are seven; it’s a more perfect number than ten.) I had the misfortune of attending one of Gothard’s trainings as a teenager and can still evoke the visceral guilt that hung over my life during the seminar and for weeks afterwards. Not only was I being taught as a female that I was to submit myself to God and men and Gothard’s “nonnegotiable principles”, but I also was expected to engage in a cult-like ritual of scouring my soul for minor sins (all major in God’s eyes) and confessing things like mean thoughts out loud to the people I had transgressed against so that I could obtain cleansing forgiveness.
Thousands, perhaps millions of women have been damaged by the rigid, puritanical, sexist dogmas that Gothard and Webster espouse. One woman wrote about Gothard during her process of recovery from what is now being called Religious Trauma Syndrome. She kept a journal about the seminar:
September 30th – Oct. 5th, 1974
This was the week of Basic Youth. This was the week my life did a turn in the road. The first thing he talked about was rebellion. I was feeling so convicted I wanted to go through the floor. Then he talked about the chain of command and all the sudden I knew and wanted to be under an authority.
. . . The biggest battle for me in my new, born-again beliefs was sexuality and sexual desire. I became determined to “bring the flesh into submission” and thought of my body as an enemy to be conquered. Gothard was very clear that sex outside of marriage is sinful and unclean. He provided definitions for such words as concupiscence, lasciviousness, sensuality and fornication along with biblical verses, as he did with all his teachings, to back it up.
I think the teachings in this area, not only Gothard’s but discussions and bible studies within my circle of friends, is what did some of the worst damage to my early formation of beliefs These beliefs led to the progression of my unhappiness and eventual detachment with sexual intercourse during the religious years. I thought I was the worst of sinners. . . .
Writing and Healing: A personal journey of religious addiction and Spiritual abuse recovery –Goddard College – 2006
Or consider this comment at ReligiousDispatches.org by someone who identifies herself as a former Gothard follower:
I’ve been through Gothard’s seminar, both basic and advanced. My parents raised me on his materials, though we did not participate in ATI. It did very much damage: neither my brother nor I are currently speaking to them as they cannot accept that we are adults who are no longer under their control, and we do not wish to follow in their footsteps. It’s every bit as bad as portrayed and then some.
Cynthia Kunsman, who blogs at Freedom for Christian Women Coalition describes herself as a four year participant in a Gothard identified church. She offers this analysis.
Gothard’s additional errors contribute to the overall harmful nature of his ideology. Because favor with God must be earned through works of submission, one must have a structure that requires submission. He misinterprets key Scriptures about authority, perceiving that the church and the family operate under a military-style, chain of command authority structure. Because one must work to accumulate this mystical substance of merit, mistreatment and abuse merely provide needed mechanisms for accumulating merit. Unless an authority requires a Christian to commit an overt sin, Gothard teaches that all authority must be obeyed at all costs.
. . . Those who live at the top of the food chain fair well, but in the process of this chain of command/humility system, those who fall at the lower end of the hierarchy are required to submit and suffer all manner of injustice to improve their character and work God’s mystical and often indiscernible divine plan.
This is the philosophy and structure that Dan Webster has put at the center of his life for over thirty years. Did Grayson take Webster’s words about submission out of context in his Taliban Dan ad? That depends on whether context means sentence and paragraph, in which case the answer is yes, or whether it means values and actions. I know which one I want to matter in D.C.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.