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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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Many ATI conferences last for days or weeks at a time. Eliza said, “I didn’t realize you could control people’s minds by sleep deprivation, lack of good food, and pumping way too much information as they could pump into them without giving them time to think... You’ve got kids there for goodness sake!”

ATI families “basically ate, breathed, lived, and slept ATI and Mr. Gothard,” said Jack.

Among other things, Eliza said, Gothard would not permit boys and girls to talk to each other, demanded a strict dress code, taught that girls should never run, and demanded that girls style their hair wavy -- not straight or curly -- because “wavy hair is attractive and becoming -- it causes you to focus on the woman’s face instead of her body.” Gothard’s approved wavy hairstyle is meant, she said, “to attract men to your bright eyes, which will attract them to God, instead of your body.”

Eliza elaborated on how she was required to live under her father’s authority, even in adulthood. “Girls should be serving their fathers and at times they should do ministry things under their father’s direction -- while they were single,” she said. “Make the most of your single years to serve God.” She remains single, something she attributes in part to her parents’ adherence to Gothard’s teachings.

As a result, she said, she never attended college (she had been educated in Christian schools until fifth grade and homeschooled for the duration of her education) and never learned skills with which she could earn a living for herself. Gothard discouraged college, she said, because he said parents shouldn’t expose their children to “alternative philosophies.” Women were expected to be under their fathers’ “authority” until marriage; because she wasn’t interested in marriage, she remained at home until very recently, but said that not being able to earn a living for herself “at this stage of my life is very scary.”

Gothard, who has never been married, teaches that dating is prohibited (a rule echoed by the Duggars on their television show) “because you’ll give away too much of your heart.” As the blogger Hopewell wrote on Garrison’s blog, the Duggars “view dating as unhealthy, leading to a diminished capacity to love your eventual spouse... They view adulthood as something that begins with a parent-approved marriage and at no other time.”

Indeed sex is so taboo it’s not even discussed -- even to condemn homosexuality. “To even mention the name of [homosexuality] was a sin,” said Jack. “To talk about sexuality in general was wrong. The ‘S’ word as we called it was in my family absolutely never mentioned. Things like masturbation -- I didn’t even know what it was until I was 19 or 20. Sex was considered bad and wrong and almost like the boogeyman that you don’t talk about.”

Gothard’s own brother, who worked for IBLP, was dismissed from his organization after it was discovered that he was having sex with students, and the former head of the homeschooling curriculum, Jim Voeller, was dismissed for leaving his wife and seven children for his secretary.

Prof. Allen argued in his critique that Gothard’s “repressed views of human sexuality” neglect even biblical descriptions, such as in the Song of Solomon, of the “beautiful eroticism” and “delight in human sexuality,” instead making it “a disgrace even to speak of such.”

A “Hedge of Thorns” of Protection Against Satan

Webster boasts of how his “commitments,” based on Gothard’s teachings, cause his enemies to fail. In the ATI video, he recounted making “commitments” that included never watching TV in a hotel room, getting up early in the morning, and praying for a “hedge of thorns of protection” around his Florida district so that he would win reelection. (Both Webster and Gothard have made much of the fact that for several of his reelection bids in the Florida legislature, Webster ran unopposed.) Webster said that he prayed for anyone considering a run in his district to “lose interest.”

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