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Former Plaintiffs in Bill Gothard Abuse Lawsuit Hit Back at Institute in Basic Life Principles’ Statement to NBC News

Old allegations of sexual abuse at Texas-based Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) recently resurfaced in an NBC News story tracing the ministry’s longstanding ties to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar of “19 Kids and Counting” fame, who once homeschooled their children under the IBLP’s Advanced Training Institute curriculum.

The NBC News story, published Feb. 6, highlights the ministry’s many scandals since its peak as one of the most popular seminar hosts in the evangelical Christian community. Chief among those scandals were the abuse allegations that led IBLP founder and former president, Bill Gothard, to resign in 2014 after a short administrative leave.

Anticipating the NBC News report’s release, IBLP preemptively posted a statement responding to the reporter’s inquiries. The post quickly prompted a counter-statement from three of Gothard’s former accusers.

IBLP’s statement, dated Jan. 29, attempted to address a range of issues, from Gothard’s controversial teachings to IBLP’s income sources. On the subject of abuse, IBLP stated it “would never condone nor do we tolerate abuse of anyone,” and, “the information IBLP has about those who participate in IBLP programs is limited and IBLP does not comment on the personal lives of its program participants.”

On Feb. 5, three former plaintiffs in a 2015 civil suit about the abuse allegations published a paragraph-by-paragraph commentary countering the ministry’s narrative. The Medium post was written by Rachel Frost, Charis Barker, and Rachel Lees, who were among the 10-plus plaintiffs alleging sexual, physical, and psychological abuse by Gothard and his organization. The lawsuit alleged that much of the abuse occurred while the victims—many of whom were minors at the time—received unsupervised counseling from IBLP employees, and the ministry failed to stop the abuse despite knowing about it. Ultimately, though, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit in 2018, citing the statute of limitations and other complexities in the case.

Frost tells MinistryWatch that the IBLP’s media statement contains many “manipulations and distortions of the truth” and it “made many of us who knew the inside story sad and angry that the most they can offer is ‘no comment’ after decades worth of alleged abuse within their organization.”

Frost is referring to IBLP’s line stating that the lawsuit was “voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs during the discovery stage, specifically during the period when evidence was being exchanged between the parties.” It also said “because of a protective and confidentiality order, IBLP cannot comment on the identity of the unnamed plaintiffs and has no comment with respect to the claims alleged.”

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The plaintiffs, however, deny the existence of a protective or confidentiality order from the judge and say IBLP misstated other facts about the case.

“Plaintiffs turned over everything, including their entire Facebook accounts as legally requested. IBLP, on the other hand, refused to produce most of what was legally requested, including the internal (sham) investigation done in 2014, claiming ‘attorney/client privilege,’” they wrote in their counter-statement. “…[T]he voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit had to do with a threatened countersuit and the high emotional toll and revictimization through the lawsuit process which was keenly felt. This caused key plaintiffs (ones still within the Statutes of Limitations) to drop out, affecting the case as a whole.”

According to court documents filed in the suit, Frost had previously participated in IBLP programs, later served as an intern and employee, and was present at the headquarters where the abuse occurred between 1992 and 1995. Barker was also a participant and intern-turned-employee involved with the ministry from 1986 to 2001. Lees participated in the Advanced Training Institute home education program for over a decade and was Gothard’s personal secretary from 1992 to 1993.

Frost says that despite being known by the board of directors and otherwise holding respected reputations within the organization, not once has the ministry reached out to the victims personally. She added that IBLP’s media statement on Jan. 29 served as the catalyst for an overdue response.

“A direct public response to IBLP has been brewing in our hearts and minds for a while,” Frost says. “Their stance of distancing themselves from Gothard, but continuing to deny wrong-doing and promote his teaching is bewildering, to say the least.”

Asked about the public’s response to the Medium post, Frost mentioned some have said the group’s criticism of Gothard’s teachings is outdated and that his more controversial views are not included in the current curriculum. But she argues that point is irrelevant, and the ministry should still be responsible for its materials.

“They were widely distributed to families, youth, pastors, and homeschooling conferences for several decades and have been repackaged since then,” Frost says. “This multiplied the teachings’ exposure and damage by thousands (if not millions) and nothing has been done by IBLP to mitigate that damage—or denounce or retract these teachings. Therefore, they are still very much responsible for them.”

Frost added, “Perhaps some people would also dismiss IBLP and its teachings as ‘fringe,’ but we believe these cancerous teachings and ideas have spread into conservative Christianity in America. We don’t think the depth of influence that this organization has had in homes and churches across the country can be overemphasized.”

MinistryWatch attempted to reach IBLP for comment on the former plaintiffs’ counter-statement, but the organization did not respond.

Separately, IBLP’s media statement touches on a few issues MinistryWatch raised in late-December about the ministry’s financial dealings. In reviewing IBLP’s Form 990 filings dating back to the early-2000s, we found several abnormalities in its revenue and salary/wage expenses. For example, much of its income is tied to an unspecified “other revenue” line in its Form 990s. (For that story also, MinistryWatch tried to reach the IBLP for an interview, but the organization did not respond.)

But in its statement to NBC News, IBLP attempted to address questions around its revenue, stating, “IBLP’s income is from donations, conference fees, and from the occasional sale of unused capital assets such as real estate (other revenue). Program and conference fees are less than in the days of the large crowds who attended basic seminars around the country. IBLP has now made that teaching available for free online.”

Shannon Cuthrell

Shannon Cuthrell is a journalist with a background covering business, technology and economic development. She has written for Business North Carolina magazine, WRAL TechWire, Charlotte Inno and EE Power, among other publications.