Lives damaged by Bill Gothard’s teachings; insights into fundamentalist child abuse

Please Note: Home-schooling can be a great thing. My wife and I home-school our three daughters. Unfortunately, home-schooling  too often has been a veil behind which the worst elements of fundamentalism have festered. To be clear, nothing in that statement is meant to advocate any other form of childhood education.

I’ve occasionally reblogged posts from the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog. A new post worth reading is “Man Shares Personal Testimony of How Bill Gothard Used Bible Verses Which Led to the Abuse of Children.” Actually, the post first appeared on Spiritual Sounding Board. (Background on Bill Gothard here.)

The man goes by the name “Dash,” and he tells Homeschoolers Anonymous what Gothdard’s teachings did in his family. Here are two excerpts (the second is from Part 2):

“The beatings were delivered to the buttocks, thighs, and lower back, and sometimes the hands, fingers, and forearms (defensive injuries), in response to any perceived slight, offense, or rules violation.

“Depending on the severity of the punishment, anything from a wooden spoon to a 3/4″x2′ dowel rod was used. My parents actually had an array of dowel rods to choose from (at least a dozen) ranging from a thin one about 1/8″ thick to the 3/4″ terror previously described. Occasionally my dad would use his belt, a heavy leather belt with a weighty brass buckle. Not often, though, because the belt would leave visible bruises.

“My sister and I would go to school with huge black and purple welts across our buttocks, carefully placed so that they were covered by our clothes, and we would sit at our desks in excruciating pain with tears streaming silently down our faces. This was during our initial participation in [Gothard’s program called] ATI, but before we enrolled full-bore in home-schooling….

“As our family began to seriously decay and slide toward doom, punishments extended to include: making a salad incorrectly, accidentally dropping a dish or a milk bottle, getting the bathroom floor wet during a bath, not setting the table for dinner quickly enough, forgetting to put clothes in the laundry basket, putting a book back on the bookshelf in the wrong place.”

And that post is far, far, far from the only one testifying about the impact of Gothard’s degrading philosophies — and, of course, Gothard’s philosophies aren’t the only venomous ones snaking their ways through American home-schooling circles.

So, really, the entire site is worth reading for anyone who wants to be aware of how the Christian Right packages genuinely poisonous thinking.

The problem is more substantial than religious discussions about child-rearing.

The problem comes down to destroyed lives.

The Mayo Clinic identifies child abuse as a typical source of dissociative disorders, which are especially difficult mental-health problems, damaging to even basic functionality for some people.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Dissociative disorders usually develop as a way to cope with trauma. The disorders most often form in children subjected to long-term physical, sexual or emotional abuse or, less often, a home environment that’s frightening or highly unpredictable. The stress of war or natural disasters also can bring on dissociative disorders.

“Personal identity is still forming during childhood. So a child is more able than an adult is to step outside of himself or herself and observe trauma as though it’s happening to a different person. A child who learns to dissociate in order to endure an extended period of youth may use this coping mechanism in response to stressful situations throughout life.”

The rigidity and specificity of Gothard’s teachings make abusive scenarios likely. People who were raised with Gothard’s teachings for long periods of time likely experienced long-term abuse, thus making them likely candidates for dissociative disorders.

Personal testimonies of fundamentalist abusiveness make clear the reality of dissociative disorders.

For example, according Lana Martin’s recovery testimony:

“Fundamentalist Christians often avoid psychiatric help and effective talk therapy due to their skepticism of scientific and humanistic thought. Learning disorders are seen as malevolent inventions of the public school system. Violence toward women and children can be normalized and justified with authoritarian, patriarchal ideology….

“Adolescent depression is perceived not as a medical condition or experiential phenomenon, but as a sinful teenage rebellion. The imposed isolation characteristic of many abusive homeschooling situations only worsens these problems for both parents and children who are struggling to identify and manage a mental illness….

“And, so I thought, my depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypervigilance, dissociative episodes, panic attacks, persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, and explosive anger might be easily resolved once removed from the toxic home in which I grew up. I should be able to get over the past and move on with life once free, employed, and college-educated. But it didn’t work out that way.

“Ten years later and 1500 miles away, I still felt like an awful person, permanently damaged, incomplete. “I still drowned in shame when I thought about my past, but couldn’t shed a tear over my injuries and losses. And I still experienced quite a few undesirable symptoms of unresolved stress and trauma. I judged myself harshly for this perceived failure.”

Compare Lana’s story with the Mayo Clinic’s list of symptoms of dissociative disorders:

  • Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events and people
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • A sense of being detached from yourself
  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
  • A blurred sense of identity
  • Significant stress or problems in your relationships, work or other important areas of your life

Worse yet, the Mayo Clinic says, “People with a dissociative disorder are at increased risk of complications and associated disorders, such as… Post-traumatic stress disorder…”

And here we have a testimony from “Susannah,” entitled “My Mind Wasn’t Lost, I Had PTSD.”

The site has so many more similar stories. Only by the fallacy of special pleading can someone ignore such evidence. (“Special pleading is often a result of strong emotional beliefs that interfere with reason,” says Bo Bennett.)

A little more than a year ago, Bill Gothard got into substantial trouble with his own board. The only reason this happened is because people were courageous enough to share their stories.
What shepherd repeatedly forgives the wolf?

What lamb gives the wolf a second chance?

2 responses to “Lives damaged by Bill Gothard’s teachings; insights into fundamentalist child abuse

  1. Minor correction. Dash told his story to me at Spiritual Sounding Board. I gave HA permission to reblog my post, so it may seem that he communicated with them.


  2. PS Thanks for sharing the story. This evil needs to be exposed.