Musings

Hello folks! This space has been really quiet for the past few months, and it may still be quiet for next new few months, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. I’ve got several projects I’m hoping to bring out into the open before the year is over, and I hope they can be helpful to those of us coming out of the ATI system. I also will be finishing my master’s degree in November, so that should free up a little time for me to write more.

Today I’m not going to be examining a particular IBLP publication; instead, I wanted to just talk about a few things that have been on my mind.

It’s really hard to shake habits and inhibitions that are drilled into you as a child. We don’t have a worship minister at my church; there’s a pool of about 10 people who take turns each Sunday. One of them has a particular fondness for singing upbeat songs and leading the congregation in very simple dances. And every time she does, I stand there stiff as an board made of awkwardness. I can’t dance in church. I know it’s ok; I know all the verses about dancing in worship.

But moving your body in response to music is bad. I remember my dad telling my sister to stop bobbing her head in time to the music our neighbor was playing. My sister was horrified; she had let the rock music get into her head and influence her without even realizing it! So when your 6 or 9 or 12 years old and even clapping with a praise song is looked down on as border-line sin, you just lock your body down and refuse to move. Moving your hips is bad, bobbing your head is bad, basically responding to the music in any way is bad, so you just place your hands on the pew in front of you and sing without moving a muscle.

The same is true with drinking. The only time I’ve ever had alcohol was when I was 7 years old, and mistook the champagne at an anniversary party for Sprite. For years I’ve said that it’s because there is a history of alcoholism in my family, and I don’t want to risk it. But that’s not actually true. Sure, there are a few alcoholics in my family history, but what family doesn’t have that? The reason I don’t drink is because it was drilled into me ever since I was little bitty that the world is watching and our witness is dependent on upholding these “high standards” and if you can’t even go into a movie theater for fear of what people might think, do we even need to mention what they might think if you buy alcohol?

And so my sister had a big party for her 33rd birthday (that’s when a hobbit comes of age, after all) and she served mead. She offered me some, and it smelled incredible. My wife had some, my mom had some, my dad had some. And I just. couldn’t. drink it. I tell myself over and over again that it’s perfectly fine, that we’re under grace, that we have freedom in Christ, that I’m just living in bondage to a lie…and yet I can’t drink.

I did have a bit of a break through this summer. We went to a friends’ wedding, and there was dancing at the reception. It was awesome; everyone at the table I was at got up and danced. My wife got up and danced. So I spent a while just sitting there, holding my daughter and feeling awkward. But I finally decided that just because I have weird hangups from being raised in a cult, that doesn’t mean my daughter has to have those hangups too. So I got up and danced with her. It was awkward, and I had no idea what I was doing, and I’m sure I looked like a total dork, but I danced with my daughter. That was cool.

What hangups do you have from your time in ATI? I’m curious to hear about your experience.

If you are talking about Josh Duggar, you are missing the point

My Facebook feed has recently exploded with news about the scandal surrounding Josh Duggar. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a link to the latest news article, and everyone has a pretty strong opinion about what everyone involved in the situation should do.

And it seems to me that all of them are missing the point.

The victims are more important than the abuser. Long before questions about the status of a reality TV show, or the reputation of a family, or the job of a B-list celebrity enter our minds, we should be asking about the victims. Have they been given access to quality counselling? Is there any way to protect them from media attention? How have they been able to cope with the trauma of this abuse?

Rather than posting a “I stand with the Duggars!” picture, or a status berating TLC for promoting this family, wouldn’t it be a much better idea to boldly proclaim, “I stand with the weak, with the innocent, with the abused”? Whatever happens to a TV show isn’t that big of a deal. Whether Josh Duggar should have resigned or not doesn’t actually matter all that much. How this affects the public perception of Jim Bob is very trivial. There are much, much weightier issues here. How can we, as a society, support and affirm the value of victims of sexual abuse, both these particular women and millions of less famous women?

Isn’t that really a more important topic for conversation?

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I hold no ill will against the Duggar family. I do not rejoice to see them publicly shamed. I’m not glad they have been caught up in a scandal. I do not wish to see their family name drug through the dirt. I really, honestly wish the very best for them. I pray that this trial brings them closer. I pray God gives them wisdom, and love for each other.

But I think there is an important lesson to be learned here. And while I hesitate to write this, fearing that my words will cause unnecessary pain for their family, I feel compelled to point out a very real danger; a danger that is illustrated perfectly by this situation.

You cannot shelter you family from sin.

The Duggar lifestyle–a lifestyle encouraged by IBLP teaching and practice–is designed to protect. Protect the hearts of children. Protect from the evils of rock music. Protect teens from lust. Protect girls from creating unhealthy soul ties. Protect young people from temptation.

Don’t associate with the “worldly” youth group at church.

Don’t go to movie theaters.

Don’t listen to pop music on the radio.

Don’t allow co-ed swimming.

Don’t separate the family for Sunday school.

Don’t watch TV.

Don’t go to college.

Don’t study secular thinkers.

Don’t become romantically involved with someone without your parent’s approval.

But it doesn’t work. Sin is in our hearts. Sin is not something outside, it’s not something that seeps into your life through movies, or music, or friends, or white flour, or unhealthy soul ties. It’s in the very center of your being. And no matter how protected you are, no matter how far you remove yourself from evil influences, that sin will still be there. Rules, boundaries and lifestyle choices will never remove it. Only Christ can do that.

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Pray for the victims. Pray for the Duggars. Pray for Josh.

And seeing this terrible, painful situation, please understand this important truth;

No lifestyle, no rules, no pattern of family management will ever remove sin from someone’s heart.

Sadly, real life takes time

Instant freedom

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get instant freedom from fear, anger and depression? That’d be great. Would you commit to attending a week-long seminar if you could get instant freedom from it?

Today I was looking through a booklet titled Ten Reasons for Alumni to Be Encouraged. It was sent out in 1992 to families that had previously attended a Basic Seminar. While working very hard to look like an informational booklet, this mailing was really nothing more than an advertisement meant to bring money in from seminar alumni.

Throughout the booklet there runs a theme of instant solutions to all your problems. The image above is perhaps the most blatant promise of instant solutions, but it is far from the only one. Before we take a look at them in more detail, you can enjoy some non-approved music.

Stop the meeting

Gothard recounts the story of a young man who rushed the stage during a Basic Seminar in Seattle. The man was subdued by security, and taken to a side room while Gothard continued the meeting. During the break, Gothard visited this man and tried to help him. The man said that he had heard a voice claiming to be “the Prince of Seattle” who had told him to stop the seminar. Gothard story

Here we have a man who obviously has some rather serious mental health issues. He is hearing voices with enough clarity and force that he will rush the stage in front of 5,000 people, and has to be forcibly removed. He admits to frequent thoughts of suicide. These are not minor, small issues. This guy needs help.

Now let’s look at the help that Gothard offered. First, we should note that the concept of giving ground to Satan, and reclaiming ground from Satan, is not Biblical. The Bible teaches us that our old man is sinful by nature, and that we are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ. It does not teach a chessboard version of the soul, with Satan as an easily defeat-able opponent if we simply follow Gothard’s three step plan.

Second, note how this promise to free someone of fear, anger and depression comes with major strings of guilt attached; if “depression, fear, anger and other destructive emotions” are the direct result of Satan building a castle on surrendered ground in your soul, then anytime you experience any of those emotions, you can be sure that you have failed. You’ve given ground to Satan, again.

Third, it’s interesting to see how anger and fear are listed as “destructive emotions.” Anger is actually a very healthy emotion under some circumstances (to give a random example; if you heard a story about an elderly religious leader using his position of authority to make unwanted sexual advances on teenage girls…well, that should make you angry.) In many cases, fear is a healthy emotion (again, a totally random example; if you were a teenage girl who was sent to work with an elderly religious leader who gave you money to purchase a push-up bra…well, you should feel fear!)  Negative emotions are not always destructive emotions. This is an important distinction.

So, to continue the story; Gothard had this guy go through the three steps (confess the sin, claim the blood of Christ and ask God to retake the ground from Satan), and “a peace came over him.” But then the story gets even more interesting; the man asks, “What about the beast I see with seven heads?” Gothard asked the man if he had participated in any sexual sin, and the man said yes.

