Bill Gothard’s former ministry has lost its seal of approval from the leading group that sets the standards for evangelical ministries.
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) terminated the membership of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) last Friday, citing “failure to comply” with its governance standard.
ECFA requires member organizations to have a board of at least five people (mostly independents) that pray, chart long-range strategy, and identify potential conflicts of interest, among examples of other duties.
“When a ministry encounters failure—or even worse, scandal—its difficulties can almost always be traced to a breakdown in governance,” states ECFA’s explanation of Standard 2. “For this reason, ECFA places much emphasis on strong, effective governance.”
ECFA declined to specify to CT how IBLP failed to meet its governance standard. IBLP did not respond to CT’s request for comment by press time.
CT previously reported how both IBLP and its founder, Bill Gothard, face a lawsuit from women alleging sexual abuse and harrassment. Gothard resigned in 2014 and apologized after IBLP investigated similar allegations. IBLP has said it welcomes the current court process.
Last month, the current lawsuit (a previous version was dismissed) was amended a second time, gaining 8 more plaintiffs for a final total of 18. Two of the additions were men. One accuses another IBLP staff member of sexual molestation, while the other said he experienced abuse in one of IBLP’s programs.
“Our clients are telling the same story that happened over and over again,” said David Gibbs III, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The moderator of the website which seeks to defend Gothard against the allegations was unimpressed with the lawsuit’s final form.
“After all the years, all the alleged enormous numbers of accusers, all of the full court press, three months of worldwide publicity, the possibility of real money to pick up participants, this is all they could come up with,” wrote the moderator. “Think about 50 years, tens of thousands of participants, Bill deliberately seeking out troubled youth to try to help all around the world, given the fact that by the laws of statistics some small percentage of those thousands would remain troubled, are liars and would jump at the chance to gain some publicity let alone some money ... And THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is it.”
The institute, which has drawn more than 2.5 million people to its seminars, is struggling financially. Over the past 4 years, IBLP ran a deficit of $15.8 million. Last year, it lost $4.6 million.
“So, we shall see. May The Lord examine all involved, take charge, and allow mercy and truth to triumph,” wrote the moderator, stating that Gothard and IBLP “will, by God’s grace, be vigorously defending themselves.”
In February, Gothard and IBLP both did so, filing motions to disqualify Gibbs as the plaintiffs’ attorney. IBLP has previously critiqued Gibbs for “us[ing] the media to propagate false and misleading statements” against current IBLP leaders. (World magazine has reported that Gibbs’s father led IBLP’s investigation of Gothard.)
Gothard’s motion claims that Gibbs “acted as one of [Gothard’s] attorneys for several months in 2015 in efforts to be reinstated to IBLP and on matters related to allegations in this lawsuit,” explained IBLP. “The motion claims that Gibbs is now ethically disqualified from representing the plaintiffs because of serious conflicts of interest.”
IBLP’s own motion accuses Gibbs of “unethical behavior in violation of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct,” but also asks the court to “give the plaintiffs time to obtain a different lawyer to pursue any claims they may have.”
“The motions to disqualify that were filed were wrong on both the facts and the law,” Gibbs told CT. “[They] were just a continuation of IBLP and Gothard’s manipulation practices.”
Both Gothard’s attorney, Glenn Gaffney, and IBLP have also filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.
In February, Gaffney told Religion News Service that Gothard was considering a countersuit. “He has been defamed,” he said, “and the manner in which this has been done and how it all came about was a violation under Illinois law resulting in a claim for intentional [infliction] of emotional distress.”
Gaffney told CT today that the motions to disqualify Gibbs and to dismiss the lawsuit are still pending before the court, with the hearing on the motion to disqualify set for April 7. “No counter-claims or cross-claims can or should be filed until after all those motions are fully resolved,” he said.
“Scripture reminds us that the first person to state his cause seems right, but a matter must be searched out to determine the truth (Proverbs 18:17),” stated IBLP last month. “This will take time, but that is the goal.”