Alan Grayson’s GOP Opponent Directly Tied to Christian Group That Wants Permanent Subordination of Women
[ update: in my new story Dan Webster's Religious Guru's Advice For Women "Like Sharia Law," Says Noted Author, I cover Hanna Rosin's characterization of Dan Webster religious guru Bill Gothard's advice for women. ]
So how close is Republican Congressional candidate Daniel Webster, running against Democratic Representative Alan Grayson for Florida's 8th Congressional District, to evangelist Bill Gothard? That question is now politically salient because of Gothard's participation in a radical Christian political movement called Christian Reconstructionism that seeks to impose stoning as a form of capital punishment for crimes including murder, adultery, "heresy," and "witchcraft." ( for more on Christian Reconstructionism, see story appendix )
The answer to that question would be, very close . The first section of this story documents Daniel Webster's relationship with Bill Gothard, so close that the religious leader could reasonably be described as a mentor or spiritual guru to the Republican congressional candidate. The second section describes Bill Gothard's affinity for Christian Reconstructionist ideas.
Daniel Webster and Bill Gothard
As a February 16, 1997 story in the St. Petersburg Times described,
"Last summer, Daniel Webster journeyed to South Korea on a religious mission, meeting with the country's president and other political and spiritual leaders. He was joined by Bill Gothard, the head of a $30-million Christian evangelical group. Four months after the trip, Webster ascended to one of the most powerful positions in Florida: speaker of the state House of Representatives. He brings with him 14 years of experience with Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles, where Webster has not only attended seminars, but also taught classes and even made an instructional video that raised money for the institute."
The St. Petersburg Times story underscored Daniel Webster's devotion to Gothard and laid out Bill Gothard's teaching on female submission :
"[Gothard's] group preaches a literal interpretation of the Bible, including the belief that women should submit to their husbands' authority. With programs for lawmakers, judges, doctors, juvenile delinquents and home− schooling courses, the institute's reach is wide. It says that 2.5 million people around the world have participated in its programs.
Webster is an enthusiastic supporter. His six children learn at home, taught by his wife, Sandy, using the institute's curriculum. The family, which also is active in its Orlando Baptist church, has participated in numerous institute seminars over the years.
A central tenet of the institute's teaching is a command structure that makes the husband the head of the household. The man's wife and his children are to submit to his authority, though the man has the responsibility to treat his loved ones with respect and devotion.
It would not be natural for a woman to work outside the home and the man to raise the children, one institute director said.
"That puts a wife in a role that she's not equipped for inwardly or outwardly and puts the man in the same position,'' the Rev. Tom Brandon said.
"A man is the lover and leader. (The wife's) role is to trust God to supply her needs through the leadership of her husband and to serve with him and fulfill his needs.''
Teaching such philosophy, Gothard's institute has expanded dramatically during the past decade, opening training centers across the country and around the world."
The St. Petersburg Times story concluded by quoting Daniel Webster on Bill Gothard - "I enjoy the advice he's given. I think it's been a major part of my life. I'm not ashamed of that. What he has said I believe to be the truth.'' An August 5, 1996 article in the Gainesville Sun that also underlined the close nature of Webster's relationship with Gothard, quoted Daniel Webster concerning his 1996 trip with Bill Gothard to Korea, "I respect (Gothard) as much as anybody." As Webster told the Gainesville Sun , "I wouldn't have gone [with Gothard to Korea] but he wanted me there."
