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Cultish Christian Leader Teaches Women Should Submit to Husbands -- Victims of His "Submission Theology" Speak Out

The cultish Evangelical leader Bill Gothard espouses a theology that tells men to rule over their families, and for wives and kids to submit entirely, no matter the circumstances.

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Rather than engage in hermeneutics, said Venoit, Gothard “prays over large portions of scripture and God tells him what it means. Fundamentally, you have a mystic telling you how to understand the Bible.”

Basically Anti-Woman

Gothard’s “fundamental flaw,” Venoit told me, is his idea of the “umbrella of authority or chain of command.”

Ronald B. Allen, now a Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, criticized Gothard’s “chain-of-command” tenets of patriarchy in an essay:

Paramount among these is the terrible picture of the chain of command in the family with the husband as the hammer, the wife as the chisel and the children as the gems in the rough... The ghastly picture is that he beats on her and she chips on them. If ever there were a reason for a women’s movement in the evangelical church -- this is it. This illustration is simply not reflective of biblical theology; it is a parody of patriarchalism.

Allen called Gothard’s teaching “the basest form of male chauvinism I have ever heard in a Christian context... His view is basically anti-woman.”

In our interview, Gothard disputed the “terrible picture” Allen had drawn, maintaining that “God is the one who has a hammer” and that “God will use different authorities in their life to perfect the diamonds in our life. It’s not breaking the diamond, it’s perfecting the diamond. We are his jewels.”

“It’s not a harsh thing,” he insisted, “it’s a matter of perfecting the goal God has for every one of us.”

Vyckie Garrison, who runs the website No Longer Quivering, “a gathering place for women escaping and recovering from spiritual abuse,” told me that she and her now ex-husband, although they lacked the money to attend Gothard’s seminars, followed his teachings through his homeschool curricula. She said her husband had believed, based on Gothard’s teachings, that he was responsible for his family’s salvation through the authority he exercised over his family, a role which turned him into a “tyrant.”

While many evangelical couples follow complementarian theology, Gothard’s twist on that teaching, said Garrison, is that “the man has ultimate responsibility with eternal consequences,” meaning that it “gives him the authority over every aspect of family’s life and thoughts.” In Garrison’s family this meant her husband exercised control of her and the children’s every move to ensure compliance with Gothard’s 49 character traits.

The husband provides an “umbrella of protection” or “spiritual protection from Satan.” The wife needs to be in submission, because the husband is “going to answer not just for your own life and your own walk before God but for your wife and children,” said Garrison.

While she was attempting to live up to the unattainable expectations imposed by her husband’s adherence to Gothard’s theology, Garrison was “mesmerized” by the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting fame, who are possibly Gothard’s most recognizable followers. The matriarch and star of the TLC reality hit, Michelle Duggar, “was like my hero,” said Garrison, who found raising her own seven children overwhelming. “She makes it all look so doable.” In spite of Gothard’s controversial status, religious right activists fawned over the Duggars at last year’s Values Voters Summit, where they were honored with a “Pro-Family Entertainment” award.

The Duggars write on their website that when Jim Bob Duggar first met Michelle, he was smitten and “completely convinced he’d just met the girl he’d been praying for without knowing who she was. Oh, God, he prayed in that doorway, from the depths of my heart, I ask that Michelle could be mine and that I could become her spiritual leader.” (emphasis in original)

 
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