The Bible is Not Your Shield

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CC image courtesy of Flickr, louisebatesuk.

By Shade, H.A. Editorial Team

Recently, Bill Gothard was hosted by Total Outreach for Christ Ministries in Little Rock, AR for the 2016 Overcomer’s Conference. Based on the knowledge that he is an alleged sexual predator, someone contacted the church’s bishop, Bishop Robert E. Smith, with their concerns that they were having someone like Gothard speak at their church.

The response from the bishop was telling. Referencing I Timothy 5:19, which is a companion to Matthew 18:15-17‘s directives to always confront privately first, and then with witnesses. But the question remains ‘Should we be confronting those who have committed crimes as though they are just sins and offenses?’.

matt18 bishop smith

The text reads:

Brother Brandon, I am at somewhat of a disadvantage, not knowing you personally, nor being privy to your first-hand knowledge of an Elder’s (Bill Gothard’s) sin(s). I am instructed, ‘Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses’ (1 Timothy 5:19). If you are a witness against this elder, please gather one or two others who are first hand witnesses and schedule an appointment to sit down with me, and do according to God’s word. Until such time, where I am concerned, you stand in violation both of scripture, where Brother Gothard is concerned, and having not pointed out any discrepancies in my teachings, etc. your judgement of my character, discernment, and ministry is faulty at best. I await your biblical response; no other type of correspondences are necessary.

In Christ Jesus,

 

Bishop Robert E. Smith, Sr.

The patriarchal nature of the Bill Gothard/ATI/IBLP cult is such that leaders are unassailable in their directives, their actions, their lives. There is a tendency to dismiss accusations such as these as merely ‘offenses’. This allows the leader who is being confronted to make it appear as though the accuser is mentally unstable, unable to parse the differences between good and evil. It paints the accuser as petty, overly emotional, unbelievable.

It leaves us with no recourse.

We are not believed, because we either have no witnesses, or all the witnesses in question are ‘offended’. Being offended brings into question the Umbrella of Authority, in which men are the ultimate leaders and voices for God. According to this umbrella idea, there are 3 levels of ‘protection’. The first is God’s role in our lives. He is the ultimate controlling power.

The second is the man’s role, as father/husband to the family. His authority comes directly from God. The third is that of the wife/mother’s umbrella. It is nestled completely underneath the man’s umbrella. She is to be subordinate, submissive completely to the husband. He is God’s voice to her at all times.

Underneath these umbrellas are the children. They are completely covered by both the mother’s and father’s umbrellas, and then by God. The authority of the mother is over them, but her authority is always trumped by the father’s authority. To question the father is to question God. God’s umbrella and the father’s umbrella are often seen as the same thing.

This same umbrella is applied to authority structures within the church.

Everything is a cascading layer of how God talks to one man, and that is to trickle down into complete abject obedience by those underneath. There is no freedom, no sense of self.

It is within this structure that Matthew 18:15-17, and I Timothy 5:19 come into play. With the focus being on ‘sin’ and ‘offense’, the diminishing language leaves those of us who have accusations with little ground to stand upon.  has quite a lot to say about this in his article “If your brother sins against you”….and he’s a sex offender.

In it, he delineates the difference between a sin and a crime, and says,

Such offenses are rightly under the jurisdiction of the governing authorities.  In the New Testament book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that Christ followers are to be subject to the civil authorities.  He writes, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  He even mentions that the role of government is to punish evildoers.  Child sexual abuse is an evil that has been rightly deemed to be criminal by the civil authorities.  Therefore, those who profess to follow Jesus have the responsibility to make sure that a person accused of committing such a crime is subjected to those governing authorities – which includes making a police report and cooperating throughout the criminal justice process.

Based on this, one would assume that the first step would be calling the authorities with information about a crime committed, but I think this first goes back to language.

First, they need to admit that this is a crime, not an offense, not a sin. With this revelation, more responsibility is laid upon the authority in question to listen to those accusing another member of a crime. It brings into play the mandatory reporting laws. It requires them to ‘render unto Caesar’ their trust and confidences in bringing the person accused to justice.

The verses that were used here to hide behind are not being used in their entirety. I Timothy 5:19 has companion verses that make this a complete thought. I Timothy 5: 20-21 says:

But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

The first verse (20) referenced from I Timothy 5 clearly instructs believers to make public the accusations that are being brought against an elder, so that all will know. In the case of abuse, the only way to make sure the abuse is stopped is to make it public. The more people that know, the less likely it is that it could continue. Knowledge is power. In order to burn down the systems that perpetuate abuse, it needs to be made public.

The second verse (21) makes it clear that no favoritism should be employed when dealing with an elder, or authority figure, that has abused. By invoking the Umbrella of Authority, favoritism is being used. Because to question or accuse a male authority figure is to question God Himself. This is expressly forbidden within this patriarchal structure.

Matthew 18 also contains this passage in verses 6-9:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Surely it cannot be anymore plain, that committing abuse of any kind against a child is an offense that angers the God of the Bible. Not only does it say that it is better if these people would die, it goes further to state that removal of the offending part of the body is necessary to protect the rest of the soul.

Based on these two passages, it is plain to see that there is far more responsibility on the listener to hear and believe the accused. In attempting to hide behind the Bible’s directives about confrontation, they expose their own biases.

They are not reading, nor following, their own Bible’s commands.

Their own Bible commands that no favoring of elders is to be shown, especially when being confronted with ‘sin’. And by ‘sin’ in this case, we mean crime. Abuse is a crime committed against those who are vulnerable. They are made even more so by the very authority structures put into place by things like the Umbrella of Authority.

This umbrella means it is nearly impossible for us to confront our abusers.

They enjoy impunity, complete power over our lives. In order to confront, we would need to have unquestionable sources, and the only ones who are not questionable are the ones who are in authority in the first place. And within that system, the ones who have power are greatly unwilling to be either questioned, or to have their authority in any way diminished.

They stick together, they believe each other over victims. Even though their own Bible commands that they listen to victims, that committing abuse against children especially is abhorrent. Fundamentalism such as this is unkind to victims, flaying them with the very verses that should support, protect, defend them. Fundamentalism such as this supports the authority in power, upholding, favoring, preserving it.

But in the end, their own Bible damns them.

20 comments

  • This picking and choosing of scripture is a constant problem in the church.

  • Bill Gothard doesn’t really believe what he teaches anyway. He is not under authority and has refused to be placed under any authority. Everyone else (including fathers) is required to be under some kind of authority, although some follow BG’s example instead of his teaching on that one. BG does not follow any of his own rules. He only attempts to make it look like he does when it will bring him what he wants.

    • i find this interesting. i guess i still think he has managed to convince himself of something, and that he uses it to get people to do what he wants. kind of like lying enough, and you end up believing your lie.

      • Exactly, yes; lying and denial are partners in this life of belief. Abusers carry the Bible first for themselves, becasue it aids them in the self-harm they seek and second, because it is a big black mallet to use on women, children and anybody else who chooses to sit among them. The secondary purpose also supports the primary one. Gothard may well be condemned by a humanly sound exegesis but who cares? God brings him more young girls, more offerings and his minions refuse to even talk unless it is to exchange Bible verses.
        Beyond that, I lament most for the children who suffer this kind of upbringing (the cultic Gothard kind) because it is not love by any stretch but truly spiritual rape.
        Some of us spend much of our adult lives in reclamation healing. I think of this kind of rigorous faith (sic) as The Childhood Crusades.
        As was said in the second? Crusade when the soldiers asked who should be killed when a city was breached: Kill them all! God will know his own.

      • calling these the childhood crusades is more apt than anything i have ever heard. and it’s incredibly sad. i am spending so much time untangling what they told me was love from what really is love.

        and i’m learning that love was not present in that world.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Wear the mask too long, and the mask becomes your face.

  • This is such a well written post. I find so many problems with the idea of authorities that can’t be questioned. To break free, one must question everything no matter the source.

  • Wow, the damage done by these pious, cherry-picking Fundies is beyond belief ! And yes, the Bishop did leave out the part where it says to obey the laws of the land, and child abuse and molestation is illegal. So the word “crimes” should be used when having to dialogue with such people. And what Mrs. Smith says to survivors is incredible disregard for the law. Can you imagine what a counseling session with HER is like ??

  • jesuswithoutbaggage

    Bring two or three witnesses? Doesn’t Gothard already have more than enough witnesses against him?

  • It bothers me when victims are asked if they can forgive their abuser. Because there is a huge difference between an offense or a misunderstanding and a crime of abuse.

  • Not only are individuals abused, it carries in with the whole rush to forgiveness that it seems that SOCIETY places upon the victims.

    Why haven’t you forgiven yet?

    Not forgiving for having been abused is bad for you.

    How long are you going to be upset?

    And so on, ad nauseum.

    Secular counselors do it too. I don’t know if this is due to their own misunderstanding of forgiveness through their training (or lack thereof) or if it’s a holdover from their own upbringing.

    Let me state it plainly. IF someone who was hurt or abused chooses to forgive, that is just fine. But NO ONE should be made to feel there is some sort of timetable or push to do it. It may never happen and in the end, it doesn’t NEED to happen for someone to push on with their life and even have a very good one indeed. It’s not like taking your insulin or something.

    Here’s a link to one site where this is discussed.

    http://psychopathsandlove.com/forgiveness-the-other-f-word/

  • All of these authoritarian, cult groups use the same types of Thought Reform techniques, like the Chinese Communists used to erase peoples’ identities and get them to conform. Steve Hassan (therapist, author, cult expert) has written about this on his blog,
    in his books, and on youtube vidoes. https://www.freedomofmind.com/

    Steve Hassan was helped getting out of a cult and deprogamming by a book he read on Thought Reform by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, psychiatrist. Dr. Lifton had worked for the Air Force and had done research for the U.S. government. He has worked at America’s top universities and is at Yale University. He encouraged Steve Hassan to go in to psychology and help other people who were caught up in cults, which is what Steve did.

    Steve’s work on destructive mind control:
    https://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php
    The BITE Model
    I. Behavior Control
    II. Information Control
    III. Thought Control
    IV. Emotional Control

    Brad/FuturistGuy who is a Christian writer/blogger has also written about Dr. Lifton’s work and how those same mind control techniques have been used on so many of us.
    https://futuristguy.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/the-hunger-games-trilogy-5a/

    And finally, here’s a really good post from a guy over at The Wartburg Watch blog about the misuse of Matthe 18:

    “Jeff T:
    God I’m sick of hearing this from fascist church leaders. They NEVER use it to engage in a Spirit-filled discussion of resolving differences. It’s ALWAYS used as an instrument of oppression. Whenever someone in their church raises an issue they don’t want discussed, they stand up and shout “Matthew 18!, Matthew 18!”, the person raising the issue is then hustled off to a backroom and subjected to a process worthy of a Chinese Communist reeducation camp. They are told they are wrong, not on the basis of anything having to do with the issue itself, but because they are refusing to submit to authority, they are being divisive, ergo they are sinners and must repent and if they don’t, they are subjected to “church discipline”, meaning they are shunned and harassed.”

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