Saturday, March 01, 2014

Bill Gothard: His Umbrella of Protection Teaching Provides an Umbrage for Perverted Behavior

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.


Victorious said...

Why do believers place such a high value on spiritual authority? Isn't this belief one that practically assures this type of abuse will be perpetuated? Why do believers swallow every erroneous teaching without confirming or denying it's truth through scripture? Why are they so willing to forfeit the freedom Christ brings for the yoke of bondage to a human being?

So many questions... What a sad condition the Body finds itself in today.

Wade Burleson said...


I know you will agree when I say the body of Christ is just fine. The organized, institutional church is in disarray, but the two aren't the same. :)

Victorious said...

Oh my goodness... you'd think I didn't even read your post by my questions!!

Thanks for reiterating the differences so clearly expressed in the post differentiating an institutional church from the body of Christ.

My concern can, I think, still be directed toward the condition of the institutional church. But thank you for the reminder that the body is just fine.

You and your wisdom are much appreciated! :)

Christiane said...

I think that the Body of Christ does suffer when even one of its members suffer,
and that is important because we are meant to care for even the weakest and the most marginalized among us as though they were Christ Himself.

What happened to this man Gothard?
Was it just HIS fault that in his manipulation others fell at his feet and thought he was 'allowed' privileges that even made his own followers uncomfortable?

Or was the guilt also extended to the followers who permitted him all this 'authority' and unquestioned power, especially over these poor young women he preyed upon?

They are perhaps the only innocent ones in this tragedy . . . and in the terrible climate of patriarchy, I can imagine THEY are being blamed for 'tempting him' by the very parents who sent them to him without question.

So very much to learn from this. But will people learn and change?

Or will patriarchy continue its war on women unabated?

BTW, I consider Michelle Duggar to be a loving, caring mother and a saint. She seems to be genuinely wanting her children and trying to do her very best for her family.
My opinion of men who are husbands in the 'quiver-full' movement, I choose not to share.
And my opinion of the quiver-full phenomenon itself is absolutely unprintable, but I sure don't judge any of its innocent victims.

Thank God for any and all who protect the vulnerable among us, and may He call to account those who victimize them, speaking in the name of what is holy.

Maybe the sign of trouble IS what is happening to the 'least of His' in any situation

. . . like the canary in the mine, when they struggle and suffer, something is likely seriously wrong that will soon affect everyone present.

a lotta joy said...

I am concerned that the board is looking for an interim leader for the ministry, but the foundation of it is evil. It should not continue. Thousands and thousands have been hurt and affected by this leader. I was devastated to read that the board knew of these types of activities before he ever began ATI, which was his homeschool ministry that brought young people from all over the country to serve in the many locations around the world. This ministry should have never been.

Bob Cleveland said...

" Christ, in shepherding His people, dispenses spiritual gifts to enable us to serve one another, never to rule over one another."

That's without a doubt the most knowledgeable statement about gifts I've ever seen on a blog. And probably as undertaught a fact as any I can think of.


Living Liminal said...

This doctrine of authority and covering is incredibly dangerous and leads almost inevitably to abuse. Thank you for speaking out so clearly and championing those who have been so badly wounded.

Martin Zwicker said...

Can you please provide the link to the RG founder's story - it appears to be missing?

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you post on this. My dad (Independent Baptist) always looked at Goddard as a little off - BUT he LOVED the umbrella. I'm 35 and have been "in the ministry" for over 10 years and told my Sunday School class yesterday that sometimes I still feel that I don't even see the ocean of truth that is God's love for us; yet I hear its sound and it keeps me desiring more. Gothard's teaching may be the cause of a generation of believers never fully understanding the truth of God.
They can keep their umbrella, I'll take Jesus.

Pastor Mike Florida said...

I was introduced to Bill Gothard in 1979 as a teacher in a Christian school - and required by the Pastor to attend the seminar. I questioned immediately the umbrella theory and the many illustrations that he used, as well as the mixed multitudes that attended without any gospel message until Thursday. Silly me, I thought that the Scriptures were only able to be received by redeemed people, and that they must be in fellowship with the Lord. I don't go to the extent that you do with authority, but I have taught in the nearly 40 years of teaching and pastoring against the cultic Gothard mindset. In 1980, I believe, I was privy to know that Gothard's brother, who was high up in the organization, was the one who sodomized the office staff under that authority structure, and that it had been swept under the rug. Walt Hanford, former pastor of Southside Baptist Church, in Greenville, SC, was the one who even preached a message on it. Anyway, thanks for the blog. I was surprised to see it at the Christian Post as much of what is in their web site isn't what I would call Christian at all. The reason that I look there on occasion is for articles that show how the apostasy is here (II Tim.3:1-5).

Anonymous said...

Well said! I appreciate your blog, I've read it for quite a while now. :D

Anonymous said...

I very seldom read your blog but when I do I find it interesting that you are always attacking and ridiculing other pastors and/or teachers while making yourself come out as the perfect authority on everything. Kind of sad but hopefully I'm the only one that sees it that way. I would hate for these other men to judge you the way you so quickly judge them.

Wade Burleson said...


I've written over fifteen hundred posts on history, theology and current events. A handful have been devoted to either the destructive and/or immoral behavior of Christian leaders. If "always attacking and ridiculing other pastors and teachers" describes your belief about what I write, then I accept that you have this perspective, but reject as coming from a person with a personal agenda.

Anonymous said...

As usual you come back with some smart remark. I have absolutely no agenda but simply pointing out what I read and see on your blog.

Wade Burleson said...


I beg to differ. Not a smart remark as much as it is an observational comment. In my experience, those with agendas refuse to identify themselves because to do so would reveal their agenda.

Ron said...

Wade I attended one of his seminars in the mid 70s and experienced many of the thoughts you had.

You will interested to know that a former Ft. Worth pastor you would know was being considered for IMB president when Keith Parks was forced out. He told a friend of mine that if he were selected he use the orientation time for a Bill Gothard seminary run by Gothard and let the missionaries pick up the cultural things after they get on the field. This man was also on the SWBTS trustee board and active in the firing of Russell Dilday. It is one of the many looney things associated with the conservative resurgence.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Great post. Thanks.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

You cannot over state the superstitious, even pagan nature of Gothard's teaching on authority.

Anonymous said...

I think the heart of Jesus must be terribly grieved in what He sees these days. Makes me see the need to shine the light in my own heart to see what's lurking there.

Anonymous said...

I do not support an over bearing patriarchal authority. This article on the other hand makes it sound as if there is not authority. What about children obey your parents? And, what about 1Ti_3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
1Ti_5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
Heb_13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
Heb_13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Heb_13:24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
Just to name a few. Wouldn't you agree that there is a Biblical, Christ honoring balance??

Rebecca said...

Wade, I'm researching again for another book on abuse, this time one called "Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church" (primary author Jeff Crippen). I was looking at what Nancy Leigh DeMoss says in "Lies Women Believe" about submission:

"When we place ourselves under the spiritual covering of the authorities God has placed in our lives, God protects us. On the other hand, when we insist on having it our way and stepping out from under that covering and protection, we open ourselves up to the influence and attack of the Enemy.” And, “Our willingness to place ourselves under God-ordained authority is the greatest evidence of how big we believe God really is.”

I recognized the Gothardism in her writing at once, and came online to research the Umbrella of Authority teaching. Found your great blog post, which I'll suggest referencing in the footnote of Jeff's book. Thanks again for your thoughtful analysis.

Mama Etna said...

On paper the Gothard model might look good but the hard facts of the model bear out in real life. It just does not work. I have seen in real like how this model becomes an umbrage for physical abuse. A while back I started attending a small independent church that consisted of a Pastor and his large family. The pastor's kids and even the wife often looked black and blue because they didn't toe the line. He very much used this Gotherd model on his family. When I started asking questions about it, the small little independent church just evaporated. They never returned to my small little town. I saw the mother once, but I never saw the rest of them again. I thought it very strange.

Thank you or blogging about this. The phrase "Wife submit to your husband" has been one of the most abused phrases in all of the Christianity.

Unknown said...

Long story short - A childhood of abuse by an alcoholic mother. I put Gothard's "principles" into practice. Guess what - she has been in a drukard's grave for 25 years.