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Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL

)
March 9, 1997
Edition: Sarasota
Section: LOCAL/STATE
Page: 1B

HOUSE SPEAKER IS MEMBER OF RELIGIOUS SECT SPEAKER DANIEL WEBSTER IS A 14-
YEAR MEMBER OF A CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN GROUP LED BY BILL GOTHARD, WHO
INSTRUCTS HIS PEOPLE TO OBEY AUTHORITY.

Lexington, KY - On a cold February evening in this basketball-crazy town, 400 people abstained
from a televised University of Kentucky game and assembled in a suburban church so that Bill
Gothard could give them the seven keys to life.

``Our goal here this week is to learn wisdom and to learn understanding,'' Gothard, president of
the Institute in Basic Life Principles, told the crowd, seated in a sanctuary with an orchestra pit
and padded pews.

Follow his ``universal, nonoptional principles,'' Gothard instructed, or else ``our lives will be one
continuous failure.''

The audience listened intently for three hours that evening, and for 32 hours over six days, as
Gothard - speaking from a 20-foot-high screen displaying a videotape he produced in 1984 - laid
out what has become the institute's lucrative brand of theology.

Authority must be obeyed.

``Moral impurity'' - in the form of ``evil'' rock music, television programming, alcohol or even
newspaper horoscopes - must be avoided, lest future generations suffer ``psychic disturbances.''

Public education, which teaches children ``how to commit suicide,'' is the enemy of spirituality, so
children should be educated at home, isolated from their peers.
And fathers must lead their families, while women must be ``submissive'' and ``obedient'' to their
husbands.

``Christianity is not just another belief,'' Gothard said. It is ``the only way of life.''

This is the philosophy to which Daniel Webster adheres as a 14-year follower of the institute,
which is based in a Chicago suburb.

Now that Webster is the speaker of Florida's House of Representatives - the first Republican to
hold the post this century - many who advocate the separation of church and state are wondering
whether he will try to translate Gothard's word into state law.

``What they do to their own children are their problems - and, unfortunately, their children's
problems,'' said Darren Sherkat, who teaches sociology and religion at Vanderbilt University and
has studied opposition to public education by conservative religious groups. ``When they start
coming into political power and start using that power, it will influence the rest of our lives. And
that's where they are dangerous.''

How Webster, a conservative Southern Baptist from Orlando, fuses his religion with his politics
has drawn intense scrutiny in the four months since he took office.
Some Jewish lawmakers complained last week, as they had in November, when Webster allowed
Protestant ministers to give sectarian Christian prayers to begin legislative meetings.
House committees under Webster's control began the 1997 legislative session last week by
taking up several bills favored by the religious right, including a ban on same-sex marriages and a
prohibition on public nudity.

News articles and editorials have questioned why Webster gave high-level legislative staff jobs to
four people who have worked with the institute.
Webster - who has taught seminars for the institute, appeared in a fund-raising video, and
traveled with Gothard on a missionary trip to South Korea - declined to be interviewed for this
article, citing a busy legislative schedule.

Webster's spokeswoman, Kathy Mears, one of the four former institute associates working for the
Legislature, said: ``We're getting a little weary of questions on it. He's the speaker of the House
and he's had an involvement in a Christian organization. His family home-schools and this
Christian ministry had influence on rearing his family. When does it cross the line getting into a
speaker's personal life versus the things that deal with his policies?''

Authority figure

The brochures for the institute's ``basic life seminar'' in the sprawling, modern Southside Church
of Christ on Lexington's outskirts lists Gothard as ``instructor.'' But when the multidenominational
crowd, punctuated by only three black faces, settled into the pews, an institute employee
announced that Gothard had ``some other things he needs to be off doing in Dallas this week.''

Despite having paid $60 to $80 each to attend, no one voiced a complaint.

With his dark blue suit, slicked-down black hair and frequent use of folksy anecdotes, Gothard's
video style of 13 years ago evoked that of the era's president, Ronald Reagan.

Gothard has been proselytizing most of his life.

In high school and college, Gothard said, he never attended more than a quarter of a basketball
or football game. Instead, he spent his time conducting ``polls'' on his fellow students' spirituality
and sending birthday cards to what he called ``non-Christian'' classmates with instructions on
how to be ``born again.''

Gothard, who is in his early 60s, was ordained as a minister in 1961, but never led a traditional
church. He counseled juvenile delinquents for several years before founding the institute in 1964.

Income-tax records show that by 1994, the institute had an annual income of $14.9 million and
assets totaling $30.8 million. Much of the money comes from seminars like the recent one in
Lexington; the institute will conduct 73 this year in 28 states, the District of Columbia and five
other countries.

What draws people to the sessions are the seven principles that Gothard says God showed him
will guarantee spiritual fulfillment: design, authority, responsibility, suffering, ownership, freedom
and success.

``You would not be here tonight, and I would not be here, if God had not demonstrated this to me
many years ago,'' Gothard said.
Following some but not all of the seven principles, he declared, was not an option.

``The way to be free,'' Gothard in the videotape said to the audience in Lexington, ``is to learn the
wishes of your authority figure.'' Freedom, he said, ``is not the right to do what we want; it's the
freedom to do what we ought.''

The first night of the seminar, he told his audience, ``Dress as neatly as you can'' when returning
the next evening.

The next night, many who had worn jeans and sweatshirts the day before went back in skirts or
sports coats.

``I appreciate such a nice-appearing group,'' Gothard said on the videotape to open the second
night and smiled.

`Obedient spirit'

God, said Gothard, has a ``chain of command.'' God is at the top, followed by family or church or
work, with the individual at the bottom.

Venturing outside ``God-ordained authority'' exposes an individual to Satan's influences. This is
particularly true, he said, for wives who try to emerge ``out from under their husbands'
protection.''

While children must live under their fathers' ``spiritual authority,'' Gothard said, wives must display
a ``submissive spirit'' and an ``obedient spirit'' toward their husbands.

``A sad wife is a public rebuke to her husband,'' Gothard said. He added: ``Wives, you must learn
to be both happy and grateful. That is your greatest attractiveness.''

Problems ensue when wives expect too much of their husbands, said Gothard, who has never
been married.

``That makes your husband a prisoner of your expectations,'' he said. ``Men need admiration.
They need gratefulness. They need happiness in you.''

But because ``un-Godly, un-Biblical laws'' are ``inappropriately'' placing men and women together
in the work place, he said, ``no wife is safe.''

A lack of gratefulness at home, Gothard said, leads men to seek solace from women with whom
they work.

To help prevent that, Gothard continued, wives should exhibit a ``quiet spirit.'' He said only a
``foolish woman'' would try to perform her husband's duties, such as protecting the family home
or meeting the family's financial needs.

``Wives who are getting out from under God-given authority are being exploited by the world,''
Gothard said.

Men and women alike must elude the numerous ``evil'' influences that are pervasive in society,
he said.

Among them:

* Alcohol. If a man is a drunk, Gothard said, ``research'' shows that as many as five generations
of his descendants are also prone to alcoholism.

* Rock music. Gothard described it as ``evil'' and ``wrong,'' and an essay included in the seminar
workbook reports that a ``rock addict'' is ``instantly activated by the rock beat and can repeat the
lyrics and music of the songs that are engrafted into his soul.''

* Psychiatry and medical science. Gothard said on the videotape that a ``Jewish psychiatrist'' had
told him mental illness is really just ``varying degrees of irresponsibility.'' After psychiatrists have
obtained their degrees, he said, ``it (has) so polluted their minds, they had to wash them out with
Scripture.''

At seminars, the institute sells ``basic care bulletins'' - $180 for 30 pamphlets - to what an order
form calls ``families who have accepted responsibility for their own health-care decisions.''
Another $10 buys a journal called Protect, which ``presents vital truths that reveal the deceptions
of many of the medical treatments of our day.''

Isolation

Public education may be Gothard's favorite target. In one of the many unverified, if not
unverifiable, statistical references during his lecture, Gothard said that ``85 percent'' of college
students are ``spiritually neutral, agnostic or atheist.'' And public schools at all levels, he said, are
``teaching children how to commit suicide.''

The answer, he asserted, is to educate children in their homes. The institute sells its adherents
the materials to do just that.

Home-schooling is part of Gothard's Advanced Training Institute, founded in 1983, which
immerses families in his ideas.

The advanced institute assigns roles to family members: The father is the ``superintendent'' of the
home school, while the mother ``works out the lesson plans to fulfill the calendar and schedule
that she and her husband have established.''

Both, however, report to a ``CEO'' from the institute - a ``consultant, engineer and organizer'' who
advises the family on finances and other matters.
The basis of the advanced institute's educational philosophy is that ``family-based learning is the
most effective method of socialization.''

As Gothard said in a recent report to ministers, children learn best when they are ``isolated from
other children, especially outside their own family.''

``Positive peer interaction can be healthy,'' the institute's literature says. ``However, it is more
important for a young person to learn to interact with adults, because peer dependence is one of
the most destructive forces in a young person's life.''

If children desire friends outside their families, the institute says, they are available - through the
institute.

The institute's teaching materials use the Sermon on the Mount to teach linguistics, math, history,
science, law and medicine - at a cost of $675 a year. First, though, a family must be accepted into
the advanced institute.

Applicants must submit a family photo (``portrait-quality, please,'' the application form states),
give the marital history of the parents (including a ``testimony'' if either has been married before),
certify that each parent has ``a daily quiet time with the Lord,'' and report any ``damaging
influences'' in the home, such as alcohol, tobacco, video or computer games, ``sensual
reading/viewing material,'' and rock music (``heavy or mild'' beat).

In a letter to applicants' pastors, who must certify that the father is ``the spiritual leader of the
family,'' Gothard explains that heavy screening is necessary because the advanced institute's
members are ``like the `Green Berets' of the church's army.''

`Hard lessons'
As the audience left the church in Lexington after the second night's session, many were
outwardly excited about Gothard's message. But several said neither the seminar nor the
philosophy expressed in it was for everyone. As one man said, many in his nearby Baptist church
simply didn't want to face the implications of
Gothard's ``hard lessons.''

The institute typifies conservative religious organizations that exert ``control-oriented leadership,''
said Ronald Enroth, a sociologist of religion at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., who
wrote a book about ``abusive'' churches.

``You never question Bill Gothard, apparently,'' Enroth said. ``You don't make waves. You're
either on his team or don't even bother talking.

``It almost defies reason that thinking people can swallow this stuff. It indicates to me there are a
lot of folks out there who want this kind of authoritarian leadership.''

Larry Guthrie, an institute employee and spokesman for Gothard, said in an interview that the
group thinks respect for authority is necessary for an orderly society.

``Our society has grown today to where each person does what's right in their own eyes, and
there is such a lack of respect for authority that we are reaping some of the consequences for
that,'' Guthrie said. ``I'm not sure our society can tolerate that sort of failure to respect authority.''

Copyright (c) 1997 Sarasota Herald-Tribune