The founder of a homeschooling empire championed by reality TV's Duggar family and Sarah Palin, Bill Gothard resigned earlier this year amid accusations that he molested dozens of women. No one, he says, was more instrumental to his now-controversial ministry than the family behind Hobby Lobby.
Mother Jones' David Corn and Molly Redden published a detailed investigation this morning showing that long before the Green family—which owns Hobby Lobby—fought to avoid covering contraception for its insured employees, it gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and real estate to Gothard and his controversial theocratic fundamentalist Baptist movement.
Considered by many mainstream Christians to be a cult, Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles has for decades advocated a cloistered, rigid conservative approach to raising children in Christ—which interested parties can learn about by paying, Scientology-style, for successive lectures, videos, seminars, and isolated boot camp-style experiences. Gothard is also associated with Quiverfull, a fringe movement championed by Jim and Michelle Duggar (of 19 Kids and Counting fame) that advocates wifely submission and mandates plentiful procreation and sees all forms of birth control as sinful—a philosophy that is not shared by most mainline Protestants.
Gothard tells Mother Jones that his ties with Hobby Lobby's Green family have been indispensable to his work. "The secret of their success is their generosity," he said, adding: "They're friends. I see and talk to them periodically."
The basis of that friendship—forged when family members attended an IBLP seminar—has been massive giving:
In 2001, the Greens, through a family trust, sold Gothard's group a 2,250-acre campus in Big Sandy, Texas, for $10. The campus, which has a landing strip and aircraft hangar, now houses the Institute's International ALERT Academy, a boot camp where young men train in disaster response techniques. The academy also runs a program for girls 15 and older. The website for that program notes that "skirts are required to encourage the girls to remain feminine in an active lifestyle." The application—under the heading "mental health"—asks girls if they are struggling with "day dreaming," "fantasy," or "lustful thoughts."
In 2000, Hobby Lobby donated a 529,717-square-foot building in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Gothard's outfit. The company had purchased this property, a former Veterans Affairs building, two years earlier for $299,000. The Institute now runs a prison ministry out of this location, providing curriculum to a faith-based Arkansas Department of Corrections program known as Principles and Applications for Life. For about a decade, according to Gothard, the Institute leased the ground floor of the building for $1 per year to the Little Rock Police Department for use as its downtown station. Now, Gothard says, the police are paying a regular rental fee.
In Nashville, the Institute operates a training center in a former hospital that Gothard says Hobby Lobby purchased for his group. Public records show that in 2005 a corporation affiliated with Hobby Lobby sold the facility to the Institute for $10. The Nashville Business Journal reported that Hobby Lobby bought the building for $3.5 million. It currently houses theEmbassy Institute, where the Institute in Basic Life Principles hosts many seminars.
The Green family, according to Gothard, also "bought a training center in New Zealand and gave it to us." He says that by providing the institute with these facilities, the Greens and their company "really helps with the bottom line."
But the largesse of the Green family—which also famously bailed out Oral Roberts University after Roberts' son was accused of tax irregularities and misuse of donations—may have contributed to Gothard's cult of personality, which former members say led him to take whatever he wanted from his mostly young, mostly female assistants and disciples:
Gothard made national news in March when he resigned from the Institute after a website posted the accounts of more than 30 women who accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. One of his accusers said he molested her when she was 17. In a statement he issued in April, Gothard noted, "God has brought me to a place of greater brokenness than at any other time in my life…I have asked the Lord to reveal the underlying causes and He is doing this." Gothard further stated, "My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong." But he claimed, "I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent." Testimonials of the accusers, which include tales of creepy and harrowing encounters with Gothard, suggest otherwise. (Here's an example submitted by a woman who alleged he fondled her.)
Gothard has continued his personal witnessing even after he was forced to leave his own ministry and the Duggars distanced themselves from him; his website says he's "dedicated to helping youth and families make wise decisions." He tells Mother Jones he's not guilty of anything, but he's apologized nonetheless. Survivors of the movement are not buying it.
For its part, the Green family hasn't commented on its relationship to Gothard, IBLP, or Quiverfull. But an Amazon listing for one of Gothard's books still includes a glowing endorsement from Hobby Lobby CEO David Green. "Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business," Green writes. "It is as we take those lessons from God's Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends."