Every once in awhile there comes a stir on the internet about Bill Gothard or ATI (the Advanced Training Institute) or IBLP (the Institute in Basic Life Principles). Welp… things sure are a-stirring… and seem to have finally come to a point of boiling and bubbling over. If you’re not familiar with all this, then this mess probably will just seem like yet another airing of grievances by former ‘cult members, or grown children of ______ parent(s), or divorced people talking about their former mates. I chose those different categories bcz most of us have either been in those situations or are intimately familiar with one of all of them.
As the Bill Gothard – IBLP – ATI mess unfolds (again!), I’m mindful that there are a whole bunch of things — failures, systems, legalism, fears, formulas, etc., etc., that happened to, or in, people’s lives that may well have happened at some other time or in some other way regardless of the influences of Bill Gothard, IBLP or ATI. So… as the stories unload in the days to come, I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon and pin ’em all to one guy and his enormous structure of causes, effects and solutions for life’s *conflicts.
My husband attended “the Basic seminar” for the first time in 1987. We were raising our young family, had come to many conclusions about faith, marriage, family, children, etc., etc., and so when the different seminar topics were presented, we tended to accept them as affirmation or confirmation of things were were in the process of already living or deciding or working to implement. It was, as it were, a perfect storm.
As different things came up, what should have been red flags to us, we just dismissed some things as “not for us.” Problem is, it’s these very things sometimes that come back to bite you in the backside. Kinda like when you watch a “made for TV” movie and you recommend said movie to friends and they rent it from Blockbuster and think: Wow….! and forever question your morals, etc., etc. But, I digress.
I attended the Basic in 1988. The couple who had invited my husband to attend the week-long seminar the year before had offered to watch our children so we could attend. We would attend the seminars each year for the next six or seven years. Every year getting more and more ‘training’ and every year setting aside more and more ideas we just couldn’t get. Sometimes when I didn’t get an idea, I thought, maybe someday I will be spiritual enough to get this! Maybe I just need to mature in the Lord. While I did/do need to mature in the Lord, many of those things were not of the Lord and maturing in the Lord would later prove this.
In 1991 we enrolled in the Advanced Training Institute. I say with all sincerity, it really did seem like the best thing for our family as we were already homeschooling our children and we really wanted them to have a full-well-rounded Christian education. At home. I see now how easy that program was to get lured into desiring. We’d already been receiving much training through the seminars and materials and so it seemed the likely next step. As we saw the ATI materials and the bright, smiling faces — who wouldn’t want that for their family?!? I sincerely thought they were all h.a.p.p.y. And I wanted to our children to be well educated, smiling, grounded and h.a.p.p.y. like that. I know, I know, some of you are, at this point, taking a break to throw up in a bucket. Sorry if your keyboard is a mess. But I guess I just want you to understand — or, really, I just want to recall to mind what really was going on at the time. And subsequently.
The stuff that was going on behind the scenes we would not know about for a few years in. And the stuff that was slowly dawning on us was to become the turning point for us to back out. But in the meantime, we pressed on trying to get it. This is all hard to write or hard to dare to share bcz I know there were and are a whole bunch of people who thought or think that our mistakes and our failures as parents are probably the result of that construct. Or our rigid rules. Or our legalism. Or _____. Actually, like I said at the onset, I know me… and I believe I could have made a mess of things with or without IBLP/ATI. And, but for the grace of God, His mercy and His sovereignty, I’d have no hope today. Nor would our children.
I share this all as sort of an introduction and want to encourage other former ATI mothers and ATI kids to have a little mercy and understanding as to the why we (all?) were drawn to the program and what we’ve learned from those experiences and to trust the Lord for His work. To not be bitter or, more importantly, to not reject the Lord. Go ahead and reject the Institute, reject the false piety, the religiosity, but seek the Lord God and His Truths. Be in the Word. I’m not minimizing or excusing anything… but if one is to understand someone else, they’ve got to, I believe, have a little mercy and attempt to understand a bit of where they’ve been. And why.
More later. This mess will take time to unpack.
*The Institute in Basic Life Principles was formerly called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts — seminars that were (are?) held in cities that used to draw tens of thousands of people. Night after night, polished presentations to give the world a new approach to life; the premise that all troubles/patterns/etc., etc., of life can be traced back to the flawed structures of our youth, rebellion, unresolved conflicts, rejection of authority, rejection of personal unchangeables, etc., etc., etc.