Family’s Troubling Connection to Bill Gothard’s IBLP Uncovered

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While some kids in the Duggar family have left the institute, the main voice for the Duggar family in the documentary is Jill Duggar Dillard. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were involved in the institute before their TV days. In the series, we hear from several former members recounting the harmful effects the religion had on themselves and their families. 

Gothard founded the Institute of Basic Life Principles in 1961. The principles were designed to help youth and parents make good biblical decisions and to avoid pitfalls in life. Gothard, who studied sociology at Wheaton University in Illinois, developed principles to help inner city youth — including gang members — in Chicago and eventually created curriculum and seminar materials for larger audiences.

By 1965 the first seminar was held in Chicago for 120 students. The material gained a larger following in the 1960s and 1970s as Gothard’s ideas represented an antidote to the harmful drugs and ennui of the hippie movement. 

Bill Gothard taught seven basic principles that Christians should live by: design, authority, responsibility, suffering, ownership, freedom and success.

According to Jill and the former members of the home-schooling network, the Advanced Training Institute of America, the umbrella of authority was a more favored principle Bill would teach. 

“Every one of us has umbrellas of protection,” said Gothard in a clip from the documentary. “If we get out from under the umbrella, we expose ourselves to the realm and the power of Satan’s control.”

For many people, love is the driving factor in building a relationship with God. However, for former institute members, fear drives their relationship with the father. While kids probably couldn’t play Monopoly, they could play Commands of Christ,a game created by the institute. Instead of getting a go-to-jail card, they could go to the venomous pit of bitterness or the torture pit of temporal values. Little girls couldn’t have Cabbage Patch dolls because a warlock made them — which is probably why the Duggar girls never owned one. And the institute taught that music with a rock beat, even Christian rock music, could be bad. 

“When a young person listens to a rock song, even Christian rock, they give Satan a little square in their soul,” said Gothard in a clip from the documentary. 

While the Duggar family draws in viewers, the real star of the docuseries is Institute in Basic Life Principles teachings and their destructive results. The series unpacks the fear and training put into children by the Advanced Training Institute of America, the Christian home-schooling movement that combats public school indoctrination. To this day, Christians continue to discuss whether public, private or home schooling is the best option for their children. 

To provide an education “adequate” for home-schoolers, ATIA created “wisdom booklets.” The booklets prioritize biblical principles over reading and writing. The educational books are built around the Sermon on the Mount and give a biblical worldview to all other studies. 

“In the wisdom booklet, there are these drawings of women, and they’re wearing various different outfits,” said Brooke Arnold, a former IBLP member featured in the documentary. “The assignment is to figure out what’s slutty about each woman’s outfit. Instead of learning math, you’re learning slut-shaming.”

Those same lessons and mistreatment would follow many girls and boys to IBLP ministry programs for children. Children were put to work for long hours and dealt with leadership issues. When kids would do something “wrong,” leaders would sometimes send them to a “prayer room” for an undefined amount of time. 

“I bought a box of tampons — they (IBLP leaders) went through my stuff,” said Heather Heath, a former member featured in the docuseries. “They took them instantly. They said these are a form of pleasure. I got locked in my room because I took my own virginity with them and robbed my husband of the right to break my hymen. So, they took my devil sticks.”

Knowing God’s love sadly wasn’t a feeling that many youths received within this form of the Christian religion. And the teaching rarely focused on the person and work of Jesus. Rather, it focused on rules, laws and, procedures. It was a pharisaical and legalistic expression of Christianity, perhaps equivalent to rigid forms of Islam, Judaism or other major faiths. 





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