This Insidious Cult Attracted Victims By Masquerading As A Christian Homeschool Program

The Advanced Learning Techniques (ATL) program seemed innocent enough—on the surface it was billed as a Christian homeschooling program, an offshoot of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) established by Bill Gothard in 1961. The program was advertised to give young people a thorough curriculum rivaling both high school and college levels of education. Yet its founder, Bill Gothard, was a sinister, manipulative leader. He billed himself as a follower of Christian principles, but he was actually a dangerous sexual predator who preached psychologically damaging teachings about sexual abuse, modesty, and sin. Even the Duggars, the famous—perhaps now infamous—family featured on TLC have connections to Gothard and his teachings.

Gothard appealed to those who desired a close relationship with God and their community, but instead he offered them fake science, misguided ideas about guilt and sexual abuse, and assaulted over 30 young women. Gothard has since resigned from his position at the IBLP, but his damaging influence over thousands of families remains. Many former students of the homeschooling program, the Advanced Training Institute, have told their shocking stories, likening the Institute to a cult rather than a real schooling program.


  • Gothard Hired Young Girls As His Secretaries And Sexually Abused Them

    One of the more sinister aspects of Gothard's influence was that he used it to recruit young women to the IBLP headquarters, giving girls as young as 16 years old full time jobs in order to keep them around him. He convinced their parents that the girls were special and "pure." The parents, completely brainwashed by Gothard's gospel, willingly sent their daughters to him. The girls were mostly teenagers or barely in their twenties when Gothard made romantic and sexual advances toward them. They were mostly hired to be Gothard's personal secretaries. If a girl protested or complained, she was immediately replaced.

    One girl, who goes by the alias Charlotte when she tells her story, was recruited by Gothard and made to work in his personal office. During her time there, he progressively grew more and more inappropriate toward her. She said her parents requested Gothard counsel her on her "immoral behavior," which involved kissing a boy her own age. The girl, who told her story to the site Recovering Grace, said Gothard asked her to describe in great detail her sexual deviancy, as he held her hands and rubbed her feet with his. When Charlotte complained, she was called a liar, both by those working at headquarters and by her own parents. Gothard threatened her and told her to keep the nature of their relationship a secret. Eventually, she was sent home and ostracized by her family.

  • Josh Duggar Used Gothard's Teachings To Justify Sexually Abusing His Younger Sisters

    Numerous men have cited Gothard's teachings as justification for sexually abusing young girls, but one of the most notable is Josh Duggar from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. He molested his younger sisters as they slept and was sent to Gothard for counseling. It's important to note that victims counseled at the Institute in Basic Life Principles are told they are sinful and that the abuse was their fault, while the abusers barely receive a slap on the wrist. Gothard's teachings recommend that boys not be taught anything about inappropriate sexual behavior or sexual misconduct.

  • Numerous Women Have Come Forward And Accused Gothard Of Sexual Assault

    Eventually, Gothard's misconduct became public knowledge after over thirty women came forward in 2014 to accuse him of sexual assault, a scandal that caused Gothard to resign from IBLP. Two years later, ten more women accused Gothard of abuse and joined an amended lawsuit, which included charges of rape and sexual assault that dated back decades. Many of these women came to Gothard and the IBLP already victims of abuse and incest, having been molested by their fathers or other family members, only to be further abused by Gothard.

    Although the lawsuit provides evidence of letters Gothard himself wrote to the women apologizing for his inappropriate behavior, which included "holding hands, giving hugs, and touching their hair and feet," Gothard steadfastly denies all of their accusations. He says he has never sexually touched the girls and that he's "shocked" at the claims. Many women say that Gothard also covered up assault happening in the church; they came to IBLP with complaints of abuse, often at the hands of family members, and their allegations were ignored or flat out denied.

  • After Over Thirty Allegations, Gothard Resigned

    After more than thirty allegations against Gothard surfaced, the former minister finally resigned as president of the IBLP on March 6, 2014. Despite alleging he did nothing wrong, Gothard said his resignation was a way to follow the Gospel of Matthew, which instructs followers to "go and be reconciled" if "your brother or sister has something against you."

    Gothard's resignation inspired many former ATI members to come forward and tell their stories. Many of the women affected by Gothard chose to anonymously share their stories on Recovering Grace. They go into great detail under the protection of aliases about how Gothard abused them. Some men, too, wrote articles discussing the brainwashing they went through at the ATI and IBLP, and how their families were affected by Gothard's teachings.

  • Gothard Taught That Semen Would Give "Promiscuous" Women Cancer

    Gothard designed and wrote all of the pamphlets, or Wisdom Booklets, the ATI used as part of its curriculum. Most of their contents are downright strange, but some passages are flat out horrific. Besides Gothard's horrendous victim blaming, they also teach that semen causes cancer if it's inside an unmarried woman, that gangrene is the best analogy for lust, that men can't stop themselves from violence if they're horny, and that miscarriages only happen to guilty women.

    The pamphlets also contain fashion advice. Most of it is very odd—it includes advice to "avoid eye traps," which include showing skin, displaying lettering on shirts, and even wearing bright colors, by dressing modestly.

  • Gothard Told A Woman To Burn Her "Evil" Cabbage Patch Doll So She Could Have A Baby
    Photo: Satorare / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Gothard Told A Woman To Burn Her "Evil" Cabbage Patch Doll So She Could Have A Baby

    One of the oddest tenets available in Gothard's Wisdom Booklets involves beloved '90s toys, the Cabbage Patch dolls. According to Gothard, the dolls are evil incarnate. Gothard's distaste for the toys has less to do with the dolls themselves and more to do with the process of adoption. Gothard teaches that adopted children "carry the sins of their biological parents." Additionally, signing Cabbage Patch adoption papers involves pledging your love to a doll, which violates the first commandment according to Gothard.

    Gothard wrote in one booklet that he instructed a woman who was in labor for multiple days to burn her Cabbage Patch doll to rid her home of "any items...through which Satan could gain entrance to interfere." Gothard reports that once the doll was set ablaze, the woman's son was delivered two hours later.