Redefining realiity

One of the warning signs that you have come into contact with a cult is the need to learn an entirely new vocabulary. Common words are redefined, and concepts that are inherently contradictory are said to be the same thing. Scientology is scarily good at this, and is famous for requiring students to study with a Scientology dictionary in hand, looking up any terms they don’t understand to get their unique definition of each one. I was intrigued by the section on “cult speak” on this website (please note that I haven’t read the entire page and I can’t vouch for the credibility of it’s author. But what he says about cult speak rings very true of IBLP.)

So today we’re looking at a couple pages from the Advanced Siminar booklet. I’m afraid I don’t know that much about this particular resources: it was a large notebook passed from one of my father’s mentors onto him many years ago. A handwritten note in the cover mentions a seminar in Dallas, TX in 1975. The materials obviously pre-date ATI (no mention of homeschooling is made, and many examples speak as though the reader would be in a school setting), and some of the terminology was later changed by Gothard (for example, “chain of command” was later changed to “umbrella of protection,” although no real changes were made in the teachings.)  What caught my eye when glancing through it was the 4 pages of “operational definitions.” Some of them make sense, but others are downright scary. Let’s take a look.


Ok, this one is interesting to examine, considering that my last post was titled “I’m Angry.”

So,if you are angry, it’s because there are rights that you have not given to God. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, Gothard spends a great deal of time in his Basic Seminar explaining how it is important that we give up our rights. Christ gave us his rights when he came to this Earth, and we should give up our rights as well.

The problem with this thinking is that it primes people for abuse. Instead of learning about healthy limits, and how to recognize when they were being used, ATI students were taught to treat every wrongdoing as an opportunity to “give up rights.” This is extremely dangerous in the exact type of situations that people at Headquarters and Training Centers often had to face: refusal to pay overtime, solitary confinement for rule infractions, unwanted advances from leaders.

This definition portrays anger as a sign of sin on the part of the one who is angry, regardless of the situation. Imagine applying this definition when someone was angry over the murder of a loved one, angry about sexual abuse in their past, or angry about a pastor who ran off with the church’s money. In each of these situations, anger is seen as a sign that something is wrong with the person who is angry. That’s just sick.

Let’s look at the Scripture verses listed after the definition, because people often glance at the references, assume the Bible supports Gothard’s point, and move on. This is dangerous, because Gothard is not above twisting Scripture, as we can see here.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: (Eph 4:26)

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice (Eph 4:21)

See? The Bible tell us to be angry (with a warning not to sin while being angry), and Gothard uses that Scripture to support his idea that anger is always a sign of sin. The second verse has absolutely nothing to do with the definition that Gothard has just given us; it’s just a random verse that happens to reference anger.


Nothing about understanding the other person, nothing about conveying accurate information; nope, this is plain and simple manipulation. I include this one not because it’s so terribly dangerous, but because it’s an interesting insight into what Gothard sees himself as doing. To him, communication is not about two (or more) people coming to understand each other. Rather, it’s about one person with an objective, and the way he achieves that objective.

Oh, and that verse in Proverbs? Again, just a random verse about talking.

The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness. (Prov. 15:2)


One-way, much? This is a power-play, plain and simple. You have to conform to my tastes, and I’m not required to do anything. This becomes particularly terrifying when you consider the “chain of command” authority structure Gothard envisions for families; a wife has no alternative but to bow her head, forget her personal preferences and “limit (her) freedom” to conform to whatever her husband demands. In a healthy relationship, that’s not too horrible of a thing. This teaching in the hands of an abuser, or a control-freak, is extremely damaging.

I read this to my wife this morning, and she just about flipped out. The issue here (and in so much of purity culture) is that it places a completely impossible burden on women. Intention doesn’t come into the picture at all. If, by her mere existence, a girl “causes” a man to lust, she is defrauding. The focus is taken off of the inappropriate actions of a man who is ogling someone, and places the focus on someone whose most serious crime might be nothing more than existing in the body that God gave her.


Never mind “weep with those who weep.” If you have discretion, you will know exactly how to preach Gothard’s talking points!

Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee (Prov 2:11)

Notice how that verse has nothing at all to do with applying principles?

Dissolving Expectations

This is a strange teaching of Gothard which boils down to don’t have an opinion. If you are seeking God’s direction on a matter (and keep in mind that this is to be done by going to your “authorities”), then you should bring yourself to a point that you are ok with being “led” (told to go) in either direction.

This is dangerous because personal opinions and preferences matter. They are important. They are part of what make you an individual. A person without preferences is not a healthy person. And more importantly, a person taught to suppress their preferences, and taught that they must always follow the directives of those in authority is ripe for abuse.


What? No,no, and…What? This isn’t what equity means; it isn’t even close to what equity means! Equity is “the quality of being fair and impartial.” You can’t just declare that a word suddenly means something totally different than what it actually means. And tacking some irrelevant verse on the end doesn’t mean you have good reason to make words mean whatever you want them to.

There are several more “definitions” that I’d like to look at (did you know that frustration means you have failed?), but it’s getting late, so those will have to wait for another time. My bed is calling me! Be sure to like us on Facebook or follow on Twitter so you don’t miss part two!


Rock music might cause teenagers to communicate with their parents. The horror!

A few notes before beginning today:

The counseling booklet that blames rape victims and declares them “guilty” is still for sale.

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has written about some of the advice found in the Advanced Seminar textbook. It’s worth a read. If you aren’t familiar with her blog, be sure to check it out. Her series examining Debbie Pearl’s Created To Be His Help Meet was the primary inspiration for this blog.

