ATI’s “Sex Ed” Curriculum: Silencing Victims and Excusing Sex Crime
By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator
I recently received a set of first edition Advanced Training Institute Wisdom Booklets – thanks to the generous scrounging of an HA community member. I distinctly remembered a volume of the WBs (Wisdom Booklets) that dealt with sexuality, lust, and immoral sexual activity. At the time, it left me more confused than anything. I thought married couples literally could not catch or spread a venereal disease. My sexual education from the WBs did not include anything on consent or rape, and it placed much of the burden of lustful thoughts on the seductive powers of scantily clad women. While I cannot say with any certainty that the Duggars received the same sexual education I did, our shared curriculum in the WBs and Bill Gothard’s teachings were at least our shared base line for “sexual education.” Ironically, it was the coverage of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky that prompted me to ask “what is rape?” and not a concept I learned from my sexual education.
A foundational point in ATI and Gothard’s sexual ethic is a lack of agency for men and women as a powerful temptation.Women were saddled with the majority of the responsibly for men’s “lustful” thoughts. Gothard’s characterization of women meant that their immodesty compelled men to sexualize, harass, or assault them.
One of Gothard’s big things was for families to have “bible time” in the mornings, which consisted of reading a Proverb each day of the month, then a handful of Psalms. Proverbs 7 (KJV was what ATI mandated) was always emphasized by my parents, and it describes a young man being tempted and literally led down a dark alley to have sex with a woman of the night. The woman is described as wearing “the attire of an harlot.” Her participation in the public sphere is key to her function as a temptation, and “her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.” The chapter constantly emphasizes the woman “catching” the man, convincing him to “take our fill of love… with her fair speech.” Despite the highly sensual details provided by the author, the consequences of participating in such actions are clear:
He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter… Many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.
Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths.
The message of Proverbs 7 is echoed by ATI’s Wisdom Booklet #24, which focuses on lust, temptation, and provided the basics for sexual education for thousands of ATI students.
A full copy of the volume is included at the bottom of this post, and I will discuss excerpts. ATI and Gothard always encouraged families to apply their WB lessons to everyday life. My parents decided the teachings of this volume meant I shouldn’t play rec-league soccer on a team with girls (I was 16). Wisdom Booklet 24 focused on Matthew 5:27-28, which reads:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Much like Proverbs 7, this WB wanted to emphasize the physical dangers that can come from lusting. However, in typical Gothard fashion, the WB claimed that envisioning an act three times had the same effect on your body and soul as doing the action. Not only can imaginative lusting equal fornication, but the WB claims that lusting can actually make you a violent criminal. “As a result [of lusting], the glands and other bodily functions are activated, and the level of testosterone increases. Recent studies revealed a significant correlation between high testosterone levels and those who commit violent crimes.” I’m not here to say I know what was going on in Josh Duggar’s mind all those years ago, but I can tell you what I felt when I was taught these things as a teenager.
This teaching really messed me up. I assumed I was no better than a sex criminal because I had sexual thoughts. If I wanted to be with a girl, I was no better than a violent rapist. Sexual thoughts are natural for pubescent teens, and making them feel their life and soul are in literal danger by even thinking these thoughts fucks you up. How is it productive sex education to tell young people that they might as well commit the act if they are going to think about it three times?
Another glaring error in the text is the lack of any discussion of consent. In the chapter where we translated the original Greek and made all sorts of assumptions about God, called “How Does the Greek Confirm the Dangers of Partners’ Defiling Their Marriage By Lust?,” there are a number of terms defined, including: honorable, undefiled, fornicator, adulterer, judge, lewdness, lechery, lust, prolifigacy, abandonment, depravity, perversion, dissipation, dissolution, vice, and profanity (all terms defined in the context of marriage). But where is consent? Where is “marital rape” in this list of terms? Michelle Duggar is outspoken about her beliefs on a wife’s subservient role and need to be sexually available to her husband. ATI’s curriculum would have taught no different.
And just to make sure you are grasping the slippery slope put forth by the text – thinking about immorality three times is just as bad as doing it. Immorality is entirely defined by scripture verses and does not address things like consent or marital rape. The Wisdom Booklet’s “History Resource” profiled Hilter, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Karl Marx, and Nietzsche. You guessed it, each one of these people were characterized by how their immorality led them astray or ended up with genocide. Next in history, we learned about how immorality led to the collapse of the Maya, Incas, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire. In the Math section, we learned how to “visualize the consequences of lust” with visual graphs.
The “Science Resource” chapter further emphasized the role of women as active “trappers.” The chapter is entirely on different kinds of traps used animal trappers and it begins with “How Do Trappers Illustrate the Enticements Which Satan Uses to Appeal to our Lusts?” This language is borrowed directly from Proverbs 7, which says the seductress “perfumed [her] bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.” Throughout this volume, men are the presumed focus of the lust and women are the dangerous seducing forces that can lead to the collapse of civilizations.
As Wende discussed yesterday, many of Gothard’s teachings explain that victims of sexual abuse may be at fault for being abused. This image has been making the rounds through mainstream media. Its horribly offensive and damaging message are reiterated in other information like this that redirects responsibility for assault to “immodest” victims. Wisdom Book 24 covers this very topic on page 1130. “God’s Laws on Nakedness Begin with Modesty in the Home” begins the section:
The requirement for modesty among family members is given in Leviticus 18. Twenty-four times in this chapter, God’s people are commanded not to “uncover their nakedness” to those near of kin. Whether this refers to an incestuous relationship or nakedness alone, the fact is clear that indecency as well as immorality is forbidden.
Gothard’s insistence on a literal interpretation of Levitical law informs his sexual ethic. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 also advocates stoning raped women “because she cried not.”
If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you
Right on queue, WB24 throws in a graphic image of someone being stoned “for incestuous relationships.” It’s no stretch to say that ATI and Gothard continually pushed the idea that victims were, at least partially, at fault for their abuse.
The closest WB24 gets to actual sex education is the medical section on venereal diseases. However, even this led to very basic confusion about how one can acquire a VD.
Venereal diseases are transmitted primarily by a corruption of God’s design for love. When man violates God’s design for marriage and follows his own lustful desires, he suffers grave consequences to his own health.
The section, and WB24, ends with an admonition to “identify the medical consequences of lust,” once again equating mental fantasies with physical consequences. The supposed impacts are VDs, and each sub-heading of the chapter is matched to the appropriate Bible verse.
The distortions of the idea of appropriate sexual relations and consent by WB24 are inexcusable. Men are characterized as dominated by fleeting lust, which are irresistibly stoked by the dress of girls or women. Even family members not excused from discussion by ATI, thus family members are subsumed into the “seductress” category. If a father molests his children, perhaps they are to blame. Such is the thinking proposed by Gothard. Looking back, it’s easy to see how this philosophy can lead to serial sexual abuse because men are relieved of much of their responsibility for their actions, while just lusting is as bad as actually doing the act. Leading many men to think they are beyond help, consumed by their desires. So instead of dealing with them, they repress them, and it only makes it more difficult to deal with what may have begun as natural sexual urges.
I can see just in my own life how this thinking impacted my sexual ethic and ideas of consent at a young age. It made me think that masturbating made me as perverse as sex criminals. I talked with a friend of mine and we would confess our “sins of lust”, and I saw us as struggling with similar burdens. His burden meant he took advantage of underage girls, mine was masturbating in my bed. ATI and Bill Gothard taught me those things were just as bad.
In my many conversations with ATI survivors, sexual abuse is too often a topic of discussion. One woman I talked with was abused as a child, and her family not only blamed her for it, but held exorcisms. They convinced her the demons inside her were “making” men abuse her. Agency and responsibility are replaced by pseudoscience and utterly incomprehensible logic about sex and sexual desire. Gothard used this system to groom his victims, to shame them into silence, to make them afraid to speak up. Why? Because they might have been responsible for the abuse.
Full copy of Wisdom Booklet #24: