It’s Not Just Josh Duggar, Their Whole Cult Is Predatory By Design

TW: If you’re a survivor, consider whether you want to read this article about extremists making shit up in order to blame people for their own sexual assaults.

Sometimes someone commits a heinous crime and the people around them, their friends and family, are completely shocked. They say he had no history of violence. Sometimes, they say he was a good man.

This is not what happened with Josh Duggar, or at least, anyone around him who says they are shocked is lying to themselves or gaslighting you. Josh Duggar grew up to be the exact person the cult his family belongs to set out to raise. Not one person around him should be surprised by what has been exposed about Josh.

The Duggars belong to a cult called the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). The reason it can be classified as a cult rather than another Christian denomination is that it has only been around since 1961 and was invented by a disgraced sex predator named Bill Gothard for the purpose of creating a community of women and children who could be groomed to be preyed on by Bill and the patriarchs of the families who would join his cult.

This was the draw for men to bring their families into the cult. They were promised complete authority over their wives and children. The men’s family members were told that if they did not submit to the patriarch’s desires completely (including, for instance, whether a woman wanted to have sex or not) they were bad Christians and displeasing god.

By drawing men in with the promise of unlimited sex and servitude from their wives, Gothard grew the IBLP cult to a (tax free!) empire, earning $63 million in 2006. Pretty impressive considering a former member describes the families in her IBLP church as pretty poor: “it was not unusual, in my church, for two parents and ten children to live packed into a singlewide trailer. These children usually wear threadbare hand-me-downs already passed through several rounds of siblings. Many of them look malnourished due to the abundance of starchy meals necessary on a lean one-parent income.”

Powerful and wealthy, Bill Gothard flew around on his own IBLP Learjet and surrounded himself with young female staffers that were cut off from their families and lived in dorms onsite of the cult’s HQ. He was able to groom and control every aspect of these women and girl’s lives. The IBLP men around him joked about Bill Gothard’s “harem” but no effort was ever made to protect his victims (many of whom were children) from sexual harassment and abuse.

In a lawsuit, one woman said she asked Gothard for spiritual instruction on how to heal from being raped as a child. He advised her not to get counseling, saying “Professional counselors do not know how to work with abused girls, only I do” and “a professional counselor would ruin you and all your potential to serve the Lord.” Another woman involved in the lawsuit describes how she viewed life after being raised in the cult: “My perception of God was fire and brimstone, that if you stepped outside the line, you would go through what Sodom and Gomorrah went through. That God would rain his fire down on you.” Gothard had set it up so that if you resisted sexual harassment or even rape from an IBLP man, you expected to spend eternity in hell.

We know the Duggars are deep into IBLP ideology. They use IBLP materials to homeschool all however many of their children. They go to IBLP retreats and training programs. They are celebrities in the IBLP world. When Josh Duggar was caught molesting five children, four of whom were his sisters, Jim Bob Duggar sent him to an IBLP training program for boys that serves as a kind of an extremist Christian military school, but without the education.

When the scandal was made public, former IBLP members were unsurprised. A survivor wrote for Slate that teachings of ATI (the homeschool curriculum used by IBLP members) are “theological beliefs and practices that cultivate an environment where women and children are more vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse.” That woman compares emerging from the cult to an unfunny Kimmy Schmidt. She also said growing up she had IBLP friends whose fathers and older brothers were molesting them but the girls knew so little about sex and were so brainwashed to not question male authority they did not understand what was happening to them.

A few other basic background teachings of IBLP:

    • Gothard personally instructed women to perm their hair because it “brought out a woman’s natural beauty”. The crunchy Michelle Duggar look makes a lot more sense after learning that.
    • Women are to never initiate a conversation with a man.
    • Women are supposed to homeschool their children, isolating the kids from teachers and counselors who may intervene if they notice a student seems troubled.
    • A central principle in IBLP is authority, namely that the father and husband and government in your life have been placed there by god. You should submit to the authority of these men and not ask questions. Bill Gothard promises you’ll find inner peace if you just submit and let them do whatever they want!
    • All church members are to respect all kinds of authority. God is the ultimate authority, then men, then women, then children.
    • Modesty and purity are pushed hard (at women only). One former member says after she left the cult as an adult and had sex, she was confused by the blood from her broken hymen and fully believed God was about to personally kill her for having sex.
    • Female children swim in swimsuits covered by oversized t-shirts and knee-length shorts. Male children wear regular bathing suits.
    • Girls only a year or two old are not supposed to sit on the laps of male family members so that those family members aren’t tempted to molest them. This is exactly what happened with one of Josh Duggar’s victims (he molested the child while she was sitting on his lap, in front of other family members, during bible study).
    • In the cult’s teachings on anger, “the grief of false accusations”, is one of the main examples used to talk about root causes of anger. It is pointed out that in cases of false accusations, the accused is hurt and the accuser should be brought to justice. Actually being a victim of abuse and/or rape, a very common source of anger for women, is not mentioned at all.
    • IBLP says there are “seven needs” women need to fulfill for their husband. The needs are things like being thin, being beautiful, having a “meek and quiet spirit”, realizing women are “short-term thinkers” (?), “never taking over”, praising him, asking your husband for advice before anyone else, and “full access to each other’s bodies for sexual gratification.” The worst part about this is that Josh Duggar’s wife Anna was obsessed with meeting these needs. She’s in the cult hook line and sinker, you can see it in her thousand yard stare. And Josh still had an Ashley Madison account. Even playing by these insane rules won’t result in a woman being treated well by her husband.
    • In case that didn’t sink in, that last one needs to be its own point. “God grants spouses full access to each other’s bodies for sexual gratification.” That means for IBLP, marital rape doesn’t exist. Imagine a guy like Josh Duggar, who has downloaded some of the worst child pornography the FBI agents investigating his case have ever seen, being trusted with “full sexual access” to your body.
    • IBLP doesn’t believe women have sex drives at all.
    • Another fun bit of IBLP advice for women: “if you seek to be financially independent, your self-sufficiency can crush your husband’s spirit.”
    • Women who find themselves married to “moral failures” are told to “not worry” and instead fast and pray that God will change him. So even if a man in IBLP does the one thing men aren’t supposed to do and becomes an apathetic patriarch who isn’t even trying to be godly, he still is assured he will have constant access to his wife and children and their labor. There are literally no consequence for the main bad thing men can do according to the cult.
    • Here’s a cool and fun anecdote IBLP shares about women skipping meals so that their husband might be inspired to be involved in his family:”A friend once told me, “There’s no way I can fast! I get so sick, I feel like I’m going to die. I can’t even go without one meal, so there’s no way I can fast three days.” We talked about the purposes for fasting, and I encouraged her to try just one meal a day for a few days. After skipping a few meals and surviving, my friend has now been fasting two days a week for over six months. She has seen God move in incredible ways in her life and in her husband and her children!”
    • There are no similar stories of men fasting for their wives in IBLP.
    • In fact, in the sister article explaining the seven needs women have for their husbands, it reads like a manual training someone to manage their employee: “Your wife especially needs your protection in the form of establishing boundaries so that she will fulfill her responsibilities within appropriate limitations. Work with your wife to discern her top priorities and ensure that she has the time and resources needed to fulfill her responsibilities.” One of the “boundaries” men are instructed to set in their marriage is around their wives “neglecting their physical appearance” which is not a “boundary” at all, it’s controlling behavior. This is common in abusive relationships, especially the way this is purposely misrepresented as a “boundary” to gaslight women about whether this is a reasonable request in a relationship.
    • When a man is sexually aroused by a woman, whether she has even noticed that he exists or not, she is guilty of the sin of “defrauding” him. IBLP says, “A woman can defraud a man by the way that she dresses, talks, or acts.” So basically, anything any man in the cult doesn’t like about a woman can be reframed as “defrauding” and weaponized against her so that every single man in the cult has power and authority over every single woman and girl. Pretty convenient if you’re a sex predator. Conversely, the only two ways a man can “defraud” a woman are by “improper touching or by talking about a marital commitment that he is not able or intending to carry out.” In other words, when men sin it is women’s fault.
    • This leads to girls who grow up in IBLP to feel shame about their bodies: “I spent many nights as an early-developed teenager crying and begging God to take away my large breasts, because I noticed men’s eyes had begun to linger on me during church.”
    • Rape victims are taught that they are now “vaccinated” against the temptation to have premarital sex.
    • One of Gothard’s victims describes his influence in the IBLP world: “It was something you dreamed about, meeting Bill Gothard in the flesh. It was like the president of the United States tapping you on the shoulder. You don’t expect it. In our world, the conservative, homeschool world, he was everything. There were hundreds of people there waiting to touch the hem of his garment.” As a 15-year-old child she was selected by Gothard to be his personal secretary and he bought her a plane ticket to the headquarters in Illinois. Away from her family, Gothard began to prey on her. Indoctrinated into the cult, she described her reaction as self-blaming: “I felt I needed to protect his reputation because I know this is not probably what he means to do, and this is my evil mind thinking that this is something more. I’ve got to keep my legs back, because maybe I am sending him signals, you know?”
    • Another victim was so unaware of what sex was that the entire experience was disorienting: “I just remember a massive amount of confusion [after the Gothard encounters], because my parents had kept us from any type of sexual knowledge at all… I only knew what sex was because I had read the encyclopedia.”
    • IBLP also teaches “a Biblical view of sickness” invented by Bill Gothard. This view is that sick people cause themselves to be sick by being sinners.
    • Former members also describe IBLP teachings as “bizarre” and “barbaric”: “like the creator of Cabbage Patch Kid dolls is actually a Satanic wizard who implants demons into the dolls that then sneak into children’s bodies while they are sleeping — along with the old standard that rock music is inherently sinful. One boy from our church would walk around supermarkets with his fingers plugged into his ears to prevent himself from hearing it.
    The kind of IBLP handout the Duggars used to educate their kids.

    I know I put a trigger warning at the top of this article, but I want to give another warning before sharing a quote from an IBLP survivor on the general state of women within the cult, it’s really upsetting.

    From Brooke Arnold’s Slate essay:

    “Women aren’t allowed ownership of their thoughts, either. At annual ATI conferences, married women are separated from everyone else and asked if they are having thoughts about using birth control, or if they feel resentment about having so many children. Answer “yes” to this and someone might tell you that those thoughts come from demons whispering into their ears. Many women in our church looked slumped over from constant exhaustion. My close friend’s mother even refused treatment for breast cancer because she saw the disease as God saving her from her abusive husband, and the burden of caring for her many children.”

    Where did this new and oppressive theology come from? The doctorate Bill Gothard had came from an unaccredited Baptist school in Louisiana he earned almost five decades after creating the cult. The school gives “ministry” degrees that are not recognized by the United States Department of Education. To be clear, there are many conservative Christian schools and seminarys where you can get a real degree, this is not one of them.

    Normal, non-predatory Christians would not join a denomination where the teachings were so heavily focused on things that aren’t a focus of God’s revelations or Jesus’ teachings in the Bible (modest dress, being debt-free, having a million children, blanket training). Some IBLP teachings, like respecting government authority (excluding silly liberal laws like those against marital rape), are completely made up out of thin air, and are at odds with Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament. These are examples of how IBLP was formed by Bill Gothard’s personal preference, not an informed interpretation of the bible at all. In fact, the biblical support for many of his teachings are discredited by bible scholars and theologians.

    In 2014 Bill Gothard resigned, maintaining his innocence. 34 women had accused him of sexual harassment or assault, a pretty big deal for the kind of women in IBLP where it is hammered into them from birth not to accuse men of wrongdoing or question authority of any kind. 18 women who were on Gothard’s staff sued him but eventually ended the lawsuit because of statutes of limitations. They continue to emphasize the truthfulness of their stories. You can read those stories on the Recovering Grace website, which is dedicated to holding Gothard and IBLP accountable for the abuse they engaged in under the guise of Christianity.

About the author

Chrissy is the author of What I Didn't Post On Instagram and a poetry book, We Are All Just A Collection of Cords.

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