Today we’re looking at Gothard’s summarization and response to an article in a Christian magazine that encourages teens to have open, honest dialogues with their parents about music. First, let’s see what the article says:Article 1

Article 2

Overall, this seems like some pretty good advice. Perhaps it’s a tad superficial, but hey, it’s still good advice. Now let’s take a moment and address some of the comments that Gothard just had to insert.

These insertions really are interesting. Gothard takes half a page to respond to the article, yet he still felt the need to insert his opinion three times before the quote is even finished. It’s almost like he doesn’t want us to actually let our guard down and think about what they’re saying. He’s like that kid who can’t stand by quietly while his brother tells his side of the story.

And what upsets him so much he must interrupt with his own thoughts?  First he’s upset that these tips come from conversation with three teenagers, rather than coming from Scripture. It’s hilarious that this comment comes right after Gothard has given us testimonies from three teenagers. That’s legitimately funny. But on a serious note, why is it a bad idea for Christians to talk to other Christians about life? One Christian spoke to three other Christians and said, “Hey, do you have any tips for other Christians on how to foster better communication among people?” How is this wrong? Isn’t this one of the advantages of the body of Christ; that we are able to offer advice and ideas to each other?

The second thing that Gothard has to comment on is how this article is advising kids to “be thoughtful of others.” In Gothard’s mind, this is inappropriate teaching; being obedient to parents is much more important than being thoughtful.

I find this fascinating because, ever since the Adrian Peterson scandal broke, a number of bloggers have been talking about the topic of disciple in general, and the goal of parenting in particular. Is the goal of parenting to create obedient children, or encourage children to become empathetic, considerate and responsible? To give a somewhat simplified example, is it more important for a child to take out the garbage because his mom told him to, or because he understands that it will improve the quality of life for the family? (Here’s a good blog post on the topic, if you’re interested.)

Gothard comes firmly down on the side of obedience here, and I really have to wonder why. Blind obedience is a seriously dangerous thing. “I was just doing what I was told!” is a refrain we hear all too often every time a military scandal breaks. Shouldn’t we be much more concerned with raising children who can assess a situation and choose a course of action because it’s the right thing to do, rather than because they were told to? Isn’t that what we expect from those children once they are adults? If so, why train them to do one thing, and later expect another?

The third thing Gothard has to interject is a comment about how rock music is difficult to understand. This is just funny, considering how difficult some of the music produced by the Institute is to understand. Listen to this one, starting at about 1:20. Please don’t think I’m saying there’s anything wrong with that music; I’m actually quite a fan. But it’s the height of hypocrisy to sell that music, and complain that other people listen to music you can’t understand.

Finally, something has to be said about the letters that Gothard is putting in bold here. The last sentence is interesting; “Your goal is to communicate to your parents why your music is important to you.” It’s hard to say exactly why these words are placed in bold (until you read further in the booklet), but it seems clear that Gothard takes issue with the idea of children having their own, individual goals or tastes. He implies that when a teenager speaks to a parent, it is somehow wrong for the young person to have a goal. He implies that it is somehow wrong (sinful, even) for a teenager to have his own tastes in music. It is wrong for his music to be important to him.

This thinking is so wrong, so twisted, that I’m not sure how to explain it. A perfect child in Gothard’s world doesn’t have an opinion, and doesn’t have personal taste. They don’t consider musical styles and select one that speaks to them; they robotically listen to the music their parents want. These children never have an opinion, and even if they did, they would never dare to speak to their parents about that opinion.

This is how we are supposed to raise children who are “mighty in spirit”? This is a recipe for raising children who have no identity, no concept of self outside of their parents. What a terrifying idea!

Now let’s take apart some of Gothard’s half-page response to the article.

Article 3

Article 4

“The writer is very aware that many parents of teenagers are not in favor of the music which their sons and daughters are playing.”

So? What’s that got to do with..well…anything at all?  Remember, Gothard is giving Scriptural reasons why rock music is evil in any form. What does some people not liking rock music have to do with that?

“What appalling counsel to say, ‘Be willing to listen to your parents’ music. If you parents are willing to listen to your music, it’s nice to meet them halfway.’”

Is it just me, or does this not really count as “appalling counsel”? It seems that “appalling” might be better used to describe this.

“Deception is encouraged by urging the young people to ‘choose carefully the songs to play for them…’”

This is deception? Telling teenagers to think about how to best present something that is important to them is telling them to lie? Wow.

“To say that ‘different generations tend to like different types of music’ is totally disregards the destructive nature of the ‘rock beat.’ This statement also disregards the true meaning of deference. Deference is limiting my freedom in order not to offend the tastes of those God has called me to serve.”

Umm…nope, that’s not what deference means. Deference is “a way of behaving that shows respect for someone or something.” You don’t get to just redefine the English language whenever you want to, Mr. Gothard. Deference is must more than just limiting my freedom; it can also mean respecting a person’s mind enough to discuss a topic you might disagree on. And you don’t get away with talking about the “destructive nature” of rock music just yet; all you’ve done so far is tell us about three teenagers who had negative experiences. You have to present real evidence before you can talk like the case is already closed.

“The conclusion of the article is a blatant defiance of parental authority: ‘Don’t expect too much; you may not convert them to your style of music…your goal is to communicate to your parents why your music is important to you.’”

And there you have it folks, straight from the horse’s mouth; a desire to communicate to your parents why something is important to you is “blatant defiance.”