image, below: diagram from workbook used in Bill Gothard's "Basic Youth Conflicts" course, with student notes, circa 1974
A March 9, 1997 1997 story in the Sarasota Herald Tribune by Alan Judd also covered the Daniel Webster / Bill Gothard relationship and provided additional details both on Webster's extremely close ties ties to Bill Gothard and his Institute For Basic Life Principles and on subject matter taught in Gothard's courses. As the story noted, "News articles and editorials have questioned why Webster gave high-level legislative staff jobs to four people who have worked with the [Gothard IBLP] institute." Like the 1997 St. Petersburg Times story, Alan Judd's account also noted that Gothard's influence on Webster had been profound, extending into child rearing methods Webster and his wife have used to homeschool their children:
"Webster's spokeswoman, Kathy Mears, one of the four former [IBLP] institute associates working for the Legislature, said: "We're getting a little weary of questions on it. He's the speaker of the House and he's had an involvement in a Christian organization. His family home-schools and this Christian ministry had influence on rearing his family." "
The 1997 Sarasota Times Herald-Tribune story also provided details gleaned from a Gothard promotional video produced in 1984, about the time Daniel Webster became a follower of Gothard's teaching which, as Alan Judd described, included the following recommendations:
"Moral impurity'' - in the form of "evil'' rock music, television programming, alcohol or even newspaper horoscopes - must be avoided, lest future generations suffer "psychic disturbances.''
Public education, which teaches children "how to commit suicide,'' is the enemy of spirituality, so children should be educated at home, isolated from their peers.
And fathers must lead their families, while women must be "submissive'' and "obedient'' to their husbands.
Judd's description of Gothard's 1984 video provided clues into Bill Gothards' strange views on mental health and addiction - in a claim remarkably similar to the discredited early 20th Century genetic theory of Lamarkism, which claimed that behaviors could become genetically encoded and passed down through family lines, Gothard claimed that heavy drinking of alcohol could cause a hereditary inclination to alcoholism that could be passed down to the fifth generation.
Bill Gothard, according to Judd, quoted an unnamed "Jewish psychiatrist" that the condition of schizophrenia merely amounted to "varying degrees of irresponsibility" and declared that the study of psychiatry had "polluted" the minds of psychiatrists so that "they had to wash them out with scripture." Gothard can be seen making the claim in the video below.
Alan Judd's story concluded with a quote from Ronald Enroth, a sociologist of religion at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., who had written a book about ``abusive'' churches:
"It almost defies reason that thinking people can swallow this stuff. It indicates to me there are a lot of folks out there who want this kind of authoritarian leadership."
Gothard and Christian Reconstructionism
Bill Gothard, in turn, was a close ally of R.J. Rushdoony, considered the father of Christian Reconstructionism and founder of the movement's flagship institution, the Chalcedon Institute.
As Vice President of the Chalcedon Institute Martin Selbrede stated in the Institute's March/April 2010 issue of Faith For All Of Life , the only reason Bill Gothard didn't agree to use Chalcedon founder R.J. Rushdoony's monumental Institutes of Biblical Law tome in Gothard's sprawling evangelical empire is that the two couldn't agree on divorce. Rushdoony's Institutes was a template for instituting Biblical law in government (for more on Reconstructionism, see story appendix.)
As Selbrede wrote,
"[T]he divide between Gothard and Rushdoony on divorce was a deep and abiding one. Gothard proposed using Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law as a resource for his massive ministry; the sheer volume of the resulting sales would have made Rushdoony both rich and famous. Gothard's condition for moving forward on this was letter-simple: Rushdoony merely needed to remove the section on divorce from his book, and the highly profitable deal would be sealed.
Rushdoony refused the offer."
So, while Gothard was categorically opposed to divorce, Rushdoony, a virulently racist Holocaust denier who espoused Geocentrism, was a little more liberal on divorce. In other words, the two men were otherwise in substantial agreement - except for the sticking point of divorce, they both agreed that Rushdoony's vision for Biblical law should be imposed upon America.
That vision included instituting stoning as a form of capital punishment for rape, kidnapping, murder, heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent, extreme juvenile delinquency, and "unchastity before marriage."
A 1999 report from a writer identifying herself as a former columnist for the Chalcedon Institute's Chalcedon Report emphasizes the close ideological affinity between Bill Gothard and R.J. Rushdoony and even states that Gothard has provided his employees with copies of R.J. Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law (note: Theonomy is the implementation of Biblical law in government):
"Not all Theonomists agree with Rushdoony, nor will all Theonomists agree with Gothard. Both are pretty much in the same camp, however, with the difference being Gothard is much more practical and usable. Gothard encourages his students to apply even the OT laws on diet and sexual abstinence after childbirth. I understand he put a copy of Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law in the hands of everyone on his staff.