Danger of Multiple Strongholds

Notice how quickly this “freedom” the young man gained is lost!  It seems Gothard himself doesn’t even realize the inherent contradiction in his story; he promises freedom, but only if you take back every single stronghold. How are you to know if you’ve confessed them all? How are you to know if you’ve taken back each piece of ground? Since very natural emotions such as anger or fear are the signposts of ground that has been given to Satan, how are you to ever feel confident that your soul is truly safe?

The most disturbing part of this story comes when this young man tries to ask God to take back the ground, and the words stick in his mouth. We can learn something very scary about Gothard’s entire view of the Christian experience from this; when someone was bound by sin, and needed to turn from it, he had to rely on his on strength to do it. There is no mention of calling on God for strength, or turning to your Christian brothers for support. Nope, you just sit there, bound by Satan and this stronghold that he’s built in your soul, until you find the umph within yourself to speak the magic words.

This is terrifying. Thank God that he does not wait for us to gather the power to defeat Satan!  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1) “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26)

Vows

Let’s talk about commitments.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the scenario; you’re wearing blue and white, surrounded by a few, or maybe dozens, or maybe hundreds, or maybe thousands of other people just like you, and Gothard looms over you on a large screen. He’s been talking for hours; yet you’re ears are glued to him. I say ears because your eyes are not glued to the screen; they’re darting between your workbook and the ever changing words on the screen. Gothard never seems hurried, he never seems flustered, but, boy-oh-boy, those words on the overhead just fly!

I’d heard Gothard many times as a child before I attended the basic. I’d even recited the first few verses of Matthew 5 to him when my family visited headquarters, and he gave me a dollar bill in reward. But I’d never been quite as enraptured, never quite so drawn in as I was at the end of a long session in the Basic. I was 13 years old.

If you’ve never listened to Gothard for an extended period of time, it really can be hard to describe the experience. He’s short, and quiet, and he never yells. He tells few jokes, and he pauses from time to time, almost as though he’s struggling with the burden on his heart for the people listening to him. And the whole time he is talking, you are rushing to keep up. Every point, every illustration, every principal comes printed in your red book, with only a few words missing. As each line goes up on the screen, you hurriedly scribble those missing words down. Only when Gothard is telling a story do things slow down.

But when he tells a story, you are drawn in even further. Every story follows the same basic outline; there is a dire problem, and an apparent solution. You know, you just know what the solution should be; it’s so clear. And yet, Bill tells you, that is the wrong choice. He explains the root cause of the problem (who would have thought that was the problem?!), and shows how application of the principle he was just talking about will solve the problem (wow! He’s right!) At the end of the story the main character is either completely free from the problem, or has fallen into horrible sin.

And it all makes so much sense! You can’t argue; Gothard has Scripture verses beside each point (well, he has references to Scripture verses, at any rate), and he explains everything so thoroughly. So when Gothard recaps his points, you find yourself nodding. Aren’t you glad he’s made it clear? Now there’s only one part left in the evening; it’s time to make a commitment.

I hate alter calls. I really do. I hate the music that they play, I hate the way the preacher pulls at your heart strings. I hate the way they try to list every possible scenario that might lead you to the front of the church (“If you’re concerned about your brother’s cousin’s roommate’s dog, come to the alter and give that to Jesus! Don’t wait!”) Maybe the reason I hate it to much is because I’m used to seeing a master at work. If you’re used to Micheal Bay films, then 1960s Star Trek just doesn’t seem so cool (they both still suck, but one is a lot better at sucking). Gothard didn’t use music, and he didn’t pace up and down the stage. He just spoke with that same intensity, he told you how important this was, he emphasized that it was the only way to success, and then he didn’t ask you to make a commitment. Gothard didn’t ask anyone to come to the front and “make a decision.”

Gothard asked for a vow.

A vow, made before God, that you were to hold to for your entire life.

The vow I most clearly remember is a vow to read the Bible for 5 minutes every day. I was 13, and had no clue what I was doing. Predictably, I failed to keep that vow within just a few weeks of finishing the Seminar. And I felt horrible, and I tried to make it up by doing 10 minutes of Bible reading the next day. Over the years, I worried about what God might do to me because of my broken vow.

About three years ago I took another vow. But before I took that vow, we spent 7 months preparing for it. We went to counseling. We talked to pastors. We asked our friends to travel to observe the vow (some of them traveled literally halfway around the world to be there.) We had long and serious discussions with our parents.

There was time to think. There was time to consider what we were doing. There was counsel about how to live that vow out in a daily way. There was no pressure, no expectation of a quick decision. When I vowed to love my wife until death do us part, I understood what I was doing. I was sure of it.

Fortunately, God is loving, and I don’t think he holds an emotionally manipulated 13-year-old Samuel against me. I don’t read my Bible 5 minutes every day; sometimes I don’t read it 5 minutes a week. I’m glad that my relationship with God is based on his love for me, and not on my commitment to following rules.

How to drive women away from your ministry

Greetings, and welcome back! I’m excited about getting back into blogging after this two-month hiatus. I’ve had a lot of time to think, and some important discussions with friends and family.

Today I’ll be wrapping up our foray into Training Faithful Women, and be giving some closing thoughts on the topic. Faithful women 11

Ok, I feel like I need to tread lightly here. This particular passage, on the surface, is not all that troublesome. To a certain extent, I agree with Gothard. Many Christian parents have somehow bought into the idea that children are, if not a curse, at least a horrible nuisance. It is honestly quite upsetting to go into fellowship halls, or Sunday school rooms and hear what some parents say about their children. It’s much more than someone sharing their struggles; it’s often just a kid-bashing party. Even parents who don’t have anything to complain about get in on the action, bemoaning the fate that awaits them when their ticking time bombs decide to make life a living hell.

Yes, children are bothersome. I’ve spent over an hour writing this post so far, because I’ve been interrupted so many times trying to get the two month old to calm down and stop crying. I get that kids can be difficult. But many parents are in need of a serious gut check about their own attitude towards their children.

But the issue here is that Gothard has taken a much more radical stance than “keep a positive attitude towards your children.” Gothard raises importance of the birth of children (and not just children, but large numbers of children) to an unhealthy level. In ATI world, those with large families are lauded, and held up as perfect examples to follow. Regardless of health, regardless of financial situations, regardless of housing conditions, Gothard preaches that true Christians must have lots and lots of children. We’ve already seen an example from an IBLP booklet in which a husband was lauded for ignoring the fact that his wife feared for her life and instead brow beat her into agreeing to having more children.

This is the opposite of grace. This is hard, cruel law, devoid of love, compassion or understanding. Grace understands that different people have different abilities. Some parents can raise 8, 9 or 14 children and provide the needed attention, training and love. Some women are able to give birth to many children without losing their health. Other women struggle after one or two children. Some families have children with special needs that require many times more attention than most kids. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how many children you should have. Preaching that there is places the future of many people at risk.

Faithful women 12faithful women 13

Oh my, how insulting can you be in three paragraphs?

First is the assumption that a wife can only add to the husband’s income. That’s kinda funny for my family, because my wife actually makes more money than I do (it turns out that formal education actually does make a difference, and having a master’s degree is enough to bump you up a pay grade).

Second, it’s interesting that there is no IBLP material that suggests men supplement the family income via “home crafts.” This hearkens back to issues I brought up with David Gibbs Junior, and the way he made fun of a female doctor, as though her gender prevented her from practicing medicine. Because, in IBLP world, being female means that you really are only good for certain things. You’re only good for having babies, and encouraging other women to have babies. And if all those babies put strain on your budget, you’re only real option is to knit potholders, because the 1950s really were the greatest time in the history of ever.

Well, we’ve finished the ten reason why your church should start this ministry. The rest of the booklet lays out a plan for finding the correct woman to run this ministry and training her to run it. I’m not going to take the time to go through everything as thoroughly as I have up this point, or we’ll be in this booklet forever. I’ll just take time to grab a few pieces of crazy and hold it up for us all to laugh at.

Here’s a good one; the older woman who will minister to younger women in your church “must have inward radiant beauty.” Wow. How, exactly do you determine who has this radiant beauty? I wonder if this search for inwardly beautiful woman might not tempt pastors (who, as we have been told in the past, are oh so weak in this area.)

Wow…one of items on the checklists for pastors is to “be deeply convinced by the Holy Spirit that the training of faithful women is not an option.” Is it just me, or is the impetus for the moving of the Holy Spirit placed on the wrong party?

At the end of the booklet we are given a schedule for how to train this first “faithful woman.” It’s pretty funny. At the first meeting (which you cannot arrange; your wife must call this lady and schedule the meeting. Also, your wife has to be there for every meeting, but she has no actual role in any of the meetings) you are to give this woman an assignment, such as reading a book or memorizing some Scripture. Tell her to call your wife (not you) when she’s done her homework. I can’t help but laugh at the mental image of a young pastor calling an older woman into his office and giving her homework like a 6th grade kid.

At the second meeting, you are supposed to ask her how she became a Christian, and then “ask her if she desires to be totally dedicated to God’s will.” If she answers “yes” (yea, they really put the word yes in quotation marks), then you give her…ANOTHER HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT! It’s a 4 question form that they’ve provided for you, and it’s literally the most boring type of reading comprehension questions that you encounter in 4th grade Sunday School. (Actual quote: “Whom has God chosen to teach young women? Answer: Titus 2:3-4.”)

At the third meeting, you give her more homework! This time it’s a “personal spiritual evaluation” (how convenient that such a form precludes the need to observe and test a person’s fruits!) and a form on which this poor woman can write down a bunch of goals for you to judge. There’s also a special NOTE (in all caps, just like that), telling you to be certain that you have not made any commitments to spending time with this women up to this point. I guess she’s still on trial.

Oh boy! The fourth meeting! This is the meeting in which you actually explain your purpose in meeting with her all these times!  I guess you have to be sure that she’ll put up with loads of BS before you let her in on the deep, dark secret that you want her help in the women’s ministry at your church?

Oh, this is rich. They don’t actually tell you when to use this form, but there’s actually an evaluation form that you are supposed to fill out. This will help you decide if this woman is perfect enough to invest time in.

Pre-training evaluation

Honestly, what self-respecting woman would allow her pastor to treat her like this?

I’m not dead!

Greetings, my dear readers! You must be one extremely loyal fanbase to be reading this after 2 months of hearing nary a peep from me. I promise I am not dead, and I have no intention of letting this blog die either.

The past two months have been extremely busy. I won’t bore you with all the details, but my daughter was born in mid-December, so a great deal of my time has been taken up with caring for the cutest little person in the history of ever. On top of that, I left Taiwan on Jan 21st with 15 junior high students in tow, and we spent 27 days in Central Wisconsin doing a cultural exchange program. Between caring for 16 more kids than I am used to caring for, trying to visit with family while in the States, and desperately throwing together BS to submit for my online classes, there wasn’t much time for throwing out bath water.

But don’t fear! We’ll be back at it quite soon. As soon as I publish this post, I will be working on the final post discussing Gothard’s Training Faithful Women. After finishing that, I’m very excited about doing a series looking at Gothard’s views on depression. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a quote from my good friend, minister/author Jamey Gilliland. Jamey is not familiar with Gothard or IBLP, but he had this to say after doing some research:

…I have some concerns. Even though Gothard has a phd, he is not a biblical scholar based on his writing processes. His method is isegetical, rather than exegetical, and illustrates no knowledge of covenant theology and the relationship of law and grace in the New Testament era. His seminars are formulaic with multi step quick fixes devoid of orthodox substantive explanation. His writings also seem opportunistic to the nonissues of the day. Gothard is dogmatic to his own personal subjective standards and many of his followers I have read about are confused doctrinally and divisive ecumenically. A byproduct of his teachings seem to lead to feelings of exclusiveness, elitism, and isolationism. Gothard gives himself permission to be the mouth piece of scripture’s silence. Typically when the Orthodox Church sees silence, we imply freedom. Gothard sees silence and imposes law and thus becomes a law unto himself. On his teaching of grace in the book, “the advanced seminar textbook,” he defines grace completely wrong. His definition is heretical at best and blasphemous at worst.

New Arrival!

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This is one baby we’re certainly not going to throw out with the bath water! Lórien Bavido was born December 17th at 1:13 am (Taiwan time). Her Chinese name  means “gentle grace.” Mommy is doing well, and we are all glad to be home together.

Posts may be sporadic over the next month or so; I’ve got something very special to distract me!

Below is a picture taken with our wonderful pastor (who preaches about the importance of understand context when reading Scripture, and about how Jesus drank alcohol!) and his lovely wife. I’ll leave you with a link to Lórien’s favorite song. 

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