I have been the Teaching Pastor for three churches over the past thirty years. In each church there were people who left because they didn't like my views on authority. More precisely, followers of Bill Gothard made vocal objections to my view that the major problem with American evangelicalism is an infatuation with spiritual authority. Many of them left. They couldn't stomach my belief that the Bible teaches Christ alone has spiritual authority over His people, and every believer in His kingdom is a priest unto God. Nobody else has "spiritual authority" over anybody else. Christ, in shepherding His people, dispenses spiritual gifts to enable us to serve one another, never to rule over one another.
Most people don't know that my family has had years of experience with Bill Gothard. I grew up attending his seminars. My uncle served on his national staff. My father was a personal friend with Gothard. When my pastor father stopped attending the seminars and began pulling his church away from Gothard's teachings in the 1980's, Bill Gothard contacted him personally about my father's "wrong stand on things." I never cared for Gothard's teachings, even as a teenager. I'm not sure if it was personal intuition or just the way I'm bent intellectually, but I felt even in my youth that any man who finds character traits in the mating habits of animals or whether a person's excrement floats or sinks is more fit for the city's loony bin than a church lectern.
But Gothard's most bizarre and harmful teaching of all, in my opinion, is his "umbrella of protection" or "umbrella of authority." Gothard teaches that:
"By honoring and submitting to all authorities in your life, you will receive the privileges of their protection, direction, and accountability. If you resist their instructions and move out from their jurisdictional care, you forfeit your place under their protection and face life’s challenges and temptations on your own.”
Gothard goes even further and says that by not submitting to those in authority you are in rebellion, which according to Gothard "is as the sin of witchcraft” (I Samuel 15:23). But here's the kicker: Gothard claims that resistance to the authorities in your life will bring God’s judgment upon you.
I would propose to you that any Christian who constantly vocalizes his "authority" over you and demands your submission to him for "your umbrella of protection," is actually a man who casts a large shadow in terms of his own perverted and immoral behavior. In other words, he who is most concerned that another person "obey" and "submit" to his authority is actually showing indicators of personal moral failure.
Jesus said that the Gentiles give people 'positions of power and authority,' titles of honor and respect, and demand that people obey them. Then Jesus says something quite stunning - "It shall not be this way among My disciples" (Matthew 20:26). The conclusion one can make from this direct statement of Jesus is that any profession Christian who demands submission to his authority is actually acting contrary to the nature of a true follower of Jesus Christ and is actually casting an umbrage (shadow or covering) for his own perverted behavior.
Bill Gothard bears this out. Bill Gothard is in trouble for multiple alleged immoral sexual encounters with young women. The Christian Post is reporting on Gothard's multiple problem and his removal from ministry. I had the privilege a few months ago of having lunch with one of the founders of Recovering Grace, the website that has published told the stories of nearly three dozen women that Gothard spiritually, emotionally and sometimes sexually abused. The man who started Recovering Grace has a very compelling story himself. More importantly, the website he operates, with the help of countless volunteers, is an example of how Christians should tackle problems in the kingdom. Recovering Grace displays respect, emotional balance and a knack for penetrating clarity as the website systematically does what church leaders in the 1970's and 1980's and 1990's refused to do.
How ironic. Those Gothard sought to keep in the shadow of his umbrella of authority are the very ones who have come out into the sunlight to expose his perversity.
God must have a sense of humor.
We know God has a character of justice for the unrepentant sinner. God's character of mercy and grace is for the broken. God seems to have snapped Gothard's umbrella of protection shut to actually bring about the brokenness of this man named Gothard. If and when Gothard repents of his actions against these young ladies, we will give him the mercy and grace all broken sinners need. Until then, those abused by him should keep advocating in the sunlight his permanent removal from Christian ministry, and if and when appropriate, criminal prosecution.