The "Taliban Dan" video flap
Daniel Webster's association with Bill Gothard's Institute For Basic Life Training has continued into the present, and a speech Webster made at a Nashville IBLP conference in 2009 has now become a source of controversy due to a new Alan Grayson campaign ad. Grayson is currently taking a media drubbing because of an ad campaign ad that calls Grayson's political opponent, Republican Daniel Webster, "Taliban Dan."
An assessment from Factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, has charged that a new Grayson campaign ad attacking Grayson's political opponent, Republican Daniel Webster, takes out of context statements Webster made in a speech at a 2009 conference of a religious organization called the "Institute of Basic Life Principles."
But die-hard religious right researchers at ReligionDispatches.org are raising questions about Factcheck.org's charge, and Religion Dispatches editor Sarah Posner calls out Factcheck.org in turn for its benign depiction of Bill Gothard's IBLP, noting that "Factcheck.org fails... to describe what the IBLP is really about, describing it as a "non-denominational Christian organization that runs programs and training sessions."
Many across the political spectrum appear appalled by the Grayson campaign's "Taliban" label but Daniel Webster's nearly three-decade long, intimate involvement with the Bill Gothard and the Institute For Basic Life Principles suggests that the label may be less than hyperbolic.
More on Bill Gothard and Gothardism
As described in a February 18, 1999 story in the Broward/Palm Beach New Times , by Bob Norman, Bill Gothard's Character First! curriculum, now being taught in public school systems across the United States, teaches an extreme form of submission to authority. As Norman's story begins,
One of the lessons for today is obedience, and the first graders at the school inside the First Christian Church building in Fort Lauderdale sing about it quite obediently.
While the students at the Charter School of Excellence are divided fairly evenly between blacks and whites, they dress alike, with the boys in dark blue pants and green buttoned-up golf shirts and the girls wearing white blouses under plaid jumpers. All eyes are focused on their young and attractive teacher, Mrs. Blocker, who leads them in song:
Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma'am!"
Hup, two, three!
A July 20, 1995 story in the Dallas Observer , by Julie Lyons, underscores the authoritarian nature of Gothard's programs and also corroborates Alan Grayson's charge that Daniel Webster indeed referred to a Gothardite doctrine of female submission in his 2009 Nashville speech. As Lyons writes,
"It is one of the stranger sights in South Dallas: each day, when the weather is fair, 125 teenage girls stream out of the Ambassador hotel and cross the street into Old City Park. The girls are dressed almost identically, in navy blue smocks and skirts and crisp, lace-collared blouses, their long hair cinched with bows or bands. All but a few of the teens are white.
No, these teens aren't part of the exhibits at Old City Park, or some lost tribe of Girl Scouts. But they are vestiges of values past, students in an eight-week religious finishing school--works in progress at a factory seeking to build pure and perfect teens. The program is called EXCEL, which stands for "Excellence in Character, Education, and Leadership." It costs $900 per teen.
The girls, who range in age from 15 to the early 20s, come to Dallas from all over the country for the year-old residential program at the Ambassador. Though they hail from a variety of evangelical and fundamentalist churches, they've all been nurtured in the "basic life principles" of well-known Bible teacher Bill Gothard--principles that include unquestioning obedience to their parents, future submission to their husbands, eschewing rock music and television, and remaining chaste.
A January 9, 2006 In These Times report from Silja J.A. Talvi suggested that Bill Gothard's approach has changed little if at all since then, and other news reports have also underscored the same authoritarian, anti-feminist streak in Gothard's teachings.
As a March 9, 1997 story in the Ocala Star-Banner characterized Gothard's IBLP,
Some critics have accused Gothard of employing exorcism which, in the following account, would seem, to function as a method for disciplining unruly wives. In her 2003 book Bonshea, by Coral Anika Theill, Theill describes undergoing the following therapeutic regimen at one of Bill Gothard's facilities: